Friday, December 5, 2008

The Lightning Flash Before The Flood

The Lightning Flash Before The Flood

ScienceDaily (Nov. 24, 2008) Flash floods are the most common natural disaster in the United States, and because of their unpredictability they’re the leading weather-related cause of death for Americans. They usually arrive with little or no warning, but a Tel Aviv University researcher is trying to predict where and when they will occur ― using lightning.

Prof. Colin Price, coordinator of the international “Flash Project” and head of the Geophysics and Planetary Physics Department at Tel Aviv University, is studying the link between lightning and subsequent flash floods. The three-year study includes scientists from five European countries, and its results are expected to be adopted by weather forecasting agencies around the world.

The goal is to develop an early warning system for people in the path of a flood. “Flash floods are different from normal floods, which are often the product of melting snow. Flash floods are short-lived and dump a lot of rain,” says Prof. Price, a climate change specialist. “Using the radiation emitted from lightning flashes, we’ve developed a system that can give adequate warning to the public ― and save lives.”

Eventually, the Flash system may be used to send messages to cell phones, RSS feeds, GPS units and other devices to warn people in the path of a flash flood and avert disaster.

“Nowcasting” for Flood Warnings

Unlike normal floods which arrive slowly and with more warning, flash floods are particularly dangerous because they happen so quickly, developing from thunderstorms that form in a matter of hours. By measuring the radiation emitted by lightning, researchers can pinpoint the most intense thunderstorms, and the resulting rainfall can be located and tracked.

This data has been used to predict both the path of a storm and where heavy rainfall will appear ― crucial predictions, since the impact of flash floods depends on ground topography, slope and vegetation cover. “Nowcasting,” which predicts what conditions will be in the next few hours, versus “forecasting” a day or two in advance of expected weather conditions, is critical.

Looking at real-time lightning data, Tel Aviv University researchers can see where storms will travel over a period of a few hours, and can warn people in the path of the flood of impending danger. Such a tool will become even more relevant as erratic weather patterns, predicted by climate-change scientists today, become a reality tomorrow.

A Flood of Warnings Delivered in a Flash

The research from the Flash program can be extrapolated for use anywhere in the world, including the flash flood-prone regions of the U.S. For example, the U.S. National Lightning Detection Network could easily apply the results of the Flash research.

“This is a tool for the future,” says Prof. Price. “And it will be even more exciting in the next decade, when we’ll have continuous real-time detection of lightning activity from satellites. That data will be used to predict floods anywhere.” The U.S. will also have geostationary satellites with lightning trackers that will take a picture every 15 minutes from 36,000 kilometers above the earth.



Washington, D.C. –
The Federal Communications Commission’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau (Bureau) today announced that it will host a Summit on Lessons Learned: Hurricane Season 2008 to be held on Thursday, December 11, 2008, 9:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. in the Commission Meeting Room (TW-C305).

The Summit will focus on communications and coordination between state, local and federal governments, healthcare and industry in preparation for and response to the 2008 storms. The panel discussions will also highlight ways that communications may be expanded and enhanced in preparing for future storms or other disasters (see detailed agenda below).

The Summit will be open to the public; admittance however will be limited to the seating available. Those individuals who are interested in attending the summit may pre-register on-line at: Those who pre-register will be asked to provide their name, title, organization affiliation, and contact information. Individuals may also contact Stephanie Caccomo at 202-418-1812 regarding pre-registration. The deadline for pre-registration is Friday, December 5, 2008. Audio/Video coverage of the meeting will be broadcast live with open captioning over the Internet from the FCC's web page at The FCC’s web cast is free to the public and does not require pre-registration.

Reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities are available upon request. Please include a description of the accommodation you will need. Individuals making such requests must include their contact information should FCC staff need to contact them for more information. Requests should be made as early as possible. Please send an e-mail to or call the Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau: 202-418-0530 (voice), 202-418-0432 (TTY).

For additional information about the meeting, please contact Susan McLean at (202) 418-7868 or by email: .

For full (agenda)

Mechanical problems hamper mock disaster exercise
2008-11-21 18:21:00.000

Mississauga's Pearson International Airport was supposed to be the launch point from where emergency personnel and resources would be deployed to a mock ice storm disaster today.

That plan wouldn't fly, though. Literally.

Originally, a C-17 Globemaster was to arrive at Pearson 11 a.m. as part of Trillium Response – a multi-jurisdictional disaster response effort developed by the Emergency Management Ontario, the Office of the Fire Marshal and the Canadian Forces. The C-17 – the military's newest aircraft which can carry a payload of 160,000 lbs. – was to be employed to transport personnel and resources to a mock emergency in Thunder Bay.

Due to mechanical problems, however, the plane was grounded. Instead, a C-130 was flown in at 2 p.m.

The mission was a response to a desperate plea for help from the Iain Angus the acting mayor of Thunder Bay, who had contacted the Provincial Emergency Operational Centre at about 8 p.m. last night. She was asking for help after a grain elevator had collapsed because of heavy snow and ice. The collapse injured 30 people and trapped another 80.

Still, members of Trillium Response refused to see the malfunctioning aircraft as a setback. Instead, they told the press that patrt of reacting to a disaster is dealing with the unpredictable.
"The only thing predictable in an emergency is the unpredictable," said Rick Bartolucci, Ontario's minister of community safety and correctional services. "The team had to strategize and come up with another alternative because the reality is this exercise has to go on because we're responding to an emergency."

By 8:30 p.m., the Heavy Urban Search and Rescue team (HUSAR) had been deployed. The team consists of 70 people from Toronto fire and police servives medical staff and specialists in structural engineering, hazardous materials, heavy rigging, search and logistics.

They flew out of Pearson to the disaster scene, albeit delayed by three hours until the replacement ride arrived.

"We will, at the end of the day, have learned from this exercise so that in the event of a real emergency here in the province of Ontario we will be equipped with not only the human not only the physical resources that are necessary but also having had the experience of reacting to a very serious situation," said Bartolucci.

The Thunder Bay mock disaster was one of several taking place simultaneously in other areas across northwestern Ontario, including in Kenora and Dryden.

The entire operation involved over 40 government and non-government organizations including 11 ministries of Ontario, four federal government departments and nine First Nations communities.

"This is going to be the largest exercise, peace-time joint exercise that has taken place in the province of Ontario," said Brigadier General Gary Stafford.


Reports released in November analyze three deaths at sea in ‘06

November saw the release of two separate incident reports in response to loss of life at sea. Both incidents occurred in heavy weather conditions. The first was investigated by the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB), which investigates accidents involving UK ships and ships in UK territorial waters. The second was done by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada.

Both bodies investigate accidents to determine circumstances and causes with the mission of improving the safety of life at sea and to help avoid future accidents. Neither group is charged with assigning fault or determining civil or criminal liability.

In the first report, the training tall ship Picton Castle of Nova Scotia, Canada, lost a crew member while sailing in the North Atlantic Ocean.

"On the afternoon of 05 December 2006, the barque Picton Castle departed Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, bound for St. George’s, Grenada, in the eastern Caribbean Sea," a summary of the incident from the report states. "On board were 12 crew and 16 other persons who had signed on as trainees. On the evening of Dec. 8, shortly before 2235, while in heavy weather, a deckhand was swept overboard from the leeward side of the vessel. An air and sea search ensued, but it was unsuccessful."

The near 12,000-word report found seven "causes and contributing factors" and five "findings as to risk." These include that the safety of the vessel was adversely affected by the decision to sail, given the limited training of the crew in emergencies and the limited experience of the trainees. Issues regarding training, communications, fatigue, safety drills and record keeping were also addressed in the report as factors in the incident.

According to the ship’s Web site, Capt. Daniel Moreland accepts recommendations of the investigators and has responded to the report with an intense review and scrutiny of safety equipment and all practices and procedures aboard, including an in-depth independent Extraordinary Safety Audit and Transport Canada inspections.

For the full report see The Transportation Safety Board of Canada’s Web site,

In the other incident, in a 2006 incident that claimed the lives of two crew members, a MAIB report says the ship’s master with FR8 Ship Management PTE of Singapore, should have never left the harbor and should have delayed sailing.

"At about 1220 on 11 November 2006, while outbound from Scapa Flow and transiting the Pentland Firth, the 74,065 dwt Singaporean registered tanker, FR8 Venture, shipped two large waves over her bow," the report states. "This resulted in the death of two able seamen (ABs) and serious injuries to an ordinary seaman (OS), all of whom were working on the forward mooring deck. The waves also caused minor damage to the ship."

According to the UK Coast Guard, weather conditions were "horrendous" including strong winds, heavy seas and huge swells. Safety issues addressed by the report, say waves of the size that killed two men and injured a third should have been anticipated and the foredeck should have been secured.

It was recommended that the master should revise the securing schedule, depending on weather and if the vessel is arriving or leaving port to ensure crew are on deck, exposed to the elements, for the least amount of time. Also, the report stated it would be "prudent to concentrate the manpower in one locale rather than spreading them out and trying to secure all over as a concentrated effort will mean a quicker securing [sic]."

The company should have had effective safety measures in place with an effective plan of action. Named Navig8 Ship Management Pte, Ltd. since 2007, the shipping company has reviewed all recommendations and has now set policy for all its ships.

Also, the MCA issued a Safety Alert, which gives a brief outline of the accident and draws attention to the contents of Chapter 3 of the Admiralty Sailing Directions North Coast of Scotland Pilot that warns mariners of strong tides, with large waves that frequently occur in the area of Pentland Firth. In light of the actions taken as a result of this accident, the MAIB has issued no safety recommendations.

To see details of this report see MAIB’s Web site:

On This Day, December 4 1872

Ghost Ship Mary Celeste Found Near Strait of Gibraltar

An engraving of the Mary Celeste as she was found.

An engraving of the Mary Celeste as she was found.

DECEMBER 4 1872, ATLANTIC OCEAN - The Mary Celeste was sighted by the Dei Gratia, commanded by Captain David Reed Morehouse, who knew Captain Benjamin Briggs, the commander of the Mary Celeste. According to the account given by the crew of the Dei Gratia, the ship was observed for two hours, under full sail and heading toward the Strait of Gibraltar. They concluded that she was drifting, though she was flying no distress signals.

On November 5, 1872, the Mary Celeste picked up a cargo of commercial alcohol shipped by Meissner Ackermann & Co. and set sail from Staten Island, New York to Genoa, Italy. In addition to the captain and a crew of seven, she carried two passengers, the captain’s wife, Sarah E. Briggs (maiden name Cobb), and their two-year-old daughter, Sophia Matilda, making 10 people in total.

Oliver Deveau, the chief mate of the Dei Gratia, led a party in a small boat to board the Mary Celeste. He found the ship in generally good condition, though he reported that “the whole ship was a thoroughly wet mess”. There was only one operational pump, with a lot of water between decks and three and a half feet of water in the hold. The forehatch and the lazarette were both open, the clock was not functioning and the compass was destroyed. The sextant and marine chronometer were missing, and the only lifeboat appeared to have been intentionally launched rather than torn away, suggesting the ship had been deliberately abandoned. Popular stories of untouched breakfasts with cups of tea on the cabin table, washing hung out to dry, a cat found asleep on top of the gallery locker and a bowl of a half-eaten apple pie are wholly without substance.

The cargo of 1,701 barrels of alcohol was intact, although when it was eventually unloaded in Genoa, nine barrels were found to be empty. A six-month supply of food and water was aboard. All of the ship’s papers, except the captain’s logbook, were missing. The last log entry was dated November 24 and placed her 100 miles west of the Portuguese islands of the Azores. The last entry on the ship’s slate showed her as having reached the island of Santa Maria in the Azores on November 25.

Crewmen from the Dei Gratia sailed the Mary Celeste to Gibraltar where, during a sitting of the Vice Admiralty Court hearing a claim against the owners of the ship for salvage, the judge praised them for their courage and skill. However, the Attorney General of Gibraltar, Frederick Solly Flood QC in his role as Queen’s Proctor to the court, turned the hearing from a straightforward salvage claim into a de facto trial of the men of the Dei Gratia, whom Flood suspected of foul play. In the end, the court did award prize money to the crew, but the sum was much less than it should have been, as “punishment” for suspected, but unproved, wrongdoing. Captain Morehouse was awarded one fifth of the ship and cargo.

None of the Mary Celeste’s crew or passengers were found, and it is unlikely that the events leading to their disappearance will ever be known with certainty.

Many theories have been proposed to explain the mystery.

The first theory proposed during the admiralty court proceedings, was that the Mary Celeste was the victim of an act of piracy and the crew was murdered.

The crew of the Dei Gratia was suspected as culprits, who murdered those on board and then fabricated the story of the ghost ship with the aim of securing the salvage rights.

Of the theories consistent with the account given by the crew of the Dei Gratia, the most plausible are based on the barrels of alcohol. Briggs had never hauled such a dangerous cargo before and did not trust it. Nine leaking barrels would have caused a buildup of vapor in the hold. Historian Conrad Byers believed that Captain Briggs ordered the hold to be opened, resulting in a violent rush of fumes and then steam. Believing the ship was about to explode, Briggs ordered everyone into the lifeboat, failing, in his haste, to properly secure it to the ship with a strong towline. The wind picked up and blew the ship away from them. The occupants of the lifeboat either drowned or drifted out to sea to die of hunger, thirst and exposure.

During the admiralty court proceeding, Solly Flood proposed that the crew, after consuming the alcohol from the kegs that were recovered empty, murdered the Briggs’ in a drunken mutiny. The mutinous crew are then presumed to escaped in the missing lifeboat. However, the captain was a believer in abstinence and unlikely to tolerate drinking on board, or a crew inclined to drink alcohol on board.

Another theory has suggested there was a mutiny among the crew who murdered a tyrannical Briggs and his family, then escaped in the lifeboat. However, Briggs had no history to suggest he was the type of captain to provoke his crew to mutiny. First Mate Albert Richardson and the rest of the crew also had excellent reputations.

An alternate scenario has the ship encountering a waterspout, a tornado-like storm with a funnel cloud that occurs at sea. In such a case, it is suggested, the water surrounding the ship may, in being sucked upwards, have given the impression that the Mary Celeste was sinking. It would explain why the Mary Celeste was soaking wet when discovered by the crew of the Dei Gratia, and a mass panic among the crew during such an occasion would probably explain the scratched railing and the broken compass, as well as the missing lifeboat. A further theory offered by Captain David Williams is that a seaquake erupted below the ship and jarred open nine barrels of alcohol (~450 gallons), which leaked into the bilge. The earthquake also dislodged the flue for the hot stove on deck and caused embers from the fire to drift into the rigging. Smelling the alcohol in full view of the burning embers caused the crew to panic and abandon the ship. The ship sailed on without the crew. The crew then decided to try to catch the ship and sail off after her in the small sailing dingy, but they never caught up with the Mary Celeste and died at sea.

Yet another theory claims that ergotamine from contaminated flour aboard the ship which could have led all its occupants to throw themselves overboard. However, the sailors from the Dei Gratia were not affected.

Messing About In Ships Podcast

19 days til Christmas!
Have one really great weekend!