Uncommon knowledge, news, and opinion

Uncommon knowledge, news, and opinion

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Extreme Weather, Climate & Preparedness in the American Mind

April 22, 2012 at 4:51 pm By Roz Potter

From a study funded by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication;  Link  


 In 2011, Americans experienced a record-breaking 14 weather and climate disasters that each caused$1 billion or more in damages, in total costing approximately $53 billion, along with incalculable loss of human life. 

These disasters included severe drought in Texas and the Great Plains, Hurricane Irene along the eastern seaboard, tornadoes in the Midwest, and massive floods in the Mississippi River Valley. 

In the period of January through March 2012, Americans also experienced record warm temperatures, with temperatures across the contiguous United States 6.0 degrees F above thelong-term average. In March alone, 15,292 warm temperature records were broken across the United States. 

In March 2012 we conducted a nationally representative survey and found that a large majority of  Americans say they personally experienced an extreme weather event or natural disaster in the past year.

Overall, 35 percent of all Americans report that they were personally harmed either a great deal or a moderate amount by one or more of these extreme weather events in the past year. Likewise, 37 percent report that someone they know personally was harmed either a great deal or a moderate amount by an extreme weather event or natural disaster in the past year

A majority of Americans also say the weather in the United States is getting worse and many report that extreme weather in their own local area has become more frequent and damaging. Further, large majorities believe that global warming made a number of recent extreme weather events worse. 

 Only about a third of Americans, however, have either a disaster emergency plan or an emergency supply kit in their homes. 

To read more -  


2011 Natural Catastrophes Review – record losses from earthquakes

January 12, 2012 at 8:40 pm By Roz Potter

From Prevention Web:  Link

An insurance industry view of 2011 record-breaking natural disasters. Source(s):Munich Reinsurance Company (Munich Re)


…90% of the recorded natural catastrophes were weather-related – however, nearly two-thirds of economic losses and about half the insured losses stemmed from geophysical events, principally from the large earthquakes.

Normally, it is the weather-related natural catastrophes that are the dominant loss drivers. On average over the last three decades, geophysical events accounted for just under 10% of insured losses. The distribution of regional losses in 2011 was also unusual. Around 70% of economic losses in 2011 occurred in Asia.

The earth shakes: 11 March, the Tohoku earthquake

The most destructive loss event of the year was the earthquake of 11 March in Tohoku, Japan, when a seaquake with a magnitude of 9.0 occurred 130 km east of the port of Sendai and 370 km north of Tokyo. It was the strongest quake ever recorded in Japan.

The damage from the tremors themselves was relatively moderate thanks to strict building codes. However, the quake triggered a terrible tsunami. The wave devastated the northeast coast of the main island Honshu. In some bays, the wave reached a height of up to 40 metres. Entire towns, roads and railway lines were washed away, hundreds of thousands of houses were destroyed.

Some 16,000 people were killed in spite of high protective dykes and an excellent early-warning system. Without these protective installations, the death toll would have been much higher. The tsunami-exposed northeast of Japan is believed to have last been hit by a seismic sea wave of this size in the year 869.

The tsunami led to severe damage at several blocks of the Fukushima 1 nuclear power plant. Some areas within a radius of several kilometres of the plant will remain uninhabitable for a period of many years. Even without considering the consequences of the nuclear accident, the economic losses caused by the quake and the tsunami came to US$ 210bn – the costliest natural catastrophe of all time. The share of insured losses may amount to as much as US$ 40bn.

The fault line that triggered the quake was actually fairly short with a length of 450 km. However, the seabed at the fracture face shifted by 30 to 40 metres. Experts believe that an earthquake of this strength occurs there once every 500 to 1,500 years. The main shock was followed by thousands of aftershocks, the strongest of which, some 40 minutes after the main shock, had a magnitude of 7.9.

The earth shakes II: The Christchurch earthquake

Before the tsunami catastrophe in Japan, there had been an earthquake of 6.3 magnitude in Christchurch, New Zealand, on 22 February. The notable aspect of this event was that an earthquake of 7.1 magnitude had hit Christchurch just six months earlier.

Unfortunately, the seismic waves were amplified due to reflection off an extinct volcano, so that far greater destruction was caused than would have normally been expected with an earthquake of this magnitude. The epicentre was located at a shallow depth and only a few kilometres from the city centre.

The losses were enormous. Numerous old buildings collapsed, and many new buildings were damaged despite the very high building standards. Some residential areas will not be rebuilt. Economic losses came to around US$ 16bn, of which approximately US$ 13bn was insured.

One day before Christmas, the earth shook again in Christchurch. Over a dozen people were injured following three strong earthquakes. However, in terms of their severity, the quakes were not as bad as the devastating event in February. Consequently, losses for the insurance industry from these aftershocks are expected to be significantly lower.

Prof. Peter Höppe, Head of Munich Re’s Geo Risks Research unit: “Even if it seems hard to believe given recent events, the probability of earthquakes has not increased. However, these severe earthquakes are timely reminders that the decisions on where to build towns need careful and serious consideration of these risks, especially where certain buildings are concerned, above all nuclear power plants. Also, building codes in regions exposed to earthquakes need to be made even stricter, so that buildings do not just remain standing to an extent sufficient to save lives but can be used again afterwards.”

Weather-related catastrophes: Floods in Thailand

The floods in Thailand stand out among the many weather-related catastrophes of 2011. They were triggered by extreme rainfall, which started in spring and peaked in the autumn. Due to its low elevation above sea level, the plain of central Thailand – where the capital Bangkok is situated – is prone to flooding throughout the rainy season from May to October. According to the authorities, this year’s floods were the worst for around 50 years. It is presumed that the La Niña natural climate phenomenon was a contributory factor, since the rainy season is often stronger during this phase.

The floods claimed the lives of some 800 people. Not only were hundreds of thousands of houses and vast expanses of farmland flooded, but also seven major industrial areas with production facilities belonging mainly to Japanese groups. A large number of electronic key component manufacturers were affected, leading to production delays and disruptions at client businesses. Approximately 25% of the world’s supply of components for computer hard drives was directly impacted by the floods. With economic losses amounting to tens of billions of dollars, the floods were by far the costliest natural catastrophe in Thailand’s history.

North America: Many storms but few hurricanes in North America

The tornado season was especially violent in the Midwest and southern states of the USA. Several series of storms with numerous tornadoes caused economic losses totaling some US$ 46bn, of which US$ 25bn was insured. Insured losses were thus twice as high as in the previous record year of 2010. The series of severe weather events can largely be explained by the La Niña climate phenomenon.

As part of this natural climate oscillation, weather fronts with cool air from the northwest more frequently move over the central states of the USA and meet humid warm air in the south. Under such conditions, extreme weather events are more probable than in normal years.

Losses from North-Atlantic hurricanes were moderate. However, as in 2010, this was purely by chance. At 18, the number of recorded tropical cyclones in this season was some way above the long-term average (11) and above the average for the current warm phase with increased hurricane activity since the mid-1990s (15). The number of hurricane-strength storms (6) was in line with the long-term average. However, the number of tropical cyclones that made landfall, especially on the US coast, was very low. Only three named storms, one of them Hurricane Irene, made landfall in the USA. Irene caused economic losses in the Caribbean and USA totalling US$ 15bn, US$ 7bn of which was insured.

Another striking feature of this year was that, for the first time ever, US weather agency NOAA categorised a low-pressure system over the Mediterranean as a tropical storm. The low-pressure system Rolf formed on 3 November. It was caused by a ridge of cold air forming over the still warm sea (20°C). With peak wind speeds of 120 km/h, the storm “01M” made landfall on the French Mediterranean coast before dispersing. The storm produced extreme rainfall along the Cote d’Azur.

3 million without power from Nor’easter storm, many thousands left in the dark and cold 11 days later

November 13, 2011 at 12:00 pm By Roz Potter

Reported in the  Preparedness Report, from Yale New Haven Center for Emergency Preparedness and Disaster Response:  Link

Tens of thousands of Connecticut residents went to bed wondering whether they would awake Monday to find themselves among an unenviable fraternity: the small percentage of people entering their second week without power.

The electrical outages, the legacy of a storm that hammered the Northeast on Oct. 29 and 30, were largely an unpleasant memory by Sunday night for most of the 3 million who lost power at the height of the storm.

But in Connecticut (editor’s note: this is just one state out of several affected), as of November 9th, nearly 3,500 residents remained without electricity, eleven days after the storm. In New Jersey and Massachusetts, only a few hundred customers remained without power.

Many of those displaced by the incident remain at one of the 12 remaining shelters in Connecticut.

As severe weather events become more frequent, particularly in view of  larger scale threats such as a severe solar storm, or an act of cyberterrorism, it becomes ever more important to prepare for severe cold, and heat. See CDC reference on hypothermia here and the CDC page on health and safety concerns for all disasters here.

From USGS: Our Ever-Changing Earth – Science to Mitigate Risks of Change

October 13, 2011 at 12:19 pm By Roz Potter

As the climate changes, the conditions behind the unprecedented erosion of the 2009-2010 winter could become more common. Erosion assessments are helping coastal decison makers prepare for the potential damage of future storms. (Photo Credit: Jeff Hansen, USGS.)



  • As a 5.8-magnitude earthquake near Mineral, Virginia, sent a jolt through 22 eastern States in August, many were surprised and frightened.
  • As roads, homes, and farmlands were swamped by flooding from melting snowpack and spring rains, and as more property, roads, and even century-old covered bridges were washed away by flooding brought on by hurricanes this summer, many were caught off guard by the record-breaking water levels.
  • As severe drought conditions in Texas caused die-offs of fish and wildlife and helped fuel widespread wildfires that forced residents to quickly gather family and escape to shelters, many were not prepared for the damages to their natural resources and homes.
  • As climate change alters the ranges of species (such as moose and beaver), the reliability of vegetation (such as salmonberries), and the predictability of weather in the Arctic, residents have become concerned about their safety, their sources of food, and their livelihoods.

Unexpected hazardous events and changes to the world around us can be devastating.

To read more, Link

Highly toxic plutonium and strontium detected in soil 45 and 79 km away from Fukushima nuclear complex

October 1, 2011 at 7:11 pm By Roz Potter

From The Mainichi Daily News:  Link


The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology announced on Sept. 30 that it had detected highly-toxic plutonium apparently from the crippled Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power plant in soil at six locations including Iitate village in Fukushima Prefecture.

It is the first discovery of the highly-toxic radioactive substance outside the nuclear plant since the outbreak of the disaster in mid-March. The ministry also said radioactive strontium was detected in a wide swath of Fukushima Prefecture within a radius of 80 kilometers from the troubled nuclear power plant, underscoring the fact that the nuclear crisis has been affecting wide areas.

The ministry conducted inspections on soil at 100 locations within a radius of 80 kilometers from the crippled nuclear power plant in June and July. Plutonium-238, believed to have come from the crippled nuclear plant, was detected in six locations including Iitate, Futaba and Namie. Plutonium-239 and -240 were also detected in many locations, but the ministry said it was not clear whether they were directly linked to the Fukushima nuclear crisis.

According to the ministry, the levels of radiation in the plutonium detected fall below the levels of radiation in plutonium believed to have come from atmospheric nuclear tests conducted in the past. But because very little plutonium-238 had been detected before the outbreak of the nuclear crisis, the ministry concluded that it had come from the Fukushima nuclear power plant.


Meanwhile, the ministry said it had detected radioactive strontium-89 in nearly half of the locations inspected, including Shirakawa, about 79 kilometers from the nuclear plant. Because the half life of strontium-89 is only about 50 days, the ministry concluded that all the findings of the radioactive substance were linked to the Fukushima nuclear power plant.

Namie registered the highest level of radiation, with 22,000 becquerels per one square meter of soil. Noting differences in distribution between the plutonium and radioactive cesium from the Fukushima nuclear power plant, the ministry plans to carry out more inspections because strontium can easily builds up in bones.

World’s deadliest volcano on heightened eruption alert

September 20, 2011 at 10:16 pm By Roz Potter

From the Digital Journal, Link . Also see Geology.com,  Link for a discussion of the 1815 eruption – the largest in recorded history and the cause of a deadly lowering of global temperatures.


Increased rumblings this month from Mount Tambora on Indonesia’s Sumbawa Island are forcing residents to take the mountain seriously, with authorities there raising the volcano alert to its second-highest level.

“On August 30, we recorded seven volcanic earthquakes and since Sept. 8 the frequency of the quakes rose substantially, to between 12 and 16 per day,” said Husnuddin, head of the West Nusa Tenggara Disaster Mitigation Agency, (BNPB), the Jakarta Globe reports. Mount Tambora has the distinction of having the world’s deadliest eruption which killed at least 71,000 people, with some estimates as high as 90,000. Between 11,000-12,000 were killed by the eruption itself while tens of thousands more died from the ensuing starvation and disease associated with volcanic fallout which created the “Year Without a Summer” in 1816, a summer which greatly impacted the Northern Hemisphere, including North America and Europe.

Read more: http://www.digitaljournal.com/article/311696#ixzz1YYpHX4QS

Power outages from disasters- what happens when the lights go out?

September 5, 2011 at 4:41 pm By Roz Potter

From the Huffington Post: Link

Are you prepared for a power outage lasting days? Weeks?

Do you have a back up plan for your insulin, your oxygen concentrator, for water pumps that won’t pump water to your faucets or your toilets? For your electric stove (and coffee maker), your computer, cellphone charger and that phone that requires a plug-in transformer to operate?

Will your workplace be functional or will you be out of a job? Will you need cash,  gas, food, or a prescription? Diapers, dish soap, powdered milk or bottled water?

How safe will your neighborhood be in inky darkness?

Generators depend on fuel. Will your supply last a week? Two?

When the lights go out it will be too late to prepare.


The outages could be critical for the elderly, disabled and others who rely on community services.

“What if we’re without power for days?” asked Pat Dillon, 52, who is partially paralyzed from a stroke. Dillon’s senior care facility in Milford, Conn., lost power when a generator failed. As she sat in the dark, Dillon worried that her wheelchair’s batteries would run out. Even worse, she needs to keep her diabetes mediation chilled.

“Once the refrigerator gets warm, my insulin goes bad,” Dillon said. “I could go into diabetic shock. It’s kind of scary.”

Power companies say they’ll try to get critical services running first. But many are just starting to understand the full extent of damage to the grid. Utility workers must traverse thousands of square miles to find out what’s down before they can start repairs.

“It’s going to be several days at least for our most severely damaged areas” to get power back, said Mike Hughes, a spokesman for Progress Energy in North Carolina, which serves about 3.1 million customers.

Gilbert, with Connecticut Power, said it took two weeks to restore power after Hurricane Gloria knocked out service to 477,000 customers in 1985.

“And this definitely blows those numbers away,” she said.

In Virginia, Irene knocked out power to more than 300 critical services, including hospitals, emergency call centers and fire stations. Dominion Resources expects half of those facilities to be restored by the end of the day and most of the rest fixed by Monday.

After the flood – a close-up view of Vermont flooding from Irene

September 4, 2011 at 12:00 pm By Roz Potter

Full-page, eye-opening photos of  the Vermont flood’s effect on transportation, business, and people’s lives:  Link

Communities in Vermont and New York cutoff after 2 full days of rain.  Video and story from ABC news:  Link

2011: A year of nature’s extremes for the U.S.

September 4, 2011 at 11:06 am By Roz Potter

From the Boston Globe online:  Link


Unprecedented triple-digit heat and devastating drought. Deadly tornadoes leveling towns. Massive rivers overflowing. A billion-dollar blizzard. And now, unusual hurricane-triggered flooding in Vermont.

If what is falling from the sky is not enough, the ground shook in places that normally seem stable: Colorado and the entire East Coast. On Friday, a strong quake triggered brief tsunami warnings in Alaska. Arizona and New Mexico have broken records for wildfires.

Total weather losses top $35 billion, and that is not counting Hurricane Irene, according to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration. There have been more than 700 US disaster and weather deaths, most from the tornado outbreaks this spring.

Last year, the world seemed to go wild with natural disasters in the deadliest year in a generation. But 2010 was bad globally, and the United States was mostly spared.

This year, while there have been devastating events elsewhere, such as the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, Australia’s flooding, and a drought in Africa, it is the United States’ turn to get smacked. Repeatedly.

“Excuse Me, but Catastrophe Looms”

August 18, 2011 at 8:06 pm By Roz Potter

From The Tyee, in British Columbia,  Link


After months of hand-wringing, I am authorized to report that North America has moved beyond the pall of doom and gloom to a more pleasant oblivion.

The earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disasters in Japan are all behind us now. No need to fret any further about the ugliness of natural disasters.

In the aftermath of this megathrust nightmare, we progressed briskly from a “teachable moment” through “disaster fatigue” to more important matters, like the royal wedding and who might replace Charlie Sheen as TV’s highest paid actor. What a relief to forget plate tectonics again.

In my recent (and thankfully transient) role as Harbinger of Doom, I had the unhappy task of warning people that a tectonic event just like the one in Japan (and in Sumatra before that) will — beyond any reasonable scientific doubt — hit the West Coast of North America. Same mega-quake. Same mega-tsunami. For the gory details, just Google the Cascadia Subduction Zone.

My book Cascadia’s Fault — The Deadly Earthquake That Will Devastate North America was published this spring, with the intention to wake people up in time to be safer and more resilient when the Big One hits.

But other than a few respectful book reviews, the reaction has been weirdly muted, as if people would rather not be bothered with an opportunity to save lives, even, very possibly, their own.


At first glance Cascadia’s threat might seem like a “regional” concern — which is code for saying “it’s just those wacky West Coasters getting all hyperbolic on us again.” But actually, it’s not.

Imagine five major cities — Vancouver, Victoria, Seattle, Portland and Sacramento, with dozens of smaller towns and villages in between — slammed all at once by the same earthquake. With tsunami wave damage across the entire Pacific Rim — from Hawaii and Alaska to Japan, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Australia and New Zealand. Disaster on a scale so overwhelming that nothing in our history can serve as a reference point.


Get real, and prepare

When friends ask what it’s like being the bearer of so much dismal news, I say: “Honestly? I hate it. I just wish it would all go away.” Do you remember when Cher slapped Nicholas Cage in “Moonstruck” and told him to “Snap out of it!”? That’s what we should do about Cascadia’s fault. Snap right out of this depressing darkness and live in the moment. Whatever happens, happens. Right?

Perhaps Hollywood should make a movie of it. That would be a lot more fun. Think of how cool it would be to see five modern cities knee-deep in bricks and broken glass. Tall buildings and bridges collapsing, dams bursting. The special effects would be spectacular, especially when the tsunami starts washing away coastal towns from Canada to California.

Moderate to severe solar storms set to hit earth – electrical and communications systems in jeopardy

August 7, 2011 at 5:08 pm By Roz Potter

From the Atlantic Wire,  Link


Reuters is reporting that there have been three large explosions from the Sun over the past few days, and that “sun storms” are set to hit the Earth.

The U.S. government, which is pretty pressed for time as it is right now, is warning “users of satellite, telecommunications and electric equipment to prepare for possible disruptions over the next few days.” Or, as National Geographic informs us: “Storms are brewing about 93 million miles (150 million kilometers) away, and if one of them reaches Earth, it could knock out communications, scramble GPS, and leave thousands without power for weeks to months.”

Joseph Kunches, a space weather scientist from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), said that the magnetic storm that is soon to develop probably will be in the “moderate to strong level.”

So how afraid should we be? According to Reuters, major disruptions from solar activity, rare though they may be, have had serious impacts in the past.

In 1989, a solar storm took down the power grid in Quebec, Canada, leaving about six million people without power for several hours…

The 1859 solar storm hit telegraph offices around the world and caused a giant aurora visible as far south as the Caribbean Islands. Some telegraph operators reported electric shocks. Papers caught fire. And many telegraph systems continued to send and receive signals even after operators disconnected batteries, NOAA said on its website.

Reuters adds that according to a 2008 report by the National Research Council, a similar storm could cause up to $2 trillion in damage, globally. But before hysteria sets in, Kunches said that, “I don’t think this week’s solar storms will be anywhere near that.” However, lest we relax too much, the International Business Times reports that solar activity is increasingly becoming a source of concern:

The NOAA predicted four extreme solar emissions which could threaten the planet this decade. Similarly, Nasa warned that a peak in the sun’s magnetic energy cycle and the number of sun spots or flares around 2013 could enable extremely high radiation levels.

Apparently, the sun is approaching what’s known as solar maximum—the high point in its roughly 11-year cycle of activity, according to National Geographic.

Scientists anticipate stronger storms around solar max, in 2013. So while Rich Lordan from the Electric Power Research Institute said that “based on the data and the scenarios we can reasonably expect, I believe the power-delivery system can operate through a solar storm,” overall the danger is becoming more critical.

Extreme heat vulnerability – it’s a matter of life and death

July 20, 2011 at 10:55 am By Roz Potter

From the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), Link

Extreme Heat: A Prevention Guide to Promote Your Personal Health and Safety

From 1979-2003, excessive heat exposure caused 8,015 deaths in the United States. During this period, more people in this country died from extreme heat than from hurricanes, lightning, tornadoes, floods, and earthquakes combined. In 2001, 300 deaths were caused by excessive heat exposure.


  • Elderly people (65 years and older), infants and children and people with chronic medical conditions are more prone to heat stress.
  • Air-conditioning is the number one protective factor against heat-related illness and death. During conditions of extreme heat, spend time in locations with air-conditioning such as shopping malls, public libraries, or public health sponsored heat-relief shelters in your area.
  • Get informed. Listen to local news and weather channels or contact your local public health department during extreme heat conditions for health and safety updates
  • Drink cool, nonalcoholic beverages and increase your fluid intake, regardless of your activity level.

People suffer heat-related illness when their bodies are unable to compensate and properly cool themselves. The body normally cools itself by sweating. But under some conditions, sweating just isn’t enough. In such cases, a person’s body temperature rises rapidly. Very high body temperatures may damage the brain or other vital organs.

Several factors affect the body’s ability to cool itself during extremely hot weather. When the humidity is high, sweat will not evaporate as quickly, preventing the body from releasing heat quickly. Other conditions related to risk include age, obesity, fever, dehydration, heart disease, mental illness, poor circulation, sunburn, and prescription drug and alcohol use.

Who’s at greatest risk of heat-related deaths?

Heat-related deaths are preventable. People need to be aware of who is at greatest risk and what actions can be taken to prevent a heat-related illness or death.

The elderly, the very young, and people with mental illness and chronic diseases are at the very highest risk. However, even young and healthy individuals can succumb to heat if they participate in strenuous physical activities during hot weather.

Air-conditioning is the number one protective factor against heat-related illness and death. If a home is not air-conditioned, people can reduce their risk for heat-related illness by spending time in public facilities that are air-conditioned.

Summertime activity, whether on the playing field or the construction site, must be balanced with measures that aid the body’s cooling mechanisms and prevent heat-related illness. This pamphlet tells how you can prevent, recognize, and cope with heat-related health problems.

What Is Extreme Heat?

Conditions of extreme heat are defined as summertime temperatures that are substantially hotter and/or more humid than average for location at that time of year. Humid or muggy conditions, which add to the discomfort of high temperatures, occur when a “dome” of high atmospheric pressure traps hazy, damp air near the ground. Extremely dry and hot conditions can provoke dust storms and low visibility. Droughts occur when a long period passes without substantial rainfall. A heat wave combined with a drought is a very dangerous situation.

During Hot Weather

To protect your health when temperatures are extremely high, remember to keep cool and use common sense. The following tips are important:

Drink Plenty of Fluids

During hot weather you will need to increase your fluid intake, regardless of your activity level. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink. During heavy exercise in a hot environment, drink two to four glasses (16-32 ounces) of cool fluids each hour.

Warning: If your doctor generally limits the amount of fluid you drink or has you on water pills, ask how much you should drink while the weather is hot.

Don’t drink liquids that contain alcohol, or large amounts of sugar—these actually cause you to lose more body fluid. Also avoid very cold drinks, because they can cause stomach cramps.

Replace Salt and Minerals

Heavy sweating removes salt and minerals from the body. These are necessary for your body and must be replaced. If you must exercise, drink two to four glasses of cool, non-alcoholic fluids each hour. A sports beverage can replace the salt and minerals you lose in sweat. However, if you are on a low-salt diet, talk with your doctor before drinking a sports beverage or taking salt tablets.

Wear Appropriate Clothing and Sunscreen

Wear as little clothing as possible when you are at home. Choose lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing. Sunburn affects your body’s ability to cool itself and causes a loss of body fluids. It also causes pain and damages the skin. If you must go outdoors, protect yourself from the sun by wearing a wide-brimmed hat (also keeps you cooler) along with sunglasses, and by putting on sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher (the most effective products say “broad spectrum” or “UVA/UVB protection” on their labels) 30 minutes prior to going out. Continue to reapply it according to the package directions.

Schedule Outdoor Activities Carefully

If you must be outdoors, try to limit your outdoor activity to morning and evening hours. Try to rest often in shady areas so that your body’s thermostat will have a chance to recover.

Pace Yourself

If you are not accustomed to working or exercising in a hot environment, start slowly and pick up the pace gradually. If exertion in the heat makes your heart pound and leaves you gasping for breath, STOP all activity. Get into a cool area or at least into the shade, and rest, especially if you become lightheaded, confused, weak, or faint.

Stay Cool Indoors

Stay indoors and, if at all possible, stay in an air-conditioned place. If your home does not have air conditioning, go to the shopping mall or public library—even a few hours spent in air conditioning can help your body stay cooler when you go back into the heat. Call your local health department to see if there are any heat-relief shelters in your area. Electric fans may provide comfort, but when the temperature is in the high 90s, fans will not prevent heat-related illness. Taking a cool shower or bath or moving to an air-conditioned place is a much better way to cool off. Use your stove and oven less to maintain a cooler temperature in your home.

Use a Buddy System

When working in the heat, monitor the condition of your co-workers and have someone do the same for you. Heat-induced illness can cause a person to become confused or lose consciousness. If you are 65 years of age or older, have a friend or relative call to check on you twice a day during a heat wave. If you know someone in this age group, check on them at least twice a day.

Monitor Those at High Risk

Although anyone at any time can suffer from heat-related illness, some people are at greater risk than others.

  • Infants and young children are sensitive to the effects of high temperatures and rely on others to regulate their environments and provide adequate liquids.
  • People 65 years of age or older may not compensate for heat stress efficiently and are less likely to sense and respond to change in temperature.
  • People who are overweight may be prone to heat sickness because of their tendency to retain more body heat.
  • People who overexert during work or exercise may become dehydrated and susceptible to heat sickness.
  • People who are physically ill, especially with heart disease or high blood pressure, or who take certain medications, such as for depression, insomnia, or poor circulation, may be affected by extreme heat.

Visit adults at risk at least twice a day and closely watch them for signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Infants and young children, of course, need much more frequent watching.

Adjust to the Environment

Be aware that any sudden change in temperature, such as an early summer heat wave, will be stressful to your body. You will have a greater tolerance for heat if you limit your physical activity until you become accustomed to the heat. If you travel to a hotter climate, allow several days to become acclimated before attempting any vigorous exercise, and work up to it gradually.

Do Not Leave Children in Cars

Even in cool temperatures, cars can heat up to dangerous temperatures very quickly. Even with the windows cracked open, interior temperatures can rise almost 20 degrees Fahrenheit within the first 10 minutes. Anyone left inside is at risk for serious heat-related illnesses or even death. Children who are left unattended in parked cars are at greatest risk for heat stroke, and possibly death. When traveling with children, remember to do the following:

  • Never leave infants, children or pets in a parked car, even if the windows are cracked open.
  • To remind yourself that a child is in the car, keep a stuffed animal in the car seat. When the child is buckled in, place the stuffed animal in the front with the driver.
  • When leaving your car, check to be sure everyone is out of the car. Do not overlook any children who have fallen asleep in the car.

Use Common Sense

Remember to keep cool and use common sense:

  • Avoid hot foods and heavy meals—they add heat to your body.
  • Drink plenty of fluids and replace salts and minerals in your body. Do not take salt tablets unless under medical supervision.
  • Dress infants and children in cool, loose clothing and shade their heads and faces with hats or an umbrella.
  • Limit sun exposure during mid-day hours and in places of potential severe exposure such as beaches.
  • Do not leave infants, children, or pets in a parked car.
  • Provide plenty of fresh water for your pets, and leave the water in a shady area.

Hot Weather Health Emergencies

Even short periods of high temperatures can cause serious health problems. During hot weather health emergencies, keep informed by listening to local weather and news channels or contact local health departments for health and safety updates. Doing too much on a hot day, spending too much time in the sun or staying too long in an overheated place can cause heat-related illnesses. Know the symptoms of heat disorders and overexposure to the sun, and be ready to give first aid treatment.

Heat Stroke

Heat stroke occurs when the body is unable to regulate its temperature. The body’s temperature rises rapidly, the sweating mechanism fails, and the body is unable to cool down. Body temperature may rise to 106°F or higher within 10 to 15 minutes. Heat stroke can cause death or permanent disability if emergency treatment is not provided.

Recognizing Heat Stroke

Warning signs of heat stroke vary but may include the following:

  • An extremely high body temperature (above 103°F, orally)
  • Red, hot, and dry skin (no sweating)
  • Rapid, strong pulse
  • Throbbing headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Confusion
  • Unconsciousness

What to Do

If you see any of these signs, you may be dealing with a life-threatening emergency. Have someone call for immediate medical assistance while you begin cooling the victim. Do the following:

  • Get the victim to a shady area.
  • Cool the victim rapidly using whatever methods you can. For example, immerse the victim in a tub of cool water; place the person in a cool shower; spray the victim with cool water from a garden hose; sponge the person with cool water; or if the humidity is low, wrap the victim in a cool, wet sheet and fan him or her vigorously.
  • Monitor body temperature, and continue cooling efforts until the body temperature drops to 101-102°F.
  • If emergency medical personnel are delayed, call the hospital emergency room for further instructions.
  • Do not give the victim fluids to drink.
  • Get medical assistance as soon as possible.

Sometimes a victim’s muscles will begin to twitch uncontrollably as a result of heat stroke. If this happens, keep the victim from injuring himself, but do not place any object in the mouth and do not give fluids. If there is vomiting, make sure the airway remains open by turning the victim on his or her side.

Heat Exhaustion

Heat exhaustion is a milder form of heat-related illness that can develop after several days of exposure to high temperatures and inadequate or unbalanced replacement of fluids. It is the body’s response to an excessive loss of the water and salt contained in sweat. Those most prone to heat exhaustion are elderly people, people with high blood pressure, and people working or exercising in a hot environment.

Recognizing Heat Exhaustion

Warning signs of heat exhaustion include the following:

  • Heavy sweating
  • Paleness
  • Muscle cramps
  • Tiredness
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fainting

The skin may be cool and moist. The victim’s pulse rate will be fast and weak, and breathing will be fast and shallow. If heat exhaustion is untreated, it may progress to heat stroke. Seek medical attention immediately if any of the following occurs:

  • Symptoms are severe
  • The victim has heart problems or high blood pressure

Otherwise, help the victim to cool off, and seek medical attention if symptoms worsen or last longer than 1 hour.

What to Do

Cooling measures that may be effective include the following:

  • Cool, nonalcoholic beverages
  • Rest
  • Cool shower, bath, or sponge bath
  • An air-conditioned environment
  • Lightweight clothing

Heat Cramps

Heat cramps usually affect people who sweat a lot during strenuous activity. This sweating depletes the body’s salt and moisture. The low salt level in the muscles may be the cause of heat cramps. Heat cramps may also be a symptom of heat exhaustion.

Recognizing Heat Cramps

Heat cramps are muscle pains or spasms—usually in the abdomen, arms, or legs—that may occur in association with strenuous activity. If you have heart problems or are on a low-sodium diet, get medical attention for heat cramps.

What to Do

If medical attention is not necessary, take these steps:

  • Stop all activity, and sit quietly in a cool place.
  • Drink clear juice or a sports beverage.
  • Do not return to strenuous activity for a few hours after the cramps subside, because further exertion may lead to heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
  • Seek medical attention for heat cramps if they do not subside in 1 hour.


Sunburn should be avoided because it damages the skin. Although the discomfort is usually minor and healing often occurs in about a week, a more severe sunburn may require medical attention.

Recognizing Sunburn

Symptoms of sunburn are well known: the skin becomes red, painful, and abnormally warm after sun exposure.

What to Do

Consult a doctor if the sunburn affects an infant younger than 1 year of age or if these symptoms are present:

  • Fever
  • Fluid-filled blisters
  • Severe pain

Also, remember these tips when treating sunburn:

  • Avoid repeated sun exposure.
  • Apply cold compresses or immerse the sunburned area in cool water.
  • Apply moisturizing lotion to affected areas. Do not use salve, butter, or ointment.
  • Do not break blisters.

Heat Rash

Heat rash is a skin irritation caused by excessive sweating during hot, humid weather. It can occur at any age but is most common in young children.

Recognizing Heat Rash

Heat rash looks like a red cluster of pimples or small blisters. It is more likely to occur on the neck and upper chest, in the groin, under the breasts, and in elbow creases.

What to Do

The best treatment for heat rash is to provide a cooler, less humid environment. Keep the affected area dry. Dusting powder may be used to increase comfort.

Treating heat rash is simple and usually does not require medical assistance. Other heat-related problems can be much more severe.

This information provided by NCEH’s Health Studies Branch.

ilities (NCBDDD)

A Century of Disasters

May 30, 2011 at 8:40 am By Roz Potter

From Slate Magazine, Link

This will be the century of disasters.

In the same way that the 20th century was the century of world wars, genocide, and grinding ideological conflict, the 21st will be the century of natural disasters and technological crises and unholy combinations of the two. It’ll be the century when the things that we count on to go right will, for whatever reason, go wrong.

Late last month, as the Mississippi River rose in what is destined to be the worst flood in decades, and as the residents of Alabama and other states rummaged through the debris of a historic tornado outbreak, physicists at a meeting in Anaheim, Calif., had a discussion about the dangers posed by the sun.

Solar flares, scientists believe, are a disaster waiting to happen. Thus one of the sessions at the American Physical Society’s annual meeting was devoted to discussing the hazard of electromagnetic pulses (EMPs) caused by solar flares or terrorist attacks. Such pulses could fry transformers and knock out the electrical grid over much of the nation. Last year the Oak Ridge National Laboratory released a study saying the damage might take years to fix and cost trillions of dollars.

But maybe even that’s not the disaster people should be worrying about. Maybe they should worry instead about the ARkStorm. That’s the name the U.S. Geological Survey’s Multihazards Demonstration Project gave to a hypothetical storm that would essentially turn much of California’s Central Valley into a bathtub. It has happened before, in 1861-62, when it rained for 45 straight days. The USGS explains: “The ARkStorm draws heat and moisture from the tropical Pacific, forming a series of Atmospheric Rivers (ARs) that approach the ferocity of hurricanes and then slam into the U.S. West Coast over several weeks.” The result, the USGS determined, could be a flood that would cost $725 billion in direct property losses and economic impact.

While pondering this, don’t forget the Cascadia subduction zone. That’s the plate boundary off the coast of the Pacific Northwest, one that could generate a tsunami much like the one that devastated Japan in March. The Cascadia subduction zone runs from Vancouver Island to northern California, and last ruptured in a major tsunami-spawning earthquake on January 26, 1700. It could break at any moment, with catastrophic consequences.

All of these things have the common feature of low probability and high consequence. They’re “black swan” events. They’re unpredictable in any practical sense. They’re also things that ordinary people probably should not worry about on a daily basis. You can’t fear the sun. You can’t worry that a rock will fall out of the sky and smash the earth, or that the ground will open up and swallow you like a vitamin. A key element of maintaining one’s sanity is knowing how to ignore risks that are highly improbable at any given point in time.

And yet in the coming century, these or other black swans will seem to occur with surprising frequency. To read on… Link

From NASA: photos, stats and descriptions of global climate change

May 25, 2011 at 12:59 pm By Roz Potter

From NASA’s award winning website, an instructive read.  Link and Link

The evidence for rapid climate change is compelling:

Republic of Maldives: Vulnerable to sea level rise

Republic of Maldives: Vulnerable to sea level rise
Sea level rise

Global sea level rose about 17 centimeters (6.7 inches) in the last century. The rate in the last decade, however, is nearly double that of the last century.4

The effects of climate change will likely include more frequent droughts in some areas and heavier precipitation in others.
Global temperature rise

All three major global surface temperature reconstructions show that Earth has warmed since 1880. 5 Most of this warming has occurred since the 1970s, with the 20 warmest years having occurred since 1981 and with all 10 of the warmest years occurring in the past 12 years. 6 Even though the 2000s witnessed a solar output decline resulting in an unusually deep solar minimum in 2007-2009, surface temperatures continue to increase. 7

The oceans have absorbed much of this increased heat, with the top 700 meters (about 2,300 feet) of ocean showing warming of 0.302 degrees Fahrenheit since 1969.
Warming oceans

The oceans have absorbed much of this increased heat, with the top 700 meters (about 2,300 feet) of ocean showing warming of 0.302 degrees Fahrenheit since 1969.8

Flowing meltwater from the Greenland ice sheet

Flowing meltwater from the Greenland ice sheet
Shrinking ice sheets

The Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have decreased in mass. Data from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment show Greenland lost 150 to 250 cubic kilometers (36 to 60 cubic miles) of ice per year between 2002 and 2006, while Antarctica lost about 152 cubic kilometers (36 cubic miles) of ice between 2002 and 2005.

Visualization of the 2007 Arctic sea ice minimum

Visualization of the 2007 Arctic sea ice minimum
Declining Arctic sea ice

Both the extent and thickness of Arctic sea ice has declined rapidly over the last several decades. 9

The disappearing snowcap of Mount Kilimanjaro, from space.

The disappearing snowcap of Mount Kilimanjaro, from space.
Glacial retreat

Glaciers are retreating almost everywhere around the world — including in the Alps, Himalayas, Andes, Rockies, Alaska and Africa.10

Record high temperatures increasing.
Extreme events

The number of record high temperature events in the United States has been increasing, while the number of record low temperature events has been decreasing, since 1950. The U.S. has also witnessed increasing numbers of intense rainfall events.11

The carbon dioxide content of the Earth’s oceans has been increasing since 1750, and is currently increasing about 2 billion tons per year. This has increased ocean acidity by about 30 percent.
Ocean acidification

The carbon dioxide content of the Earth’s oceans has been increasing since 1750, and is currently increasing about 2 billion tons per year. This has increased ocean acidity by about 30 percent. 12

The potential future effects of global climate change include more frequent wildfires, longer periods of drought in some regions and an increase in the number, duration and intensity of tropical storms.

The current and future consequences of global climate change

Artic Sea Ice

September Arctic sea ice is now declining at a rate of 11.5 percent per decade, relative to the 1979 to 2000 average. Arctic sea ice reaches its minimum each September. The graph (see site) shows the average monthly Arctic sea ice extent in September from 1979 to 2010, derived from satellite observations. The September 2010 extent was the third lowest in the satellite record.

Be certain not to miss the Time Series, showing Arctic sea ice mass from 1979-2010, from satellite images.

Carbon Dioxide (CO2) in the earth’s atmosphere.

CO2 concentrations are at their highest in 650, 000 years. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is an important greenhouse gas released through natural processes such as respiration and volcano eruptions and through human activities such as deforestation and burning fossil fuels.

Sea Level

Sea level rise is caused by the thermal expansion of sea water due to climate warming and widespread melting of land ice. The chart (see site) shows historical sea level data derived from coastal tide gauge records (trend calculated using the linear regression method).  Satellite data shows an increase of 3.27 mm per year, from 1993 to the present

Global Surface Temperature

Increased 1.5 degrees Farenheit since 1880 worldwide. January 200-2009 was the warmest decade on record.

Land Ice

There is a loss of 100 billion tons per year in Greenland. Data from NASA’s Grace satellite show that the land ice sheets in both Antarctica and Greenland are losing mass. The continent of Antarctica (left chart) has been losing more than 100 cubic kilometers (24 cubic miles) of ice per year since 2002.

Is global warming (aka climate change) linked to severe weather?

May 24, 2011 at 6:51 pm By Roz Potter

Photo by Kurt Voigt. AP

From the Union of Concerned Scientists:  Link

As Earth warms, powerful storms are becoming the new normal

What is the relationship between global warming, climate, and weather?

Weather is what’s happening outside the door right now; today a thunderstorm is approaching. Climate, on the other hand, is the pattern of weather measured over a number of decades.

Over the past 30 years there has been a pattern of increasingly higher average temperatures for the whole world. In fact, the first decade of this century (2001–2010) was the hottest decade recorded since reliable records began in the late 1800s.

These rising temperatures—caused primarily by an increase of heat-trapping emissions in the atmosphere created when we burn coal, oil, and gas to generate electricity, drive our cars, and fuel our businesses—are what we refer to as global warming.

One consequence of global warming is an increase in both ocean evaporation into the atmosphere, and the amount of water vapor the atmosphere can hold. High levels of water vapor in the atmosphere in turn create conditions more favorable for heavier precipitation in the form of intense rain and snow storms.

The United States is already experiencing more intense rain and snow storms.

As the Earth warms, the amount of rain or snow falling in the heaviest one percent of storms has risen nearly 20 percent on average in the United States—almost three times the rate of increase in total precipitation between 1958 and 2007.

In other words, the heaviest storms have very recently become even heavier.

The Northeast has seen a 67 percent increase in the amount of rain or snow falling in the heaviest storms.

As storms increase in intensity, flooding becomes a larger concern.

Flash floods, which pose the most immediate risks for people, bridges and roads, and buildings on floodplains, result in part from this shift toward more extreme precipitation in a warming world.

In 2008 two scientists, Sharon Ashley and Walker Ashley, of Northern Illinois University, analyzed flood fatalities between 1959 and 2005 in the mainland United States, excluding those from Hurricane Katrina.

Their research found that Texas had the largest number of fatalities from flash floods and river floods over the study period. When standardized for population, South Dakota, Mississippi, West Virginia, and Montana had the highest numbers of fatalities from flooding per 100,000 people. Those between the ages of 10 and 29 and those over 60 years old were disproportionately at risk.

Does global warming create more frequent and more intense tornadoes?

Tornadoes are relatively small, short-lived phenomena and scientists don’t have robust enough data to determine whether and how climate change may be affecting tornado frequency, intensity, or the geographic range where tornadoes are most likely to form.

Tornadoes often form when warm, moist air near the Earth’s surface rises and interacts with cooler and drier air higher in the atmosphere. This creates unstable conditions that are favorable for thunderstorms and sometimes tornadoes.

Unlike thunderstorms, tornadoes need a rotational source such as when warm, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico wafts over the southeast and strong Jetstream air aloft arrives from a westerly direction, as during the tragic string of tornadoes in April 2011.

While one study found that the number of tornadoes reported in the United States has increased by around 14 per year over the past 50 years, the trend may have more to do with how tornadoes are tracked and reported rather than how many are actually forming.

Similarly, the study found that severity ratings for tornadoes are usually based on the damage they cause to structures and may not have been consistently applied over the past fifty years.

What can be done to deal with severe weather?

This pattern of intense rain and snow storms and periods of drought is becoming the new normal in our everyday weather as levels of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere continue to rise.

If the emissions that cause global warming continue unabated, scientists expect the amount of rainfall during the heaviest precipitation events across country to increase more than 40 percent by the end of the century. Even if we dramatically curbed emissions, these downpours are still likely to increase, but by only a little more than 20 percent.

Regardless of what actions we take to cut emissions, we must adapt to the likelihood that severe storms are becoming ever more commonplace.

Efforts such as modifying local infrastructure to withstand floods, adjusting agricultural patterns to account for droughts, as well as establishing emergency planning in our homes, would be far less costly to implement when compared to the costs of responding to washed out bridges, deluged homes, or loss of life.

Clearly, the time has come to develop smart planning and engineering solutions to cope with storms of the future.

Editor’s note: Clearly, the time has come to prepare our families, homes, businesses, organizations and communities for multiple hazards.

Natural disasters in 2010: A year of living dangerously

April 19, 2011 at 11:34 am By Roz Potter

From the Avian Flu Diary blog Link ,  a review of a 94 page report from the Brookings Institution, Link, Excerpt:

Almost 300 million people were affected by natural disasters in 2010. The large disasters provided
constant headlines throughout the year, beginning with the devastating earthquake in Haiti followed
one month later by the even more severe—but far less deadly—earthquake in Chile.

In the spring, ash spewing from volcano Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland paralyzed flights for weeks in the northern
hemisphere. Early summer witnessed the worst Russian wildfires in history while a few months
later, the steadily rising floodwaters in Pakistan covered 20 percent of the country. In sum, it was a
terrible year in terms of natural disasters causing havoc and destruction around the globe. However,
many of the largest disasters barely made headlines in the Western press.

Most notably, over 130 million Chinese were affected by the worst flooding in recent history—this
is more than five times the number of people affected by the earthquake in Haiti and the Pakistani
floods combined—but the Chinese floods received far less international attention than either Pakistan
or Haiti.

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