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October 7, 2011 / Dave Gorham

Always A Bridesmaid, Never A Bride: No Drought Relief From Latest Tropical System

It’s a tired story, I know, but every time there’s a potential for a tropical soaking residents of Texas just can’t help but perk up their ears. “Where? South Carolina?! Oh, come on!”

It’s true.  South Carolina is in the crosshairs, this time.

Tropical Disturbance 50 will likely reach tropical storm status, but not hurricane status. Image: ImpactWeather TropicsWatch

Tropical Disturbance 50 is now about 655 miles southeast of Miami. It’s a new storm so data is limited at this time. It’s drifting northwest and its maximum sustained winds are 20 mph. That doesn’t sound like much, but there is some strengthening likely as we head into early next week. Strengthening, that is, to tropical storm force — not hurricane force. In other words, the perfect type of storm needed in Texas to begin chipping away at the 30+ inch rainfall deficit for places like Houston and Austin.

Not only will the storm not likely reach hurricane force (chances for hurricane development are just 15%) it will weaken quickly as it reaches the Georgia/South Carolina border so that tropical storm winds will be confined to coastal regions. Though not expected, a small shift in track could keep the storm off the coast and over the warmer waters of the Gulf Stream — and that could change everything. That scenario is not expected, though the next name on the Atlantic tropical storm list is Rina.

As for rainfall, the Bahamas and southern Florida should expect scattered rain showers and thunderstorms, some with heavy rainfall through the weekend; especially so for Florida on Sunday. Much-needed showers and widespread thunderstorms are expected for Georgia and South Carolina Monday and Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Hurricane Philippe continues churning in the central North Atlantic while being no threat to land. This storm has been plugging along since the National Hurricane Center named it as a tropical depression and then a tropical storm on September 24.

Elsewhere, there’s not much going on. We are, however, keeping an eye on the western Caribbean. Not only is this a seasonally ripe area for development, but the arrival of the MJO by mid-month may help develop something. We’ll see…

 

October 5, 2011 / Dave Gorham

After A Painfully Record-Breaking Summer, Fall Colors Might Not Be As Pretty…

It was a long, hot summer here in Texas and I couldn’t be happier about the cooler weather finally settling in over the area. Technically, it’s not exactly cool weather per-se, but when temperatures go from being 10 degrees above average to about average for this time of year (in the mid 80’s for highs) I would certainly say it’s welcomed relief.

 Precipitation Outlook for October, 2011. Image: ImpactWeather StormWatch

As of today we are still almost 30 inches below average in rainfall for the year and it doesn’t look like conditions will improve anytime soon. La Niña conditions typically signal drier than normal weather and this will be the case over most of the Deep South through October as drier than normal weather dominates from central and east Texas eastward to the western Carolinas.

Most of Texas and parts of OK, KA and NM are in an exceptional drought, which is the highest drought category. A good portion of GA into eastern AL and western SC are in an extreme drought. Image: U.S. Drought Monitor

With the ongoing drought and the record breaking heat we’ve had all summer long, the colors of fall might not be as picturesque this year compared to previous years. There are three things that greatly influence the colors of leaves: temperature, sunlight and soil moisture. As the days get shorter, the amount of sunlight decreases which reduces the process in the leaves known as photosynthesis. Chlorophyll, which gives leaves their green color, is reduced as temperatures get cooler and leaves start taking on their beautiful fall colors. Fall foliage will certainly be impacted this year across drought-stricken areas as leaves are expected to turn and fall before they have a chance to develop their brilliant colors.

 Photosynthesis is the process by which plants turn water and carbon dioxide into oxygen and glucose. Image: sciencemadesimple.com

After the extreme heat, wildfires and the ongoing drought across most of Texas, the colors of fall probably won’t be as spectacular this year. For instance, in Abilene, November is the peak month for fall foliage, but this year we could see leaves turning and falling earlier. In East Texas about 100 miles east of Dallas, there have been some reports of oak trees already turning brown. More importantly, the eight-county area surrounding the Houston area faces the loss of 10 percent of its 660 million trees. Forget the fall foliage; there are trees at stake across the entire state. The City of Houston alone needs $4.5 million in tax dollars to remove 15,000 trees from city parks and esplanades that have died due to the lack of rain this year. The fall foliage here in Texas won’t be anything to brag about this year, but most importantly, hopefully we’ll get measurable rain before more trees die.

 Dead trees are falling in Houston’s Memorial Park. Photo: Houston Chronicle

On a brighter note, not all of us will have a dull fall as beautiful fall colors continue to explode from Maine to Pennsylvania. Check out where the best foliage is already (see below).

 Areas indicated in red are at their peak. Image: yankeefoliage.com

  Fall foliage is at its peak across parts of Vermont. Image: www.foliage-vermont.com

 Fall foliage this year in Vermont. Photo: vermontfallfoliage.com

October 4, 2011 / Dave Gorham

It’s the Salt’s Fault: Our Ever-Circulating Oceans

The age of Aquarius, as told in 2011, is about an orbiting Earth science satellite that is able to measure the salinity content of the Earth’s oceans. This is not trivial. For the first time, thanks to the Aquarius instrument aboard an Argentinean satellite, a global perspective of the distribution of salt across the oceans is now available for analysis. With this data, a better understanding of ocean circulation patterns will lead to a better understanding of changing global climates. Prior to Aquarius, like using an axe to chisel a chess piece, scientists had only a basic understanding of varying oceanic salt distributions and its impact on global climate. In fact, much of the oceans’ salinity was uncharted, especially south of the equator. With enough precision to measure a pinch of salt in a gallon of water, Aquarius has provided more data in two weeks than the previous 100 years of measurements.

This composite of the first two and a half weeks' of data since the instrument became operational on August 25. Yellow and red colors represent areas of higher salinity, with blues and purples indicating areas of lower salinity. Image: NASA

ImpactWeather Sr. Meteorologist Chris Hebert explains: “It’s salinity that drives the thermohaline circulation in the world’s oceans. In the North Atlantic, it’s the main current that carries warm tropical water northward toward Greenland.  Water with a higher saline content is more dense, so it sinks faster in northern latitudes, driving the current. Over time, it melts northern ice and salinity decreases due to the increase of fresh water, resulting in a cold phase of the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation. During the cold phase, ice builds up and salinity slowly increases.  Eventually, the salinity gets high enough that the current picks up speed, leading to another warm phase that might last 30-40 years.”

Stripped to its core, salt moves heat around and ocean current is driven by the density of the water. Typically cooler, denser water sinks and moves south, while warmer, less dense water rises and moves north in a never-ending cycle. It’s the temperature of sea water, which covers 70% of the Earth’s surface, that drives synoptic scale climates and has a pronounced effect on tropical cyclone development (or non-development). With a better understanding of ocean currents, climatologists and meteorologists will gain a better handle on both short- and long-range forecasts and climate patterns.

Global thermohaline circulation. Image: Wikipedia

There is concern among some scientists that, given global climate change, a dramatic slowing or termination of the Thermohaline Circulation is possible. In theory, a warmer Earth would melt more glacial and polar ice while initiating more large-scale rain events. The result would be  a greater influx of fresh meltwater and rainwater into the oceans of the world. With a higher content of fresh (less dense) water, the circulation could be slowed, interrupted or even terminated. Countries that would most clearly see this effect would be northern countries near a warm current such as Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Ireland and Great Britain that would begin to cool without the warming ocean current. It’s exactly this situation which has advanced the paradox of global warming instigating global cooling. Scientists point to the Little Ice Age as an example of changes to the ocean circulation patterns.

Launched in June of this year, the satellite carries an international payload of seven additional instruments and will scan the entire globe once every seven days from 408 miles about the Earth’s surface. Combined, these instruments will measure such things as cosmic radiation, aurorae, sea surface temperature, atmospheric humidity, electromagnetic radiation and a demonstration of new technology involving GPS and inertial navigation in addition to the primary instrument, Aquarius. Aquarius is expected to be a 5-year mission.

This artist's impression shows the SAC-D satellite that houses the Aquarius instrument over South America. Image: Wikipedia.

Learn more of NASA’s Aquarius satellite here. Even better, watch this nicely done and succinct video from NASA and the Goddard Space Flight Center.

October 3, 2011 / Dave Gorham

Is the 2011 Hurricane Season Forecast a Bust?

Accosted is the wrong word, but on two occasions this past weekend “friends” of mind said something along these lines: “Hey, Weatherman! Where are all the hurricanes you and your ilk predicted.” I told them to go back to cutting the grass, but their curiosity isn’t unfounded.

The climatological peak of hurricane season is at/near September 10. Still, the first three weeks of October are about on par with mid-August. In other words, the next two or three weeks of the season can still be quite active. Image: ImpactWeather

As of today, with Tropical Storm Ophelia racing off to the northeast past Newfoundland and Tropical Storm Phillippe hinting at intensification beyond 24 hours, there have been 16 named storms but only four hurricanes. To put this in perspective, a normal season – based on climatology – would see a season total of 9-12 named storms, with 5-7 hurricanes and 1-3 major hurricanes (category 3 or higher). Preseason forecasts indicated the 2011 season would be more active than normal, but not by much. As an example, Colorado State’s Philip Klotzbach (the keynote speaker at the 2010 and 2011 ImpactWeather Hurricane Seminar) preseason forecast indicated 16/9/5 (named/hurricanes/majors), NOAA’s broad forecast was 14-19/7-10/3-5, while ImpactWeather’s forecast of 14/8/4 was just a little bit lower than the Klotzbach prediction.

With the closing of the Cape Verde season (eastern Atlantic), focus now shifts west to the western Atalntic and Caribbean Sea for prime development areas. Red dots represent previous storm formation points, yellow arrows represent typical movement of storms and red highlighted areas indicate prime development regions. Image: ImpactWeather

Where are all the hurricanes? Indeed that is the question. The answer however, remains unclear. Yes, the Saharan air layer (SAL) can be blamed for part of the inactivity, but not all of it. Forecasters and computer models take the SAL into consideration with each forecast, but for a forecast to be so far off it’s usually something unexpected that is to blame. For instance, mid-latitude dry air is thought to be having an affect on the lower number of hurricanes this year. For much of the summer Europe had a strong high pressure system in place and that dry air, driven clockwise off the southern edge of the high, intruded into the Atlantic. Dry air is not conducive to hurricane formation. Further post-season analysis will be required no doubt, but there is still a third of the hurricane season to come. The final nail has yet to be driven into the coffin known as the 2011 Atlantic Hurricane Season.

Far from it.

By mid-month, the focus continues its westward trend. Image: ImpactWeather

In fact, as if being delivered by FedEx just as the focal point of tropical storm generation shifts to the Caribbean, the MJO is about to arrive in the eastern Pacific — and the Madden-Julian Oscillation is well-known as a hurricane season enhancer. Consider the MJO as a “pulse,” or an atmospheric wave that travels eastward from the Indian Ocean with enhanced thunderstorm and tropical activity associated with it. With the MJO moving into such a position, it is expected to produce a potential flare of tropical activity in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico over the next few weeks.

But is it enough to bring the number of Atlantic storms in line with preseason forecasts? Only time will tell, but to expect an additional four storms to reach the ImpactWeather preseason forecast, or the five storms predicted by the Klotzbach forecast? That may be asking too much. The climatological peak of hurricane season is September 10. After the tenth, we start to see fewer storms as the tropical North Atlantic begins to see the early signs of the approaching winter. By this time, we also see the end (or the beginning of the end) of the Cape Verde season, leaving the most prime development regions to be the Caribbean, the southwestern waters of the North Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico. Timed with the arrival of the MJO as mentioned previously, it may be too early indeed to lay to rest the current Atlantic storm season, but time is short if the preseason forecast is to be a success.

And let’s not forget that late season storms can still be quite catastrophic. The “W” storm in 2005, Wilma, formed on October 15th east southeast of Grand Cayman in the Caribbean Sea, then moved generally west to the Yucatan Peninsula then curved sharply northeast to make landfall as a major hurricane on the southwestern coast of Florida on October 24. All told, Hurricane Wilma was directly responsible for 23 deaths and more than $23 billion dollars in damage, which ranks the storm in the top five of costliest storms ever recorded in the North Atlantic.

Category 4 Hurricane Wilma near the Yucatan Peninsula. Image: NOAA

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

September 30, 2011 / Dave Gorham

Strong Line of Thunderstorms Collides With Weather-Starved Pack of Meteorologists, Excited "Reportiness" Ensues

As I’ve often noted here, I’m not a meteorologist but I do have the relatively unique honor of working with a large collection of the world’s best forecasters seven days a week.  What’s most fun about it is when the group as a whole is directly and personally impacted by a severe weather event.  Because when we get a line of thunderstorms through the Houston area, as we did last evening, after such an extremely long period without any noticeable weather . . . well, watching their reactions is fun.

Like nearly all of Texas, we haven’t seen any decent rain around here since January and that’s a very long time for a native Houstonian to go without rain.  We can take the heat of summer, the relative cold of winter, the tropical assaults, the wind, the humidity, the traffic, the mosquitoes, the hot, the flat – just don’t take our rain away.  When we finally got some decent activity yesterday afternoon in the form of a southward-rushing line of showers, 50+mph sustained winds, lightning, thunder and measurable precipitation, the best word I can think of is catharsis.  I won’t say it’s been a boring year – far too many around this country and the world as a whole have suffered way too much throughout this year’s record floods, truly savage tornadoes and unprecedented wildfires that erased entire communities.

But it was nice to get some rain.  It really was.  And to see frenetic fractals of lightning and to feel the shake and roar of thunder?  It was wonderful.  And to actually smell sweet, fresh rain.  It’s been too long.

And I’m not the only one who thought so.  As yesterday’s line moved through town during p.m. drive time, ImpactWeather forecasters, as they often do simultaneously and without any prompting, felt the need to respond by using both prose and mobile digital imagery to report in and provide the office with proof that what the afternoon shift was seeing on their computer monitors was indeed taking place out in nature.

Some of the reports were scientific yet also expressive:

“Looking west from just west of downtown.  The storm had some really nice mammatus and outflow… and in the inflow region near the heart of the storm, the storm was sucking in scud with the scud rotating horizontally in the process (thankfully not vertically).”
– Andrew Artzer, ImpactWeather Staff Meteorologist

Photo: ImpactWeather Staff Meteorologist Andrew Artzer

Some of them were strictly factual:

“Strong winds, small hail, frequent lightning and about an inch at IW’s Woodlands office.”
– Client Services and Business Continuity Programs Manager Mike Thomson

Others let the photos do the talking:

“Here's some snaps looking towards 59 just south of the Galleria.” Photo: ImpactWeather Meteorologist Steven Abreu-Hill

Yet other descriptions were flat out eloquent:

“Heading home on the motorcycle last night on 45, I commented to myself how pleasant the temp was – bike thermometer said 84. Near the NASA overpass I started getting lots of sand in my eyes, but there was no wind. I noticed the sand and debris on the shoulder of the road was really being whipped along at the speed of traffic – 60 or so. I also noticed how ‘still’ the air was (on a bike, you always have lots of airflow so that when you are suddenly in a still pocket it means the air is moving at the same speed and in the same direction as you). I looked left and saw a couple of flags – winds right out of the north and the flags looked they were putting up a good fight!

“On the downhill side of the NASA overpass the wind suddenly picked up, the temperature jumped to 96 and the humidity just slapped me. It was one of the most spectacular air mass changes I’ve ever experienced!

“It was a muggy, warm ride home – until I reached the house. Then the north wind arrived – howling, with white caps on the lake and the truck being buffeted in the driveway. About an hour later the pouring rain arrived.”
– Dave Gorham, Supervisor, Broadcast Meteorology

The view from the radar earlier yesterday afternoon. The individual cells would soon join up and plunge to the south. Image: ImpactWeather

 

Yeah, it was a pleasant respite.  Especially considering the fact that more voices are adding to the growing chorus that if the cycle isn’t broken soon, the drought could go on for a considerably longer time to come.

Next week I’ll share more weather photos shot by ImpactWeather employees.  (They’re not just great meteorologists.)  Wanna share your own spectacular weather photos?  Email them to me and I’ll post them.  Remember to include the when and where.

September 28, 2011 / Dave Gorham

Mega-Tsunami From Canary Islands? Not Yet

More rumblings from the Canary Islands this morning but, as of now, nothing substantial enough to shake loose the mega-landslide that’s expected to trigger the mega-tsunami which will lead to the mega-submerging of the entire eastern coast of the U.S.  At least, that’s the theory. Fortunately, the recent quaking is centered not at the Cumbre Vieja on the island of La Palma, but at El Hierro just to the south.

[It should be noted that the official stance of the Tsunami Society is that such a landslide scenario is nothing but scaremongering.]

In this photo, the Cumbre Viejo is the giant slope occupying most of the left half of the island of La Palma. Photo: Wikipedia

Tip to tip, the two islands are less than 50 miles apart. Geologically, this is well within spitting distance as the same plates (African and Eurasian) along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge causing today’s earthquakes will be the same ones that will (may?) eventually dislodge the Cumbre Vieja. For now however,  the epicenters of the latest quakes are mainly along the southern coast of El Hierro and relatively minor (the max quake so far has registered 3.8 on the Richter Scale) and at significant depth.

Still, as Jerry Lee Lewis would say, there’s a whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on. In fact, more than 150 tremors have been recorded since yesterday and more than 8,000 in the past two months — a sure sign that magma is moving toward the surface in what is likely a sign of an imminent eruption. How imminent? That’s not known. For now, tourists and residents have been evacuated, schools remain shut and the alert level has been raised to yellow.

Although El Hierro is the most active volcano in the Canaries, the previous eruption was 200 years ago. The most recent eruption for La Palma was in 1971.

Most of the recent quakes have been centered along the southern coast of El Hierro. Image: Govt of Spain

YourWeatherBlog wrote about this situation in July. The situation, such as it is, includes not just the earthquake swarms and the potential for volcanic eruption/s, but the possibility for the earthquakes to trigger the tsunami-inducing giant landslide of La Palma’s Cumbre Vieja.

If the Cumbre Viejo breaks loose, some theories suggest much of the U.S. East Coast will be submerged by a mega-tsunami that could reach the coast in as little as eight hours. Image: PopSci

Is the idea of a mega-tsunami silly? Is it scaremongering, as stated by the Tsunami Society? Perhaps in the 1980s and 1990s way of thinking (live for the moment, it won’t happen to me!) it’s silly. And perhaps the scaremongering has a financial root to drive ongoing research funding. However, we live now in an enlightened age where terms like business continuity, emergency preparedness and zombie apocalypse are becoming almost part of the everyday vernacular. Additionally, unusual weather (to say the least) and other natural occurrences are causing the world’s population to ask who we made mad. Whereas many years may be remembered for one particular stand-out event and some decades to be remembered for two or three, 2011 will be remembered for catastrophic earthquakes, record-breaking droughts and heat waves, with unprecedented flooding and forest fires. Then again, this may all be small potatoes when 2013’s CME arrives (read more here).

More information can be found at the Volcanological Institute of the Canary Islands.

 

 

 

 

 

September 27, 2011 / Dave Gorham

Dow Up; Temps Down – Yes!

While the stock market packs on another day of gains, the temperatures are set to move in the opposite direction over the next few days. Both trends are welcome news, given the past several months of market volatility and scorching temperatures.

ImpactWeather Sr. Meteorologist Fred Schmude provided YourWeatherBlog with a look at the next few days: “The flow pattern is definitely taking on a different configuration over the next week as a large upper-level trough deepens over the eastern U.S. This will allow cooler Canadian air to pivot southward toward the Gulf Coast by this weekend bringing a much cooler and drier air mass to regions in desperate need of a pleasant change.  Though most of the coldest air will slip off to the north and east of the southern regions of the U.S., a change in the weather pattern is welcome news to anyone in the southern half of the country.

Though indicated as a stationary front by midday Friday, cooler, drier air filtering in from the north will have a pronounced effect for the northern Gulf Coast regions from Texas to Florida. Image: ImpactWeather StormWatch

“However, before this happens southeast Texas will see an increasing risk for mainly late afternoon and evening showers and thunderstorms over central and southeast Texas through Friday as a weak stationary front collides with hot daytime temperatures and high humidity levels moving northward from the Gulf of Mexico. The best chance for rain will generally remain just to the north of the Houston area for today, but will likely shift a little more south on Wednesday and Thursday.  Given the circumstances, any storms that develop could quickly become severe with the primary threat being strong downburst winds in excess of 50 mph, hail and intense cloud-to-ground lightning strikes. Rain chances are expected to end on Friday followed by pleasantly cooler and drier air for the weekend and into early next week.   Temperatures are likely to fall into the 50s over most of the southeast Texas by this Sunday and Monday morning with daytime highs leveling off in the lower to mid 80s.

Wishful thinking? Today, certainly - but it won't be much longer now before this is a reality for many regions of the country. Photo: Onlineweblibrary.com

“Afternoon temperatures for this time of year in Southeast Texas are typically expected to be in the mid-to-upper 80s, while overnight temperatures fall into the mid-to-upper 60s. Northern areas that will see more of the cold air will also take a decidedly cooler turn. Milwaukee, for instance, will see highs only in the upper 50s Friday then down to near 40 by Saturday morning — or about 10-12 degrees cooler than normal.”

Wishful thinking? No - this is real. Though higher earlier today, the Dow is making the kind of headway we can all appreciate. Image: Yahoo Finance

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

September 23, 2011 / Dave Gorham

Where is the Sun, Little Darling?

It’s the first day of Autumn today (officially, Autumn arrived at 0904 UTC, or 0304 CST) and the Northern Hemisphere is on a familiar path to winter. So today, where exactly is the sun?

Sorry, trick question! Technically, the sun is in the same spot it always is. The better question then would be, “Where is the Earth?” although that too, would be a trick question. Of course, the Earth’s orbiting the sun as it always does. It’s the tilt of the Earth upon its axis and the orbit around the sun that brings about the change of seasons and the placement of the Earth relative to the sun. Actually, we’re always moving in six different directions at once, but that’s for another day.

As the Earth rotates around the sun, it also spins about its own axis. Image: Wikipedia

So where does that leave us today? It leaves us with the sun on the same plane as the center of the Earth directly over the equator. Or, in other words, it leaves the sun directly over the equator — an equal distance between the Earth’s northern and southern tilts. Today is the Autumnal Equinox. This positioning happens twice per year; once today and once six months hence.

George Harrison's tribute to the sun is an ode to spring and the fading winter. Image: Metrolyrics.com

That’s not the only thing equal about today’s equinox. Not only is the sun an equal distance between its range of northern and southern tilt, there is also an equal amount of daylight and night, called the equilux — 12 hours of daylight, 12 hours of night (or a very close approximation).

Solstice and Equinox table. Source: Wikipedia

For the vernal or spring equinox (March 21), Earth is in the process of tilting the Northern Hemisphere towards the sun, with summer on the near horizon. Six months later, on the autumnal equinox (today), Earth is tilting on its axis so the Northern Hemisphere is titled away from the sun as the  first day of winter draws near. Of course, this tilting is a never ending process: each day of the year, with each passing tick of the clock, Earth is either tilting towards or away from the sun — except for a split second twice a year.

Next on the calendar is the first day of winter — the winter solstice — and if you guessed that’s three months from now — halfway to the vernal equinox — you would be correct. If you also guessed that’s the day of the least amount of daylight for the Northern Hemisphere, you would also be correct. On the first day of winter in the Northern Hemisphere, the Earth has reached it’s maximum southern tilt with maximum sunshine and warmth for the Southern Hemisphere and the least amount of sunshine and warmth (in the form of incoming longwave solar radiation) for the Northern Hemisphere. At this time, the sun is directly over the Tropic of Capricorn. Exactly six months from now the sun will once again be precisely over the equator, but this time the Earth will be tilting so that the Northern Hemisphere will be more exposed to the sun. Longer days and more incoming solar radiation will be the result. Or in other words, “Here comes the sun, and I say, it’s all right.” (Although I hope next summer isn’t as broiling hot as this summer was!)

This image highlights the Tropic of Cancer, which lies 23° 26′ 16″ north of the Equator. The Tropic of Capricorn lies 23° 26′ 16″ south of the Equator. Image: Wikipedia

 

 

 

 

September 22, 2011 / Dave Gorham

Massive Satellite Falling Back to Earth Tomorrow – We're Gonna Need a Bigger Umbrella!

We here at ImpactWeather have always got your back. We keep you updated on the latest weather with our special ImpactWeather insight, plus we let you know about interesting geology, oceanography, astronomy and more. Today, for instance, we bring you something that definitely falls into the interesting category of…well, interesting something, that’s for sure. How would you categorize a school bus re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere, breaking up into many pieces — some up to 300lbs in size! – and creating a debris field in an as-yet undetermined location, that may be as much as 500 miles long?

The UARS as viewed from Space Shuttle Discovery in 1991 upon deployment. Image: NASA

One thing is certain: the object falling to Earth is not an actual school bus but rather a school bus-sized, 6.5 ton satellite. Another certainty (or near certainty?) is that the satellite will fall tomorrow or early Saturday morning and NASA estimates there could be as many as 26 pieces of debris that survive re-entry and make it to the surface of the Earth.

Artist's conception of the UARS entering Earth's atmosphere. Image: AGI

This upper atmosphere research satellite (UARS) was lifted into space in 1991 (STS-48) and was deactivated in 2005 with a passivation of its systems. UARS has been gradually falling from orbit since deactivation and is expected (estimated) to reach terra firma sometime tomorrow afternoon. At that time, the soon-to-be former satellite is not expected to be over the United States.

Odds of being struck by this particular craft? 1/3,200. Relatively high odds when compared to other, seemingly more “every day” occurrences like being struck by lightning or being injured by hail. And I’m no space-debris-falling-from-space expert, but I would think the odds of being struck by space junk would be at least as high as winning the Texas lottery (1/15,900,000). Let’s not forget, about 70% of the Earth’s surface is covered by water where, obviously, the population is lower than on land (though it’s estimated there are 80,000 people living, working and recreating in just the Gulf of Mexico at any given time). Even on solid ground, most populations are concentrated near coastlines leaving vast amounts of interior lands only sparsely inhabited. Even the odds of finding a four leaf clover are almost three times higher. Then again, there are 7 billion people on this planet.

The school bus-sized craft known as UARS - Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite. Image: Wikipedia

Who remembers the re-entry of Skylab? This was in 1979, the year I graduated high school, and I seem to remember it was quite the event — everything from T-shirts to prizes for the recovered debris, to debris being displayed on news programs, talk shows, Facebook and Twitter. Skylab, however, still had vehicle control and NASA engineers were able to direct the craft to an area southeast of Cape Town, South Africa. As it worked out, Skylab took longer to re-enter than estimated and scattered itself across almost 300 miles of western Australia. Interestingly, NASA calculated the odds of being struck by Skylab debris to be 1/152 which, to me, seems ridiculously high — but perhaps their math was considering only the population of South Africa.

For more information on where the UARS is, visit the Updates page from NASA, or track it yourself at Heavens Above or Space Track (registration required).

More odds that you may find interesting:
Odds of being struck by lightning: 1/1,000,000
Odds of getting a hole in one: 1/5,000
Odds of being killed on a single airline flight while onboard one of the top 25 safest airlines: 1/9,200,000
Odds of being injured by hail: 1/5,100,000
Odds of being attacked by a shark: 1/65,000,000
Odds of being killed by a falling meteorite: Infinitesimally small

Great video of the re-entry as envisions by AGI.

 

 

 

 

 

 

September 21, 2011 / Dave Gorham

Reminder: BCP 101 – A Business Continuity Planning Beginner’s Checklist [free 30-min webinar]

This is a recap of a posting from last week and the only thing that’s changed since then is that more than 240 people have signed up to attend.  The only other thing that’s happened since then is that I’ve joined in on two practice sessions for this presentation and I can say with all honesty that it’s a valuable use of half an hour, not only for any business continuity neophyte but for seasoned veterans as well.  This is the sixth presentation in a year-long series of BC/DR webinars that are sponsored by ImpactWeather and, even for me – and I’ve been at this for a lonnnggg time – so far they’ve all been interesting and educational.  And I plan to keep it that way.

And come to think of it, aren’t we all business continuity professionals?  Regardless of your profession or position, shouldn’t we all be engaged in doing what we can to make sure any significant business disruption is quelled as soon as possible?  Shouldn’t we take the steps to mitigate the possible/likely/imminent disruption well before it happens?  So, join us tomorrow.  It’s free.  And, like I said, it’s educational and interesting.  Here’s what I wrote last week:

As with many critical processes, getting started is often the hardest part.  Join us on September 22nd at 10:30C for BCP 101 – A Business Continuity Planning Beginner’s Checklist, an introduction to Business Continuity Planning that will help you not only get the ball rolling but actually start the process with immediate momentum.   Learn more about the basics of disaster recovery, understand what you can do for an unplanned interruption and initiate simple steps to improve your preparedness today.

Webinar presenter Bob Boyd is president of Agility Recovery Solutions, an industry leader in helping all types of organizations worldwide to assess their threats, evaluate their resources and produce tangible, effective response plans.  Bob is an interesting, engaging presenter.


As with all the webinars in this series, you’ll learn best practices you can begin to implement right away:

  • The 10 Steps to Preparedness
  • Causes of Unexpected Disasters – it’s a longer list than you’d expect
  • How to Assess Your Critical Business Functions
  • Creating Your Own Customized Plan – it’s easier than you think
  • How to Constantly, Objectively Refine Your Response

Register here.

After registering you’ll receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the Webinar.  We’ll see you tomorrow.