Monday, November 3, 2008

Hurricanes and Climate Change: NCAR Launches Intensive Study into Future Hurricane Risk

Hurricanes and Climate Change: NCAR Launches Intensive Study into Future Hurricane Risk

BOULDER—The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), working with federal agencies and universities as well as the insurance and energy industries, has launched an intensive study to examine how global warming will influence hurricanes in the next few decades. The goal of the project is to better inform coastal communities, offshore drilling operations, and other interests that could be affected by changes in hurricanes.

The project will use a combination of global climate and regional weather models, run on one of the world's most powerful supercomputers, to look at future hurricane activity in unprecedented detail. Researchers are targeting the hurricane-prone Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea to assess the likely changes, between now and the middle of the century, in the frequency, intensity, and paths of these powerful storms. Initial results are expected early next year.

"It is clear from the impacts of recent hurricane activity that we urgently need to learn more about how hurricane intensity and behavior may respond to a warming climate," says NCAR scientist Greg Holland, who is leading the project. "The increasingly dense development along our coastlines and our dependence on oil from the Gulf of Mexico leave our society dangerously vulnerable to hurricanes."

Greg Holland

Greg Holland. [ENLARGE] (Photo by Carlye Calvin, ©UCAR.)

The new study follows two major reports, by the U.S. Climate Change Science Program (CCSP) and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), that found evidence for a link between global warming and hurricane activity. But many questions remain about future hurricanes. For example, the CCSP report concluded that future changes in frequency were uncertain and that rainfall and intensity were likely to increase, but with unknown consequences.

Improved understanding of climate change and hurricanes is an especially high priority for the energy industry, which has a concentration of drilling platforms, refineries, pipelines, and other infrastructure in a region that is vulnerable to severe weather. Hurricanes Gustav and Ike damaged offshore oil production and several refineries, disrupting gasoline supplies.

The project is part of a larger effort examining regional climate change between 1995 and 2055. The simulations are being run on NCAR's bluefire supercomputer with support from the National Science Foundation, NCAR's sponsor, and through a long-term collaboration with the insurance industry through the Willis Research Network. Additional backing is expected from the Research Partnership to Secure Energy for America, a nonprofit consortium that includes the U.S. Department of Energy and several energy companies. The Georgia Institute of Technology is collaborating on the research, and other universities are also involved.

"This research program by NCAR is a major contribution to the insurance industry and public policymakers," says Rowan Douglas, managing director of Willis. "The primary way to improve our understanding of present and future hurricane risk is to generate computer simulations of storms in unprecedented detail. NCAR's work is at the forefront of this critical line of research, helping those with onshore and offshore risks in the Gulf, and with relevance to all affected by tropical cyclones in the United States and worldwide."

The research plan

For this new NCAR project, researchers will examine three decades in detail: 1995-2005, 2020-2030, and 2045-2055. They will use statistical techniques to fill in the gaps between these decades. A major goal is to examine how several decades of greenhouse-gas buildup could affect regional climate and, in turn, influence hurricanes and other critical weather features. The team will also investigate the impact of the powerful storms on global climate.

Active Offshore platforms

Offshore platforms. The dense cluster of offshore drilling platforms in the Gulf of Mexico is vulnerable to hurricanes. Personnel are often evacuated when a major storm is imminent, and damage to the structures is not uncommon. [ENLARGE] (Image courtesy of the American Petroleum Institute, based on data from the Minerals Management Service of the U.S. Department of the Interior.) News media terms of us

One of the most difficult technical challenges for such a project is to create a model that can capture both the climate of the entire world and the behavior of a single hurricane. Models simulate weather conditions at thousands of points in a three-dimensional grid that represents the atmosphere. If the points are spaced far apart, as in a coarse-resolution global climate model, the model will run more quickly on a supercomputer but it cannot simulate a hurricane in realistic detail. Conversely, a high-resolution regional weather model can simulate a hurricane with a core that is just a few miles across, but it may not correctly include factors driven by global-scale warming that could affect hurricane formation, such as changes in wind shear and atmospheric stability.

To get around these roadblocks, NCAR scientists are integrating two of the center's leading models into the Nested Regional Climate Model (NRCM). They nest a special version of their high-resolution weather model (the Weather Research and Forecasting model, or WRF) inside a lower-resolution, global climate model (the Community Climate System Model, or CCSM).

The resulting simulations show fine-scale detail for certain regions, like the Gulf of Mexico, while also incorporating global climate patterns. For each of its decade-long time slices, the NRCM's resolution will be about 20 miles across Africa, Europe, and the South Atlantic; 7.5 miles across the tropical Atlantic and northeastern United States; and an even sharper 2.5 miles over the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, southeastern United States, and the drought-prone western United States.

"Combining weather and climate models in this way enables more detailed projections of hurricanes in a warming world than any study to date," says Holland. "These projections will help reduce the uncertainty of current assessments, and they also give us experience in predicting changes to other high-impact weather systems."

With its considerable requirements, the project is putting months of intense demand on bluefire, NCAR's flagship supercomputer. Manufactured by IBM, it is ranked as one of the 50 most powerful computers on Earth and can solve up to 76 trillion equations every second.

"The NRCM is one of the most intensive computer simulations we have witnessed at NCAR," says Tom Bettge, director of operations and services for NCAR's Computational and Information Systems Laboratory. "As we evaluate future North American climate in increasing detail, we will look to even bigger and faster high-performance computers."


How do you turn a church into an emergency shelter — and make it work? And is there a role for small churches?

A regional panel on emergency shelters in local churches will be held Saturday morning in Johnson City.

The panelists will cover ways to make shelters work better in churches, based on their experiences with church shelters over decades past...and as recently as last month.

The panel is sponsored by the Blanco County Disaster Response Group, and will include:

• Mike McEuen, Disaster Response Chairman, Broadmoor United Methodist Church, Baton Rouge, La., on the disaster shelter plan his church developed and used including for Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Gustav.

• Jean Krohn, volunteer shelter manager, American Red Cross, Fredericksburg, on her many years of experience establishing shelters in churches throughout the country, most recently for Hurricane Ike.

• BW “Sonny” Payne, First Presbyterian Church, Kerrville, on how his church adapted to and supported the Red Cross shelter set up in his facility for evacuees from Hurricane Ike.

• Amy BeVille Elder, executive director, Texas Interagency Interfaith Disaster Response (TIDR), Austin, on her experiences with major metro shelters and the advantages she has found churches can add to the process.

The panelists’ descriptions will cover the best and worst of experiences and the lessons they learned from them. One lesson: you don’t need a big church to make a big difference.

“The need for churches as shelter in emergencies is obvious,” said George Cofran, moderator of the BCDRG panel, “there are a lot more of them than there are public facilities, and they can be opened quicker and easier than government buildings. In addition, a church is already in the business of providing care and emotional support to people, which may not be as readily available from a government operation.”

“That’s not to say churches should replace government facilities as shelters,” Cofran added.

Sometimes one fits the need better, sometimes the other, and often a united effort is best.

That cooperation includes small churches working together to provide the different shelter functions.

One may have the building space, while a second can prepare a meal for shelter residents, a third can provide childcare, or transportation, or just contribute some of the needed volunteers.

How does that work? Find out Saturday morning at 9:30 in the Activity Building of the First United Methodist Church, north Avenue N at Pecan in Johnson City.

The panel discussion is free and no advance registration is required.


The top 10 deficiencies in Small Passenger Vessels as noted by the CG Marine Inspectors

The purpose of this analysis was to identify the 10 most common deficiencies to help Small Passenger Vessel Owners by shedding some light on vessel problems that they can rectify prior to scheduling their next Coast Guard examination.

The top 10 deficiencies, including a brief explanation of the deficiency, applicable regulation, and potential correction methods are provided below. These deficiencies are not listed in any specific order.

Additional information regarding Domestic Vessel Inspection is available on the Sector’s Homeport website at

More information can be found under the Domestic Vessels (Streamlined Inspection Program) section at the following website to assist you with performing a self inspection of your passenger vessel prior to your annual Coast Guard examination:

All light fixtures that may be subject to damage must have a guard or be made of high strength material. Light fixtures on the open weather deck, engine room, or other machinery space must be protected with guards. Lights in accommodation spaces are normally exempted from this requirement because they are not subject to damage. (46 CFR 183.410)

All small passenger vessels that are certificated to operate on the high seas or three miles beyond the coastline of the Great Lakes must have a FCC Type Accepted Category 1, 406 MHz Emergency Position Indicating Radiobeacon (EPIRB) installed in a float free system on board the vessel. The Marine Inspectors discovered that many small passenger vessels failed to replace the hydrostatic release prior to its expiration date. Vessel owners/operators should inspect their EPIRBs routinely and ensure that they operate properly. The hydrostatic release unit for the EPIRB must be replaced prior to expiration to ensure that it will successfully release the EPIRB should the vessel sink. (46 CFR 180.64)

All certificated small passenger vessels must carry appropriate navigational charts that cover the area in which they operate. These charts must be kept current using regularly published Notices to Mariners. Many vessels that received deficiencies for outdated or missing navigation charts were also found to be missing other required nautical publications which include the U.S. Coast Pilot, Coast Guard Light List, Tide Tables, and Current Tables. Vessels may use extracts from these publications in lieu of maintaining the complete publication on their vessel. (46 CFR 184.420)

All certificated small passenger vessels must have a first aid kit approved under 33 CFR 160.041 or one that contains all required contents listed in 160.041. The most common deficiency with first aid kits is expired medications. When an expired medication is discovered, it must be replaced promptly. Individual items in CG approved first aid kits may be replaced as necessary with equivalent medications. Just because one item in a first aid kit is expired does not mean that the whole kit must be replaced! (46 CFR 184.710 & 33 CFR 160.041)

All cables or wires must serve some piece of equipment or system onboard the vessel. In situations where a piece of equipment or system is removed and not replaced, the cable or wire that serviced the equipment or system must also be properly removed from the power supply. (46 CFR 183.340)

Routine examinations of a vessel’s hull both internally and externally are critical to the safety of a vessel. Wood vessels are notorious for having wasted wood planking and deteriorated fasteners. Steel and Aluminum hulled vessels are prone to get cracked welds following allisions with objects such as docks and also due to routine operations in rough seas. Steel is also prone to rusting, especially in areas where the plating is uncoated or where the coating may have failed. Fiberglass hulled vessels are also subject to hull deterioration due to delamination, blisters, or cracks/knicks in the gel coat which can allow water to permeate through the various layers of fiberglass and weaken the hull structure. Vessel owners/operators should make a concerted effort to examine all accessible internal hull components including through hull fittings on a regular basis. Identifying problems early can prevent costly repairs or even major hull damage in the future. (46 CFR 189.40; NVIC 7-68; NVIC 8-87; NVIC 7-95)

All certificated small passenger vessels greater than 26 feet, regardless of build date, must have visual and audible bilge high level alarms for normally unmanned spaces that might flood, whether from a fractured through-hull fitting below the deepest load waterline, spaces containing charged sea water sea water piping, and spaces with a non-watertight closure, such as a space with a non-watertight hatch on the main deck. Vessels constructed of wood must also provide bilge level alarms in all watertight compartments except small buoyancy chambers. Testing bilge level alarms and visual indicators are relatively easy to perform and should be conducted on a regular basis to ensure proper operation of the bilge alarm system. (46 CFR 182.530)

As per Table 182.520(a), specific small passenger vessels are permitted to have portable hand bilge pumps as a secondary or emergency means of dewatering a space. In many of the examination activities reviewed, vessel owners failed to maintain a portable pump onboard but in most of the activities, the portable pump was either inoperable or not usable in all spaces of the vessel. The regulations require that the portable hand bilge pump be capable of pumping water from all watertight compartments on the vessel which means that the suction hose must be long enough to reach the deepest part of the vessel. Vessel owners or operators should test their portable hand bilge pumps on a regular basis to ensure proper operation. (46 CFR 182.520(b))

Marine Radios, EPIRBs, and AIS equipment required to be installed on small passenger vessels must comply with FCC requirements including FCC issued station licenses mandated in 47 CFR 8.13. Many certificated small passenger vessels are issued deficiencies for not having an FCC Station License for their marine radio. (46 CFR 184.502 & 47 CFR 80.13)

All vessels must have navigation lights in accordance with the International and Inland Navigation Rules. During safety examinations, many vessels are found to have inoperable stern, mast, and sidelights. In some instances the installation of these lights was also found to conflict
with the International and Inland Navigation Rules. Vessels of greater than 65 feet in length must also have navigation lights that are compliant with UL 1104 standards. Though many vessels normally operate in daylight hours only, vessel owners/operators should test their navigational lights prior to each voyage to ensure proper operation. (46 CFR 183.420)