All posts by Greg Laden

2024 Atlantic Hurricane Season

It starts.

Tropical Storm Alberto has formed in the Gulf of Mexico, just to the right of Actual Mexico.

As I write this, Alberto is making landfall as a naty storm with 50 MPH winds, downgrading quickly to a 35 MPH storm that will dissipate over land. However, the wet and disturbed air remaining from this storm will cross the country of Mexico and emerge incoherent in the Pacific, where it may become a weather feature of interest.

When the nucleus two atoms of a certain size range are mushed together by gravitational forces, the force that holds the elements of atomic nuclei and the mass of the nuclei themselves interact at the quantum level in a way that transforms that combination of matter and energy into a different mix of matter and energy, with much more energy and much less matter. IE E = MC2. This happens regularly inside our Sun, and some of that resulting energy can contribute to the formation of a hurricane.

I’ve left out some details.

One detail is this: Atlantic Hurricanes form amidst massive air currents that translate some of that sunsourced energy into the movement of air around the equator and from the equator northwards towards the North Pole. That movement of air and associated transfer of heat between the atmosphere and the ocean can be regular (aka “Neutral”) in form in the Pacific ocean, or it can be irregular (aka “El Nino” or “La Nina”) in the Pacific. The El Nino and La Nina forms of movement of air and transfer of heat involve either a blowing out of heat from the ocean into the atmosphere or the absorption of more than average amounts of heat from the atmosphere into the ocean, respectively.

So imagine you are an Atlantic hurricane forming on a long hallway carpet that is itself being pulled forward. As you move forward the air around you swirls and moves in just the right way to facilitate your increased spin and make you bigger, and the heat that comes up from below you adds energy to your spin. But suddenly the carpet gets bunched up way down the hall, way farther than you can see (in real terms, on the other side of the Earth). That disrupts the whole thing, and the forces that were spinning you up and giving you strength are reduced and made more chaotic. Maybe you’ll form into a full hurricane, maybe not. But even if you do, you won’t be the best hurricane you can be. That bunching up of the carpet was the disruptive El Nino pattern of equatorial air and ocean interaction.

Now imagine the same scenario, but way ahead of you, instead of the carpet bunching up, a force is pulling it along a little faster and more efficiently. Now, the effects causing your spin-up are enhanced, and the overall energy you take in is increased. Now, the chanced that you will reach hurricane strength and form are increased over “neutral” conditions, and the overall strength and size you may achieve is greater. That is La Nina.

Now imagine a second factor other than the carpet: overall heat. The warmer the surface of the Atlantic ocean over which you are forming, the more likely you are to become a hurricane, and the bigger and/or stronger you can become. The bunching-up aka El Nino phase of the climatic carpet system adds heat to the atmosphere everywhere, which increases the heat of the Atlantic Ocean’s surface, that energy source down below the carpet. But while El Nino is adding heat, it is also disrupting the process. But, if El Nino ads a bunch of heat and then goes away, the heat remains for months as it slowly dissipates. Therefore, if El Nino changes quickly to La Nina, then El Nino increases a key variable to enhance Atlantic hurricane formation, then immediately after, La Nino increases a key variable to enhance Atlantic hurricane formation.

That is what is likely to happen this hurricane season. We are leaving El Nino conditions over the next several weeks, and we are likely to plunge into a La Nina phase right away. That is why this Atlantic Hurricane Season is expected to be a humdinger of a hurricane season.

Storm Beryl

As I write this, Beryl is a Tropical Storm located about 10 degrees north, lined up with the mouth of the Amazon (far to the South). The numerous models mostly agree on this: Beryl will be classifiable as a hurricane by mid day Sunday, and proceed towards the Windward Islands, likely passing somewhere between Roseau and the South American coast, with the current National Hurricane Center’s track running through St Vincent and the Grenadines, with Kingston the current center of the bullseye. By Thursday or so next week, the storm will be closer to Other Kingston, the one in Jamaica, and Jamaica the island of Hispanola, and Cuba are all under the gun. That would put the hurricane, very likely a Category 3 storm, in the western Caribbean and wondering where to go next. That is very important, since it could do what a lot of hurricanes do, and turn north to overrun Cuba the threaten Florida, or it could penetrate further into the Gulf of Mexico, and then who the heck knows. In the first instance, it would probably weaken somewhat, in the second instance, it would be over very warm water in the Gulf and may well strengthen.

Beryl Update: 6/30/24 PM

Between now and tomorrow at this time, Beryl will achieve major hurricane status with winds of 140 mph, gusting to 165 mph, as it bears down on the southerly Windwaard Islands, that band of tiny nations and protectorates that form the southeastern edge of the Caribbean.

Beryl is a weird and strange looking hurricane. Not to be to judge, but it almost looks more like a typical thunderstorm cluster disturbance that hurricanes resemble before they are fully born. This is a major hurricane born so recently there are fragments of the placenta draped across its shoulders. Presumably Beryl will circle-up and start looking more organized soon. Beryl is not a monster size hurricane at this time but is expected to get larger.

This is very conjectural, but bear with me. Most models of the hurricane’s intensity have it remaining a Category 1 even after it slides across Yucatan and starts to leave that very flat mainland region behind. This is not going to be good for humans and habitats in that region. After about 5 days from now, it is reasonable to expect Beryl to be a Category 1 hurricane, or at least, still be a tropical cyclone as it re-enters the Gulf of Mexico. Most models, and this is way too far out to be more than cautionary information, have Beryl continuing across the southern Gulf of Mexico and re-landing on the MExico coast, but about 1/4th of the models have the storm curving northwards and striking the US gulf coast. Right now I see no estimates for Beryl’s likely strength at that time, but the Gulf is warm and tends to cause strengthening. So, again, this is way too far out to say, but not to far out in time to be concerned if you are along the Gulf coast anywhere from Poza Rica to New Orleans.

For perspective, Hurricane Harvey took a very similar track, crossed the Yucatan, then turned into a big storm before hitting Texas. At this point, Beryl looks bigger and stronger than Harvey.

Beryl is the farthest east forming hurricane in June on record. This time of year we tend to not have the “Cape” hurricanes that come all across the Atlantic. Once Beryl becomes a Category 4 storm (any hour now), it will be the earliest Category 4 hurricane in the Atlantic, and presumably the only such hurricane in June. It is the earliest major hurricane within 100 miles of Barbados and Grenada.

Beryl Update 7/1 9:45 AM

I just want to put this here so we can compare realty with the current estimates in a day or so:

Beryl Update 7/2 6:25AM

As suspected, Beryl will remain stronger than earlier projected:

Also note that this hurricane’s path has shifted to the north a little, placing Jamaica in serious danger.

The people of Carriacou and other islands hit by Beryl over the last day have lost homes in infrastructure, but so far the death toll is minimal. We’ll see if that remains the case, hopefully it will.

Wind shear was expected to cause Beryl t drop to below Major status about now, but the storm is remaining at Category 4 level for the next day or two.

The estimated track of Beryl becomes extremely uncertain after Friday. The spaghetti models have continued to shift the post-Yucatan path northwards, with the Texas-Mexico border being the approximate center of the largest cluster of models, but a goodly number suggesting landfall as far east as New Orleans. The models are ambiguous as to how strong this storm might be by the time that happens.

Beryl Update 7/7 8:17M

One thing you can say about Beryl: as a named storm it feels like it is lasting a very long time. I think the record for longevity in the Atlantic is the 1899 Ciriaco hurricane, which hung out at sea for just over a month, and lasted as a storm from August 2rd to September 12th, with the last 8 days being extratropical. Beryl formed on June 28th, so it’s only been going 9 days, but somehow feels longer.

Beryl, currently tropical storm, a will strengthen back into a real Hurricane over the next 24 hours, then make landfall in Texas, affecting areas upcoast Corpus Christi and Galveston. As the storm moves inland, serious flooding is expectged as far north as the Dallas-Shreveport area. This does not seem to be a Harvy-eque situation.

Elsewhere in the Atlantic: Nothing. Yet.

Helpful Information

In the spirit of keeping things all in one place this hurricane season, here is the Saffir-Simpson scale, and below, the name list for the Atlantic Hurricanes.

Names for 2024:

Nitpicking the Press: Numbers Count!

This morning’s news story: “President Biden Will Remove 1.5 Million Lead Pipes”

Thanks, Joe, but “no thanks” to the culture of journalism, which sometimes strings words together that make no sense. We do not count pipe this way, usually. A line of pipe that runs from a main to a house may be made up of one or more pipes (usually more), if you count the number of tubular objects fixed together to connect everything up. Say they the installers use five pipe segments. Is that five pipes that President Biden will dig up, or is it one pipe all fixed together? The water pipe that feeds Boston, Massachusetts is a complex of pipes that runs about 70 miles, I believe there are two of them in parallel, and although they are not made of lead so President Biden will not be digging them up, I suspect there are tens of thousands of segments joined together to make that work. Or does this count as two?

So who is counting wrong? CONTINUED ON SUBSTACK

How Trump Ends

I heard an absolutely awful person (via media not someone I know) proudly complaining that if a good friend or lover suffered a physical insult, such as tripping over a broken sidewalk and landing on their face, that she thereafter could not look at that person again without disdain.

That sounded unbelievable until I remembered this story: SEE MY SUBSTACK!

Enviro-Misconceptions and Wrongness

Is climate change accelerating? No.

A subset of climate change scientists and activists are known in the mainstream science community as doomers. These are often credentialed and legitimate scientists who prefer the scarier interpretations of data, and who tend to have hair-on-fire reactions that they pass on to the general public. This does not help us in the broader mission of helping the public understand the science. Assertions that underestimate the amount of warming or the severity of effects do not help; assertions that overshoot the mark also do not help.

I wrote a substack on this, which you can visit HERE.

Happy Memorial Day: Take Down Your Flag

There is a story about a young woman named Yara. Yara worked for the city of Franklin in the clerk’s office. During election season, she worked mainly on elections, and during the rest of the year, other things, including staffing the “input line,” the main telephone interface with the public.

One fine June morning she left her house in a quiet cul-de-sac walking distance from City Hall. It was actually her parent’s house; she was living with them until she saved up enough money to move to the Boston area, where she had deferred admission to a graduate program in public policy. Her passion was to work for the government, because she believed public service to be her calling, and she believed in good government. This was something she picked up from her grandfather, who had been a civil servant in Iran; he was an honest government worker, who believed in the elusive concept of democracy. Thus his removal to the united States decades earlier.

Anyway, Yara headed out towards work and as she passed by two side-by-side homes near the corner, the shuddered a bit, thinking about the occupants. They were known to her as MAGA people. One of the residents, a man in his 50s, had one time let himself into Yara’s home while the family was eating dinner, to tell them what the #BLM sign they had just put out on their lawn really means. About how it was racist, and all lives actually matter. And so on.

Read the rest on my substack.

Is global warming speeding up?

Is global warming speeding up?

There has been some discussion about this recently. For some, if you look at the changes in global surface temperature, it seems like the rate of warming has increased. For others, an apparent uptick in rate of warming is just a normal short term shift in the rate of warming that is offset by prior and future downturns in rate. Regardless of whether there is a change in rate of warming, the question itself brings up a number of sub-questions of interest. Some of these questions are about climate science, some are about how to wrangle and interpret data, and some are about the rhetorical interface between science and the public conversation.

I have some thoughts.

Criminal Justice Framing and Philosophy: The Crime Wave

It is campaign season, so let’s talk about how thoughtful politicians running for office might frame their messaging related to criminal justice. (Originally posted here)

Criminal Justice and Public Safety are non-partisan universal issues that affect everyone, but many politicians wrongly define justice in a way that makes no one safer, that solves no serious problems, but that helps candidates that abuse crime statistics to win elections using fear as a motivator for taking people’s votes.

Every single person deserves to feel safe — and actually be safe — in their homes and workplaces, and as they travel about in their daily lives. For this to happen, there must be an ongoing, honest, and accurate assessment of the threats that exist in each environment where we live, work, or recreate. This means carefully and honestly tracking crime waves, and understanding what they are.

Long term, crime in Minnesota is way down since initial European settlement. Frontier mentalities, copious firearms, and other factors fostered a huge crime wave in much of the US, peaking prior to the 1920s. Nationally, the homicide rate peaked at about 10 killings per 100,000 per year, but in the “Wild West,” which included Minnesota, homicides were as common as ten to 15 times that.

That wave ended as the cowboy days waned, over the decades leading up to and including World War 2, and we really haven’t seen crime waves that bad since.

A second national wave in violent crimes including homicide built up in the 1970s and 80s, separating the US from all of the other industrialized nations. This is seen as a result of our nation being awash in poorly regulated firearms, significant economic disparities, and other factors.

Today, our rates of violent crime have dropped significantly, but the factors that support it are still there, so both violent and other crime rates are more likely to rise up in the US than most other places, in short term, often local or regional, waves. The Covid crime wave, largely now abated, was an example of this.

Crime waves are waves, like waves on the water. The largest waves you’ll normally see on a pond or small lake can be measured in inches, while the largest waves you’ll see in an ocean storm can be measured in yards. The US, in terms of criminal violence and other offenses, is like the ocean, compared to other industrialized countries.

The potential range of variation, and the maximum size, of any crime wave is much greater in the US than most other places in the world. This unique threat to life and liberty for every single American is the result of the unique ways in which we’ve treated violence and criminal justice, firearms, and punishment. We are among the most heavily armed populations, we are among the most incarcerated populations, we have a stronger link between racism and violence than most other places, we have a legal system that imposes thought-free sentencing requirements on judges, we foster the sentiments of revenge and rage, we meet violence with violence with the death penalty, and we have a highly militarized police force. These approaches cost money and have not worked as promised. Taxpayers have been duped into supporting a miniature military defense industry that has nothing to do with our national defense. And none of this makes anyone be any safer.

We need good policing, and we need to look at causes of crime even as we attend to consequences. A current example demonstrates this. We are experiencing a mini-crime wave in the theft of certain models of cars that are easy to steal with the use of a readily available technology. Kids — often as young as 11 — have been stealing these cars for joy rides in which the driver can barely see over the wheel. This looks like a crime wave in car theft, but it is such a unique situation that it really should be thought of and addressed separately. In Hennepin County, the County Attorney’s office has been working with municipal police to identify the likely culprits — it is a known subset of kids doing this — in order to approach the families involved. Instead of barging in and laying down criminal charges, the county criminal justice staff are having conversations with families, intervening socially rather than with handcuffs and arraignments. This program started in June 2023, and as of the end of the year, most of the kids for which this intervention happened had stopped breaking the law, and thefts are way down. Nobody’s going to jail, nobody’s going to emergency, the mischief is being managed, and if the car companies do the right thing, maybe it will become harder to for a middle schooler on an errant mission to steal a Kia or a Hyundai.

Thinking. Smarts. Compassion. Understanding. Seeing past the veil of rage through which one sees only retribution. Finding the problem and solving it, instead of reacting to the problem and fumbling through whatever makes one feel good. Justice for all no matter who they are, protection for all members of our society, and the control of crime waves requires a better plan that we are only now starting to see being implemented as a new generation of experts takes the helm. Fund a better police force, a better criminal justice system, and a better prepared and more thoughtful society. That is mid 21st century criminal justice.

My Bear And Man Thing

Years ago I wrote about the bear and the man, sans the bear. (But there was a dog.) I thought it might be a good time to reprise.

Bold Assertions

Do you know me? Yes? How well and for how long, and how good is your memory? If you’ve known me for a while you might remember that in 2009, as chief proprietor of a widely read science blog, I shocked many people in the skeptics/science world (aka Friends of Big Bang) by coming out firmly against rape. Within a year or so I came out with another shocker: I suggested that under certain circumstances men out alone at night, when encountering a women also out alone at night, might give her a wide berth in order to not engender fear. Cross the street instead of bearing down (as it were) on the person you don’t even know.

These bold assertions overlapped in time with Elevatorgate. Remember that? My position — no on rape, and also no on being a dick — were sufficiently shocking in the world of self styled intellectuals (and actual intellectuals such as Richard Dawkins himself) that I and all the others who were saying similar things at the time were attacked relentlessly by a then growing MRA movement (Men’s Rights Activism). In fact, I’m pretty sure that Rebecca Watson and the women of Skepchick, PZ Myers, Myself, and a couple of others fueled the growth of that movement without intending to do so. As recently as several months ago, one of the MRAs threatened to harass one of my family members “until the day he dies” out of spite.

Read the rest on my substack!

Oldsplaining The Young Is Cheugy

How many times have you been to a political meeting and someone says “we need to get more young people on board” or “we need to reach out to yoots” or words to that effect? Lots of times. Maybe almost every meeting that goes longer than a half hour, and they all go longer than a half hour. The conversation often veers into a discussion of strategies to find and recruit young folks, and sometimes, into a complain session about what the young folks are doing wrong….

Read my latest Substack. Also, bonus section on why you are wrong about polling. HERE