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Natural Disasters
Government Employees Responsible For Saving Us From Hurricanes Working For No Pay
October 03, 2013
Tropical Storm Hurricane Karen 2013
Tropical Storm Karen, currently swirling around the Gulf of Mexico, "is the first tropical storm, possibly hurricane, that's really, truly threatened the U.S. coast in 2013," says Angela Fritz of weather information service Weather Underground. This season was predicted to be a rough one for hurricanes, and it's turned out oddly mild, which has left everyone especially on their toes. Karen is projected to make landfall somewhere between New Orleans and Tallahassee, possibly as a Category 1 hurricane. And most of the people responsible for tracking the storm, warning the public, and studying the storm for use in the future are either not allowed to work or forced to work for no pay.

Storm tracking is a difficult science, handled by several branches of government as well as scores of private companies. The National Hurricane Center (NHC) and the National Weather Service (NWS) are departments within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA, pronounced like the name "Noah"), which in turn is under the control of the U.S. Department of Commerce (though President Obama, noting that this makes no sense, announced plans to move NOAA under the control of the Department of the Interior). Then there's FEMA, which operates under the Department of Homeland Security. All of these organizations work with companies like Weather Underground, the Weather Channel, and various laboratories and researchers and university departments. The NWS gets most of the raw data from satellites and radar, which is shared with the private companies. In turn, the private companies can get much more granular on-the-ground data, which they share with the NWS, NHC, and FEMA. It's enormously complex in the best of times, and right now is far from the best of times.
Scientists pinpoint volcanic explosion EIGHT times bigger than Krakatoa
October 01, 2013
samalas volcano indonesia 8 times
  • Eruption thought to be from Samalas volcano on Indonesia's Lombok Island
  • Blast was so large that it left its mark in ice of the Arctic and the Antarctic
  • Historical evidence shows how it disturbed the climate for at least two years
  • Mystery city, preserved in same way as Pompeii, may be buried on the island

An Indonesian volcano is thought be the source of a massive ‘mystery eruption’- the largest that has occurred in the last 3,700 years. The enormous blast, which took place nearly 800 years ago, may have created a ‘Pompeii of the Far East’, according to researchers. They believe this mystery city may lie buried waiting to be discovered on an Indonesian island.
What happened to hurricane season? And why we should keep forecasting it…
October 01, 2013
2013 hurricane season
As we wrap up September, there have been just two short-lived Category 1 hurricanes in the Atlantic. Yet seasonal forecasts predicted an extremely active season. What’s going on? Before diving into the seasonal forecasts, let’s take inventory on where the season stands.

In an average season,  8 tropical storms, 4 hurricanes, and 1 major (category 3 or higher) hurricane form by this date. This year, we’ve experienced 10 tropical storms, 2 hurricanes, and no major hurricanes. Though we’ve had close to the average number of total storms, most have been short-lived and/or weak. If you went out for a cup of coffee at any time this hurricane season, you would’ve missed many of them. [WP]
Could your smartphone detect earthquakes?
September 30, 2013
detect earthquake smartphone
  • Sensors can detect earthquakes greater than a magnitude of 5
  • The chip is used in smartphones to change the orientation of the screen
  • The technology will soon be advanced enough to detect smaller quakes

Collecting accurate, real-time data on earthquakes has always been a problem for seismologists. But a tiny sensor found in smartphones could help fill in the gaps by instantly turning your mobile phone into an earthquake sensor. The chip, originally intended to change the orientation of the screen, can detect earthquakes greater than a magnitude of 5, according to a new study.
Mystery AD1257 eruption traced to Lombok, Indonesia
September 30, 2013
AD 1257 volcano eruption
Scientists think they have found the volcano responsible for a huge eruption that occurred in AD1257. The mystery event was so large its chemical signature is recorded in the ice of both the Arctic and the Antarctic.

European medieval texts talk of a sudden cooling of the climate, and of failed harvests. In the PNAS journal, an international team points the finger at the Samalas Volcano on Lombok Island, Indonesia. Little remains of the original mountain structure - just a huge crater lake.
Typhoon Wutip prompts Vietnam evacuations
September 30, 2013
Typhoon Wutip
Tens of thousands of people in high-risk areas in central Vietnam are being evacuated before a typhoon strikes, Vietnamese officials have said. Local weather forecasts predict Typhoon Wutip, with sustained wind speed of up to 93 miles an hour will hit central Vietnam on Monday.

Vietnamese disaster official Le Tri Cong said more than 8,000 villagers in Quang Tri province's coastal areas were taken to safe ground on Sunday night and 35,000 others from areas facing serious flooding, landslides and flash floods are being moved. The central floods and storms control committee said on its website on Monday that more than 140,000 people in four other central provinces were scheduled for evacuation on Monday.
Earthquake Detection: Smartphone Tech Could Improve Response
September 29, 2013
earthquake prediction planning
Small sensors found in most smartphones and laptops are sensitive enough to detect the movement of moderate and large earthquakes, and could vastly expand the information gathered during seismic events in densely populated cities, new research suggests.

The devices, called micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS) accelerometers, measure movement in three dimensions and tell the phone's screen to flip from horizontal to vertical when the phone tilts. In laptops, they detect the motion of falling, and force the hard drive into a safe mode prior to impact. Given the widespread use of laptops and smartphones containing these devices, researchers at Italy's National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology decided to test whether the sensors could adequately record earthquake movements.
Hurricane Season 2013: Year Without a Major Hurricane?
September 27, 2013
2013 no major hurricanes
So far this hurricane season, the Atlantic basin has produced nine named storms, two of which have become hurricanes.

Based on long-term averages from 1966-2009, the Atlantic has typically seen nine named storms by Oct. 4 and five hurricanes by Oct. 7. As you can see, the 2013 season is fairly close to average when it comes to the number of named storms, but lagging behind in the hurricane category. Neither of this season's two hurricanes, Humberto and Ingrid, reached major hurricane status, a Category 3 or higher rating on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale.

Since 1851, roughly 75 percent of all the major hurricanes (Category 3 or higher) have formed during the months of August and September. Given that we've almost made it through September, and are headed for the final two months of the hurricane season, this raises the question of how rare it would be to go an entire season without a major hurricane in the Atlantic.
Causes of Pakistan Earthquake & New Island Revealed
September 25, 2013
new island pakistan earthquake
Cartographers might have to put another island on the map after Tuesday's massive earthquake created a new island five kilometres off the southern coast of Pakistan, in the Arabian Sea near Gwadar area.

"It's not a common way for islands to be created," says Andrew Miall, a geology professor at the University of Toronto. "But vertical movement of the crust is really common, and it just so happens that, in this case, the crust was very near the surface of the water."
Pakistan earthquake latest: Death toll 238 and rising; New island created
September 25, 2013
earthquake new island created
Officials said 238 deaths had been confirmed so far, 208 in Awaran district, and the toll is expected to rise as rescue teams reach more villages in the remote area.

"We have started to bury the dead," said Abdul Rasheed Gogazai, the deputy commissioner of Awaran, the most affected district in Baluchistan province. He said at least 373 people were wounded.  

The 7.7-magnitude quake hit in the Awaran district of Baluchistan province on Tuesday afternoon, destroying scores of mud-built houses and prompting a new island to rise from the sea just off the country's southern coast. The earthquake was so powerful that it caused the seabed to rise and create a small, mountain-like island about 600 meters (yards) off Pakistan's Gwadar coastline in the Arabian Sea.
Pakistan Earthquake: At Least 39 Dead as 7.7-Magnitude
September 24, 2013
pakistan earthquake 2013 disaster
A 7.7-magnitude earthquake struck southern Pakistan on Tuesday, killing at least 39 people according to early reports. The U.S. Geological Survey placed the epicenter 41 miles north-northeast of Awaran in the province of Balochistan. Mirza Kamran Zia, chief spokesman for the country's National Disaster Management Authority, said 39 people are confirmed dead, most of them buried when houses collapsed onto them. The death toll is expected to rise as rescue efforts continue.

The tremor occurred at 7:29 a.m. Eastern time (4:29 p.m. local time) and shook the Pakistani mountain region, according to the USGS. The quake was relatively shallow, occurring just 12 miles (20 km) below ground, raising the potential for violent shaking near the epicenter.
Hong Kong Braces for Super Typhoon Usagi
September 21, 2013
super typhoon usagi
Super Typhoon Usagi continued to make its way toward Hong Kong and China's southern Guangdong province on Saturday, as it swept toward the South China Sea with strong winds and heavy rain battering parts of Taiwan and the Philippines.

Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. and its Dragonair unit will halt operations in the city starting Sunday evening, the airline said, with plans "to gradually resume services on Monday when weather conditions permit." Hong Kong Airlines and its Hong Kong Express Airways unit likewise canceled Sunday flights scheduled to take off after 6 p.m. Chu Kong Passenger Transport Co., which operates ferries between Hong Kong and mainland China, also announced service suspensions.
Earth's stongest storm of 2013, packing 160 mph winds, moving toward Hong Kong...
September 19, 2013
super typhoon Usagi
Super Typhoon Usagi, the equivalent of a Category 5 Atlantic hurricane, has intensified rapidly in the western Pacific Ocean and will threaten parts of Taiwan, the far northern Philippines and southern China through the next several days.

A tropical cyclone is dubbed a "super typhoon" when maximum sustained winds reach at least 150 mph. Usagi underwent a period of rapid intensification from early Wednesday through midday Thursday (U.S. Eastern time), going from a 55-knot tropical storm to a 140-knot super typhoon in just 33 hours, or just under a 100 mph intensification, based on satellite estimates of intensity.
Colorado Floods: What Happens to All That Water?
September 18, 2013
colorado flooding water
As flood waters slowly begin to recede from central Colorado, new flood warnings have cropped up downstream in Nebraska. Colorado's South Platte River, which runs northeast from the middle of the state into the southwest corner of Nebraska, has taken the burden of much of the record rainwater that hasn't already seeped into the ground.  

A surge in the river began approaching the Nebraska border at about midnight last night (Sept. 17), according to Dave Nettles, an engineer with the Colorado Division of Water Resources, but the crest of the surge had not yet reached the border as of this morning. The crest will likely arrive today, Nettles said, but the exact timing remains uncertain
Still hundreds unaccounted for after Colorado floods...survivors sleeping in cars
September 17, 2013
colorado flooding disaster
The emergency airlifts of flood victims waned Tuesday, leaving rescue crews to systematically search the nooks and crannies of the northern Colorado foothills and transportation officials to gauge what it will take to rebuild the wasted landscape.

More than 3,000 people have been evacuated by air and ground since last week's devastating floods, but calls for those emergency rescues are now dwindling, federal and state emergency officials said
Colorado Disaster: What Is a 100-Year Flood?
September 14, 2013
colorado flooding 2013
A massive amount of rain has fallen in the region surrounding Boulder, Colo., causing widespread flooding that's killed at least three people and taken out roads and houses, according to news reports. The event has sent 20-foot "walls of water" rushing down mountainsides, destroying bridges and isolating entire towns, Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle said in a statement.

The extreme rain and flooding in Colorado was caused when a slow-moving weather system sucked in an unusually large mass of moist air from the Gulf of Mexico, and has been called a "100-year storm." That terminology is a little confusing, though, and requires some explanation.
Why Has It Been So Long Since a Major Hurricane Hit the US?
September 12, 2013
hurricanes 2013
he United States hasn't been any stranger to hurricanes in the last eight years. Hurricane Sandy, for example, caused about $50 billion in damage and was responsible for more than 150 U.S. deaths last year, although the storm was technically an extra-tropical cyclone when it hit.

But surprisingly, not a single major hurricane, defined as a Category 3 storm or higher on the Saffir-Simpson scale —with minimum wind gusts of at least 111 mph (178 km/h) — has directly hit the United States in nearly eight years. That's twice as long as any major hurricane landfall "drought" since 1915, and by far the longest on record since data began being collected prior to 1900. As of today (Sept. 12), it's been 2,880 days since Hurricane Wilma, the last major hurricane to strike the United States, made landfall on Oct. 24, 2005.

Largest Volcano on Earth Lurks Beneath Pacific Ocean : Tamu Massif
September 05, 2013
Tamu Massif Largest Volcano
A University of Houston (UH) professor led a team of scientists to uncover the largest single volcano yet documented on Earth. Covering an area roughly equivalent to the British Isles or the state of New Mexico, this volcano, dubbed the Tamu Massif, is nearly as big as the giant volcanoes of Mars, placing it among the largest in the Solar System.

Located about 1,000 miles east of Japan, Tamu Massif is the largest feature of Shatsky Rise, an underwater mountain range formed 130 to 145 million years ago by the eruption of several underwater volcanoes. Until now, it was unclear whether Tamu Massif was a single volcano, or a composite of many eruption points. By integrating several sources of evidence, including core samples and data collected on board the JOIDES Resolution research ship, the authors have confirmed that the mass of basalt that constitutes Tamu Massif did indeed erupt from a single source near the center.
Tsunami: Facts versus Movie Myths
September 05, 2013
tsunami fact vs myth
A tsunami or tidal wave is one of those disasters that are rare, difficult to prep for, but interesting to discuss. If you live inland, you might still be interested in this article, in case you are on vacation near the ocean, or simply because it is a fascinating topic. This particular prepping and survival post discusses the difference between a tidal wave in movies and recent real tidal waves. There are several significant differences between the movie version and a real tsunami, and knowing the differences might affect your response.

The height of tidal waves is one thing that movies get wrong or exaggerate. The typical movie tsunami is hundreds of meters high, taller than many skyscrapers. Strictly-speaking, it’s not impossible for a tidal wave to be that high. A comet or asteroid impact in the deep ocean can generate a tsunami hundreds of feet high, 100 km or more from the site of impact. See the Impact: Earth! effects calculator at Purdue University. But the typical tsunami, caused by an undersea earthquake, is several meters in height, or less. See the NOAA Tsunami site. The largest tsunami in recorded history is said to be the 2004 Indonesia tsunami, with a height of 33 meters (per Wikipedia). [PREP-BLOG]
Tsunami would swamp California's economy
September 04, 2013
tsunami California disaster
If a monster earthquake struck off Alaska's coast, tsunami waves would rush toward California, crippling the nation's busiest port complex and flooding coastal communities, a report released Wednesday suggests.

The potential impacts, based on a hypothetical magnitude-9.1 jolt off the Alaskan peninsula, were detailed by a team led by the U.S. Geological Survey to help emergency responders prepare. Tsunamis are a rare but real threat in California. After the 2011 Japan disaster, tsunami waves raced across the Pacific and damaged boats and docks in the commercial fishing village of Crescent City.
Incredible Technology: How to Fight Wildfires
September 03, 2013
fight wildfires technology
Wildfires, like the Rim Fire raging in Yosemite, Calif., are some of nature's most awesome, and devastating, spectacles, devouring large swaths of forest and grassland in hours.

Battling such blazes requires firefighters to pair traditional techniques, such as firebreaks, to contain the voracious flames, with newer technologies like drones and satellite imaging, to monitor the fire's progress. Wildfire activity has been 50 percent above average for the last five years, said Julie Hutchinson, battalion chief of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE). If uncontained, these fires pose a threat to human life and property.
The big one: Natural disasters in the SCV
September 02, 2013
1994 california earthquake damage
As devastating as it may be for local residents, every earthquake provides scientists with a wealth of new information about faults, ground movement and the reactions it causes.

The 1994 Northridge earthquake, for example, measuring 6.7 on the Richter scale, puzzled geologists for years because of its scattered pattern of damage, hitting particularly hard in Sherman Oaks and Santa Monica – relatively distant communities from the epicenter. Seismologists concluded an anomaly in the bedrock underlying the area was responsible for the unexpected pattern of damage. But the question most residents of earthquake-prone areas would like answered is this: How do we know when the big one will hit?
Why It's So Hard To Predict Hurricanes
August 29, 2013
hurricane predictions
At 6:10am on August 29, 2005, the eye of Hurricane Katrina made landfall in Buras-Triumph, La., going on to devastate much of the Gulf Coast. In a report only a few months later, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) called it one of the strongest storms to hit the U.S. coast in the last 100 years.

Katrina didn't start out that way. After entering the Gulf of Mexico, it intensified rapidly, going from a Category 1 hurricane when it passed through southern Florida on August 25, 2005, then gaining momentum and jumping from a Category 3 all the way up to Category 5 status over the span of about a day later that weekend.
Calm Before the Storm? What August Hurricane Lull Mean
August 26, 2013
NOAA 2013 hurricane season
Calls for an active 2013 Atlantic hurricane season, with six to nine hurricanes, have been met with silence by Mother Nature so far. Deadly typhoons pounded the Pacific Rim this month, but the Atlantic basin has been hurricane-free through late August. Six named tropical storms have appeared in the Atlantic since the beginning of hurricane season on June 1, but none have approached hurricane strength.

Yet even though no hurricane has menaced the Atlantic, the 2013 hurricane season is on track for tropical storms. In an average year, the fifth named storm does not show up until Aug. 31, but it did so this year on Aug. 15 with Tropical Storm Erin, according to Dennis Feltgen, a meteorologist and spokesman for the National Hurricane Center in Miami. Tropical storms have wind speeds between 39 to 73 mph (62 to 117 km/h). Once the winds reach a sustained 74 mph (119 km/h), the storm is classified as a hurricane.
Slowest Start To A Hurricane Season On Record
August 24, 2013
As we approach the end of August, there have been no Atlantic hurricanes. By this date in the year 1886, there had already been seven hurricanes – including three major hurricanes, one of which wiped the city of Indianola, Texas off the map.
Underwater Avalanche! Melting Ice Caps Could Trigger Tsunamis
August 16, 2013
underwater tsunami disaster
If melting ice caps trigger rapid sea level rise, the strain that the edges of continents could experience might set off underwater landslides, new research suggests. Submarine landslides happen on every continental margin, the underwater parts of continental plates bordering oceanic plates. These underwater avalanches, which can happen when underwater slopes get hit by earthquakes or otherwise have too much weight loaded onto them, can generate dangerous tsunamis.

A staggering half of all the Earth moved by submarine landslides over the past 125,000 years apparently happened between 8,000 and 15,000 years ago. "This time period coincides with the period of most rapid sea level rise following the end of the last ice age," said study co-author Daniel Brothers, a geophysicist at the U.S. Geological Survey's Coastal and Marine Science Center in Woods Hole, Mass.
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