Hurricane Florence Starts its Assault on North Carolina

Hurricane Florence Current Situation

As of: 2100 UTC, Sep 13nd, 2018

  • Location: 100 miles ESE of Wilmington, NC
  • Size: Category 2
  • Maximum Sustained Winds: 100 mph
  • Present Movement: WNW at 5 mph
  • Minimum Central Pressure: 955 mb
  • Impact: Up to 11 feet of storm surge, heavy rain causing flash flooding
  • Incident Page: NHC Public Advisory
  • News Article: WunderBlog

Hurricane Florence Outlook

Hurricane Florence has started to impact North Carolina’s barrier islands. As it reaches landfall, the storm has been downgraded to a Category 2 Hurricane, but don’t let the category number fool you. Florence remains a massive and devastating hurricane. The storm continues to grow in area and is predicted to impact a large portion of the North and South Carolina coasts. Maximum sustained winds are hovering around 100 mph, with some higher gusts. Hurricane force winds extend up to 80 miles from the eye of the storm. Some coastal areas are already seeing storm surge flooding.  At the peak of the event, areas around river outflows could be dealing with storm surges up to 11 feet. The greatest storm surge inundation is expected between Cape Fear and Cape Hatteras where river outflow will meet the storm surge inundation.  Inland areas are not necessarily in the clear from the damage. Significant flash flooding and prolonged river flooding could extend as far as the Appalachians through early next week as the storm moves inland.

Nearly 2 million people are under hurricane Warning. Authorities are cautioning residents in evacuation zones to get out because first responders will not be able to perform rescues during the storm. Power outages are already affecting around 100,000 people and are expected to get worse as this incident continues.

Click here to look back on this year’s hurricane season outlook to see how the predictions are panning out.

View of the storm path and cone of uncertainty.

 

Predicted Flash Flooding Risk

Hurricane Irma – One Year Later

  • Timeline: Aug 30 – Sept 13, 2017
  • Severely Impacted Areas: USVI, Puerto Rico, Georgia, Florida
  • Maximum Sustained Winds: 180 mph
  • Fatalities: 52 direct (wind-driven debris, storm surge), 82 indirect (heart attack, house fires, vehicle accidents)
  • Damages: $64.76 Billion (5th costliest tropical cyclone on record)

Hurricane Irma’s Trek Across the Atlantic

This week marks the anniversary of Hurricane Irma forming and making landfall across the Southern United States. Tropical Storm Irma became a named storm on the 30th of August, 2017. It moved steadily across the Atlantic Ocean at 10-15 mph. A week later, now a Category 5 Hurricane, Irma passed by Puerto Rico narrowly missing it to the north. The storm continued skirting along the northern coasts of the Caribbean Islands including the Dominican Republic and then Cuba. Then, a glancing landfall moment happened along the North Cuban coastline, briefly weakening Irma to a Category 3 Hurricane as it turned north toward Florida.

Throughout Irma’s approach to the US Mainland, forecasts remained uncertain and models were not in agreement. Every update led to questions: would Miami or Orlando would be directly in the path, would the storm would move farther west and trail the Gulf Coast side of Florida, or would it shift a bit more west and come up the Gulf and end up hitting the Florida panhandle? One thing was certain – wherever landfall occurred, winds, rain, and storm surge were going to be affect a lot of people and infrastructure. Hurricane Irma ended up making landfall as a Category 3 Hurricane on September 10th, 2017, just south of Fort Myers along the SW part of Florida’s peninsula.

Hurricane Irma's path across the Atlantic Ocean (Source: WikiCommons)

Hurricane Irma’s path across the Atlantic Ocean (Source: WikiCommons)

Rebuilding Ongoing

While power has been restored and roadways cleared, many areas still see the impacts of these storms. The Florida Keys and much of Florida’s peninsula experienced hurricane force winds, nearly a foot of rain, and around 10ft of storm surge. Cleaning up the wide-spread damage is a daunting undertaking; however, FEMA, charities from around the world, and community efforts came together to assist residents to get their areas back to habitable conditions. By October 1st, much of Key West’s historical district was back in operation and welcoming guests. Nearer the main land, the damage was more extensive. Some businesses and homeowners have chosen not to rebuild and now those that had less significant repairs have vacant lots as neighbors. Each family has to make the best decision for their circumstances and many chose to shift to a new location rather than go through the extensive rebuilding process.

Damaged structures on Ramrod Key, FL after Hurricane Irma passed through the area. (Source: Joe Raedle)

Damaged structures on Ramrod Key, FL after Hurricane Irma passed through the area. (Source: Joe Raedle)

When coming home after a storm, reentering the region, property, and structure safely is important. Ensuring flooding conditions haven’t led to moldy conditions, debris is properly removed, and the structure remains sound are just a few common checks. FEMA and the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety shared Safety Guidelines useful to making this process as smooth as possible.

 

Sources

National Hurricane Center, The Weather Channel, FEMA

Autumn and Santa Ana Winds

Fall Means Santa Ana Winds

Annually, the onset of the fall and winter seasons brings the highest chance for Southern California’s famed Santa Ana winds. An unusually strong and persistent Santa Ana event was the largest factor in the spread of last year’s Thomas fire in Ventura (now second largest in size to Mendicino Complex). Much of Southern California experienced an on-and-off Santa Ana wind event for a little over two weeks, which contributed to the Thomas Fire burning a hot lap around Ojai and into Santa Barbara.

What Are Santa Ana Winds?

Typically Santa Ana air mass conditions are brought on by high pressure inland and lower pressure off the Pacific Coast which brings very hot and dry weather along with strong, down-slope winds.  Santa Ana winds typically happen between September and May, in the winter months. We think this UCLA FAQ outlines Santa Anas the best. In the past, the critical fire weather conditions that accompany Santa Ana winds turn the typically dry chaparral of Southern California into explosive fuel.  Some of the country’s costliest fires in history have taken place in these conditions.

Santa Ana Winds

Santa Ana Winds derive from High Pressure in the Great Basin

The Outlook This Fall

Typically, a weather event occurs by mid-September that brings moisture to regions experiencing significant fire activity which allows for the western fire season to begin to decrease in activity. All signs point to a normal seasonal progression including a transition from ENSO Neutral conditions to El Niño, therefore such an event is expected. Most regions will exit the fire season at this point, but only a brief lull is expected across California before it enters its fall fire season by October and November. Given ongoing dryness in the fuels, the fall season may very well be robust across portions of the state. Fortunately for the drought situation, Meteorologists are expecting an El Niño cycle to begin affecting the area with rains by November.  In the meantime, as the tropical air mass that has brought this summer’s rain gives way to autumn’s Pacific air mass, a few Santa Ana events should precede the El Nino’s wetting effect. 

 

Hurricane Lane Edges Closer to Hawaii

This year Hawaii has already experienced lava flows and earthquakes from the Kilauea eruption, now the state braces for high winds, flooding, mudslides, brushfires and even the possibility of tornadoes caused  by the approaching Hurricane Lane. Hurricane Lane became a named storm on Wednesday August 15th off the southwestern coast of Mexico. The storm gradually strengthened, becoming a hurricane by that following Friday. As the hurricane churned its way slowly westward, early forecasts were already predicting the storms turn towards the Hawaiian Islands.

Rare for Hurricanes to Make landfall on the Islands

Hawaii is normally protected from approaching hurricanes because of cooler waters around the islands. An additional buffer is provided by a high pressure system that sits over the state during the majority of the hurricane season. Only two hurricanes have made landfall in Hawaii since the 50s. Hurricane Dot (1959) & Hurricane Iniki (1992). It has been a slow year in the Atlantic, but this year’s warmer than normal waters in the Pacific Ocean has fueled storms. Hurricane Lane,  which briefly became a Category 5 hurricane on August 21st, is the 12th named Pacific Storm this year. The storm continued its track towards Hawaii with most forecasts predicting its path to skirt the islands before turning to the west. Lane weakened to a Category 3 on Thursday the 23rd but the outer bands of the hurricane began unleashing torrential rains over the islands. The Big Island recorded 8” of rain during these initial hours and landslides were already beginning to threaten homes and close roadways.

Hurricane Lane Current Conditions

Hurricane Lane continues to churn to the north, slowing its forward movement and dropping to a Category 2 today. The outer bands of the storm continue to bring downpours all over the islands with rainfall rates reaching 1 to 3 inches per hour. So far Hawaii’s Big Island has been the hardest hit, receiving 31 inches of rain as of this morning. Widespread flooding has inundated downtown Hilo and flash flood watches will remain in effect until at least Friday evening.

Evacuations have been issued for flood prone areas on the Big Island, Kauai, Molokai and Maui. There have also been reports of power outages and mudslides have closed several roads. Forecasters are confident the storm track will have the hurricane skirting the islands. Landfall, however, isn’t the biggest worry as the slow movement of the storm greatly increases the amount of rainfall that will impact the already water logged and slide prone slopes.

Current Forecast Track for Hurricane Lane

Ahead of the Rains High Winds Spread Brushfires

High winds associated with Hurricane Lane are also caused of a brushfire that ignited around 1am Friday morning near Lahaina, Maui. Fire fighters are currently battling the 300 plus acre fire which has prompted evacuations and already impacted numerous structures. Another fire near Kaanapali on Maui threatened homes and burned down a banana tree patch before being contained. Maui is expected to get over 8 inches of rain today which should help to extinguish the fires and allow fire fighters to gain containment, but the burn scars could exacerbate debris flows.

After its westward turn Lane is expected to lose strength, dropping to a tropical storm. The threat to Hawaii, however, will continue well into next week as the storm continue to drop heavy rainfall.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mendocino Complex Fire Progression Map

The Mendocino Complex: An Update on Current Conditions

Mendocino Complex Fire Summary

The Ranch fire, which is being managed as a part of the Mendocino Complex, Started on July 27th on the north bound side of highway 20, east of Lake Mendocino. Fuels in this area consisted of grass, brush and Oak trees. The grasses along the highway led the fire rapidly becoming established and making a run upslope to the east. Due to winds in the area the first resources on scene were not able to catch this fire in its initial stages.

The Second fire being managed under the Mendocino Complex is the River Fire. The River Fire began on the east side of Old River Road, nearly 7 miles southeast of Ukiah, CA. Similar to the Ranch fire, the River Fire began in grasses and became rapidly established making a run up slope to the Southeast. The two incidents spread in a very similar manner for the first 3 days due to both fires burning in identical fuel types, and experiencing the same wind conditions during the initial attack phase. This is depicted very well in the fire progression map provided by the incident management team below.

Mendocino Complex Fire Progression Map

Fire progression map displaying the similarities in burn patterns for the initial 3-4 day period of these campaign fires.

Mendocino Complex as of August 16, 2018

The type-1 incident management team has been making significant progress with suppression efforts on these two fires. Currently the River fire remains with 48,920 acres burn and is 100 percent contained. The Ranch Fire has now surpassed the Thomas in acreage and claimed the title of California’s Largest Wildfire in recorded history. The Ranch Fire is currently 317,117 acres with 69 percent containment. The main influence of the Ranch Fire during the upcoming operational will be winds speeds. With the predominant winds coming from the west, the fire will continue push east. As these winds diminish this evening the primary driving factor of fire spread will switch to the local topography. This will likely change the direction of spread to the northeast. With the fire continuing to spread to the Northeast, there will be no shortage of fuel as it furthers its destruction of the Mendocino National Forest. Fire crews have constructed containment lines in this area and are preparing for a firing operation if the opportunity presents itself.

Aerial Imagery, Carr Fire, Mendocino Complex

This image shows both the Mendocino Complex and the Carr fire’s smoke column from a satellites view.

Mendocino Complex Fire Facts

  • As of: August 16th, 2018
  • Location: Clear Lake, CA
  • Size: 366,037 acres
  • Containment: 76%
  • Fire Behavior: Moderate Fire spread through heavy timber and brush in steep, rugged terrain.
  • Structures Threatened: 1025
  • Structures Destroyed: 147 Residences/118 Other
  • Structure Damaged: 13 Residences/ 23 Other
  • Evacuations: Are in place
  • Incident Page: http://www.fire.ca.gov/current_incidents/incidentdetails/Index/2175
  • News Article: ABC 7
RedZone Disaster Intelligence

Wildfire 101: Dead Fuel Moisture

Drought Conditions Worsening in California

This time of year in Southern California lacks significant rainfall; with fire activity at its peak a common term heard is “fuel moisture”. A light year in terms of rainfall has allowed Southern California to fall back into a significant drought. The wetting rains of two winters ago seem a distant memory. While that winter helped the state’s dried up reservoirs the lack of wetting rains since the beginning of the year has impacted the region and state’s fuel moisture levels, exacerbating the wildfire situation.

nationwide DFM

Nationwide 1000 Hour Dead Fuel Moisture as of August 12th, 2018

What is Dead Fuel Moisture?

Drought means there is increased potential for significant wildfire due to dangerous levels of dead fuel moisture. As explained by NOAA, fuel moisture is a measure of the amount of water in a potential fuel, and is expressed as a percentage of the dry weight of that fuel.  So if leaves and downed trees were completely dry in a given area, the fuel moisture level would be 0%.

When fuel moisture content is high, fires do not ignite readily, or at all, because most of the fire’s heat energy is used up trying to evaporate and drive water from the plant in order for it to burn. When the fuel moisture content is low (like in drought-stricken Southern California), fires start more easily and can spread rapidly as all of the heat energy goes directly into the burning flame itself. When drought is extreme and the fuel moisture content is less than 30%, that fuel is considered to be dead, giving us the “dead fuel moisture” designation.

Classifying Dead Fuel Moisture

The United States Forest Service which manages a nationwide fuel moisture index, classifies fuel moisture based on two metrics:  fuel size and time lag.

  • Fuel size refers to the actual physical dimensions of the fuel (i.e. the diameter of downed logs or branches).
  • A fuel’s time lag classification is proportional to its diameter and is loosely defined as the time it would take for 2/3 of the dead fuel to respond to atmospheric moisture.  For example, if a fuel had a “1-hour” time lag, one could expect its wildfire susceptibility to change after only 1 hour of humid weather.  Fuels with 100- or 1000-hour time lags would be expected to be much less resistant to humidity.

Fuel moisture is dependent upon both environmental conditions (such as weather, local topography, and length of day) and vegetation characteristics.  The smallest fuels most often take the least time to respond to atmospheric moisture, whereas larger fuels lose or gain moisture slowly over time.

The classifications of the Forest Services’s index (also known as NFDRS) are as follows:

Dead Fuel Moisture

The Dead Fuel Moisture Time Lag Classes as defined by the United States Forest Service

 


Source(s):

https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/monitoring-references/dyk/deadfuelmoisture

http://www.nwcg.gov/glossary/a-z

http://www.wfas.net/index.php/dead-fuel-moisture-moisture–drought-38

2018 California Wildfire Update – Is This The New Normal?

Last Year’s Disaster

During the massively destructive 2017 wildfire season in California, certain phrases kept being repeated. “Unprecedented”, “Uncharted territory”, “Historic”, “War zone”, “New normal”, and other descriptive phrases were used to try and give people an understanding of the magnitude and severity of the fires. People hoped 2018 would be different, but “New Normal” seems to be an accurate description of what we can expect from wildfires in California.

This Year’s Activity (So Far)

California governor Jerry Brown has started to get lawmakers and the public to brace for the increasing threat of wildfires. He was recently quoted in a SacBee article, saying that fighting wildfires in the state is “going to get expensive, it’s going to get dangerous, and we have to apply all our creativity to make the best of what is going to be an increasingly bad situation.”

Around a quarter of California’s annual fire suppression budget has already been spent; even though the fiscal year just started July 1st. Simultaneous large fires are also spreading resources thin. As of this writing, 16 large uncontained fires burning a total of 343,700 acres continue to to challenge California firefighters. The largest and most destructive of these fires is the Carr Fire near Redding, which claimed 6 lives and destroyed over 1,000 homes. It already ranks as California’s 6th most destructive wildfire. In fact, half of California’s 10 most destructive wildfires have happened in the last 4 years.

National resources are also spread thin, as the National Interagency Fire Center has upped the National Preparedness Level to 5 (out of a possible 5), indicating that resources are already fully committed to current fires. New fire starts will have a higher potential for large growth, as there will be limited resources to stop the fire before it gets established.

NASA image courtesy NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Earth Science Data and Information System (ESDIS) project. Image taken August 1, 2018.

 

California Active Large Fire Facts

 

The Ferguson Fire burns near Yosemite National Park on Sunday, July 15, 2018, as seen from El Portal, Calif. (Carrie Anderson via AP)

Ferguson Fire Scorches over 21,000 acres near Yosemite

The Ferguson Fire began last Friday evening (13/July) in the Savage Trading Post area of Mariposa County, CA. It quickly grew past 4,000 acres by Sunday morning. Evacuations were issued for several areas in the vicinity and parts of Hwy 140 were closed due to firefighting activities. From the beginning, crews focused on securing fire line along Hwy 140 and structure protection where needed. In preparation for the hot and dry forecast, additional resources worked to extend containment lines to the east on both north and south flanks of the fire. Daily, an inversion has kept the smoke low over the fire which limits the usage of aircraft for water and retardant drops. Another compounding factor to this very active fire is the available fuels – this area has had no significant wildfire in nearly 100 years.

 

Ferguson plume at sunset

Ferguson Fire smoke-plume at sunset from Yosemite National Park, 17/July/2018. (Photo: Scott Newmann)

 

Fire Outlook

The forecast has been much the same each day for the Ferguson Fire area. Today’s weather was similar to yesterday with upper 90os and into the triple digits, relative humidity around 17-20%, and light & variable west winds at 5-10 mph with gusts to 20 mph. As thunderstorms built over the area after lunch, these winds increased to 15 mph with stronger gusts. These conditions will lead to ongoing active fire behavior. As safety allowed, crews conducted burning operations along the western and eastern sides of the fire. This means they purposely burned fuel to remove it in controlled portions. Removing this fuel allows resources to better control where the fire can grow and spread next. At only 7% containment, crews are pre-positioned in the communities around the fire in case the winds drive it quickly to the houses. So far, no homes have been destroyed from this fire, but the destructive California fires of this past fall and winter remain fresh in everyone’s minds.

 

Smoke traveled from the Ferguson Fire into Yosemite National Park and lingered as the inversion continued day after day. (Photo: Scott Newmann)

Smoke traveled from the Ferguson Fire into Yosemite National Park and lingered as the inversion continued day after day. (Photo: Scott Newmann)

Fire Facts

  • As of: July 19th, 2018
  • Location: Mariposa, CA
  • Size: 21,041 acres
  • Containment: 7%
  • Fire Behavior: Moderate fire spread through brush/chapparal and light pine timber
  • Structures Threatened: 108
  • Structures Destroyed: zero
  • Evacuations: In place for Jerseydale and Mariposa Pines to the south, Yosemite West to the east, and along Hwy 140 to the north
  • Incident Page: https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/5927/
Earthquake, History.

Earthquakes – An Unpredictable Force of Destruction

Earthquakes have caused massive devastation, and amounted to huge numbers of human casualties since the beginning of recorded history. The problem with these natural disasters has become compounded by our cities becoming developed more vertically in the form of taller buildings without the proper respect given to earthquakes during the engineering process. Along with the previously mentioned factor, the general population that doesn’t live in earthquake prone areas won’t know what to do in a situation like this. You can learn more about how to prepare yourself, and what to do during an earthquake event in RedZone’s blog. This blog will hopefully assist in understanding the geoscience that is occurring before, during, and after one of these events takes place.

The Earth’s Crust and Earthquakes

Of the inner Earths four internal layers, the crust and the upper most portion of the mantle play the most vital roles in the unseen processes that power earthquakes. The Earth’s crust is made up of 12 major plates that are very dynamic in nature.

Tectonic plates and Earthquakes

This map displays the 12 major tectonic plates throughout the world.

It is here at the tectonic plate boundaries that the earthquakes originate. As the plate boundaries come to a resting place due to its jagged edges, the remaining portion of the plate remains in constant movement. When the energy from the movement of the rest of the plate becomes too much force for an area of the plate boundary to hold, the edges of these plates shift and this is what causes an earthquake. The earthquake we feel on the ground stems from the seismic waves that are produces when the tectonic plates shift.

There are two primary wave types that are produced by this tectonic shift, the P wave (primary) and S wave (secondary). P waves have also been called the compressional waves due to the way these waves push and pull the matter they are travelling through. S waves are the waves we feel on the surface that create the movement on the earth’s surface. S waves are much slower to appear than the P waves for a seismologist to read.

Seismographic Readings and Determining the Epicenter

Scientists with their particular field of study in earthquakes, track these waves to give the public a rating on the Richter scale of how strong in magnitude an earthquake is. These experts also utilize the seismographs to locate where exactly the epicenter was. Triangulation is used to determine the precise location where the epicenter is. Three seismographs measure the difference in times that the P waves arrive at the seismographs and compare them with the time it take for the S waves to arrive at the same location. A circle is then created around the three selected seismograph locations with the radius being determined off the aforementioned time difference in seismic wave arrival. The point at which each of the three seismographs calculated circles meet is the epicenter.

Epicenter of Earthquakes

This diagram depicts a visual representation of how the epicenter of an earthquake is found from three seismographs.

 

Predicting Earthquakes

Unfortunately scientists have been unsuccessful so far in the prediction of when the next earthquake will occur. Earthquake prediction is more often defined as the probabilistic assessment of general earthquake hazard, including the frequency and magnitude of damaging earthquakes in a given area over years or decades. Like many naturally-occurring phenomena, they are nearly impossible to accurately predict.  Prediction methods go back hundreds of years.j Methods generally involve precursors which among them include animal behavior, gas emissions, and even electromagnetic anomalies. Generally, Earthquake prediction is  thought of as an immature science with any claims of prediction found circumstantial and arguable.

Earthquake warning systems on the other hand have proven successful on a number of occasions especially in areas farther from an epicenter.  The effectiveness of the warning depends on the position of the receiver. After receiving a warning, a person may have a few seconds to a minute or more to take action. Areas near the epicenter may experience strong tremors before a warning is issued. Early warning systems have been prevalent in Japan, Mexico, Canada, and the United States for years.

Sources:

https://pubs.er.usgs.gov/publication/fs20163020

https://earthquake.usgs.gov/learn/kids/eqscience.php

https://earthquake.usgs.gov/learn/facts.php

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/natural-disasters/earthquakes/

http://www.geo.mtu.edu/UPSeis/waves.html

WildfireIntel.org is Quickly becoming a Trusted Source

Late June and early July added several new ignitions to a wildfire season that was already off to an ominous start. So far in 2018 major fires have already igniting across Texas, Oklahoma, and the Southwest. The recent heat wave that swept Red Flag fueled wildfires across the US resulting in evacuations and structure loss in Colorado, California, Utah, and  As we move deeper into the summer months, increasingly warm and dry conditions will continue to fuel the threat of wildfires. The National Inter-agency Fire Center released their fire potential outlook for summer months, predicting an above average fire season for all of the twelve western states making wildfire intelligence gathering even more essential.

A New Source for Wildfire Intelligence

Understanding the need for real-time wildfire intelligence, a conversation started between group of devout users and former moderators. This group came together to revive a forum that once popular among the fire community. For a variety of reasons they ultimately decided it was best to spin-off a new website. This new website, branded wildfireintel.org, was created as a non-profit with the mission to create a free public forum for discussing “topics important to the fire community”. Relevant subjects include fire related “incidents, jobs, industry, safety, and health”.

Wildfire Intelligence Forum Example

An example of how the forum is structured based off geographic regions.

Recent Fire Activity Drives Traffic and Additional Users to the Website

Although it’s still in the initial stages of development, wildfireintel.org is up and running and gaining traction. WildfireIntel.org is quickly becoming a trusted source for accurate, real-time information. Recent fire activity is helping increase traffic to the forum, with the last 30 days adding over 200 new users and almost a million page views. Knowing that forums survive by the active participation of its users the founders of the website are encouraging the fire community to continue to contribute to the site. The founders hope that with increased participation an “active and sustainable wildfire community” will again foster and provide much need wildfire intelligence. For more information, please visit the wildfireintel.org website and/or become more involved by registering.

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