Hurricane Laura’s Winds Are Now Long Gone, But Residents Fear The Toxic Sludge Left Behind

Hurricane Laura’s Winds Are Now Long Gone, But Residents Fear The Toxic Sludge Left Behind

SOURCE: BuzzFeed News DATE: September 5, 2020 SNIP: Leaks and spills have become part and parcel of hurricanes that hit Texas and Louisiana’s Gulf Coast. A Reuters analysis found that in the wake of Hurricane Harvey’s punishing rain in the Houston area, at least 22,000 barrels of oil, refined fuels, and chemicals were spilled across the state. That was in addition to millions of cubic feet of natural gas and hundreds of tons of other toxic substances. While Harvey had a widespread effect on Texas, the environmental damage paled in comparison to Hurricane Katrina. Researchers estimate that there were as many as 200 releases of hazardous chemicals, petroleum, or natural gas in the wake of that storm coming ashore south of New Orleans. John Pardue, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Louisiana State University, wrote in a piece for the Conversation about how the fire at BioLab [a chlorine plant which processes chlorine for swimming pools] may be just the tip of Hurricane Laura’s damage to the oil and petrochemical facilities. In that piece, Pardue points out that the storm’s strongest winds whipped through the Hackberry oil field, a marsh dotted with thousands of oil wells, storage tanks, and pipelines. Storage tanks have been known to be ripped from their moorings during hurricanes, releasing whatever toxins they had inside into the environment. The Gulf Coast is home to a dense network of oil and gas refineries and pipelines and increasingly the booming petrochemical industry. And the industrialization is growing. Using state permitting data, the Environmental Integrity Project showed that between 2012 and 2018, regulators in Louisiana and...
Protective Wind Shear Barrier Against Hurricanes on Southeast U.S. Coast Likely to Weaken in Coming Decades

Protective Wind Shear Barrier Against Hurricanes on Southeast U.S. Coast Likely to Weaken in Coming Decades

SOURCE: Weather Underground DATE: June 24, 2019 SNIP: It’s well-known that high wind shear—a large change in the wind speed and/or direction with height in the atmosphere—is hostile for hurricane development, since a strong vertical change in winds creates a shearing force that tends to tear a storm apart. For example, even though the Caribbean is warm enough year-round to support hurricanes, we almost never see hurricanes in the winter or spring, since wind shear is very high these times of year due to strong upper-level subtropical jet stream winds. When low wind shear occurs in summer or fall in the Atlantic’s main development region (MDR), from the coast of Africa through the Caribbean, an active period for major hurricane activity often results. But the major hurricanes that form in the MDR during these situations often have trouble maintaining their intensity when they reach the Southeast U.S. coast, since low wind shear in the MDR is typically accompanied by high wind shear along the Southeast U.S. coast. This high shear, typically associated with strong upper-level winds from the mid-latitude jet stream, helps protect the U.S. East Coast against strikes by full-strength major hurricanes. But research published last month led by Mingfang Ting of Colombia University, Past and Future Hurricane Intensity Change along the U.S. East Coast, found that the Southeast U.S. protective barrier of high wind shear is likely to weaken in coming decades due to global warming. Using multiple climate computer models, the researchers found that global warming is likely to cause wind shear along the Southeast U.S. coast to decline significantly, mostly due to the northward migration...
When Tropical Cyclones Can’t Move On

When Tropical Cyclones Can’t Move On

SOURCE: National Center for Environmental Information at NOAA DATE: June 6, 2018 SNIP: Tropical cyclones—also sometimes referred to as hurricanes and typhoons—are taking substantially longer to move from place to place, according to a new study by NCEI scientist Jim Kossin. In his paper, “A Global Slowdown of Tropical Cyclone Translation Speed (link is external),” published in Nature, Kossin demonstrates that, globally, tropical cyclones slowed by 10 percent between 1949 and 2016. With additional water vapor in the atmosphere in a warming world, as little as a 10 percent slowdown could double local rainfall and flooding impacts caused by 1°C of warming. According to the study, tropical cyclones have slowed in both hemispheres and in every ocean basin except the Northern Indian Ocean. But, tropical cyclones have generally slowed more in the Northern Hemisphere, where more of these storms typically occur each year. “Of great importance to society,” says Kossin, “tropical cyclones over land have slowed down 20 percent in the Atlantic, 30 percent in the western North Pacific, and 19 percent in the Australian region. These trends are almost certainly increasing local rainfall totals and freshwater flooding, which is associated with very high mortality risk.” Hurricane Harvey in 2017 serves as a dramatic example of the consequences a slow-moving or “stalled” tropical cyclone can produce. Harvey—the hurricane that refused to leave—dumped upwards of 50 inches of rain on Houston, Texas, and the surrounding area in just five days. Some locations received two feet of rain in just two days. [Slower than expected?...
Warm waters juiced Ophelia into the most powerful eastern Atlantic hurricane ever seen

Warm waters juiced Ophelia into the most powerful eastern Atlantic hurricane ever seen

SOURCE: ThinkProgress DATE: October 16, 2017 SNIP: Ex-hurricane Ophelia smashed into Ireland Monday morning with record-breaking gusts of up to 119 mph. The powerful extra-tropical storm — which has already killed two people and blacked-out some 360,000 Irish homes and businesses — is what’s left of the most powerful Eastern Atlantic hurricane ever seen. “This was the first major hurricane making it as far east in the Atlantic as it did,” climatologist Michael Mann told ThinkProgress via email. “Irma was the most powerful Atlantic hurricane ever to form as far east as it did. As ocean surface temperatures rise, the regions where tropical cyclones can form and intensify are expanding. This latest storm is consistent with that trend.” What do all these powerful storms have in common? Hurricanes “extract heat energy from the ocean to convert it to the power of wind, and the warmer the ocean is, the stronger a hurricane can get,” as meteorologist and former hurricane hunter Jeff Masters has explained. “So, scientists are confident that as we continue to heat up the oceans, we’re going to see more of these high-end perfect...
The scariest thing about 2017’s hurricanes: They keep getting really strong, really fast

The scariest thing about 2017’s hurricanes: They keep getting really strong, really fast

SOURCE: Washington Post DATE: September 19, 2017 SNIP: “Maria is developing the dreaded pinhole eye,” wrote National Hurricane Center forecaster Jack Beven on Monday evening, as the storm reached Category 4 intensity. That inward contraction of a hurricane’s eye can be one telltale indicator of what hurricane gurus technically call “rapid intensification,” although a more evocative word might simply be “explosion.” Whatever you call it, it’s something we keep seeing this year. Harvey, Irma, Jose and now Maria have rapidly strengthened — and all too often, have done it just before striking land. It’s a dangerous and scary phenomenon that scientists and forecasters are still trying to understand. DeMaria said that this season is seeing more rapid intensification events than usual and that Maria, in particular, appears to have set a key record for hurricane rapid intensification in the...