Monday, October 20, 2008

Global Warming Will Have Significant Economic Impacts On Florida Coasts, Reports State

Global Warming Will Have Significant Economic Impacts On Florida Coasts, Reports State

ScienceDaily (Oct. 1, 2008) Leading Florida-based scientific researchers released two new studies today, including a Florida State University report finding that climate change will cause significant impacts on Florida's coastlines and economy due to increased sea level rise.

A second study by researchers at Florida Atlantic University recommends that the state of Florida adopt a series of policy programs aimed at adapting to these large coastal and other impacts as a result of climate change. Key findings of the FAU report were included just this week by Florida Gov. Charlie Crist's Climate and Energy Action Team when it adopted the "Adaptation" section of its final report.

"The impacts of climate change on Florida's coasts and on our economy will be substantial, persistent and long-term, even under our conservative estimates," said Julie Harrington, director of the Center for Economic Forecasting and Analysis at FSU. "Should, as many models predict, sea level rise, and hurricane strength and other factors become more extreme, much greater economic impacts will occur along many parts of Florida's coast in this century."

The second new study, by researchers at FAU, focused on state adaptation policies needed as Florida faces the impacts of climate change.

"The goal of our study is to help the state of Florida adapt, in the most effective way possible, to climate change impacts that are now inevitable," said Jim Murley, director of Florida Atlantic University's Center for Urban and Environmental Solutions and leader of the study. "These approaches must be comprehensive and strategic, not piecemeal and episodic. Governor Crist and other leaders have rightly identified adapting to climate change as one of the state's greatest challenges -- we look forward to working with the state to protect our people, natural splendor, and economic livelihood. There is real work to be done."

This research was supported by a grant from the National Commission on Energy Policy, a project of the Bipartisan Policy Center.

About the FSU study

This study uses current estimates of sea level rise from Florida State University's Beaches and Shores Resource Center and 2001 estimates from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to evaluate the effect of sea level rise on the six coastal counties. The results show projected trends in storm-surge flood return periods associated with hurricanes, damage costs associated with flooding from major storm events, and the value and area of land at risk.

Under the FSU study's estimates for sea level in Dade County, the value of land at risk totals $6.7 billion in 2080 (in 2005 dollars). (By comparison, using International Panel on Climate Change sea level estimates, the value of land at risk in Dade County ranges from $1 billion to $12.3 billion in 2080). The study also calculated the effect of storm surge and sea level rise on future damage costs, finding that if a storm like Hurricane Wilma from 2005 occurred in 2080, the cost to Dade alone would be from 12 percent to 31 percent higher (in 2005 constant dollars). While these findings do not account for adaptive strategies or potential future increases in property values, they still provide valuable information about potential impacts and resources that are put at risk from sea level rise.

About the FAU study

Key findings of the report have been included by Gov. Crist's Climate and Energy Action Team as it adopted the "Adaptation" section of its final report this week in Tallahassee. Important findings from the FAU study call for major state environmental, growth management and public infrastructure decision-making processes to be adjusted so they are responsive to future climate change impacts.

"FAU will continue to research how Florida can be a leader in providing guidance to other states on how best to put in place workable solutions that will help communities adapt to future climate change impacts," Murley said.

"Storm events associated with certain levels of storm surge could increase in frequency in the future, due to sea level rise," Harrington said.

"As sea level rises, damage costs associated with extreme storm events increases significantly for the Florida counties examined in this study," she said.


My Personal Close Calls With Tornadoes
By Michelle Dyer
Special Corespondent to Robin Storm

What is the dream of a storm chaser? To get close to a large and dangerous tornado! Many attempts have been made to accomplish this goal, much of the time, the mighty twisters go unseen. Oh, but what if you've been close to a tornado without looking for it? I have done just that!

This month's article will be the focus of four rather compelling stories of mine. These personal accounts involve my close encounters with tornadoes. Each story is different and unique, but will contain common threads. Please come with me as we walk through these personal experiences together.

My First Ever Tornado Warning

This first encounter took place when I was four years old. Before I go on, I must state that things in this memory are a bit sketchy because of my young age, but I remember just enough to tell the story. In spite of that, I hope you will enjoy reading about it.

The first thing I remember is being placed inside of what looked like a utility room. This small enclosure was cluttered with furniture, tools and other things that I can't currently recall. There was a small window for which I could somewhat see out of, however, it was way too high, so I couldn't climb up onto anything to completely watch the weather that was unfolding at that time. If I had been able to see everything at that point, I might not have been so unsure of what really took place that particular day.

After my Mom placed me in this small and cluttered room, she left, closing the door slightly behind her. I asked her if she'd be back, and she told me she would return. Unfortunately, this did not happen.

While waiting in this small room, I could hear the radio playing. The announcer came on and mentioned about a Tornado Warning. My Mom, by this point, was getting ready for work as well as listening to the radio. She wanted to hear what was going on with the weather, but I recall wishing that she'd come to the room I was in so she could be safe.

Even as I was being placed in this room, I knew about this Tornado Warning.You might be wondering then, did I know what a Tornado Warning meant? Well, at that age, I knew that such a circumstance meant that a tornado was coming, and that one needed to find a safe place to go. I also knew, even at that age, that tornadoes killed or injured folks that refused to seek

While waiting in this small room, I watched as the darkening sky cast a reflection on everything around me. The more the sky darkened, the more scared I became. As a result of this fear that I felt, I some how thought to move behind some of the furniture in the room. I stood behind a glass table and trembled with great fear as the storm moved on passed.

When the sky got brighter, I then felt like things were safe. My Mom then came to tell me that the Tornado Warning was over, and that I could leave the room in question. What a relief! The tornado didn't hurt us! I hoped that it didn't hurt anyone else either.

Now, I don't really know if a tornado took place that day or not. I'm not even sure of the date or time. Heck, I don't even know what direction the storm moved in, or if the tornado ever touched the ground. All I can say is, that I knew what to do, which is amazing for being a small child living in Northern Virginia at the time.

My Experience With A Mysterious Pea Green Sky

This particular experience was preceded by what was a calm, but cloudy afternoon. I had been sitting out on the front porch with my Grandparents while watching the sun take on a milky look. Then, as the sun completely disappeared behind a thickening cloudbank, we all decided to head in doors.

The next thing I remember, my Grandparents had left for the store for groceries. While they were gone, I hung out in the living room area and played with my toys, for I was only 4 or 5 years old at the time. As a matter of fact, I loved placing my babies into my little brother's baby swing. This way, I could be like my Mom who had just given birth to my brother.

Well, as I continued playing with the baby swing, I heard this strange noise fill the room. I turned my head to the right of me, and saw the sky turn the strangest shade of green. Along with this, I watched as heavy rain poured in like a waterfall through the open window. Wind blew the rain in through the open window horizontally, and I could not see the neighbors that were situated at the bottom of a hill behind our house.

My Dad noticed what was happening, and ran like mad from the kitchen to the living room to close the window. The rain was still pouring so hard, it took on a silver like look. Even the sky got hard to see at points!

This strange shade of green looked like someone had blended grayish-blue with a creamy yellow. When you blend those two colors together, you can get a putrid pea grayish-green shade. I even recall seeing dark green swirls within the clouds. As I looked more toward the horizon, these green swirls seem to gather up into a bulge that was darker than any other part of the

As the storm moved on, I could see more white clouds starting to fill the sky. First these white clouds moved in from the west, replacing the green clouds as the storm moved to the east. Then these white clouds seemed to make the greener clouds look lighter. The strangest thing I must point out though is how weird the edge of the green clouds looked while taking on a razor sharp straight edge appearance. This split look had made it impossible for the green and white clouds to mix, which seemed to reveal an apparent dry line effect.

I happened to get a good look at this sky formation because I was standing out in the rain, holding the door open for my Grandparents after they arrived home from shopping. They had arms full of groceries which needed to be brought inside rather quickly. This was due to the fact that large raindrops continued to fall.

So, you might be asking, was there a tornado in that storm? The answer is, I don't really know for sure. When I've told this story to friends of mine over the years, they seem to think that a tornado hit close by to me. I can not confirm or deny this claim. All I know is what I saw, felt and experienced.

The Tornado That Didn't Take Place

Now we will jump ahead to another strange close encounter I had with a tornado. Back in the late summer of 1985, we experienced the storm of storms. This event would break a six week heat wave that crippled the eastern United States with high temperatures and severe drought.

The date was Tuesday, September 9, 1985. I had come home from school like any other day. The only difference was, after I arrived home, the weather began to change.

I could sense that something was wrong, like the feeling of pending danger. We new that a storm was coming, but we were unable to follow it's progress after losing our cable connection. There's nothing quite like feeling helpless in a situation like that, especially since I could sense the approach of a tornado.

A few minutes later, I looked up at the sky and saw something that frightened me greatly! The leading cloud edge of this approaching storm took on a bulging appearance. These bulges had shown as this grayish emerald green color. I was sure then that a tornado was bound to happen.

As the storm moved closer, the emerald green clouds gave way to grayish ones. Once this occurred, the entire sky filled up with constant flashes of blue lightning. The weird thing was that this lightning had not been accompanied by thunder. I had read somewhere that lightning without thunder often meant that a tornado was present.

Along with the eerie blue lightning came a huge wall of rain. This rain was so heavy that I could not see the neighbor's behind our house. This rainfall took on the same appearance as the pea green sky storm I experienced as a youngster. Unlike that storm with the pea green sky though, I don't recall any wind blowing. Regardless of this fact, I'm sure a tornado hit somewhere close to us.

Well, after the storm was over, we turned on the news to find out what had happened. To my utter surprise, we heard that no tornado had taken place. According to the National Weather Service, the damage done was caused by straight line winds. This particular damage area was about a mile from where I lived at that time.

In spite of this NWS ruling, I will always wonder if a tornado happened in that storm. I say this because of the heavy rainfall and the silent blue lightning. My theory is that a tornado started to form, and then when it got close to us, began to fall apart. This would have still left behind the microburst that created the damage in question.

Here's The Closest Encounter Yet!

Please allow me to now share with you about my closest tornado encounter to date! This particular experience became my piece of what ended up being one of Central Florida's deadliest tornado outbreaks thus far. Out of these four encounters, this one scared me the most.

It was February 22, 1998, and we were expected to see some kind of severe weather that day. At first, the weather was expected to arrive by mid afternoon. However, the cold front expected to bring these storms to our area had stalled out over North Florida, causing the storms to build from the heating of the day.

At first, the Storm Prediction Center had placed us under one tornado watch, which yielded no real severe weather. By early evening, we were beginning to think that these storms were not ever going to arrive. Unfortunately, by 9 p.m. that Sunday evening, we were back under another tornado watch. This concerned us, because this line of severe storms was taking on more of a bow echo appearance as the day progressed.

By 11:00 p.m., we were beginning to see the squall line move in closer to our location. As it did, tornado warnings started to be issued throughout Central Florida. First, we started following tornadoes coming up from the Kissemmee area, moving into Orange County. From there, we listened as the weather service kept issuing tornado warnings for Seminole and Volusia Counties.

When the squall line approached Seminole County, we became rather nervous. This is because Sanford/Lake Mary, the area my family and I live in, was the next target for these tornadoes. The radio announcer had stated that a tornado had touched down on Lake Mary BLVD., which is where my neighborhood is located.

My house does not have a basement, so my brother and I sat huddled in my bedroom closet Before we knew it, thunder was rumbling to our north and west. This created within us a great deal of fear for which we could not shake. What would we do if a tornado actually hit? How would we really handle the situation?

By the time we began to see this line of storms, it was well past midnight. I think it was closer to 1 a.m. or something. I wasn't really sure at that point. All I knew was that things turned real weird, really fast.

Like I stated earlier, we started out hearing thunder off in the distance. Then, as the storm got closer, the sound of the rain and thunder disappeared. As the thunder faded away, it was replaced with an eerie silence. Following the silence was this strange swishing and tearing sound that was accompanied by a hissing noise.

This hissing sound wasn't around long, but the swishing and tearing noise lingered. My brother could see flashes of silent lightning embedded within this storm, creating a wall of blue-green light that was constantly flashing. We seemed to be surrounded as the massive element continued to hang overhead.

While this ordeal was occurring, I began to notice that the room around us grew silent. I could no longer hear the television set coming from the living room, and the bedroom seemed to be unusually still. It was not a peaceful stillness, it felt more like being inside of a vacuum tube. It just seemed as if everything stopped, and that the world had dropped us off somewhere in the twi-light zone.

At this point, my brother and I began to shake and tremble. The only thing I knew to do was to pray. So, I grabbed my brother's hands and did just that! After all, we were thinking the worst at that point. What else could we do!

Before we knew it, the swishing sound was replaced with the rain and thunder. We rejoiced over the fact that the strangeness was behind us. All we could do at that point was to climb out of the closet and take a deep breath.

Once the storm left our location, it went to a neighborhood to our east. Those folks weren't so fortunate because some lost their lives when the tornado hit them. It was weird because once the storm left the area, the weather became so nice, that you wouldn't have known that a tornado was even there!

After everything was over, we spent all night listening to the news. I was so traumatized that I couldn't sleep. I couldn't believe what had happened and that I had survived it. What an unbelievable night for us all!

The next day, my parents went outside to assess what the tornado had done. Even though we did not sustain any damage, some strange things did occur. The tree out in front of our home had been stripped of all it's leaves. The top of the tree had been twisted around, as if someone had taken it and turned it around in a not. Twigs were left standing upright, embedded into the ground. If that wasn't all from a tornado, then what was it?

This particular tornado outbreak produced seven tornadoes. There were fourty-two persons that lost their lives that night, making that outbreak one of the deadliest in Central Florida history. A lack of Weather radios, along with the late hour, were the main culprits to why so many deaths occurred that night. From then on, there's been a campaign to encourage Central Floridians to use their NOAA radios, especially if severe weather is expected in the middle of the night.

I, to this day, am grateful to be alive, but feel guilty for having prayed that we'd be spared. For if I had not prayed, the souls to our east may not have died that night. I know that sounds ridiculous, but that's how I feel!

Michelle Dyer is a Special Corespondent to Robin Storm and is a blind weather reporter.

Portable Imaging System Will Help Maximize Natural Disaster Response

Researchers at the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) have developed a low-cost, high-resolution imaging system that can be attached to a helicopter to create a complete and detailed picture of an area devastated by a hurricane or other natural disaster. The resulting visual information can be used to estimate the number of storm refugees and assess the need for health and humanitarian services.

Aid organizations currently don’t have a quick and accurate way to determine how many people need assistance. Satellites can collect images of areas affected by a natural disaster, but there are dissemination restrictions and cloud cover can prevent collection of images.

“Without a real-time map, it’s very hard to do population estimates and demographic estimates to figure out where people are, how they’re moving, how they’re spaced out and even how many people you have on the ground,” said Benjamin Sklaver, a project officer from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) International Emergency and Refugee Health Branch. “This technology does not exist currently, so GTRI’s imaging system is really an innovative project.”

The imaging system was developed with funding from the CDC, and agency officials would like to begin using this device as soon as possible. After responding to the recent devastation caused by Hurricanes Hanna and Ike, the CDC asked GTRI to accelerate delivery of the imaging device for use during the 2008 hurricane season.

“We plan to package the system for use on Coast Guard UH-60J Black Hawk helicopters, which were among the first to fly over Haiti following Hanna’s devastation,” said David Price, a GTRI senior research technologist.

The imaging system – designed by Price and senior research engineer Gary Gray – is called the “Mini ModPOD,” which stands for “Miniature Modular Photographic Observation Device.” It consists of an off-the-shelf Canon Digital Rebel XTi digital camera, a global positioning system receiver, a small circuit board that uploads mission parameters, and an inertial measurement unit that measures the aircraft’s rate of acceleration and changes in rotational attributes, including pitch, roll and yaw. The images collected from the system can be stitched together to create a complete picture of the affected area.

The research team has tested the device on several flights, selecting areas with large populations of people likely to be outdoors.

“During the first test flight, we wanted to test the clarity and resolution of the images collected during the run, and we were very pleased,” said Price. “We could see tennis balls on the ground and people reading books at outdoor tables. This was sufficient detail to allow accurate counting the number of people in an area.”

After the first flight, the researchers reduced the weight of the device and developed a more accurate geo-referencing capability, which allowed the physical location of the scenes shown in each photograph to be determined with precision. With the modifications made, the researchers went for a second flight test in July.

The research group selected a rectangular zone of interest and loaded the latitude and longitude coordinates of the zone into the system from a USB drive. As soon as the helicopter flew into the zone, the camera began snapping pictures. The electronics were set to measure the speed of the aircraft so that each photo overlapped 60 percent of the preceding photo, making it easier to stitch together the photos to create a complete picture. The pilot made two passes, at altitudes of 500 and 1,000 feet above ground level.

“This test flight was successful in confirming the Mini ModPOD’s ability to activate the camera within the zone of interest. The resulting photos were extremely sharp and clear – they were free of any vibration or motion effects,” added Price.

The photos were successfully matched to the flight data, which enabled the CDC to adjust them for geospatial reference. However, due to a software glitch, they were not overlapped as planned. The researchers made a small adjustment to the software and completed a third a third test flight in August.

“This flight resulted in images that were 60 percent overlapped, enabling CDC engineers to build a high-resolution mosaic image,” noted Price. “Individuals on the ground were easily distinguishable as people separate from other objects.”

The imaging system will also be available to the CDC and other agencies, such as the American Red Cross, to count people in refugee camps in order to plan for health and humanitarian services.

The research described in this article was supported by cooperative agreement #U38 EH000363 from the CDC. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the CDC.


Maritime groups: Icebreakers needed on Great Lakes

MILWAUKEE -- Several maritime groups say shipping on the Great Lakes could be disrupted this winter because of a shortage of U.S. Coast Guard icebreakers.

Lake Michigan covers 22,300 square miles, with more than 1,640 miles of shore in Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana.In Wisconsin, there's only one Coast Guard icebreaker to help vessels on the lake.Port of Green Bay director Dean Haen says mechanical problems have taken that ship out of service, and there have been times when it was reassigned elsewhere. That leaves the Green Bay port and others in Wisconsin without any icebreaker.Shipping industry representatives say two more icebreakers are needed _ one on Lake Michigan and one assigned to Duluth, Minn., for service on Lake Superior