Posts Tagged ‘storm’

By Chris Mosby

When a devastating storm tore through the east side on Friday night, it felled a tree that predated Ohio (as a state) and Cleveland (as a city). The White Oak had lived through droughts, blizzards, presidents, wars and the founding of the nation. It could not, however, outlive a microburst with 100 mph winds.

Friday’s microburst, an intense downdraft during a thunderstorm, tore branches from trees, downed power lines and left thousands of people without power. Streets flooded, intersections closed and police did their best to manage traffic in the dark.

A tree fell at the Nature Center at Shaker Lakes and landed on power lines, leaning against the transformer. Trails were blocked, the wild flower garden was smashed by fallen limbs, and one of the biggest and oldest trees in the region was snapped at its base.

History Counted In Rings

The White Oak was a point of fascination for the Doan Brook Watershed Partnership, which had done research on the age of the tree, going so far as to conduct a coring, Nick Mikash, a natural resources specialist at the Nature Center, said. A coring removes a sliver of a tree to determine its age and history.

The group discovered the White Oak was more than 300 years old. It predated the founding of America in 1776 and the statehood of Ohio, granted in 1803. The tree was in Shaker Heights before it was known as Shaker Heights.

The North Union Shakers, a religious sect, settled the area now know as Shaker Heights in 1802, a year before Ohio joined the U.S. The planned pastoral utopia failed when Cleveland became an industrial center and two brothers began buying up land from the North Union Shakers.

The brothers — Oris Paxton and Mantis James Van Sweringen — named their new land Shaker Village. It was incorporated in 1912. The village later became a city and was renamed Shaker Heights, the city said on its website.

The White Oak, which grew on the west side of the lower lake near North Park, witnessed the gradual urbanization of its surroundings. The tree witnessed a religious sect become a village and then a city with paved roads and electrical wires. It saw residents born in Shaker grow old in the city. It stood as those residents went to war, opened businesses, entered their golden years and died. It watched the children of those residents mature and move away.

The tree was not an isolated watcher of events, though. It was seen and beloved as well.

Ashley Hall, the marketing coordinator for the Nature Center at Shaker Lakes, said educational programs frequently occurred around the tree. One visitor told her a costumed man used to climb the tree and then scamper out to tell stories to kids.

“In 1983 Fernway Elementary used to take us on field trips to [the] tree,” a Facebook user named Oliver wrote on the Nature Center’s page. “We would sit around the tree in silence and wait until this old bearded man in overalls would come crawling out of a hole in the base of the trunk. He would then tell us stories. It may have been the head of the nature center in costume.”

Hall jokingly said she hoped he worked for the Nature Center.

Memories like those shared by Oliver poured forth when news of the tree’s fate was made public. When the tree came down, it left many feeling emptier, more melancholy.

“People really have connections to these pieces of nature,” Hall said.

The Demise of History

Lightning didn’t hasten the death of the White Oak. Nature merely took its natural course.

The tree played an important role in its ecosystem. It was home to 500 inspect species and provided nutrients for parasitic honey mushrooms. Those mushrooms gradually ate away at the tree’s roots.

Mikash said the mushrooms may have been chipping away at the White Oak for a century. When the microburst hit, bringing tornado-strength winds with it, the tree was bowled over.

“It was weakened by the fungus and … 100 mph winds are hard to stand up against,” Mikash noted.

After it was felled, the White Oak’s interior appeared nearly hollow. People could climb inside the tree and literally be inside history, Hall and Mikash said.

In the aftermath of the storm, volunteers surveyed the White Oak and the damage at the Nature Center. They picked through the debris and found three acorns from the tree, Mikash said.

Maybe they’ll grow a new White Oak, a new tree that can observe another three centuries of human history, and serve as our silent companion in the woods.

https://patch.com/ohio/shakerheights/300-year-old-tree-falls-shaker-heights

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Analysis of Hurricane Harvey, which drowned Houston, confirms predictions that the storms are likely to get bigger, be more intense and last longer.

By Mark Fischetti

Hurricane Harvey, which inundated the Houston area with up to 60 inches of rain last August, was one of the most outlandish storms ever to hit the U.S. Ironically, it crossed a Gulf of Mexico that had been calm for days and quickly quieted again afterward. This rare situation allowed scientists to obtain unusually specific data about the ocean before and after the hurricane, and about the storm’s energy and moisture.

Last week researchers published that data in Earth’s Future. The numbers indicate the amount of energy Harvey pulled from the ocean, in the form of rising water vapor, equaled the amount of energy it dropped over land in the form of rain—the first time such an equivalence has been documented. Investigators say this revelation supports assertions climate change is likely to make Atlantic hurricanes bigger, more intense and longer-lasting than in the past. The researchers calculate climate change caused Harvey’s rainfall to be 15 to 38 percent greater than it would have been otherwise.

Kevin Trenberth, a senior climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, led the team. Scientific American asked him why Harvey behaved so strangely, how it confirms predictions about changing hurricanes and what the U.S. and other nations prone to the storms should prepare for in the future.

[An edited transcript of the interview follows:]

You say hurricanes will get bigger, and last longer. Why?

As climate change makes oceans hotter there is more heat—more energy—available, so there is likely to be an increase in hurricane activity. That can be the size of the storms, their duration and their intensity.

So hurricane dynamics are really driven by ocean energy?

Right. The way that energy moves around is transporting water vapor in the atmosphere—in this case, pulled up into the storm and dumped over the land in Texas. As the water vapor condenses it releases the latent ocean heat into the atmosphere. Our study was the first time anyone has been able to match up these two numbers.

Is moving energy a hurricane’s main role in the climate system? Why do we even have them?

A hurricane moves heat out of the ocean rapidly. It keeps the oceans cooler. A hurricane is actually a relief valve for the tropical ocean.

Why does it need a relief valve?

In general, the global weather system doesn’t like to have big temperature contrasts. If it’s hot in one place and cold in another, that produces wind that blows the warm air toward the cold and the cold air toward the warm. The atmosphere is always trying to remove those temperature gradients.

Similarly, thunderstorms move heat upward from a hot ocean to a cooler atmosphere but they don’t have the strong winds that a hurricane does, which produce the very large evaporating out of the ocean into the atmosphere. A hurricane is a collection of thunderstorms, but having the same number of thunderstorms without hurricane winds doesn’t cool off the tropical ocean to the same extent. Without hurricanes the tropical ocean would get really hot and the contrast between there and the middle latitudes would create different weather systems than we have now.

Warmer oceans mean more intense hurricanes. But you note that the number of large storms might actually decrease. Why?

By pulling up an ocean’s heat, a hurricane leaves a colder ocean in its wake. One big storm creates more cooling than, say, four smaller storms. It leaves a cooler ocean that is less favorable for a new storm.

That explains why Harvey got so big; your paper notes that the Gulf of Mexico water temperature was several degrees hotter than usual for late August. But why did Harvey stay big?

Over the ocean a hurricane’s circulation typically reaches about 1,000 miles in all directions, grabbing moisture and bringing it into the storm. Once over land the storm dries and weakens. But even when two sides of Harvey were over land, the spiral arm bands reached well out over the Gulf, which was still very warm. That kept the storm going.

After several days the storm moved back over the Gulf before it came inland again, and then moved north. We don’t attribute that movement to climate change. But the fact that when it did come back over the Gulf it reintensified is very much related to climate change. Despite the fact that Harvey had taken a lot of energy from the Gulf and cooled the waters in the upper 100 meters in particular, the deeper Gulf was still warm enough to well up and sustain hurricane-force winds.

The related question is why did Harvey remain over Houston so long? Some experts say it had to do with climate change altering the nature of the jet stream—giving it bigger bends, causing it to meander more slowly from west to east across the U.S.— which can help weather systems get stuck in one place.

Some people suggest that may have played a role. I’m inclined to think it didn’t. The storm track does depend on the weather; a high-pressure system blocked Harvey from moving north or northeast over land as it normally would have. But that high wasn’t part of a big jet steam wave structure. Also, the idea of a slow jet stream, because of changing conditions in the Arctic, is still a controversial topic. I and others think the bigger factor is the tropical Pacific—systems like El Niño and so on. We need to research this more, but I think the effect of the tropics is much greater than the effect of polar regions.

The end of the paper addresses what society needs to do to prepare for stronger hurricanes. It’s commentary, which is unusual. Why did you decide to include this?

Physical scientists often do not talk about impacts and consequences. They often leave that to social scientists or economists. But we need to connect the physical and social effects much more. The Earths’ Future journal is designed to help bridge that divide. Our study is relevant to a lot of policy. And it’s especially relevant to the current administration, whose operational rule seems to be to do away with regulations even when they make sense and are based in science.

You also recommended actions hurricane-prone regions should take. What is the most crucial?

The hurricane damage last season in Puerto Rico, Florida and Texas shows that infrastructure should have been hardened for such storms, which were certainly going to come sooner or later. There were many meetings—I was at some of them—in which politicians, heads of countries and states, were very aware of two main threats: sea level rise and intense hurricanes. But they haven’t done much to prepare.

In Texas, after Hurricane Ike in 2008, there were proposals to add flood control measures in Houston, and they were voted down. In contrast, places like Taiwan, in the typhoon belt, hardened their infrastructures: drainage systems, building codes to withstand category 4 and 5 storms, emergency systems. In 2015 Taiwan had four typhoons that caused flooding and damage—but each time, within about four days they were back up and fully operational because they had built-in resilience and were prepared. Places in the U.S. need to make that kind of investment.

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/new-data-hurricanes-will-get-worse/

By Mindy Weisberger

The recent nor’easter that struck the eastern coast of the U.S. last week revealed something on a New England beach that has been glimpsed only about once a decade for the last 60 years: the remains of a shipwreck that could date back to the Revolutionary War era.

Receding waters sucked away by the storm at Short Sands Beach in York, Maine, exposed the shell of the vessel, which a member of the York Maine Police Department photographed during a morning run and shared on Facebook yesterday (March 5).

The wreck is thought to be at least 160 years old; it was first glimpsed in 1958, but it wasn’t examined and identified until another storm uncovered it in 1980, when a team of archaeologists determined that it was a “pink” — a type of flat-bottomed, highly maneuverable sloop — built during the Revolutionary War era and commonly used for fishing or cargo transport, the website Seacoastonline.com reported.

Usually, the boat is submerged under 6 or 7 feet (1.8 to 2.1 meters) of water, and it was last exposed by storms in 2007 and then in 2013, according to the Boston Globe. Last week’s “bomb cyclone” revealed not only the ribs of the boat, but part of its underside as well.

The shipwreck’s historical significance has been noted by the Maine Historic Preservation Commission, which mapped the crumbling boat frame and identified the area as an archaeological site, Seacoastonline reported in 2007.

“A major dig would be a useful and interesting thing to do — probably just to look in more detail at the ship’s structure and construction, since small artifacts and cargo are probably gone,” Arthur Spiess, a senior archaeologist with the Maine Historical Preservation Commission, told Seacoastonline.

However, this shipwreck is one of 67 wrecks in the area, and limited local resources mean that there are as yet no plans for its excavation, according to the website.

https://www.livescience.com/61939-revolutionary-war-era-shipwreck-exposed.html

By Chelsea Harvey

The tiniest particles of airborne pollution may affect the weather, new research suggests—even in some of the most pristine parts of the world.

A study published in the journal Science found that ultra-fine aerosol particles, produced by industrial activity, are helping storms grow bigger and more intense in the Amazon basin. Many scientists had long assumed that these microscopic particles—which can be more than 1,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair—were far too small to have any effect on the weather.

But a combination of observations and model simulations, focusing on the tropical rainforest outside the Brazilian city of Manaus, indicate that these tiny particles are actually causing bigger storm clouds and heavier rainfall. The findings suggest that the increase in pollution since the onset of the Industrial Revolution may have “appreciably changed” the formation of storm clouds, the researchers write. And they suggest that changes in the Amazon’s climate could potentially reverberate in other parts of the world.

The research comes at a time of growing interest in aerosols—small pollution particles, often produced by industrial activities—and their influence on global weather and climate. Aerosols are known to produce a temporary cooling effect on the climate, and research increasingly suggests that air pollution may have helped to cover up some of the effects of human-caused climate change (Climatewire, Jan. 22). This means ongoing efforts to reduce pollution may be accompanied by enhanced warming, scientists note, along with a variety of other weather-related side effects.

The new study reinforces the idea that pollution has a significant influence on atmospheric processes, down to daily weather patterns. Previous research has already demonstrated that larger aerosol particles can lead to stronger storms.

Particles in the air can interact with water vapor and form droplets, influencing the formation of clouds. One widely covered modeling study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2014, suggested that pollution from Asia can intensify storms in the northwestern Pacific and may even affect weather patterns over North America.

But until now, the influence of the tiniest pollution particles has been largely overlooked.

“Previously, scientists had this concept that these ultra-fine particles, they are too small to be ‘activated,’ to be transformed into cloud droplets,” Jiwen Fan, the lead study author and a scientist at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, told E&E News.

The Amazon provided a “perfect setting” to investigate, she added. Rainforest outside Manaus remains relatively untouched by human activity, and the background aerosol levels are low. But winds often sweep in pollution from the city, providing a kind of natural laboratory to test the effects of higher and lower levels of particles in the air.

The researchers found that the tiny particles had an even greater effect on storm intensity than their larger counterparts. The tiny particles are lifted higher into the air before they begin to interact with water vapor and transform into cloud droplets, forming taller clouds. The resulting high concentration of water droplets forming the clouds release large amounts of heat as they condense, which helps to invigorate the air rising up through the cloud and intensify the brewing storm.

So far, the study only documents the process in a specific part of the Brazilian Amazon, meaning more research would be needed to determine whether the same effects apply elsewhere. But the researchers suggest that other humid and remote parts of the world, where human influence is starting to grow, may be similarly affected. For instance, the influence of shipping traffic in the open ocean might be a point worth investigating, Fan suggested.

The researchers also suggest that climatic changes in the Amazon could affect precipitation patterns in other places. This remains to be investigated—but the authors point out that the water cycle in the warm, humid Amazon plays a significant role in regulating climate patterns elsewhere around the world.

If human pollution continues to encroach on the region’s remaining untouched areas, they write, the resulting weather changes “could have profound effects on other places around the globe.”

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/tiny-particles-of-pollution-may-strengthen-storms/