Archive for 2012 October

“Every hurricane is a fluke” — Atmospheric scientist

"Every hurricane is a fluke, to some degree," said Adam Sobel, an atmospheric scientists at Columbia in New York, in a fascinating discussion around the question: Is New York becoming a hotspot for tropical cyclones?

Short answer (from Will Oremus) is: No. 

Here, via Wikipedia Commons, is an image of hurricane tracks in the Atlantic, 1851-2005.


How did the experts track hurricanes from 150 years ago? Ask the smarties at the National Hurricane Center to find out. 

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Refiners push up gas prices in CA today: L.A. Times

A sharp letter to the editor this past weekend alerted me to a startlingly good Los Angeles Times story I had missed on California's high gas prices, complete with a graph that almost tells the story itself.

Here's the letter, from Jim Cody of North Hollywood: 

The graph that accompanied this article, which shows how crude oil
, taxes, refiners and station owners have influenced the price of
recently, proves that practically all of the recent run-up in California gasoline prices is going to the refinery owners: Chevron, Tesoro, BP, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil
and four others. Chevron, BP, Exxon Mobil and ConocoPhillips are, along
with Shell, the five largest oil companies in the world, and in 2011
they made record profits of $137 billion.

Since only one segment of the
gasoline supply chain is profiting from this price run-up, it is hard
to believe that this segment is not also solely responsible. The oil
companies say they are not actively colluding to set prices; since they
aren't, they have apparently developed some other price-gouging method
that is just as effective and just as destructive to the economy.

time an oil severance tax has come up for consideration in California,
the oil companies have warned that that would raise gas prices. Turns
out that gas prices are going to go up anyway, but at the oil companies'
convenience. At least if we pass an oil severance tax, we will get
something out of it, just like the socialist states of Alaska, Texas and

Here's the story, with a partially anecdotal opening:

"You can't believe how customers talk to me," said [gas station owner] Arya, who was born
in India but has lived in the U.S. for almost 40 years. "They say, 'You
foreigner, you're gouging.'"

While Arya was losing money, the
state's oil refiners were raking it in. For the week that ended Oct. 8,
when the average price for a gallon of gasoline in California hit a
record high of $4.67, the portion of the retail price going to refiners,
or margin, jumped to $1.22 a gallon. That was up 75% from the previous
week. And it was nearly triple the average margin of 42 cents a gallon
this year, according to California Energy Commission data.

And here's the exemplary charticle, mentioned in the letter above. 

Note that air pollution regulation did help create the "gasoline island" that these oil refiners now exploit. 

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A flip-flop too far: Romney shuts up on FEMA after Sandy

A couple of days ago it was suggested somewhere that reporters on the campaign trail ask Gov. Romney if he still advocates replacing Federal disaster aid, including FEMA, with grants to the states, as he said last year in response to a direct question in a GOP debate.  

This morning that is the question pool reporters are asking the candidate in Ohio: 

Governor — you've been asked 14 times, why are you refusing to answer the question? 

Will Romney shift his stance and now endorse Federal aid and FEMA? 

That's been his pattern ever since the Oct. 3 debate: a new-found moderation. But in the media glare following a mega-disaster such as Sandy, to suddenly forget that Federal disaster aid is "immoral" will be a flip-flop too far. 

Probably. After all, this is a guy who can pretzel his position even on abortion. Rare talent. 

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Hurricane Sandy has a question for our politics

Toles frames the question: 

Eugene Robinson follows up

The words “climate change” were not spoken during the presidential debates. Hurricane Sandy wants to know why.

Or, as Terry Tempest Williams tweeted: 

So ironic: no mention of Nature or wildness in the presidential debates and now, it is commanding force in chief. We are forced to be still.

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Romney calls FEMA disaster aid “immoral” (6/11)

A year and a half ago, during a GOP debate, when asked by a journalist if he would oppose Federal aid to disaster victims, or replace it with something else, Mitt Romney said yes. He would want to cut agencies such as FEMA, he indicated,  but would provide aid to the states, or allow privatization of emergency services. 

CNN/JOHN KING: …FEMA is about to run out of money, and there are some people who say do it on a case-by-case basis and some people who say, you know, maybe we’re learning a lesson here that the states should take on more of this role. How do you deal with something like that?

ROMNEY: Absolutely. Every time you have an occasion to take something from the federal government and send it back to the states, that’s the right direction. And if you can go even further and send it back to the private sector, that’s even better.

The questioner seemingly could not believe Romney's willingness to cut Federal aid to disaster victims, and asked about it again:

KING: Including disaster relief, though?

ROMNEY: We cannot — we cannot afford to do those things without jeopardizing the future for our kids. It is simply immoral, in my view, for us to continue to rack up larger and larger debts and pass them on to our kids, knowing full well that we’ll all be dead and gone before it’s paid off. It makes no sense at all.

"No sense at all." Someone should call Mitt on this — ask him if he still wants to cut Federal aid to hurricane victims. Except that he doesn't take any questions, which may be why he hasn't gone on any talkshows, when major shows — including Saturday Night Live — would love to book him.

After all, he's such a funny guy. 

[Pic of Mitt Romney and Meatloaf singing "America the Beautiful"]


When the aging two-hit wonder endorsed Romney a couple of days ago, Meatloaf said: "There has storm clouds come over the United States." 

On this we all can agree. According to Dr. Jeff Masters, who has been blogging about hurricanes since l995, tropical cyclone Sandy is already one of the largest hurricanes ever recorded, of near-record size


Update: Ryan Grim reached the Romney campaign last night and they confirmed bia email that yes, they want to cut Federal aid for aid to the states, even in emergencies such as hurricanes. 

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Sandy: Hybrid megastorm challenges the language

The trouble between tropical storm Sandy and the English language began when the hurricane was still far from the United States. It started on Thursday in, of all places, an offical teletype-style all caps release from the National Weather Services Hydrometeorological Prediction Center that referenced, for the first time ever, surely, a 19th-century writer. Forecaster Cisco prophesized: 


CNN soon announced it was not referring to Sandy in any sort of joking way, because the hurricane had already killed people. Star blogger Matt Yglesias wondered why forecasts were shouting at him. And Bill McKibben endorsed the Frankenstorm concept: 

"You can’t, as the climate-change deniers love to say, blame any particular hurricane on global warming. They’re born, as they always have been, when a tropical wave launches off the African coast and heads out into the open ocean. But when that ocean is hot—and at the moment sea surface temperatures off the Northeast are five degrees higher than normal—a storm like Sandy can lurch north longer and stronger, drawing huge quantities of moisture into its clouds, and then dumping them ashore.


"Frankenstorm" is the right name for Sandy, and indeed for many other storms and droughts and heat waves now. They're stitched together from some spooky combination of the natural and the unnatural. Some state will no doubt bear the brunt of this particular monster, but it will also do its damage to everyone's state of mind."

For Climate Central, Andrew Freedman unpacks that "spooky combination of the natural and the unnatural" in Sandy's case:

"Recent studies have shown that blocking patterns have appeared with greater frequency and intensity in recent years, which some scientists think may be related to the loss of Arctic sea ice as a result of global warming. The 2012 sea ice melt season, which just ended one month ago, was extreme, with sea ice extent, volume, and other measures all hitting record lows. The loss of sea ice opens large expanses of open water, which absorbs more of the incoming solar radiation and adds heat and moisture to the atmosphere, thereby helping to alter weather patterns. Exactly how weather patterns are changing as a result, however, is a subject of active research.

While it is not unusual to have a high pressure area near Greenland, its intensity is striking for this time of year. As Jason Samenow of the Capital Weather Gang wrote on Wednesday, the North Atlantic Oscillation, which helps measure this blocking flow, "is forecast to be three standard deviations from the average — meaning this is an exceptional situation."

Hurricane Sandy may be an example of what can happen when a blocking pattern that may have been supercharged by sea ice loss occurs at just the wrong time — when a hurricane happens to be moving up the Eastern Seaboard."

May be: Guess we'll have to wait for the attribution studies to be sure. Dr. Jeff Masters predicts a multi-billion dollar disaster, with the possibility that New York City's subways could be flooded, and notes the massive reach of this storm, as big as last year's Irene, about the size of Europe: 


Science writer Carl Zimmer wonders if he's overly afraid and perhaps suffering from hurrichondria. Or is that warmophobia? 

Seems to me the language can't keep up with the weather anymore. 

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“To sleep on the ground — talk about being grounded!”

A new feature, because I can't keep up: one quote posts. Here's an epic LA Times story on a woman who makes an annual pack trip across the Sierra with one horse, two mules and an Indian (really, no fooling). 

Great story. Here's the quote: "To sleep on the ground — well, talk about being grounded!"


From a wonderful gallery of pics from the journey across Mono Pass. 

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Toles on crazy Italians who jail earthquake scientists

A "Tsketch" from Toles: 


Here's the background. Interesting that the AGU took a position on the issue.

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The Sessions’ source material: “On seeing a sex surrogate”

The trailer for The Sessions could hardly be more charming. This looks to be in the vein of that classic kind of ironic indy flick — a painful story told in a funny way, like Election or Heathers or Little Miss Sunshine.

Wonderfully, the source material for this lauded movie — a riveting memoir/essay piece by a Bay Area writer, the late Mark O'Brien — is readily available on the Web. O'Brien has a riveting story to tell, and tells it gracefully. 

O'Brien describes, for example, how he felt coming back home after his first sexual encounter. 

Dixie pushed me back to my apartment, through the quiet neighborhood of small, old houses and big, old trees. It was a warm day, which I hadn’t noticed on the way over. I asked Dixie about her first sexual experience. When she described it, I felt admitted to something from which I had always felt excluded: the world of adults.

Back home, Dixie put me into the iron lung and set up my computer so that I could write. Pounding the keys with my mouthstick, I wrote in my journal as quickly as I could about my experience, then switched off the computer and tried to nap. But I couldn’t. I was too happy. For the first time, I felt glad to be a man.

In the role of the sex surrogate, actress Helen Hunt went unabashedly nude, and explained why: 

HelenHunt_TheSessions (1)"Anything less than the amount of nudity that's in the film would be antithetical to the spirit of the movie," Hunt said. "For me, the movie is about having a body and everybody's God-given right to get off." 


h/t: 24 Frames

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No El Nino or La Nina this year, just La Nada

Like the headline the Star put on my story from Saturday: No El Nino or La Nina this year, just La Nada

The crucial quote couple of graphs from the story, featuring media star and friend Bill Patzert:

Veteran forecaster Bill Patzert, who works with the NASA-affiliated
Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena on long-range forecasts for
Southern California, calls this condition "La Nada," because he thinks
the word "neutral" misleadingly implies that rainfall will be moderate
or "normal."

"You never want to say the word 'normal' when it comes to rain in
Southern California, because in the last 100 years, we've only had a
total of six 'normal' years of rainfall, meaning about 15 inches of rain
in a winter in downtown L.A," he said. "We have had one of the wettest
winters on record during a La Nada period, and one of the driest."

Here's a graph of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, or PDO, which many climatologists believe governs rainfall in SoCal more than El Nino/La Nina/ENSO:
The graph is a few years old (2003). Patzert noted that during that freakish two weeks of rain in December 2010, it was positive, but as of late, has turned steadily negative. 

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