DISASTER 101 – FLOODING

When most people think of natural disasters, the first thing to come to mind is not likely flooding. However, flooding is the most common natural disaster. Flooding occurs in all 50 states, accounts for 40% of natural disasters, averages 5 billion dollars in damage each year, and claimed an average of 75 lives per year over the last 30 years.

Worldwide, statistics are similar.

According to the 30 year average, flooding is responsible for the most weather-related fatalities.

TYPES OF FLOODING

River and Lake Flooding

River and lake flooding is probably what most people envision when they think of floods. Heavy rainfall or snowmelt can cause water levels to rise overflowing banks and levees. River flooding is common in the Midwest as rain and snowmelt swells the tributaries that feed into larger rivers downstream. Once the water level crests the river banks, the area that is inundated can be widespread. Low lying areas, saturated soils, and urban areas can further exacerbate the effects of the overflow and take days to dissipate.

California experienced flooding in February when a weekend of storms increased runoff from Anderson Lake and flooded low-lying areas of San Jose. The early year storms also prompted the evacuation of over 88,000 people near the weakened Oroville Dam.

In May of 2017, heavy rainfall over the Midwest caused widespread flooding. Nearly 15 inches of rain fell over multiple states, saturating soils, and swelling multiple rivers above historic levels. Numerous levees were breached which flooded towns causing an estimated $1.7 billion dollars in damages to homes, businesses, and infrastructure.

40% of all natural disasters are flooding.

Coast Guard overflight of South Carolina flooding

Coastal Flooding and Storm Surge

A form of flooding happens regularly along coastlines due to the cycle of rising and lowering tides. Tides are a regular rise and fall of sea level caused by the gravitational interplay of the sun, moon, and earth. Occasionally, these tides can be exceptionally high. An increase of just a few feet is more than enough for tides to breech natural and man-made barriers. Many coastal cities are very near, or in some cases lower than, sea level making them especially prone to any change in sea level.

Storm surge can also cause extreme coastal flooding. The surge develops during severe weather, hurricanes, and tropical storms raising sea level as much as 25 feet. Sea level rise is the result of the low atmospheric pressure found in these storms which has a similar effect on sea level rise as the gravitational pull on tides. High winds common with these storms also cause large waves to batter the coast and push water farther inland. In worst case scenarios, the storm surge strikes the coast during a high tide cycle, increasing the flooding exponentially. Storm surge flooding is responsible for 90% of hurricane related deaths and the majority of the damage to structures.

In August of 2017, Hurricane Harvey alone caused over $125 billion dollars in damage and killed 89 people. The majority of the devastation caused by Harvey was a direct result of the widespread flooding of the Houston area.

Flash Floods

Flash floods can result from a variety of causes, but the common denominator is that they develop quickly and are normally caused by heavy rainfall. These floods can also be the result of snow melt, dislodged ice, inadequate urban drainage, or dam breaks. The actual volume of water carried in a flash flood is usually less than other flood types but the water is channeled down confined spaces which causes it to move with devastating force and speed. Because of this speed, flash floods are very dangerous, easily carrying mud, rocks, and trees in its flow. A Weather Channel article stated that, “water flowing at 7 mph has the equivalent force per unit area as air blowing at EF-5 tornado wind speed.” Whereas, “water moving at 25 mph has the pressure equivalent of wind blowing at 790 mph, faster than the speed of sound.”

 

BASIC SAFETY AND PREPAREDNESS

Ready.gov provides many helpful tips.

Be Mindful

  • Stay tuned to phone alerts, TV, or radio for weather updates, emergency instructions, or evacuation orders.
  • Avoid walking or driving through flood waters. 6 inches of moving water can knock a person over, and one foot of moving water can sweep a vehicle away. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the leading cause of flood-related injury and death is individuals attempting to drive through flood waters.
  • Do not drive over bridges that are over fast-moving floodwaters. Floodwaters can scour foundation material from around the footings and make the bridge unstable.
  • If there is a chance of flash flooding, move immediately to higher ground.

Protect your home

  • Know your flood risk, avoid building in flood plains, and consider buying flood insurance.
  • If you have to evacuate due to flooding, and if safety permits, turn off all the utilities to your home and attempt to move valuables to the highest possible level.

SOURCES

https://www.ready.gov/floods
https://www.nssl.noaa.gov/education/svrwx101/floods/types/
https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/billions/events/US/2017-2018
http://www.floodsite.net/juniorfloodsite/html/en/student/thingstoknow/hydrology/floodtypes.html
https://weatherology.com/articles/106/The+Dangers+of+Flash+Floods.html
https://weather.com/storms/severe/news/power-flood-water-20130704
https://www.livescience.com/23913-flood-facts.html

9 Wildfire Mitigation Questions for Homeowners

Wildfires have increased in intensity and impact to both humans and infrastructure in the last couple decades. If you live in a forest or wildland area, you face the real danger of wildfire. To reduce the increasing risk, homeowners need to take more responsibility in preventative measures. RedZone suggests considering the fire resistance of your home, the topography of your property, and the nature of the vegetation close by. Here are nine questions for homeowners in wildfire urban interface areas that they should strive to be able to answer:

Image 1

Take some time to learn about the wildfire history of your area. Be aware of recent weather. History tells us that a long period without rain increases the risk of wildfire. Just because you do not live in the forest does not mean you are not at risk from embers and smoke.


Image 2

All vegetation is combustible; the best strategy for reducing risk is to simply reduce the trees and other vegetation near your home. The rule of thumb is, the greater the distance between your home and the vegetation, the greater the protection. Typically, two zones make up the required 100 feet of defensible space. The zones are: 0-30 feet & 30-100 feet, each warranting both vertical and horizontal vegetation clearance. Further guidelines are outlined here.


Image 3

Non-vegetation combustible materials are also part of the 0-30 foot zone. Combustible materials such as door mats, patio furniture, storage, etc can ignite homes just as often as vegetation.


Image 4

Any porch, balcony or overhang with exposed space underneath is fuel for an approaching fire. Overhangs ignite easily by flying embers and by the heat and fire that gets trapped underneath.


Image 5

Like porches and balconies, eaves trap the heat rising along the exterior siding. Enclose all eaves to reduce the hazard.


Image 6

Any attic vent, soffit vent, louver or other opening can allow embers and flaming debris to enter a home and ignite it.


Image 7

The roof is especially vulnerable in a wildfire. Embers and flaming debris can travel great distances, land on your roof and start a new fire. It’s almost important to keep roof, gutters of leaves and debris.


Image 8

Fire resistant materials such as stucco, metal, brick, cement shingles, concrete and rock in the siding of a home can help prevent home ignition. You can treat wood siding with UL-approved fire retardant chemicals, but the treatment and protection are not permanent.


Image 9

Windows allow radiated heat to pass through and ignite combustible materials inside. The larger the pane of glass, the more vulnerable it is to fire. Dual- or triple-pane thermal glass, and fire resistant shutters or drapes, help reduce the wildfire risk.


Sources:

https://www.fema.gov/pdf/hazard/wildfire/wdfrdam.pdf

 

Earthquake Shakes Southern California, Reminding Residents to be Prepared

The largest earthquake to jolt Southern California in over four years struck just after noon near Santa Cruz Island on Thursday. The 5.3 earthquake shook the California coast from San Luis Obispo to San Clemente. Local fire departments quickly scrambled engines to survey damages and prepare for any aftershocks but there have been no reports of injuries or damage. So far, no aftershocks have been recorded but there is a small chance that Thursday’s tremor could be the catalyst for a larger quake to occur.

Epicenter and shakemap of the 5.3 Earthquake – 29km SW of Santa Cruz Is., CA

  • Magnitude: 5.3
  • Origin Time: 05 Apr 2018 12:29:16 PDT
  • Epicenter: 853, -119.695
  • Depth: 9 km
  • Location: 26km SW of Santa Cruz Island
  • Impact: No casualties or significant damage.
  • Incident Page: USGS Overview
  • News Article: KTLA News

New Early Warning System Being Developed

A still underdevelopment earthquake early warning (EEW) system, from Caltech’s Seismology lab in Pasadena, gave some Southern California residents roughly 10 seconds to prepare for the tremors. The earthquake early warning system called ShakeAlert provides real-time earthquake information which will eventually generate alerts via mobile apps, email, and text. The warning time of these EEWs normally range from 0 to 20 seconds but this is time can be critical in saving lives and infrastructure. Early warnings alerts can also be integrated onto public utilities and industrial systems, automatically shutting down vulnerable systems. The crucial seconds provided by early warning systems is another layer of protection which is further multiplied by individuals taking the necessary steps to be prepared.

Be Prepared

Fortunately, Thursday’s earthquake impact was minimal but it serves as a reminder that earthquakes happen with little to no warning and in California it is not a matter of “if” but “when” the next one will come.

4 Step Plan to Become More Earthquake Safe

1:  Secure your space.

2:  Plan to be safe.

3:  Organize disaster supplies. 

4:  Minimize Financial Hardship

Learn More

To learn more about earthquakes and how to prepare for them, visit these informative websites:

ShakeOut.org. The central website for the ShakeOut event also has a wealth of additional resources.  The website contains information on how to hold drills suited for different environments, as well as specific safety recommendations for people with disabilities.

EarthquakeCountry.org. ECA provides information and resources to help improve preparedness, mitigation and resiliency for everyone who lives, works, or travels in earthquake prone areas.

US Geological Survey.  The USGS Hazards website houses information on real-time seismic activity and information on earthquake prone areas, in addition to may other tools to help monitor the causes and effects of earthquakes.

Ready.gov.  Official website of the Department of Homeland Security which has a section on earthquake specific emergency preparedness.

Sources

http://losangeles.cbslocal.com/2018/04/05/earthquake-california-los-angeles-channel-islands/

http://ktla.com/2018/04/05/earthquake-with-preliminary-magnitude-5-3-hits-off-channel-islands-is-felt-in-los-angeles-area/

http://www.scsn.org/index.php/2018/04/05/04-05-2018-m5-3-near-santa-cruz-is/

http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/california/la-me-la-quake-explainer-20180405-story.html

Blizzard, snow

Nor’easters Repeatedly Hammer the East Coast with Blizzard Conditions

Update: 03/29/2018 all four Nor’Easter storms have passed.

As the forecasts indicated when this blog was initially written, a 4th Nor’easter storm hit the east coast. Winter storm Toby began to run its course on the landscape in the early morning hours of Wednesday March 21st. After Toby had passed the snow accumulation was shocking in the areas that were hit hardest. Areas of Pennsylvania received over a foot of snow in the short period of time that Toby was over the area. Central Park in New York City recorded 8 inches of snow while some areas in Long Island, New York reported up to 20 inches from the weather system. Unlike the previous three Nor’easter storms that occurred in the weeks leading up to Toby, this storm actually impacted the entirety of the east coast in varying levels. Upon the arrival of Toby, parts of Florida and Georgia both received heavy hail in some areas along with drastically increased wind speeds along the coast. This storm actually triggered tornado watches in the northern portions of Florida. Have storms of this magnitude hit the east coast in such a short period of time before?

Even though having four powerful Nor’easters hit the east coast in such a rapid succession is uncommon, it has happened before. Actually, as recently as 2015 three Nor’easters struck the same area distributing similar weather patterns that were seen with the four storms that have hit this month. In 2015 the series of Nor’easters started with Winter Storm Lola (January 23-24 2015), and then came Winter Storm Juno (Jan. 26-28, 2015), Finally Winter Storm Linus (Feb. 2, 2015) made its arrival in the area. These storms broke records in the City of Boston, Massachusetts for the most accumulation of snow during winter that has been recorded to date.

Original Post

The word Nor’easter has been quite prevalent in the media for the last two and a half weeks as a description for the type of storms that have been wreaking havoc across the east coast. Nor’easter storms get their name from the predominant wind direction that the system gets pushed in from. These storms are pushed from the Atlantic Ocean into the East Coast of the U.S., carrying massive amounts of water with them. A typical Nor’easter storm would consist of gale force winds (around 40 miles per hour and up), rough seas off the east coast, and massive amounts of precipitation in the form of rain or snow. The way these storms form and become so powerful is quite fascinating. The polar jet stream transports cold arctic air down over the United States and meets with the warm air of the jet stream located over the gulf coast. This collision of colder air over land and warmer moist air over the Atlantic Ocean is the driving force that creates these cyclonic storm systems. Nor’easters have been seen throughout all seasons of the year, but they are the most common and the most powerful between the months of September and April.

Satellite, Imagery

This Satellite imagery displays what the formation of a Nor’easter storm looks like from space.

Current Status of the East Coast

            Yesterday, the third Nor’easter storm made landfall on the northern reaches of the east coast. The series of storms started on March second when winter storm Riley brought widespread precipitation in the forms of heavy rain and snow that earned the declaration for blizzard condition warnings in many counties. The storm hit the coast of New England with a force that would cause massive destruction. Storm surges brought about large scale coastal erosion, along with flooding of many coastal areas. At the peak of the first storm, over 1 million residents of New York, New England, and North Carolina were without power for an extended period of time. Riley was followed shortly after by winter storm Quinn. Quinn had a similar impact to the east coast, which was still trying to recover from the first storm. During this second large storm, thousands of flights had to be cancelled due to unsafe flying conditions for large passenger carrying aircraft. This storm system again passed through, leaving an absurd amount of snowfall, high wind speeds, and unsafe travel conditions. Finally, winter storm Skylar made its way to the east coast during the evening hours on Tuesday. Similar to the previous two storms that have occurred in the last two weeks, this powerful weather system left in its wake an abundance of rain and snow, accompanied by gale force winds and loss of power for hundreds of thousands of residents in the area. The storm surges seen during these storms are similar to what occurred during some of the hurricanes that hit the southern coast of the U.S. this year. You can read about the damages that occurred during these incidents in RedZone’s previous blog “Hurricanes Harvey and Irma batter Southern US”.

GIS, Snow forecast

This map provided from FEMA shows the snow levels that are expected from winter storm Skylar.

Forecast for the East Coast

Unfortunately, forecasts for the east coast are looking like residents “aren’t out of the woods yet” when it comes to heavy winter storms. The discrepancies between the American and European forecast models are mainly surrounding the formation of this storm system once both air masses collide on the east coast. What is known is that another wave of cold air is making its way across the lower 48 states through this weekend. The cool air will arrive on the east coast late Monday night into Tuesday of next week. Due to the amount of time it will take for this system to make its way over to the east coast, meteorologists cannot say with certainty how powerful this storm will be. As the week progresses, the models will become more accurate, providing more details on the occurrence of this possible Nor’easter formation.

 

Sources: https://www.weather.gov/safety/winter-noreaster

https://weather.com/storms/winter/news/2018-03-01-winter-storm-riley-noreaster-high-winds-coastal-flooding-heavy-snow

https://weather.com/storms/winter/news/2018-03-14-snow-ice-west-midwest-east-mid-march

https://content.govdelivery.com/attachments/USDHSFEMA/2018/03/13/file_attachments/972703/FEMA%2BDaily%2BOps%2BBriefing%2B03-13-2018.pdf

https://weather.com/storms/winter/news/2018-03-19-winter-storm-toby-fourth-march-noreaster-northeast-snow

https://weather.com/storms/winter/news/2018-03-20-four-noreasters-three-weeks-winter-storm-quinn-riley-skylar-toby

road closure thumbnail

Incoming Heavy Rains Increase Debris Flow Risk Yet Again

The National Weather Service (NWS), Los Angeles Office is warning the region that sustained heavy rains are incoming for the majority of the rest of the week. The beginning of the rain is set to arrive today (Tuesday) and last well into Thursday. The “atmospheric river” storm is expected to bring between 5 and 10 inches of rain in the foothills and mountains, significantly more total rainfall than the 1/9 debris flow, which brought between 3 and 6 inches to the region. The NWS says this storm is projected to have the heaviest rainfall and the longest duration of this winter storm season. “All models indicate high confidence in rainfall totals and the duration of the storm.”

Rainfall forecast through 3/26

National Weather Service Precipitation forecast for the Greater Los Angeles and Santa Barbara Areas through the weekend. Recent Fires are seen in black on the map as worry grows about debris flow potential.

Debris Flow Risk for Santa Barbara County Burn Areas

We caught Monday’s press conference from Emergency Officials with Santa Barbara County, who are stressing the seriousness of the renewed threat flooding and especially of debris flow.  Opening the discussion, Meteorologist, Mark Jackson warned, “A key worry with this storm is rainfall rates that can trigger debris flows. It’s not necessarily the total amount of rain that occurs; it’s how fast that rain falls.” Well, the latest meteorological models by the National Weather Service indicate that there is potential for rainfall intensity of between .5 to .75 inches per hour, which is enough to trigger debris flows at any time during the storm.

Recent Burn Areas tweet

NWS Los Angeles warning via tweet today that debris flows near recent fires are likely across the region

As a result, many residents downslope of Thomas and other fires in the region (seen as black in the map above & highlighted in the tweet below) have been evacuated or at least cautioned. Santa Barbara County is also managing and updating an evacuation map found here.  In addition, Rob Lewin, director of the Santa Barbara County Office of Emergency Management, warned the amount of rain and the intensity is enough to cause flooding even without the impact of the recent fires. “We could experience localized flooding and road closures which are not isolated to the burn areas. The threat of rock falls, mud slides and debris flow is high,” he noted.

“A key worry with this storm is rainfall rates that can trigger debris flows. It’s not necessarily the total amount of rain that occurs; it’s how fast that rain falls.” – Mark Jackson, NWS Meteorologist

Storm Facts:

  • Heaviest Rainfall for Ventura County to San Luis Obispo County is expected Wednesday afternoon to Thursday morning (March 21 – March 22)
  • Heaviest Rainfall for LA County is expected Thursday into Thursday Night (March 22)
  • Rainfall totals for the Coasts/Valleys will be 2-5 inches, for the Foothills/Mountains more like 5-10 inches.
  • Flash flooding and significant debris flows near recent burn scars are likely
  • Urban and small stream flooding expected
  • Slight chance of main stem river flooding
  • Road closures anticipated due to rock fall in the mountains
  • Residents in the Extreme and High Risks areas of Santa Barbara County are required to evacuate at noon on Tuesday (March 20)
  • Mandatory evacuations prompted for areas below the Thomas, Whittier, and Sherpa Fires

Sources:

National Weather Service

Santa Barbara County Emergency Services

KSBY News

Blizzard, snow

Nor’easters Repeatedly Hammer the East Coast with Blizzard Conditions

The word Nor’easter has been quite prevalent in the media for the last two and a half weeks as a description for the type of storms that have been wreaking havoc across the east coast. Nor’easter storms get their name from the predominant wind direction that the system gets pushed in from. These storms are pushed from the Atlantic Ocean into the East Coast of the U.S., carrying massive amounts of water with them. A typical Nor’easter storm would consist of gale force winds (around 40 miles per hour and up), rough seas off the east coast, and massive amounts of precipitation in the form of rain or snow. The way these storms form and become so powerful is quite fascinating. The polar jet stream transports cold arctic air down over the United States and meets with the warm air of the jet stream located over the gulf coast. This collision of colder air over land and warmer moist air over the Atlantic Ocean is the driving force that creates these cyclonic storm systems. Nor’easters have been seen throughout all seasons of the year, but they are the most common and the most powerful between the months of September and April.

Satellite, Imagery

This Satellite imagery displays what the formation of a Nor’easter storm looks like from space.

Current Status of the East Coast

            Yesterday, the third Nor’easter storm made landfall on the northern reaches of the east coast. The series of storms started on March second when winter storm Riley brought widespread precipitation in the forms of heavy rain and snow that earned the declaration for blizzard condition warnings in many counties. The storm hit the coast of New England with a force that would cause massive destruction. Storm surges brought about large scale coastal erosion, along with flooding of many coastal areas. At the peak of the first storm, over 1 million residents of New York, New England, and North Carolina were without power for an extended period of time. Riley was followed shortly after by winter storm Quinn. Quinn had a similar impact to the east coast, which was still trying to recover from the first storm. During this second large storm, thousands of flights had to be cancelled due to unsafe flying conditions for large passenger carrying aircraft. This storm system again passed through, leaving an absurd amount of snowfall, high wind speeds, and unsafe travel conditions. Finally, winter storm Skylar made its way to the east coast during the evening hours on Tuesday. Similar to the previous two storms that have occurred in the last two weeks, this powerful weather system left in its wake an abundance of rain and snow, accompanied by gale force winds and loss of power for hundreds of thousands of residents in the area. The storm surges seen during these storms are similar to what occurred during some of the hurricanes that hit the southern coast of the U.S. this year. You can read about the damages that occurred during these incidents in RedZone’s previous blog “Hurricanes Harvey and Irma batter Southern US”.

GIS, Snow forecast

This map provided from FEMA shows the snow levels that are expected from winter storm Skylar.

Forecast for the East Coast

Unfortunately, forecasts for the east coast are looking like residents “aren’t out of the woods yet” when it comes to heavy winter storms. The discrepancies between the American and European forecast models are mainly surrounding the formation of this storm system once both air masses collide on the east coast. What is known is that another wave of cold air is making its way across the lower 48 states through this weekend. The cool air will arrive on the east coast late Monday night into Tuesday of next week. Due to the amount of time it will take for this system to make its way over to the east coast, meteorologists cannot say with certainty how powerful this storm will be. As the week progresses, the models will become more accurate, providing more details on the occurrence of this possible Nor’easter formation.

 

Sources: https://www.weather.gov/safety/winter-noreaster

https://weather.com/storms/winter/news/2018-03-01-winter-storm-riley-noreaster-high-winds-coastal-flooding-heavy-snow

https://weather.com/storms/winter/news/2018-03-14-snow-ice-west-midwest-east-mid-march

https://content.govdelivery.com/attachments/USDHSFEMA/2018/03/13/file_attachments/972703/FEMA%2BDaily%2BOps%2BBriefing%2B03-13-2018.pdf

RedZone Attends WUI Conference

Last week, a few of RedZone’s leaders attended the (Wildland Urban Interface) WUI Conference in Reno, NV. To kick it off, Pat Durland lead a featured course Sunday and Monday, teaching WUI mitigation techniques to a class of 40+ from all over the country. Pat prides himself on sharing the latest findings, lessons learned, and mitigation techniques each and every year. Mr. Durland touted the class as a success, citing a 40% increase in attendance from the previous year.

WUI Conference General Session area

Wildfire Urban Interface Conference in Reno, NV

WUI Conference: Day 1

The rest of RedZone and nationwide attendees arrived as the conference began Tuesday and ran through Thursday afternoon. The full conference opened with a General Session on the state of Wildland Fire from a policy perspective. CALFIRE Chief Ken Pimlott, the IAFC Head, and USDA Forest Service (USFS) Deputy Chief, Vicki Christiansen, spoke during the session. The group highlighted the trends seen in terms of growth for wildfire activity and spending as well as the decline in both personnel and budgets. It turns out that 2017 was the costliest year in USFS history with the 2.4 billion spent on last year (up from 1.6 billion in 2016). Chief Christiansen also suggested that a year-round fire season is the expectation of leadership at the USFS. Consequently, she stated, “Wildfire consumes the USFS budget.” Fortunately, their strategy to overcome this relies on further development of a separate fund to pay for the outlier, 1-2% of, fires whose wildfire suppression costs cause the majority of the disparity. In turn, the fund should help alleviate the strain on the shortfalls for the non-fire forestry programs (a $100 million deficit on average annually). Sounds like tough times monetarily.

October 2017 Northern California Fire Siege

Day Two began with the highlight of the conference for me, a detailed report on the October 2017 Northern California Fire Siege. Our team spent nearly two weeks following and responding to one of the worst wildfire catastrophes in human history. I followed the Sonoma fires’ every move that eerie night, so it was interesting to hear from the Santa Rosa Incident Commander on his experience that night on the ground. These fires have been covered well so here are a few things I learned from Chief Tony Gossner (Santa Rosa City Fire, Tubbs IC for Santa Rosa City).

  • On October 8th and 9th (2017) 172 different fires started, 21 of which went extended attack
  • 3,600 911 calls were received
  • Life Safety and Rescue were 100% priority for the first 12 hours
  • Tubbs fire travelled 12 nautical miles in 3+ hours
  • Learned a New term ‘mountain wave’, used to describe the wind pushing the fire down the mountain
  • 78 strike teams were requested before midnight
  • 150 elderly were left to shelter in place as evacuation of the facility became impossible, three engines were told “to not let this building burn”
  • “Sounded like a war zone” (hundreds of cars and propane tanks blew up)
  • There were more personnel than vehicles to respond, so firefighters used personal vehicles, rented vans, trucks, whatever they could get their hands on.
  • “One group actually cut a lock and stole one of Santa Rosa City’s Fire Engines” (Chief Gossner)
  • Alerting in the middle of the night was very ineffective

“One group actually cut a lock and stole one of Santa Rosa City’s Fire Engines” (Chief Gossner)

Other Seminars

We attended several other seminars during the next two days of the WUI conference. The next most relevant was an interesting discussion of the shortfalls of evacuation planning, terminology, and strategies for the different stages of an event. Lastly, Greg Miller, Chief of Gatlinburg fire then shared his department’s fight with the Chimney Tops 2 fire in late November of 2016. Similarly to the Tubbs fire, that fire devoured 2,501 structures in 8 hours due to another ‘mountain wave’ event. The deadly tale was yet another reminder that wind driven fires such as these are especially dangerous when they happen overnight.

wui quotes

Powerful quotes from Incident Commanders on two of the worst fire disasters in history

Tornado thumbnail

Tornado Season is Fast Approaching, Will Peak Mid-Summer

So far this year severe weather has been relatively mild across this United States. Cold air across the central United States has kept the warm moist air at bay, limiting the formation of the violent thunderstorms that can produce a tornado. Since December, NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center has recorded 75% fewer severe weather events, making it the calmest period in 14 years. Thankfully, the few severe storms that have managed to develop haven’t spun off the outbreak of tornadoes that were experienced last year. Comparably, by this time last year over 200 tornadoes had been reported. As we move into the spring and summer months, however, conditions historically become more volatile. Like Hurricanes and Wildfires, Tornadoes have a peak season too.

Tornado probability timeline

A Timeline depicting the daily probably of a Tornado in the United States (Source: NOAA)

Where is Tornado Alley?

As we move out of winter, warm moist air from the Gulf of Mexico begins to creep up the infamous “tornado alley”. Tornado Alley is the swath of the country’s midsection from Northern Texas to the Canadian border. There are no official boundaries for tornado alley and the term itself is more of a media buzz word rather than scientific distinction.  The term, however, isn’t unwarranted. Almost a quarter of all tornadoes occur in this area (depicted in the map below). Although tornadoes can happen across the US, the tornadoes that form in tornado alley are frequently the largest and most destructive.

Large Tornadoes map

Map showing the where in the United States the most EF3-EF5 tornadoes are recorded. (Image from Federal Emergency Management Agency)

The Enhanced Fujita Scale for Measuring Tornadoes

Like Hurricanes, tornadoes are measured by their wind speeds. Also like hurricanes, they are measured from 0-5, but their categories are based on the Enhanced Fujita Scale. The smallest tornadoes swirl between 65-85 mph which can cause localized damage. On the other end of the scale, the largest tornadoes can tear through counties and cause widespread devastation from their 200+ mph winds. The highest recorded wind speed on earth was measured at 302 mph in 1999 by a mobile weather station during an EF5 event near Oklahoma City, OK.  RedZone has found that over the last few years, NOAA has actually developed a way to show tornado paths and destruction. Now anyone can track near-real-time damage from major severe weather events using NOAA’s Damage Viewer.

EF Fujita Scale

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association estimates tornado wind speeds by examining damage to property. The Enhanced Fujita scale ensures that all tornados are rated evenly. Tornados with higher wind speeds and increased damage receive higher EF-values. (U.S. Air Force graphic/Senior Airman Thomas Trower)

SOURCES:

https://www.citylab.com/environment/2015/04/a-monthly-guide-to-peak-tornado-season-in-america/391382/

http://www.koco.com/article/la-nina-outlook-early-and-active-start-to-tornado-season-next-year/13123870

https://www.ready.gov/tornadoes

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tornado_Alley

RedZone Hits the Conference Trail This Spring

RedZone was one of twenty vendors showcased in the Cat Risk Management Conference this week in Orlando. The conference, hosted by the Reinsurance Association of America (RAA), was focused on scientific and theoretical developments related to the increasing risks confronting the catastrophe and disaster industries.

RedZone booth Orlando

RedZone’s booth this week at the RAA Conference in Orlando.

RedZone has been working hard for years to tailor our RZRisk products, non-stop wildfire monitoring, and newly touted RedZone Analytics to address the developing hot issues and long-term challenges. As part of our participation, Co-CEO of RedZone Analytics, Ellie Graeden, presented on a couple of our solutions for addressing key hot issues. Our ideas  aim to tackle policy accumulation in risky areas, decision-making as wildfires break out, and underwriting moratoriums. The successful conference concluded for RedZone on February 15th.

RZExposure example

Example of RedZone’s Accumulation Solution RZExposure

Look for RedZone at Other Conferences

  • RedZone will also be attending Reno’s WUI Conference at the end of this month. We look forward to networking with fire officials and planners, with whom we work side by side. We are also very excited about hearing how our friend and colleague Pat Durland’s class “Assessing Structure Ignition Potential from Wildfire” goes during the preconference. Highlights for RedZone from the WUI lineup include reports from both this year’s Napa area fires and last fall’s Gatlinburg fires, WUI management and mitigation techniques, and lastly the ongoing collaboration between Fire and insurance.
  • In June RedZone has been invited to speak at the CAS conference in New Orleans

Wildfire 101: United States Fire Regimes

With climate change becoming more prevalent in recent years, science has been looking for ways to examine how changes to the earth’s present and past environment will affect the way wildfires will burn in the future. Fire regimes are a great start for looking into how climate change will affect the behavior, occurrence, and characteristics of how wildfires burn. According to Firescience.gov, the definition of a fire regime is “In general a fire regime characterizes the spatial and temporal patterns and ecosystem impacts of fire on the landscape”. Many characteristics of the environment go into shaping the fire regime in any given area.

Fire Regime Factors

Of the many factors within the environment that come into play when creating fire regimes, there are two critical aspects that shape how fires burn the most. The first of these two crucial factors is the dominant vegetation type within the ecosystem. Chemically, fires need three ingredients to burn, oxygen, heat, and fuel (vegetation). Therefore, if any one of these is removed an ignition cannot occur. History tells us that the type of vegetation is a key factor because of how large the difference in fire behavior is between fuel types. A second major factor involved in formulating a fire regime for a certain area is climate. The local weather patterns in an area have a huge impact on how a fire will burn through the geographic region in question.

fire regimes 48 states

Lower 48 United states classified into fire regime zones.

In the formation of these regimes, fire ecologists have used data regarding vegetation classifications pertaining to the dominant vegetation type in the area. This is combined with historical fire information such as, fire perimeters, and fire conditions to get an understanding of how fire acts within the landscape. Lastly, fire return interval rates are used to determine, on average, how long it will take to have a fire reoccur in a landscape that has burned.

Fire Regime Classification

Over the years fire ecologists have made many attempts at creating fire regimes for the United States using a variety of weighted combinations and factors similar to what was mentioned above. Recently, one group has emerged with the most thorough and up to date classifications of fire regimes. LANDFIRE has created a robust model that incorporates the historical aspect of past fires, and what is projected for the future of the landscape. This will provide a base platform for future research to see how wildfires occurrence, and characteristics are changing as the climate continues to change. Below is a map of the United States classified by each regions respective fire regime as well as, the legend that explains what each level of classification means for that specific area.

fire regime table

This table shows the characteristics behind the fire regime classifications listed on the map above.

Sources:

https://www.firescience.gov/projects/09-2-01-9/supdocs/09-2-01-9_Chapter_3_Fire_Regimes.pdf

https://www.landfire.gov/fireregime.php

https://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/fire_regime_table/PNVG_fire_regime_table.html