Remembering the worst ever U.S. industrial accident, 1947: 576 dead at Texas City

April 16, 2014

April 16 marks the 67th anniversary of the Texas City Disaster.

It’s a day Texans, and all Americans should note.  It’s an event we need to remember, because every point of the disaster is something we forget at our very great peril.  Thinking such a disaster could not happen again, and failing to train for these same conditions, contributed to the disaster last year in West, Texas.

67 years ago, in the harbor at Texas City, a large cargo ship being loaded with tons of ammonium nitrate caught fire and exploded, setting fire to other nearby ships, one of which exploded, devastating much of the town. In all, 576 people died in Texas City on April 16 and 17, 1947.

View of Texas City from across the bay, in Galveston, April 16, 1947

View of Texas City from Galveston, across the bay, after the explosion of the French ship SS Grandchamp, April 16, 1947. Photo from International Association of Fire Fighters Local 1259

The incident also produced one of the most famous tort cases in U.S. history, Dalehite vs. United States, 346 U.S. 15 (1953). (Here is the Findlaw version, subscription may be required.)

The entire Texas City fire department was wiped out, 28 firefighters in all. The International Association of Fire Fighters, Local 1259 has a website dedicated to the history of the disaster, with a collection of some powerful photographs.

More below the fold. Read the rest of this entry »


October 22, 1913: Dawson mine disaster killed 263 in New Mexico

October 22, 2013

Albuqurque Journal photo and caption:  Iron crosses dot the Dawson Cemetery in Colfax County, the site of a once bustling coal mining region. The Dawson mines produced millions of tons of coal in the first half of the 20th century, but also took the lives of many miners. On Oct. 22, 1913, 263 miners were killed in an explosion. On Feb. 8, 1923, another Dawson mine explosion killed 123 miners. (Journal File)

Albuquerque Journal photo and caption: Iron crosses dot the Dawson Cemetery in Colfax County, the site of a once bustling coal mining region. The Dawson mines produced millions of tons of coal in the first half of the 20th century, but also took the lives of many miners. On Oct. 22, 1913, 263 miners were killed in an explosion. On Feb. 8, 1923, another Dawson mine explosion killed 123 miners. (Journal File)

Who remembers, today?

In our recent history, a disaster in one small town or one company that killed 263 people would stand out.  But the Dawson, New Mexico, coal mine explosion of October 22, 1913, is mostly forgotten today.

100 years later, all ten of the town’s mines are closed, victim to increasing use of petroleum as fuel in the U.S.  The town itself is a ghost town, though once its schools produced scholars from children of immigrants, and state champions on the athletic fields.  A strike by miners in Colorado may have contributed to the explosion, as corporate executives tried to goose coal production in Dawson to cover shortfalls from mines closed by the strikes.  Unions then grew to major influence in American life, including increasing safety in coal mining.  But unions, today, hold waning influence generally.

Many or most of those who died didn’t speak English.  Instead, they spoke the languages of their native lands, Italy, Greece, Germany, and other European nations.  Despite its location in New Mexico, there were few Native Americans, or residents or immigrants of Hispanic origins.

Today’s anniversary should be a departure point for rich discussion of many threads in American history, the rise of industrialization, the changing industries of the cowboy frontier towns, the changing ownership of lands from Native Americans to big corporations, the changing nature of work and union influence, the dramatically different views of government and government regulation, the role of immigration and immigrants.

In your state’s standards, Common Core State Standards or not, can a teacher intrigue students with real history in any of those ways?

The Albuquerque Journal remembered the disaster in an article in Sunday’s edition:

The second-deadliest coal mining disaster in U.S. history occurred 100 years ago this week in a northern New Mexico town that no longer exists, save for the small cemetery bearing the remains of many of the 263 miners killed in a massive explosion on the afternoon of Oct. 22, 1913.

Though the town of Dawson and the Stag Canyon No. 2 coal mine are mere footnotes in history to most people, the men who died there a century ago – mostly Italian and Greek immigrants lured to the coal fields by decent-paying jobs and all the amenities a company town like Dawson could offer – are far from forgotten.

In ceremonies today at the Raton Museum, the miners killed in what has become known as the Dawson Mining Disaster will be remembered by descendents, historians and New Mexico’s Italian and Greek communities.

“I think it’s important to honor these men, and all immigrants who helped build America,” said Nicki Panagopoulos, a member of St. George Greek Orthodox Church in Albuquerque.

A second disaster a decade later killed another 123 miners.

Who remembers? How should we study these events in our history classes?  Do we study such events at all?

More:

English: Main Street of Dawson, New Mexico. Ta...

Main Street of Dawson, New Mexico. Taken in 1916. Though once an active community of 9,000 residents supporting ten coal mines, it is now a ghost town, shut down by Phelps Dodge Corporation in 1950, and bulldozed. Wikipedia image


Earth on fire? No, just Idaho (and a lot not pictured)

August 23, 2013

Photo and press release from NASA’s Earth Observatory:

Image from the astronauts aboard the International Space Station, acquired August 18, 2013 -- 50 mm lens. Looking to the west, over Idaho.

Image from the astronauts aboard the International Space Station, acquired August 18, 2013 — 50 mm lens. Looking to the west, over Idaho. See photo below for labels of fire sites.

Description of the photo:

Taken with a short lens (50 millimeters), this west-looking image from the International Space Station includes much of forested central Idaho. The oblique image highlights part of the largest single wilderness area in the contiguous United States, the Frank Church–River of No Return Wilderness.

Within this mountainous region (the dark areas are all wooded), several fires produced extensive smoke plumes. The densest smoke appeared to be generated by a combination of the Little Queens and Leggit fires (within the Salmon River Mountains [link added]). This image shows the common pattern of westerly winds carrying smoke in an easterly direction, as seen during the wildfire season of one year ago.

Named fires—most ignited by lightning—had burned 53,000 acres of forest south of the Salmon River by August 20, 2013; the number would be significantly higher if unnamed fires were included. The Gold Pan fire, north of the Salmon River, had burned 27,000 acres. For a sense of scale, Gold Pan lies about 125 miles (200 kilometers) north of the Little Queens fire.

Ten days before this image was taken, fires in central Idaho (near Boise) had been aggravated by southerly winds. Some of those fires began to burn in July, but were quelled and remain under observation for new flare-ups.

In the image above, smoke partly obscures the black lava flows of the Craters of the Moon National Monument [link added] (lower left). The Beaverhead Mountains [link added] mark the eastern boundary of Idaho with Montana.

Astronaut photograph ISS036-E-32853 was acquired on August 18, 2013, with a Nikon D3S digital camera using a 50 millimeter lens, and is provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observations experiment and Image Science & Analysis Laboratory, Johnson Space Center. The image was taken by the Expedition 36 crew. It has been cropped and enhanced to improve contrast, and lens artifacts have been removed. The International Space Station Program supports the laboratory as part of the ISS National Lab to help astronauts take pictures of Earth that will be of the greatest value to scientists and the public, and to make those images freely available on the Internet. Additional images taken by astronauts and cosmonauts can be viewed at the NASA/JSC Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth. Caption by M. Justin Wilkinson, Jacobs/JETS at NASA-JSC.

English: Salmon River Mountains, ID

Salmon River Mountains, Idaho, on the ground; notice the steep mountains on-the-ground firefighters must contend with. Wikipedia image

Instrument: ISS – Digital Camera

My older brother Dwight was a firefighter with the Bureau of Land Management in the early 1960s.  There were some huge fires then — but not so many, so large, all at once.  While we don’t have satellite photos to compare from way back then, this is just scary.  Those were scary on the ground, and smaller than these — and fewer.

Notice in the photo below, some of these huge fires are not even big enough to be named.  Wow.

Image from the International Space Station of Idaho fires, with names of larger fires overlayed.  August 23, 2013

Image from the International Space Station of Idaho fires, with names of larger fires overlayed. August 23, 2013

More:

Compare with NASA photo from a month ago; Idaho’s been hammered by fire in 2013:

Photo of Idaho from about July 20, 2013, showing then-active fires in the state -- north at top of photo. Notice Craters of the Moon National Monument, the dark area in the southeast section -- this area is obscured by new fires in the photos above.

Photo of Idaho from about July 20, 2013, showing then-active fires in the state — north at top of photo. Notice Craters of the Moon National Monument, the dark area in the southeast section — this area is obscured by new fires in the photos above. Idaho’s borders are barely visible in a thin, black line.  This photo from NASA/Goddard


President Obama, a man of grace and encouragement

May 27, 2013

Consoler and Encourager in Chief:

Note President Obama left at Plaza Towers Elementary in Moore, Oklahoma

Caption from Pete Souza‘s slide show: A message from President Barack Obama is seen on a Plaza Towers Elementary School sign, at Moore Fire Department Station #1 in Moore, Okla., May 26, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Pete Souza‘s work as White House photographer will ultimately make historians’ work much richer.  He’s got a great eye for a shot that needs to be snapped, and a great sense of art on the fly.  If you’re not a regular watcher of Souza’s work, you probably should be, especially if you’re teaching history.

More:


Texas no stranger to massive explosions and disasters

April 17, 2013

April 16 marked the 66th anniversary of the massive explosions of fertilizer on ships in the harbor of  Texas City, Texas — 576 people died in that 1947 disaster.

Last month marked the 76th anniversary of the massive natural gas explosion that destroyed the school in New London, Texas, killing about 300 people.

A few minutes ago, a disaster/rescue official in West, Texas, said he fears as many as 100 dead in the explosion of the fertilizer plant there, earlier this evening.  Another fertilizer tank may explode, and the town is being evacuated.

New London, Texas, school after the March 18, 1937, natural gas explosion that killed about 300 people.

New London, Texas, school after the March 18, 1937, natural gas explosion that killed about 300 people.

Texas City explosion, 1947

View of Texas City from Galveston, across the bay, after the explosion of the French ship SS Grandchamp, April 16, 1947. Photo from International Association of Fire Fighters Local 1259. 576 people died in that series of explosions.

The fertilizer tank that exploded contained several hundred times the amount of the same explosive used to destroy the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

How can any town ever prepare for that?

More:


What news organizations need to know about “no-fly” zones over disaster areas

April 4, 2013

Lots of chatter around the internet today on the discovery that the Federal Aviation Agency posted a notice making the area over the oil spill in Arkansas off limits to aircraft.

Some people claimed they were certain that it was because Exxon-Mobil paid to get a special favor; others wondered why the government would be complicit in such a deal. Several of the comments linked to aerial photos of the spill, and said ‘obviously’ Exxon Mobil doesn’t want photos of the severity  of the spill to get out.  Bill McKibben’s tweet alerted me to the controversy (take a look at that video, too).

Actually, it’s common procedure to make sport flying and other unnecessary flying over disasters, off limits — FAA has a special set of regulations for that.  Rescuers and disaster fighters, and relief workers,  don’t want sight-seers on visual flight rules posing hazards to flights necessary to work on disaster relief or clean up of a spill of a toxic or hazardous substance.

But this doesn’t mean that news organizations cannot fly — in fact, there is a special regulation to ALLOW news aircraft over the zone, for photography and other reports.

Here’s the notice at FAA’s website (I’m sure that link will be unworkable in a few weeks):

FAA notification, NOTAMs notice of Mayflower, Arkansas, temporary flight restrictions; screen grab April 3, 2013.

FAA notification, NOTAMs notice of Mayflower, Arkansas, temporary flight restrictions; screen grab April 3, 2013.

Most announcements of restrictions of any public activity by a federal agency contain a notice of from where the agency draws that authority; I didn’t include it in the screen grab, but FAA notes the authority flows from Title 14 CFR section 91.137(a)(2).  That’s the Code of Federal Regulations, the set of volumes that list all the regulations the federal government has.  This was also published in the Federal Register — and I suspect the NOTAMs is also published there — but CFR is the more permanent set of books for finding government rules.

In the interests of open government, of course the FAA makes these rules available online.  They are available at several sites.  Here’s the meat of the regulation:

Section 2. Temporary Flight Restrictions in the Vicinity of Disaster/Hazard Areas (14 CFR Section 91.137)

19-2-1. PURPOSE

This section prescribes guidelines and procedures regarding the management of aircraft operations in the vicinity of disaster/hazard areas in accordance with 14 CFR Section 91.137. TFRs issued under this section are for disaster/hazard situations that warrant regulatory measures to restrict flight operations for a specified amount of airspace, on a temporary basis, in order to provide protection of persons or property in the air or on the ground.

19-2-2. RATIONALE

TFRs in accordance with 14 CFR Section 91.137 are issued when necessary to:

a. 14 CFR 91.137(a)(1) – Protect persons and property on the surface or in the air from an existing or imminent hazard associated with an incident on the surface when the presence of low flying aircraft would magnify, alter, spread, or compound that hazard.

b. 14 CFR 91.137(a)(2) – Provide a safe environment for the operation of disaster relief aircraft.

c. 14 CFR 91.137(a)(3) – Prevent an unsafe congestion of sightseeing and other aircraft above an incident or event that may generate a high degree of public interest.

NOTE-
This provision applies only to disaster/hazard incidents of limited duration that would attract an unsafe congestion of sightseeing aircraft.

Specific  rules of restrictions, who in the FAA declares them, who can grant waivers, and to who the restrictions apply, get spelled out following that  part.

Notice that, generally, these restrictions apply only to flights below 1,000 feet.  A good camera in a television station’s helicopter can get a lot of great shots from 1,000 feet out (three football fields) — this is a distance often seen in the videos of police car chases.  So it’s not a complete ban.

Savvy news organizations will know how to get news photos using the specific exemption for news aircraft, with procedures spelled out so the FAA knows it’s a news gathering operation; I’ve put the critical clauses in red:

c. Section 91.137(a)(3). Restrictions issued in accordance with this section prohibit all aircraft from operating in the designated area unless at least one of the following conditions is met:

1. The operation is conducted directly to or from an airport within the area, or is necessitated by the impracticability of VFR flight above or around the area due to weather or terrain, and the operation is not conducted for the purpose of observing the incident or event. Notification must be given to the ATC facility that was specified in the NOTAM for coordination with the official in charge of the activity.

2. The aircraft is operating under an ATC approved IFR flight plan.

3. The aircraft is carrying incident or event personnel, or law enforcement officials.

4. The aircraft is carrying properly accredited news representatives and, prior to entering that area, a flight plan is filed with FSS or the ATC facility specified in the NOTAM. Flight plans must include aircraft identification, type, and color; radio frequencies to be used; proposed times of entry to and exit from the TFR area; the name of news media or organization and purpose of flight.

Well-run news organizations already know this; in an age when more and more news rooms operate on a shoe string, it may be that this information about how to cover disasters is not passed along in the newsroom, though.  So I’m reposting it here, so you’ll know, so news organizations now, so environmental reporters can get a copy of the regulations  to carry with them when they head out to cover spills, fires, floods, and other disasters.

I’m waiting, too.  It’s only a matter of time until somebody figures out a local kid has a good radio control helicopter, and it can carry a GoPro camera; or until a local news station invests in a news-gathering drone.  Here in Texas, we’ve already had one environmental disaster uncovered by a drone operated by a guy just checking on real estate.

If you see some footage of the disaster filmed on or after April 3, would you let us know, in comments?

And spread the word to any reporters you know.

More:

Amateur video of the spill:


Forgotten disasters in U.S. schools: The New London, Texas, gas explosion

March 18, 2013

Most high school history students don’t know about it.  Most high school history students in Texas don’t know about it.

New London School, New London, Texas, before the 1937 disaster.  Photo from the New London Museum

New London School, New London, Texas, before the 1937 disaster. Photo from the New London Museum

I wonder, sometimes, how many Texans remember at all.

I wonder, too, if there are lessons to be learned from the New London tragedy, while the nation debates what to do to prevent recurrences of school shootings.

The deadliest disaster ever to hit a public school in the U.S. struck on March 18, 1937, when a natural gas explosion destroyed the new school building at New London, Texas, killing about 300 people — 76 years ago today.

The remains of the London School after the exp...

The remains of the London School after the explosion of March 18, 1937. Wikipedia photo

Noise from the blast alerted the town, and many people in the oilfields for many miles.  Telephone and telegraph communication got word out.  Oil companies dismissed their employees, with their tools, to assist with rescue and recovery efforts.  Notably, 20-year-old Walter Cronkite came town to report the news for a wire service.

Investigation determined that a leak in a newly-installed tap into the waste gas pipe coming from nearby oil fields probably allowed natural gas to accumulate under the building.  A spark from a sander started a fire in gas-filled air, and that in turn exploded the cavern under the school.  School officials approved the tap to the waste gas line to save money.  Natural gas is odorless.  One result of the disaster was a Texas law requiring all utility natural gas to be odorized with ethyl mercaptan.

Though the Great Depression still gripped the nation, wealth flowed in New London from oil extraction from the nearby oil fields.  The  school district completed construction on a new building in 1939, just two years later — with a pink granite memorial cenotaph in front.

Today, disasters produce a wealth of litigation, tort suits trying to get money to make the injured whole, and to sting those at fault to change to prevent later disasters.  In 1937 official work cut off such lawsuits.

Three days after the explosion, inquiries were held to determine the cause of the disaster. The state of Texas and the Bureau of Mines sent experts to the scene. Hearings were conducted. From these investigations, researchers learned that until January 18, 1937, the school had received its gas from the United Gas Company. To save gas expenses of $300 a month, plumbers, with the knowledge and approval of the school board and superintendent, had tapped a residue gas line of Parade Gasoline Company. School officials saw nothing wrong because the use of “green” or “wet” gas was a frequent money-saving practice for homes, schools, and churches in the oilfield. The researchers concluded that gas had escaped from a faulty connection and accumulated beneath the building. Green gas has no smell; no one knew it was accumulating beneath the building, although on other days there had been evidence of leaking gas. No school officials were found liable.

These findings brought a hostile reaction from many parents. More than seventy lawsuits were filed for damages. Few cases came to trial, however, and those that did were dismissed by district judge Robert T. Brown for lack of evidence. Public pressure forced the resignation of the superintendent, who had lost a son in the explosion. The most important result of the disaster was the passage of a state odorization law, which required that distinctive malodorants be mixed in all gas for commercial and industrial use so that people could be warned by the smell. The thirty surviving seniors at New London finished their year in temporary buildings while a new school was built on nearly the same site. The builders focused primarily on safety and secondarily on their desire to inspire students to a higher education. A cenotaph of Texas pink granite, designed by Donald S. Nelson, architect, and Herring Coe, sculptor, was erected in front of the new school in 1939.  (Texas Handbook of History, Online, from the Texas State Historical Association)

Of about 500 students, more than 50% of them died.  Once the new school and memorial were built, and the law passed requiring utilities to odorize natural gas so leaks could be detected earlier, survivors and rescuers rather shut down telling the history.  A 1977 reunion of survivors was the first in 40 years.

New London School shortly after the March 18, 1937, explosion.  Photo from the New London Museum.

New London School shortly after the March 18, 1937, explosion. Photo from the New London Museum.

Because of that healing silence, the story slipped from the pages of most history books.

Trinity Mother Frances Hospital treated the victims; a 2012 film from the hospital offers one of the best short histories of the events available today.

New London, and the New London Museum, work to remember the dead and honor them.  Work continues on a film about the disaster, perhaps for release in 2013:

Now, more than 75 years later, the London Museum, across the highway from where the original school was destroyed, keeps alive the memory of much of a generation who died on that terrible day.

This video was produced by Michael Brown Productions of Arlington, TX as a prelude to a feature documentary on the explosion and its aftermath which is planned for
the spring of 2013.  . . .

www.newlondonschool.org/museum

What are the lessons of the New London Disaster?  We learned to remember safety, when dealing with natural gas.  A solution was found to alert people to the presence of otherwise-odorless, explosive gases, a solution now required by law throughout the U.S.  Natural gas explosions decreased in number, and in damages and deaths.  Wealthy schools districts, cutting corners, can create unintended, even disastrous and deadly consequences.  Quick rebuilding covers the wounds, but does not heal them.

Remembering history takes work; history not remembered through the work of witnesses, victims and survivors, is quickly forgotten — to the detriment of history, and to the pain of the witnesses, victims and survivors.

New, New London School and granite cenotaph memorial to the victims of the 1937 explosion

New, New London School and granite cenotaph memorial to the victims of the 1937 explosion. Photo from Texas Bob Travels.

More:

Houston’s KHOU-TV produced a short feature on the explosion in 2007:


NRA reputation damaged

December 19, 2012

An observer of American politics may wonder whether the past few days have changed any of the old political lines on gun control issues and the Second Amendment.

Does a view from Canada tell us anything?  Here’s Aislin‘s cartoon, from the Montreal Gazette,  for December 18, 2012:

Aislin cartoon, Montreal Gazette, 12-18-2012

Aislin, Montreal Gazette, December 18, 2012

Too brutal, or too close to the truth?

A little history quiz in a cartoon, yes?  Can you identify all six symbols?  How many must one know to understand the cartoon?

More:

Summer's End. Lexington Green, 11 September 20...

U.S. flag at half-staff, at the Minuteman Memorial in Lexingon, Massachusetts (Summer’s End. Lexington Green, 11 September 2002. Photo taken in Minute Man National Historical Park. Sculpture : “Minuteman” by sculptor Henry Hudson Kitson (1863-1947), dedicated April 19, 1900. Erected 1899 : SIRIS Image: Wikipedia)


What does Superstorm Sandy tell us about how to vote? Is disaster aid “immoral?”

October 29, 2012

Is it immoral for the federal government to coordinate disaster responses, and to provide aid for disasters, especially during and after superstorms like Sandy?

SUOMI view of Hurricane Sandy, early October 29, 2012 - NASA image

Caption from NASA: This night-view image of Hurricane Sandy was acquired by the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on the Suomi NPP satellite around 2:42 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time (06:42 Universal Time) on October 28, 2012. In this case, the cloud tops were lit by the nearly full Moon (full occurs on October 29). Some city lights in Florida and Georgia are also visible amid the clouds.
CREDIT: NASA/Suomi NPP – VIIRS/Michael Carlowicz

I was troubled when GOP Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal called for cuts to disaster forecasting and especially our volcano monitoring systems, in 2009. I’ve been troubled by slams at NASA and NOAA with calls to cut budgets for orbiting satellites used to forecast storms and floods and other disasters, from the GOP.

And, with Sandy bearing down on the U.S. Northeast, Middle Atlantic and New England states (where older son Kenny lives in building that is, we hope, about 20 feet above sea level), I’ve been troubled by memories of calls for cuts to FEMA in the Republican presidential primaries.

Correspondent James Kessler tracked down a transcript from a campaign event in June, a presidential candidate cavalcade broadcast by CNN, with John King as moderator/anchor.  Look at this exchange:

KING: What else, Governor Romney? You’ve been a chief executive of a state. I was just in Joplin, Missouri. I’ve been in Mississippi and Louisiana and Tennessee and other communities dealing with whether it’s the tornadoes, the flooding, and worse. 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.

Instead of thinking in the federal budget, what we should cut — we should ask ourselves the opposite question. What should we keep? We should take all of what we’re doing at the federal level and say, what are the things we’re doing that we don’t have to do? And those things we’ve got to stop doing, because we’re borrowing $1.6 trillion more this year than we’re taking in. We cannot…

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.

Can you imagine how different the world would be today had Americans shared that view in 1936, or 1940, or 1942?  Immoral to do what is necessary to preserve the future, because we have to borrow to do some of it?

Has Romney changed his position in the last 24 hours?  I predict he will change it very soon, if he hasn’t already flip-flopped on it.  Of course, he may double down on crazy, and stand pat.   What do you think a rational patriot would do in this case?  [At about 1:00 p.m. Central Time, I heard an NPR radio news report -- Romney urges private contributions to the Red Cross.  Meanwhile, President Obama has been working all morning to make sure the disaster response from the federal government is coordinated with affected states.] [Ha! But within hours, Romney has taken the almost-opposite position again.  World land speed record for flips on an issue?]

I erred, perhaps.  I had thought Mitt Romney the most capable and sober of the GOP candidates for president, and I urged by GOP friends to support Romney if they had no chance of completely recovering their senses by November.  Now I realize that, on the GOP side, “most capable” should be “most nearly capable,” and still means “incapable.”  And “sober” means nothing at all.  Perhaps worse, he’s still the best of the GOP lot this year.  Even worse, he has a chance to win.

Can we blame Romney?  Yes, we can blame people who reject science and don’t think of consequences past election day.  Yesterday Greg Laden offered a long post on what we should have learned from the “Storm of 1938″ and the remnants of Hurricane Irene that slammed the Northeast in 2011, “What you need to know about Frankenstorm Hurricane Sandy”:

Here’s the thing. Imagine that a storm like Sandy came along in either of two years; 70 years ago or 35 years ago. Sandy is much larger and contains much more energy than the ’38 storm, or for that matter, of any known storm of the North Atlantic (we’ll get to that below). If Sandy hit the region in the 1930s, it would have been without warning, and it would have been prior to the reconstruction of seawalls and the development of flood mitigation measures inland that have happened in recent decades. Sandy, in ’38, would kill tens of thousands and destroy thousands of structures. That would be an average Sandy, a Sandy not being as bad as the most dire predictions we are considering today as the storm begins to take a grip on the eastern seaboard.

A Sandy of 35 years ago would have been predicted. The ability to see hurricanes coming was in place, but not as well developed as it is today. We would have seen Sandy coming, but her massiveness and extent, and her exact trajectory, would probably have been unknown. But at least there would be warning. Many of the seawalls and flood mitigation systems would have been in place, but the overbuilding on barrier islands and other vulnerable coastal regions would have been at or near a peak. With evacuations, Sandy would not kill 10s of thousands… probably only hundreds. But the number of buildings destroyed would be unthinkable. Most of those buildings are now gone or shored up. A Sandy in 1975 would have left some very interesting coastal archaeology for me to have observed during my trips to the shore in the 1980s. Very interesting indeed.

Mr. Laden always offers a good view of science, and his history is good here, too.

We can learn from the past.  FEMA is charged with learning from past disasters.  It’s a function of federal government we would be foolish to forego.  “Austere” shouldn’t mean “stupid.”

What do you think?  Is it immoral for the federal government to provide disaster assistance?

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Annals of global warming: Insurance companies note increasing costs of floods, due to climate change

October 1, 2012

Note today in Al Gore’s Journal:

Flooding Costs October 1, 2012 : 10:32 AM

Time cover from April 28, 2008 - how to win war on global warming

Time Magazine cover for April 28, 2008 – How to Win the War On Global Warming

A new report from Swiss Re finds that the financial impact of flooding has doubled in the past decade – climate is a major driver:

“Flood losses are increasing at an alarming rate while the insurability of floods provides unique challenges for the industry, according Swiss Re’s latest report, “Flood – an underestimated risk: Inspect, inform, insure”.” …

“No other natural catastrophe impacts as many people as flooding with an estimated 500 million people affected every year. Insured flood losses are also increasing significantly; 1970′s annual claims were between USD 1–2 billion, whereas insured flood losses amounted to USD 15 billion in 2011. Recent flood events in Thailand, Australia and the Philippines have shown that floods are now rivalling earthquakes and hurricanes in terms of economic losses.” …

“Population growth, demographic change, a higher concentration of assets in exposed areas, greater vulnerability of insured objects and climate change are all contributing to the increasing costs of flood damage. The rising costs of floods are creating challenges for the insurance industry and the economic viability of flood insurance is currently an issue under scrutiny.”

More:


Annals of Global Warming: NOAA calls 2011 “year of climate extremes”

January 19, 2012

2011 saw 14 severe weather events that caused more than $1 billion in damage each.  The pre-Halloween snow disaster may push the total up to 15 such events.  NOAA is calling these billion-dollar-plus events “climate disasters.”

On top of the year 2011′s rating in the top 10 of warmest years on record, the sheer number of expensive weather extremes powerfully suggest that global warming already costs Americans billions of dollars in damage, lost production and disease.

NOAA: 2011 a year of climate extremes in the United States

NOAA announces two additional severe weather events reached $1 billion damage threshold, raising 2011’s billion-dollar disaster count from 12 to 14 events

January 19, 2012

Selected Annual Records

Selected Annual Climate Records for 2011 - Green dots show the wettest, yellow dots the driest, red dots the warmest and blue dots the coolest records. Click image for high resolution version from NOAA (NOAA image)

According to NOAA scientists, 2011 was a record-breaking year for climate extremes, as much of the United States faced historic levels of heat, precipitation, flooding and severe weather, while La Niña events at both ends of the year impacted weather patterns at home and around the world.

NOAA’s annual analysis of U.S. and global conditions, conducted by scientists at NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center, reports that the average temperature for the contiguous U.S. was 53.8 degrees F, 1.0 degree F above the 20th century average, making it the 23rd warmest year on record. Precipitation across the nation averaged near normal, masking record-breaking extremes in both drought and precipitation.

On a global scale, La Niña events helped keep the average global temperature below recent trends. As a result, 2011 tied with 1997 for the 11th warmest year on record. It was the second coolest year of the 21st century to date, and tied with the second warmest year of the 20th century.

Key highlights of the report include:

U.S. weather and climate disasters

Extreme Weather Events in 2011

From extreme drought, heat waves and floods to unprecedented tornado outbreaks, hurricanes, wildfires and winter storms, a record 14 weather and climate disasters in 2011 each caused $1 billion or more in damages — and most regrettably, loss of human lives and property. Click image for high resolution version. (NOAA image)

  • Tropical Storm Lee, which made landfall on the Gulf Coast on September 2, caused wind and flood damage across the Southeast, but considerably more damage to housing, business and infrastructure from record flooding across the Northeast states, especially Pennsylvania and New York. The storm occurred in an area that had experienced high rainfall from Hurricane Irene barely a week earlier.

    English: View of Tropical Storm Lee from the G...

    Tropical Storm Lee, on September 3, 2011 - Image via Wikipedia

  • A Rockies and Midwest severe weather outbreak, which occurred July 10-14, included tornadoes, hail and high winds. Much of the damage was from wind, hail, and flooding impacts to homes, business, and agriculture.
  • Together, these two events resulted in the loss of 23 lives (21 from Tropical Storm Lee, 2 from the Rockies/Midwest outbreak).

Nationally

  • Warmer-than-normal temperatures were anchored across the South, Mid-Atlantic and the Northeast. Delaware had its warmest year on record, while Texas had its second warmest year on record. The U.S. has observed a long-term temperature increase of about 0.12 degrees F per decade since 1895.
  • Summer (June-August) 2011 was the second warmest on record for the Lower 48, with an average temperature of 74.5 degrees F, just 0.1 degree F below the record-warm summer of 1936. The epicenter of the heat was the Southern Plains, where Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas all had their warmest summer on record. The 3-month average temperatures for both Oklahoma (86.9 degrees F) and Texas (86.7 degrees F) surpassed the previous record for warmest summer in any state.
  • With the exception of Vermont, each state in the contiguous U.S. had at least one location that exceeded 100 degrees F. Summertime temperatures have increased across the U.S. at an average rate of 0.11 degrees F per decade. Much of this trend is due to increases in minimum temperatures (“overnight lows”), with minimum temperature extremes becoming increasingly commonplace in recent decades.
  • Despite a “near normal” national precipitation average, regional precipitation outcomes varied wildly. Texas, ravaged by exceptional drought for most of 2011, had its driest year on record. In contrast, seven states in the Ohio Valley and Northeast — Connecticut, Indiana, Kentucky, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania — had their wettest year on record.
  • The past nine years have been particularly wet across the Northeast region – since 2003, the annual precipitation for the region is 48.96 inches, 7.88 inches above the 20th century average. Precipitation averaged across the U.S. is increasing at a rate of about 0.18 inches per decade.
  • Precipitation extremes and impacts were most prevalent during spring (March – May) 2011. Across the northern U.S., ten states were record wet, and an additional 11 states had spring precipitation totals ranking among their top ten wettest. These precipitation extremes, combined with meltwater from a near-record snow pack, contributed to historic flooding along several major rivers across the central United States.
  • Meanwhile, drought rapidly intensified in the southern Plains, where Texas had only 2.66 inches of precipitation, its driest spring on record. This led to record breaking drought and wildfires, which devastated the southern Plains. Following 2010, during which drought across the country was nearly erased, the 12 percent of the continental U.S. in the most severe category of drought (D4) during July 2011 was the highest in the U.S. Drought Monitor era (1999-2011).
  • The spring brought a record breaking tornado season to the United States. Over 1,150 tornadoes were confirmed during the March-May period. The 551 tornado-related fatalities during the year were the most in the 62-year period of record. The deadliest tornado outbreak on record (April 25-28th) and the deadliest single tornado (Joplin, Missouri) contributed to the high fatality count.

Globally

  • This year tied 1997 as the 11th warmest year since records began in 1880. The annual global combined land and ocean surface temperature was 0.92 degrees F above the 20th century average of 57.0 degrees F. This marks the 35th consecutive year, since 1976, that the yearly global temperature was above average. The warmest years on record were 2010 and 2005, which were 1.15 degrees F above average.
  • Separately, the 2011 global average land surface temperature was 1.49 degrees F above the 20th century average of 47.3 degrees F and ranked as the eighth warmest on record. The 2011 global average ocean temperature was 0.72 degrees F above the 20th century average of 60.9 degrees F and ranked as the 11th warmest on record.
  • Including 2011, all eleven years of the 21st century so far (2001-2011) rank among the 13 warmest in the 132-year period of record. Only one year during the 20th century, 1998, was warmer than 2011.
  • La Niña, which is defined by cooler-than-normal waters in the eastern and central equatorial Pacific Ocean that affects weather patterns around the globe, was present during much of 2011. A relatively strong phase of La Niña opened the year, dissipated in the spring before re-emerging in October and lasted through the end of the year. When compared to previous La Niña years, the 2011 global surface temperature was the warmest observed.
  • The 2011 globally-averaged precipitation over land was the second wettest year on record, behind 2010. Precipitation varied greatly across the globe. La Niña contributed to severe drought in the Horn of Africa and to Australia’s third wettest year in its 112-year period of record.
  • Arctic sea ice extent was below average for all of 2011, and has been since June 2000, a span of 127 consecutive months. Both the maximum ice extent (5.65 million square miles on March 7th) and the minimum extent (1.67 million square miles on September 9th) were the second smallest of the satellite era.
  • For the second year running, NCDC asked a panel of climate scientists to determine and rank the year’s ten most significant climate events, for both the United States and for the planet, to include record drought in East Africa and record flooding in Thailand and Australia. The results are at http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/climate-monitoring.

Scientists, researchers and leaders in government and industry use NOAA’s monthly and annual reports to help track trends and other changes in the world’s climate. This climate service has a wide range of practical uses, from helping farmers know what and when to plant, to guiding resource managers’ critical decisions about water, energy and other vital assets.

NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth’s environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources. Join us on Facebook, Twitter and our other social media channels.

Denialist bedbugs complain that there is no definition of “climate disaster” offered from the agency.  (Denialists are dictionary-challenged?)

More, Resources:


Why you should be concerned about mercury pollution

December 28, 2011

Mercury poisoning marches through our culture with a 400-year-old trail, at least.  “Mad as a hatter” refers to the nerve damage hatmakers in Europe demonstrated, nerve damage we now know came from mercury poisoning.

In the 20th century annals of pollution control, the Minimata disaster stands as a monument to unintended grotesque consequences of pollution, of mercury poisoning.

A key Japanese documentary on the disaster is now available from Zakka Films on DVD, with English subtitles.

Anyone who scoffs at EPA’s four-decades of work to reduce mercury pollution should watch this film before bellyaching about damage to industry if we don’t allow industry to kill babies and kittens in blind, immoral pursuit of profit at public expense.

American Elephants, for example, is both shameless and reckless  in concocting lies about mercury pollution regulation (that site will not allow comments that do not sing in harmony with the pro-pollution campaign (I’d love for someone to prove me wrong)).  Almost every claim made at that post is false.  Mercury is not harmless; mercury from broken CFL bulbs cannot begin to compare to mercury in fish and other animals; mercury pollution is not minuscule (mercury warnings stand in all 48 contiguous states, warning against consumption of certain fish).  President Obama has never urged anything but support for the coal-fired power industry — although he has expressed concerns about pollution, as any sane human would.

Republicans have lost their moral compass, and that loss is demonstrated in the unholy campaign for pollution, the campaign against reducing mercury emissions.  It’s tragic.  Action will be required in November to stop the tragedy from spreading.  Will Americans respond as they should at the ballot boxes?

Can you watch “Minimata:  The Victims and Their World,” and not urge stronger controls on mercury emissions?  Can you support the murder of children and workers, for profit?


Can the Houston toad survive Texas wildfires and droughts?

November 25, 2011

New short from the Texas Parks and Wildlife people:

The smoke may be gone but the Bastrop fires of Labor Day weekend are still a smoldering concern for biologists. They’re keeping tabs on the Houston Toad. And with only an estimated 2,000 left in Texas, this endangered species is facing its next challenge as the drought continues. More on Houston toads at http://www.houstonzoo.org/HoustonToad/

For background, see this earlier reel from TPWS on the fires at Bastrop State Park:


Hoaxsters frustrated: Alert called off at Nebraska nuclear power plant

July 15, 2011

Sometimes time and events just catch up to the hoaxsters.

In Nebraska, on Wednesday July 14, the Cooper nuclear generating station of the Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD) ended it’s “notification of unusual event” as floodwaters of the Missouri River retreated from the site.

Walkways for flood at Fort Calhoun Nuclear Station, 2011

Publicity photo from Omaha Public Power District

According to the Associate Press report, the alert for the nuclear power plant at Fort Calhoun remains in effect.  Fort Calhoun is upriver from Cooper, and lower in elevation in relation to the Missouri River.  Fort Calhoun also was offline and in cold shutdown when the alert was posted, because it had been in a refueling operation.  Fort Calhoun is operated by Omaha Public Power district (OPPD).

NRC Chairman tours Fort Calhoun Nuclear Generating Station

Publicity photo from OPPD

No damage was done to the reactor at either site.  Operations continued at Cooper.

Rumors of a serious incident aroused conspiracy nuts when a hoax report out of Pakistan claimed the Russian nuclear agency had said the Fort Calhoun plant was in meltdown.

NRC chair tours Fort Calhoun NGS in Nebraska, 2011

No meltdown. Photo from OPPD

How with the hoaxsters spin it now?

More, resources:

Earlier at Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub:


Are you ready to deal with effects of global warming?

July 12, 2011

Why not?  These guys argue that the most rational solution is to get ready to deal with the problems, and stop worrying about the science behind “whether.”

If a global warming debate about certainty and cause only deepens doubt and defensiveness, what kind of debate would create support for action? We saw Hurricane Katrina as an opportunity to shift from the tired debate over cause and prevention to a new discussion about preparedness, thus reframing global warming from certainty to uncertainty and from limits on human activity to greater activity. Regardless of the cause, global warming is here and we need to prepare for it in the same way we prepare for any other imaginable natural disaster, not knowing exactly when or where it will strike. Global Warming Preparedness was created to test the possibility that action on global warming could be taken, not in spite of uncertainty, but because of it. (Breakthrough Institute, Plan for Global Warming Preparedness)

Are they right?

(Reminds me of the old wisdom from the Starbucks coffee cup.)


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