Will Sandy Typify 21st Century Weather?

Hurricane Sandy Impacts Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge (DE) by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Hurricane Sandy made landfall on October 29th, drawn northwest by two cold fronts into the most populous area of the United States. Coby Beck has a telling wind map of the colossal storm on A Few Things Ill Considered, which was abetted by “a full moon causing the highest high tides of the year.” Sandy wreaked widespread devastation, and left over 100 Americans dead. Greg Laden writes that we have learned a lot from killer storms over the decades, and we were more prepared for Sandy than any other. But research shows that cyclones thrive in warm years; on Class M, James Hrynyshyn notes “storms that used to occur every 100 years can be expected between 5 and 33 times as often.” With the stakes raised, Sharon Astyk argues that it will be increasingly better to be safe than sorry, writing “as climate change alters the frequency and intensity of natural disasters, we are going to have to change our basic response, which is often to minimize and deny.”  Meanwhile, on EvolutionBlog, Jason Rosenhouse exposes Mitt Romney’s waffling support for federal emergency management. Rosenhouse writes, “it makes no sense to think the federal government has no role in relieving the devastation caused by a major storm that disrupts life in several states.”  And Liz Borkowski argues in favor of federal safety nets on The Pump Handle, writing “risk pooling is a central concept in health insurance, and it applies to disasters as well.”  Liz concludes, “we’re stronger as a nation when work together as a whole – and sometimes it takes a hurricane to remind us of that.”


East Coast Disaster Aftermath

Natural disaster struck twice last month on the east coast of the United States: first, a magnitude 5.8 earthquake rattled windows from Atlanta to Boston, and then a waning hurricane whirled all the way to New York City and on to Canada as a tropical storm. The temblor caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damages, but the storm caused billions, and killed dozens of people. Sharon Astyk provides a firsthand view of the damage in upstate New York, where the storm turned her farm into a swamp, her creek into a raging torrent, and her locust trees into goat fodder and firewood. She implores, “please remember and help your local farmers anyway you can – most of them will struggle to rebuild after this disaster and to go forward.” On The Pump Handle, Liz Borkowski writes “hurricane Irene wasn’t nearly as bad as it could’ve been. […] Many of the New Yorkers who ignored Mayor Bloomberg’s orders to evacuate are probably feeling smug.” But she says Irene only proved that hurricanes can be unpredictable, and encourages us to always be prepared. And on Thoughts from Kansas, Josh Rosenau calculates just how unlikely it was to have the proverbial lightning strike twice. He states the odds as 1 in 1,500,000. If an asteroid hits Philly tomorrow, we’ll start worrying about Armageddon.


Time goes on and turns our attention, but radioactive isotopes take a long time to decay. On Greg Laden’s Blog, Analiese Miller and Greg update us on the nuclear crisis in Japan. Although the dangers faced at the Fukushima power plant have diminished, the long term consequences have just begun. Greg writes “it has been a while since extensive fission has occurred in the leaking reactor” and “there is real progress in hooking up the plants to outside power sources.” Meanwhile, Ana’s extensive news feed documents irradiated produce, neglected and euthanized livestock, and a widened evacuation zone. On Casaubon’s Book, Sharon Astyk enumerates her first (and only) top ten list, with ways to reduce our dependence on energy. She suggests we stop voting for industrial production with our dollars, buy things used, and cut back on everything from “lumber to underpants.” Going green will take some ingenuity, but it will provide a safer, cleaner, and cooler world for future generations.

Indiscriminate Force Rocks Japan

The staggering 9.0 magnitude earthquake that struck off the coast of Japan March 11 sent a thirty foot tall tsunami raging up to six miles inland, with diminished waves reaching all the way to the Pacific Islands and the shores of North America. In Japan, thousands are dead, and the devastation is stunning. On Thoughts from Kansas, Josh Rosenau reflects that due Japanese diligence may have spared millions of lives, noting “the earthquake in Haiti last year, which was 100 times weaker, killed 230,000.” On Observations of a Nerd, Christie Wilcox recounts her experience in Hawaii, from watching the disaster unfold on television to waiting for the “eerie tsunami sirens” to wail. And Greg Laden screens a collection of videos showing the initial havoc in Japan.

Remembering Challenger

January 28th marked the 25th anniversary of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, when one of the rocket boosters separated from the external fuel tank after liftoff and aerodynamic forces tore the shuttle apart. Like millions of Americans, Ethan Siegel and Greg Laden watched the orbiter disintegrate live on TV. Ethan writes that while “we found and fixed the flaws that caused the accident, and returned to space 32 months later with the Space Shuttle Discovery,” we “lost our eagerness for human space exploration in a way that would have been unfathomable 20 years prior.” NASA shifted its priorities from manned spaceflight to scientific investigation, and we have since learned a lot from the likes of Hubble, the Mars rovers, and Cassini. But still we are called to new horizons. In honor of all the trailblazers who have lost their lives in the spirit of human exploration, we pause to remember.