Monday, October 29, 2012

Is Hurricane Sandy unprecedented?

East Coast people's reports about their observations and courage are more than welcome

Update ex post facto: Sandy deserves the label "non-event" even more so than Irene did

The media are full of panic and strong words inspired by Hurricane Sandy, the "Frankenstorm" as some writers nicknamed it. Of course, this moniker – perhaps originally meant to indicate the Halloween time – is popular especially among those crackpots who want to argue that the storm is "man-made". Others are more modest and use the terms "mammoth, monster, superstorm" for Sandy.

A region of the New Jersey and Delaware coast is predicted to be "more like than not" to experience hurricane speeds (at least once, the 1-minute average speed must be above 74 mph). Also, see a photo gallery (27 pics) and the live broadcast from Weather Channel.

Events are being cancelled, institutions and major parts of the public transportation systems are being closed, and hundreds of thousands of people are being evacuated because of the late Category 1 hurricane that should land somewhere in New Jersey sometime on Monday evening, Eastern Daylight Saving Time, i.e. Tuesday morning European time. You may observe the predicted speed and status of the storm at the NOAA website.

I understand the sentiments behind the caution. On the other hand, I understand the skeptics much better. Many people clearly remember an isomorphic hysteria before the landing of Hurricane Irene in August 2011 which turned out to be a non-event. I remember a hurricane sometime around 2005 which was announced to land in New England – but the outcome could have been summarized by the sentence "It is raining in Boston".
Webcam: Try the rainy before-the-storm business-as-usual at The Times Square, other NYC places (sorry, the website may be overloaded)
The media are helping to preserve a certain kind of group think, a nearly religious admiration for the hurricane and its overwhelming power. I surely have the feeling that those people who refuse to evacuate their homes are considered heretics. They are not allowed to coherently describe their position in the media. But they have a rather good basis for their position, too.

Is this hurricane unprecedented? Well, it's a hurricane that comes late in the season so it may bring snow, too. (Some sources talk about an unprecedented interplay between a hurricane and some Arctic air, and so on, but they haven't really done research whether this interplay is unprecedented, either.) Also, it will manage to land in New Jersey which is pretty far from the equator and the most typical places where hurricanes land if they land at all. Also, this hurricane is targeting New Jersey, nearby places, and perhaps New York. The City is even more inhabited than New Orleans and the proper targeting is what matters for the relevance of a hurricane, indeed.

However, none of these features is really unprecedented.

Sorry, this was the Twitter #Sandy real-time timeline brought to you by TRF. I hope that we haven't lost you.

Even when you restrict your attention to hurricanes affecting New Jersey, you may find many stories in the book linked at the top or in this summary. The web page offers you 21 hurricanes between 1821 and 2011 that affected New Jersey. Irene 2011 was a hurricane that landed in New Jersey – still, most people already forgot whether it was lethal or not – but it wasn't the first hurricane with this "citizenship". On September 16th, 1903, a borderline hurricane landed near Atlantic City. Its main effect could be summarized as four inches of rainfall. Some significant hurricanes affected New Jersey in 1821, 1878, 1889, the history is quite nontrivial.

And I have focused on proud New Jersey hurricanes. If we looked elsewhere, we could enumerate tons of other hurricanes, such as the 1960 Hurricane Donna that has improved Manhattan in this way:

What about late-season hurricanes in New Jersey? Sandy must be the first one, right? Well, Hurricane Hazel landed on October 15th, 1954. And you may find much later ones. On December 2nd and 3rd, 1925, a hurricane brought 70 mph winds to Atlantic City. So calling Sandy "unprecedented" means to be ignorant about the history, sometimes very recent history. There's nothing unprecedented about hurricanes landing in New Jersey, not even about the subset that lands in October.

The journalists like to hype things because it brings them profit. Every time the end of the world arrives on the following morning, lots of newspapers are sold. But maybe they also partly want to "help the nation" and by making the stories more dramatic, they make the people more disciplined. I have some understanding for all these things. But I would be much happier to see something different as well – journalists as impartial messengers who actually describe what is happening, how people respond, and what their reasons are. A large fraction of the citizens are skeptical about the "catastrophic predictions" and many of them have decided not to evacuate their homes for reasons that are often rather sound. It would be nice if the journalists sometimes behaved as journalists in a free society – which means journalists who report and allow the readers and viewers to decide – and they were not trying to pretend that all these people are uneducated hacks and criminals and that the journalists' main holy duty is to strengthen the influence of the "authorities".

A hurricane lands somewhere in the U.S. almost every year and while it's good when the public cooperates with its representatives, it's simply unreasonable to consider all such situations "exceptional states of war" equivalent to "martial law" because we would be living under such "martial law" most of our lives (hurricanes are not the only reasons that may spark such "exceptional" measures).

I am not claiming that Sandy must turn out to be another non-event; I don't really know. The wind are strong enough so that you don't want to walk in the middle of your town. But it's rather plausible that it will be another non-event and it's wrong for the society to pretend it is not plausible, not even if this game is supposed to help a "good cause".


  1. Maybe they don't want to go to prison for 6 years if someone dies ;)

  2. LOL, exactly. The only weak point which probably implies this explanation isn't serious is that all these people have been doing pretty much the same things before the L'Aquila verdict and even before the L'Aquila earthquake itself...

    But more seriously, your comment has a point, of course. This kind of fear of similar trials is why people impose the "precautionary principle" on themselves and leads them to distort the available information. That's just utterly wrong in the case of journalists and other messengers and "intermediate links" of information chains because their task should be to communicate the information as accurately as possible. If there's room for precautionary principle at all – and I would say No – it should only be left up to the final people who decide how to act and who don't convey any information to anyone else, not on those who are supposed to accurately communicate the information.

  3. I lived through the ASH Wednesday storm of 1962. I was in the ocean with my entire family. I was only 5 years old. It was hell being stranded in the ocean. This storm Sandy is probably going to take alot of lives. Prayers to the people.

  4. I haven't even been following Sandy closely, living on the West coast as I do. But my understanding is that what's unprecedented about Sandy is not the wind speed, seasonality, or other things you mentioned but rather the sheer size. Look at this latest image right now.

    It's absolutely humongous.

    Having said that, I share your annoyance about all the politically correct evacuation hysteria. If I were there, and not in a flood basin, I would sit tight, especially if I owned property to defend against looters.

  5. HMS Bounty has sunk by the storm, it is being reported. That's sad. :( Whoever put her in harm's way deserves to be fired.

  6. Hi Lubos, just a FYI. Daylight Savings Time (known as Summer Time in Europe) ends here in the US (where observed) on Sunday the 4th of November at 2 AM local time. We then go back to Standard Time (I don't know what that's called in Europe, so I could accept your Winter Time usage).

  7. Thanks for the point. Later I realized this was a major point I didn't discuss... How far do you think we may claim that there was no larger (by area) hurricane? 35 years? 50 years? 100 years? Those nice pictures must have been hard to get before the space age, right?

  8. Terrible, this was a vulnerable thing and no one cared about it...

  9. Thanks! I had noticed you're still on the Daylight Saving and it was a surprise because even the end of October already looks like a "very late moment" in the season. And yes, I know how the adjusted time is called in the U.S. This is a bit of a deliberate Central European American English from me ;-) because I believe it's much more sensible to call them just summer time and winter time, especially because the decision to switch between them should save daylight, but it should do so both in the summer and the winter, right? ;-)

  10. Check this out. Ocean City, New Jersey. And Sandy is not yet close to landfall.

  11. Nice flood, it seems isomorphic to the floods here in Pilsen - I was just here - in August 2002. See e.g. this 10-minute video

    This video is mostly from Roudna, from the very street where I have lived as a kid for 18 years or so. Three more videos from Pilsen floods 2002:

    It seems to me that folks with the "ocean" in their town's name should be less shocked if their town becomes a Venice than Pilsen which is 310-350 meters above the sea level.

  12. I am in Princeton, and so far it has not been much worse than a typical Noreaster, but they are promising stronger stuff in a few hours. I have to say that Irene was pretty bad here -- it passed close to us as a category 1 hurricane, and the wind was pretty scary. The power outages and the flooding for days after Irene were really no fun. I really hope this one will not be as bad -- it seems that the winds will not be as strong.

    I am impressed though that the hurricane models predicted the sharp turn to the west correctly. I have not seen hurricanes do this before...

  13. Good for you. Princeton is some 40 km away from the ocean, right? In New Brunswick, we were a bit closer, it's like 15 km from the ocean, but I only went to the nearby ocean a few times during my 4 years at Rutgers - to Perth Amboy myself, and to some more distant trips with friends.

    The turn of the hurricane must be nicely predictable for a few days, I believe. It's about the pressure, temperature differences etc. The right turns dominate on the Northern Hemisphere because of the Coriolis' acceleration -2 Omega x v - but if there is some pressure difference that drives it to the left, it may win.

  14. Yes, Luboš, but that was in a tiny, far-away country... :)

  15. Jason, Czechia isn't tiny. It's exactly the medium country in the world, and it's not far away, it's at the center of the world. For more European geography, visit :-)

  16. We have used aircraft before satellites but you are right we have only a micro sliver of records.
    This storm coincides with already high tides due full moon also I am told. Add Halloween and the media and people tired of the election, this weather is being sold like wares at a carnival. Hope more in the way of the storm do find safe shelter thanks to this.

  17. Great post, Lubos! I'm in Boston area and my town cancelled all schools and town services today. Rain is only moderate and worst winds for tonight are predicted around 40 knots. -- we sail in 40-knot winds (using smaller sails). I have great respect for ocean's power & New Jersey could get flooding but they prepare for this. I shopped yesterday at grocery & people looked really scared - it's ridiculous. I'm not a meteorologist but Sandy looks kind of blobby and not as well-formed as Irene last year. Sandy is spread out but is she stronger just for that feature? Totally unnecessary to cancel school in my town today - what is the cost to each community of chronic over preparation for every large weather event that we experience? State of Fear indeed.

  18. Thanks for your report, Ann! I am indeed convinced that the storm isn't dangerous for Boston. It's plausible that New Jersey has a significantly harder time now, however.

  19. Much ado about nothing here in CT. Malloy was quick to jump up and say this is an unprecedented disaster the likes of which the state has never seen but one measly stick has fallen in my yard so far. Gusty wind, but the scale on which everyone freaked out and cancelled everything is preposterous - I could see if it was snow instead of rain, but we've all gone to work in way worse, back in the days of rationality.

  20. Cripes when can we do away with the time change and just stay on daylight savings already!!!

  21. I think your comment concerning Irene being a "non-event" is a little shortsighted. Estimated damage totals from that storm exceeded $15 billion. That's a pretty big "non-event".

  22. Well, great. It depends what you compare it with. It's $50 per U.S. citizen - or the price for carbon regulation that the U.S. paid during the week or two in which the hurricane existed.

    But the point of my term "non-event" wasn't to argue whether $15 billion is a lot or not. The pre-Irene hype was all about deadly threats and casualties. The number of casualties was ultimately a few dozens in total, three orders of magnitude below the Japanese earthquake etc. Some more comments to make you remember that the hype wasn't about the money:

    Just to be sure, the hype in the media right now isn't about sunk replicas of pirate ships or damages for the insurance industry, either. It's about the bare survival. And we will see whether it's justified tomorrow.

  23. Actually, the winds in Princeton are pretty scary now, and some big limbs have broken off trees. This is serious stuff! I know that you are a brave Pilsner, but I bet you never get weather like this in Pilsen.

  24. Jason is ironically paraphrasing Neville Chamberlain’s words on the Checkoslovakian crisis of 1938:

    “How horrible, fantastic, incredible it is that we should be digging
    trenches and trying on gas-masks here because of a quarrel in a far away
    country between people of whom we know nothing.”

  25. Actually we did that once back in the 1970s. I can't remember if it was 76, 77, or 78 now. It was either during the tail end of Gerald Ford's term (after Nixon resigned) or early in James Carter's term. No one liked it and Congress reverted to the previous law (4th Sunday in Oct back to Standard Time, 1st Sunday in April start of Daylight Time). The more recent change to the law regularized some of the wierdness here (I think only Arizona does not follow the changes as they remain on GMT -7 all year) and made daylight time start in mid-March and go to the first Sunday in November.

  26. Don't overlook the Katrina angle: for Obama this is a heaven sent opportunity to take time out from campaigning and be the Presidential un-Bush.

  27. Hurricane Irene, which you called a non-event, cost about $15.8 billion, roughly the gdp of Hondurus as well as numerous lives. You have a strange definition of non-event.

  28. There's good live coverage on The Weather Channel via YouTube. The southern end of Manhattan Island is already badly flooded. When the looting starts it'll look like Waterworld.

  29. Regarding storm hysteria: when we have large storms offshore - not necessarily hurricanes - it's a rare chance for East Coast surfers to ride some relatively big waves, such as are common in California. But in today's paranoid nanny state, they shut down public beaches to prevent surfers from getting to the water - for their own good. As if surfing isn't inherently risky, and recognized as such by surfers. But the safety obsessed politicians and bureaucrats much prefer a world of 'safety' - under their control - to a world of risk, and satisfaction that comes from adventure.

  30. Your skepticism has strong support.

  31. Well, now when we know that the casualties and probably even damages were even lower than with Hurricane Irene, both Lohan and myself have another strong supporter, the ex post facto reality.

  32. LOL, I see. Chamberlain was a huge and stinky treacherous asshole, indeed.

  33. Lubos, I think you're exaggerating the exaggeration. I've been reading news of Sandy on the web for about an hour, and I don't even think the media are exaggerating, but if they are, they aren't exaggerating any more than for other "great" events. I think that, for people with a strong opinion of anything - in this case, AGW skeptics and AGW - much "media exaggeration" is in the eye of the beholder.

    I just don't see them saying much of anything that's wrong. They say that Battery Park (NYC) has just seen a storm surge that broke a record set in 1821. Probably that's true, I suppose. The same goes for lots of things they say.

    I've just seen photos of Nantasket Beach MA, my mother's ancestral home, and it doesn't look any worse than what I recall from at least one occasion in the 1950s. It even looks a little better. But the media are not contradicting this. They're just showing what's happening there.

    The NWS and the weather companies say that the spatial extent of this storm is "unprecedented." I don't know how far back in the past they're going for that, but it doesn't look like a bad statement to me, esp. since they're all saying it.

    I don't think many people expect to be killed by this storm. The media play a big story big, but that's what they do with everything. They also play little stories bigger than what most people think of the events in question.

  34. I have already commented on exactly this point in the exchange with Big TeX just two comments lower (earlier) before this exchange.

    The fact it's non-event has to be evaluated in the context, relatively to other things that happened in the same country during the same interval. It makes no sense to compare damages done to the U.S. with the GDP of Honduras - exactly for the same reason why it would be demagogic to compare the energy released by a hurricane with the energy released in a supernova explosion. One may always find processes that are larger and processes that are smaller but this cheap fact guarantees neither that a process is a non-event, nor that it is not a non-event.

    It was a non-event for the U.S. because both the casualties and financial losses were negligible relatively to the background - what the U.S. is earning during the same period of time, and the number of people who die during the same time. That's why it was totally wrong for the media and others to suggest that Hurricane Irene - or, now we can say, Hurricane Sandy - would change something profound about the life in America or wealth of America or something like that.

    In the U.S., twelve thousand people are born every day and seven thousand people die every day. So the total casualties of Irene - 49 folks, including those outside the U.S. - correspond to exactly 10 minutes of naturally dying people, 10 minutes of the background. That's why the lost lives were a non-event at the level of America.

    Analogously, the U.S. produces $15 trillion in GDP per year. That's $75 billion per working day (I consider 200 of them in a year). So $15 billion is just 1/5 of one working day, an hour or two of work. That's why it was a non-event even financially.

    The term "non-event" doesn't mean that the hurricane had a strictly zero impact. No observable event in the real world may have a strictly zero impact. It only means that the impact was negligible relatively to other, major things that determine the life of the nation, in this case the U.S. And I insist that the word "non-event" was an accurate description of Hurricane Irene and, as we seem to see now, of Hurricane Sandy, too.

  35. Happy to see it's folks in Princeton who are confirming all stereotypes and pissing into their pants.

    Pilsen has a different climate so it has different kinds of weather events, too. But I lived in New Brunswick for 4 years, and it's 10 closer to the sea than Princeton. What a courage! ;-)

    Concerning winds, I've also tried parachuting from 4 kilometers.

    Otherwise I assure you that trees broken by winds are a regular event near Pilsen. The fastest wind in recent memory on the Czech territory appear on Snezka, our highest peak we share with Poland, during Kyrill in 2007: it was 216 km/h. I guess you don't have it now at Princeton.

  36. Come on, Smoking Frog. Just look at the titles of articles linking Sandy and the word "unprecedented":

    Now we already know that all of this stuff was just rubbish.

    I am not disagreeing with your suggestion that the media exaggerate almost every event of this kind.

  37. With the exception of the name "frankenstorm" , implying that it's somehow a man made storm, I'd say the media has been behaving itself more or less.
    Also the speculations that the storm would suppress turnout for the election. Those type stories have been filed at a little higher rate than usual.

    But to the point, as far as plain balls out attribution to global warming, the media has refrained. Even Seth Borenstein was circumspect.

  38. OK, the "man-made" explanation of hurricanes has largely disappeared because everyone, including folks like Martin Hoerling of NOAA

    know very well that such propositions have always been hardcore crackpottery and too many people have already seen the light. But if one avoids the most hardcore crackpottery, it doesn't mean that everything is suddenly balanced and based on the reality. I think it's clearly not.

  39. Hmm. Sorry, I find this program immensely boring so I turned it off after 2 minutes. Some patients were moved from one hospital to another because doctors decided it was safer. Great. Reasonable. Why it has to be on the news? It's not really an impact of the hurricane, it's a safety decision by some doctors, and it's not too important an event even in the patients' life, but this is aired to millions of others. Why?

  40. I noticed that the surfers were chased out of the beaches... It's indeed a nanny state, something that eliminates all kinds of risk taking, self-learning, unusual activities. Some people call it progress. I don't.

  41. I'd check the insurance policy. Otherwise we have to wonder, how did that crew either miss all the reports, or see them and decide this was a good chance to take out the HMS Bounty movie prop on the open sea?

  42. Lubos - This is from the 2nd article in the Google list, Houston Chronicle:

    It's unprecedented in the modern hurricane record, dating to the mid-1800s, for a hurricane to move westward into the mid-Atlantic coast while strengthening, said Bill Read, former director of the National Hurricane Center.

    "The meteorological significance is that we've never really seen a tropical system moving due west, perpendicular to New Jersey and Delaware," said Read, who now consults for KPRC-Channel 2. "What will make it historic is that it will nail 50 million people to some degree."

    I don't see anything wrong with that.
    I am not disagreeing with your suggestion that the media exaggerate almost every event of this kind.

    I was suggesting that they exaggerate events of various kinds. I've seen this in personal experience with events, and I've heard it from others about their experiences.

    One night years ago, I was waiting in a darkened parking lot for my daughter to get out of work. There was a young man standing not far away, so I went over and said hello. He was a Marine home from Iraq, and he was waiting for his fiancee, who worked in the same place.

    He was going back to Iraq the next month, and he said he wanted to go back, since he believed that the Iraqi people needed us. I asked him what it was like. He said, "Not like you see in the news - they want you to think we're getting killed and maimed all the time. What actually happens is that they (the insurgents) come out maybe twice a month and take some potshots at us. We capture them or kill them, whatever's appropriate."

  43. There is always some context in which any event can be considered minor. The communist conquest of much of the world in the middle third of the twentieth century is a minor event in the total scope world history. Sandy is a huge event in the lives of millions.

  44. Well, one may always find contrived conditions to make something "unprecedented" but the extra conditions make the "unprecedented" character less interesting. This is the first big hurricane named Sandy, too.

    There are lots of janitors called Sandy in Springfield who are also unprecedented because they're the first janitor Sandy who smoked a Lucky Strike cigarette exactly 3 minutes after she ate Mars the chocolate bar. ;-)

    The turn to the left may have been unprecedented but it was predictable - indeed, it was predicted in advance. It's just due to some arrangements of the hot/cold and high/low pressure areas that just happened to be in this way. If the areas were arranged in a different precise way, they would also be unprecedented, just differently unprecedented.

  45. The communist takeover isn't minor in any sense because it's affected 1/3 of the at least partially civilized world, killed tens of millions of people (more than Hitler), and shrunk its GDP to a negligible fraction of the GDP this part of the world would have if the takeover hadn't taken place.

    In one counting or another, the communist coups destroyed O(30%) of everything in the world for half a century or so. You won't find any way to interpret a hurricane that would come anywhere close to this. The Hurricane Irene killed as many people as 10 minutes of a natural die-off, and destroyed GDP equivalent to the work of America for a few hours. You just fucking can't compare this to a devastation of 1/3 of the world by your fucked-up lefting comrades for half a century. Or you can compare it,but your fucking communist mouth should be broken into millions of bloody fucking communist pieces if you do so.

  46. Some thoughts after the storm; 250,000 in MA w/o power - 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami left 250,000 people dead or missing - Sandy is not catastrophic. So today about 8 million w/o power in NE - why is that? Is it partly because we have banned building power plants so power is more centralized and affects many more people when one plant or area is hit by storm? The windmills are useless in the gale-force winds. Urban Americans are far removed from nature most of the time & used to controlling their immediate environment. Maybe this is why nature's big weather moments freak us out unduly -- we are out of touch with nature's violence, especially with constant green propaganda about nature's alleged peace & harmony.

  47. Off-topic, I loved reading this story. Good old Yankee ingenuity and of course it had to be a student at the "Bomb Factory" who came up with the idea :)

  48. Well, I would not call this storm a "non-event", as there was considerable damage in NYC. But, it's certainly true that several previous storms have been much worse (the 1938 hurricane that crossed Long Island and severely damaged Rhode Island comes to mind), and it is certainly true that the media are remarkably excessive in their over-hype of such events.

    My 1st cousin lives in SW Philadelphia; I called him a couple of hours ago and he said that things were fine: they had not even lost power, but simply experienced high winds and rain.

    As the coastal populations increase, the overall damage from big storms will, of course, increase. But, really, it is hardly the cataclysmic disaster that the media would have one believe.

  49. Last seconds of the Bounty.

  50. "But as the last whelmings intermixingly poured themselves over the
    sunken head of the Indian at the mainmast, leaving a few inches of the
    erect spar yet visible, together with long streaming yards of the flag,
    which calmly undulated, with ironical coincidings, over the destroying
    billows they almost touched;—at that instant, a red arm and a hammer
    hovered backwardly uplifted in the open air, in the act of nailing the
    flag faster and yet faster to the subsiding spar. A sky-hawk that
    tauntingly had followed the main-truck downwards from its natural home
    among the stars, pecking at the flag, and incommoding Tashtego there;
    this bird now chanced to intercept its broad fluttering wing between the
    hammer and the wood; and simultaneously feeling that etherial thrill,
    the submerged savage beneath, in his death-gasp, kept his hammer frozen
    there; and so the bird of heaven, with archangelic shrieks, and his
    imperial beak thrust upwards, and his whole captive form folded in the
    flag of Ahab, went down with his ship, which, like Satan, would not sink
    to hell till she had dragged a living part of heaven along with her,
    and helmeted herself with it."

  51. On whether the media has latched onto an esoteric definition of "unprecedented" I take no position, but here is the lament from Climate Progress;

    Yesterday, while Superstorm Sandy passed over Washington, I hunkered down in front of my television and watched coverage of the storm. As I flipped between cable and network news shows, I was subjected to the same endless parade of reporters swaying in the wind, wading through flooded streets, and talking about projected catastrophic damage. But throughout it all, there were no mentions of the dramatic increases in extreme weather and no mentions of the influence of a warming planet on extreme storms like Sandy. According to tracking from TVEyes, there were only a couple quick references on MSNBC’s Morning Joe on Monday morning and nothing on the other networks throughout the day.

    From "Television news ignores climate change during Sandy coverage."

  52. Thanks for sharing. Covered with awesome sauce.

  53. Luboš,

    as an excellent physicist you probably know that every hurricane has more aspects than (maximum) windspeed - how about other things such as time of year, size, or pressure at the sea level, lifetime, etc.?

    By the way, extermination of humankind is also non-event, given the size of universe, and there would be nobody left to hype about it ;-)

    Being eco-terrorist, I do not advocate extermination of humankind :-)



  54. Dear Alexander, indeed, a hurricane, much like any event or object, has many properties. What's your point?

    This hurricane wasn't exceptional when it comes to the time of the year, it wasn't exceptional when it comes to the pressure, it wasn't exception when it comes to the lifetime. It was among the largest ones by area but we can't reliably compare it with hurricanes more than a few decades in the past in this respect. It was just a Category 2 hurricane which was mostly watched as a Category 1 hurricane, however. There have been many Category 5 hurricanes in the past, even recent past. So clearly one can't say that it was exceptional unless he creates "awkward criteria" what counts as exceptional.

    I consider the mankind to be the most exceptional "content" of our Galaxy, having no evidence that there are other civilizations, so the extermination of the mankind - which is what at least many of your fellow eco-terrorists propose even if you superficially don't - would surely be a huge event in my counting. Hurricane Sandy is not.

  55. The two unprecedented things about this storm were the path and the pressure.

    "Frankenstorm" does not refer to the storm being man-made, but rather to the combination of what was a hurricane with a snow-storm coming down from the north, in a Fujiwhara effect.

    However, there is quite a bit of peer-reviewed research which says that the blocking pattern which determined the late path of the storm is heavily influenced by melting ice in the Arctic, which changes the behavior of Rossby waves in the Jet Stream.

    As for whether it was a "big deal", the argument seems to me to be in rather bad taste.

  56. As a Vermonter, I'm slightly offended by your calling Irene a "non-event". Maybe those who don't live here didn't get the memo, but thousands of homes were severely damaged or washed away in epic flooding. All this occurred widely across a pretty sparsely populated state. Google "irene vermont" for some telling images.

  57. After two days I have now heard from my twin brother, who lives at 5th Avenue and 10th Street in Manhattan (Greenwich Village). He and his wife have finally made it to his daughter’s apartment in Brooklyn, where they have power. I had a very brief call from him after the power failure but they had to preserve their cellphone batteries for emergency use. For some people this really is a catastrophe.

    Bellevue Hospital, NYU Hospital, and, maybe, the VA Hospital in lower Manhattan lost their emergency power due to flooding. Something like 2000 patients, some of whom were desperately ill and on life support equipment, had to be moved to wherever room could be found. Many deaths will surely be reported when all the facts are in. These were not ordinary hospital transfers done under controlled conditions. For these folks and their relatives “Frankenstorm” is an appropriate term.

    A number of flatbed trucks, loaded with electrical equipment, departed the Bay Area yesterday for the 3000-mile journey to New York and scores of workmen are also en route from California. Protection circuitry evidently failed to protect the largest transformers at the Con Ed substation in lower Manhattan. They were simply not prepared for a 14-foot tidal surge.

    I don’t think there is evidence for a 14-foot tidal surge in New York City during the past two centuries. Of course there are all kinds of exaggerations in the press but his really is a big deal for New York.

  58. Whoops! My brother’s information is incorrect. The hospital’s generators are working and the evacuations are due to shortages of water and other services. The evacuations are orderly but unprecedented. First attention is being given to the sickest patients, naturally. My brother is a worrywart. I knew that.

  59. It must surely be annoying without electricity, a reminder of the civilization achievements we often take for granted.

    On the other hand, the rule "sickest patients are given the maximum attention" is another symptom of the fact that the situation isn't serious. If the situation becomes serious, the rule is of course reverted - save whatever has chance of being saved. This is also reflected by airlines - first help yourself and then others (because one has to be fit to be able to help others, but not only because of that).

  60. Well, Lubos, I must admit that Sandy was probably not unprecedented in any meaningful sense. OTOH, Roger Pielke, Jr., says that, after adjusting for inflation, it was the 17th most damaging hurricane or tropical storm among the 242 that have hit the U.S. since 1900. That would seem to place it far to right on the distribution curve. So I disagree with your idea that it was not a catastrophe, and I'm put off by your making light of it.

    BTW, "Sandy" can be a man's name, so I wonder if you're being politically correct by using "she." :-)

  61. papertiger,
    Do you have any evidence of “--dramatic increases in extreme weather--”? I think not.

  62. Dear Gene, I am convinced that papertiger wanted to say it was a *good thing* that the usual memes about "increasingly extreme weather" were omitted this time. He wants to praise the journalists. Am I wrong, papertiger?

  63. That's the thing exactly. We're at a weird place now, four days after, with the Bloombergs and Midlers trying to resuscitate the climate change brand.
    This is a new thing, distinct and separate from being barraged with journalist born stories of the Franken storm.

    I think there are some people in the media thinking a few steps ahead, recognizing that the storm caused black outs, gas shortages, and general shrinking of the Eastern Seaboard's collective carbon footprint, is exactly the outcome that the Bette Midlers and Mayor Bloombergs are inadvertently and stupidly lobbying for.
    Maybe they are thinking now would not be a good time to jump on that wagon.

  64. Gene,
    Damned if you ain't right. There's no increase in 'extreme weather'. I'm a California boy for crying out loud. Extreme for me is if it's fifty degrees out and I have to wear long pants.
    Global warming theory is complete and utter bullshit.

    Just lucky we had this talk or I'd never have seen it.

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