Tagged: hurricanes

In tornado alley, building practices boost damage toll


Damaged – and repairable

In a residential neighborhood near the center of a monster tornado that struck Moore, Oklahoma last month, two partially damaged houses stand like an island among others flattened by the storm.

The walls and roofs of the buildings in a new housing development called Featherstone Addition are still upright while there is nothing left but a concrete foundation where other homes once stood nearby.

The two homes were not completely spared but are salvageable, according to David Prevatt, a civil engineer who saw them when he surveyed the damage after Moore took a direct hit from an EF5 tornado, the strongest rating.

He is convinced that the two houses survived because they were built stronger than most in Oklahoma and the rest of “tornado alley” – the region stretching from Texas to Iowa that accounts for roughly a fourth of all U.S. tornadoes.

“This notion that we cannot engineer buildings economically to withstand tornado loads is a fallacy,” said Prevatt, who has studied damage from hurricanes and the devastating tornadoes in 2011 in Joplin, Missouri and Tuscaloosa, Alabama…

Damage costs are rising because of increased population density, even in mostly rural states such as Oklahoma, which has seen substantial urban sprawl in the last decade, said Greg Carbin, Warning Coordination Meteorologist for the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma.

Another important reason that has received less attention, is that most homes in tornado alley are not built to withstand even a modest tornado.

The result is that residents of tornado alley, insurance companies and the U.S. government are footing a mounting bill from damage that could be limited with better construction, according to several engineers, meteorologists and consumer advocates interviewed by Reuters.

“We have to stop this cycle of a storm coming along destroying things and we build them back the same,” said Leslie Chapman-Henderson, chief executive of the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes, a consumer group. “That is the official definition of insanity.”

Oklahoma should follow the example of Florida after Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and adopt a tougher building code to reduce damage in future, said Prevatt, Assistant Professor of Civil and Coastal Engineering at the University of Florida.

RTFA for a boatload of detailed information and analysis. Useful stuff – in a society that responds to thoughtful, scientific study. Unfortunately, that definition doesn’t especially include the United States.

International building codes, the standards for safety and sustenance, generally are about a decade ahead of the United States. Any progressive moves on the world stage take at least that long before consideration gets on the US agenda – Congress and the corporations supplying building materials to American homebuilders. The National Association of Home Builders starts work on analysis and understanding immediately if not sooner – but, everyone in the NAHB knows that the adoption process will be slower than the average tortoise.

Now, we could make regional changes based on what Florida and the hurricane states have learned. That’s still too easy for the States’ Rights crowd. You have to understand that a minor percentage of residents in Tornado Alley – and especially their favorite conservative politicians – still hate the idea of building standards, code ordinances and zoning.

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Climate change lessons from Ronald Reagan

The re-election of President Obama, preceded by the extraordinary damage done by Hurricane Sandy, raises a critical question: In the coming years, might it be possible for the United States to take significant steps to reduce the risks associated with climate change?

A crucial decision during Ronald Reagan’s second term suggests that the answer may well be yes. The Reagan administration was generally skeptical about costly environmental rules, but with respect to protection of the ozone layer, Reagan was an environmentalist hero. Under his leadership, the United States became the prime mover behind the Montreal Protocol, which required the phasing out of ozone-depleting chemicals.

There is a real irony here. Republicans and conservatives had ridiculed scientists who expressed concern about the destruction of the ozone layer. How did Ronald Reagan, of all people, come to favor aggressive regulatory steps and lead the world toward a strong and historic international agreement?

A large part of the answer lies in a tool disliked by many progressives but embraced by Reagan (and Mr. Obama): cost-benefit analysis. Reagan’s economists found that the costs of phasing out ozone-depleting chemicals were a lot lower than the costs of not doing so — largely measured in terms of avoiding cancers that would otherwise occur. Presented with that analysis, Reagan decided that the issue was pretty clear.

Much the same can be said about climate change. Recent reports suggest that the economic cost of Hurricane Sandy could reach $50 billion and that in the current quarter, the hurricane could remove as much as half a percentage point from the nation’s economic growth. The cost of that single hurricane may well be more than five times greater than that of a usual full year’s worth of the most expensive regulations, which ordinarily cost well under $10 billion annually. True, scientists cannot attribute any particular hurricane to greenhouse gas emissions, but climate change is increasing the risk of costly harm from hurricanes and other natural disasters. Economists of diverse viewpoints concur that if the international community entered into a sensible agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the economic benefits would greatly outweigh the costs…

The electricity sector is responsible for more than a third of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. In this domain, any regulations must be carefully devised, as they were in the case of fuel economy, to ensure that they do not impose unjustified costs, especially in an economically difficult period. But just as in that case, it should be possible to work with affected companies to identify flexible and cost-conscious approaches, producing reductions while minimizing regulatory burdens…

For those who seek to reduce the risks associated with climate change, it is ironic but true that the best precedent comes from a conservative icon. The big question now is whether today’s Republicans will follow Reagan’s example.

Of course, the good professor has his pointy head up his butt when it comes to characterizing progressives – especially enviros – as refusing cost-benefit analysis. It’s one of the most boring areas of expertise often over-utilized by today’s activists. The only time it gets problematical is when the folks I fondly refer to as the “New Age Left” get carried away, applying great quantities of ersatz maths to condemn cuckoo farts as critical to reducing carbon emissions.

You know what I mean.

Still, if Professor Sunstein thinks he can convince, say, Darrell Issa or Mitch McConnell to peek at the reams of spreadsheets and computerized projection that scientists have been offering for the last dozen years and more – more power to him. I’m only interested in future generations being able to enjoy life on this planet as much as I have. Perhaps more.

Flood insurance debate resumes as the Party of No waits for hurricane season


Why expect Congress to worry about your flood insurance?

Federal officials are putting fresh pressure on Congress to take action on the National Flood Insurance Program, whose authorization expires at the end of this month, one day before hurricane season begins.

The NFIP has been a political football in Washington for years, particularly because of the unsustainable debt load it took on in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. There is a broad push to reform the program and put it on a sound financial footing, but competing visions on that reform (including whether to forgive the program’s debts) have stalled legislation.

For now the program remains in business with repeated short-term extensions [which is what you get with today's Republicans + Kool Aid Party], though in 2010 it was allowed to lapse for a few weeks. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is warning of serious consequences if that happens again…

Federal law requires that homes in designated flood-risk areas have flood insurance before a mortgage can be completed. Because the NFIP is effectively the only flood insurance available in the United States, a lapse in the program means home sales cannot close in designated flood areas…

For now the debate appears to be focused on whether to move ahead with reform legislation pending in the U.S. Senate or to simply reauthorize the existing program.

FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate, in an April 17 letter to congressional leaders, asked for a two-year reauthorization.

An insurance industry coalition…condemned that request last week…blah, blah, blah.

Are we supposed to believe that Congressional Republicans are motivated by concerns for homeowners who have only the NFIP to rely on for flood insurance? The Tea Party has to call the insurance companies for instructions on how to pee brew their tea. The same old dance of death for the simplest of actions on behalf of citizens.

Given their track record, the right-wing nutballs in Congress will probably want homeowners to give up their right to sue against eminent domain taking of their property – as compensation for being allowed to buy insurance.

Does Bill Gates have enough money to stop hurricanes?

gatescloud

Hurricane experts are throwing cold water on an idea backed by billionaire Microsoft founder Bill Gates aimed at controlling the weather.

Gates and a dozen other scientists have raised eyebrows by submitting patent applications for a technology to reduce the danger of approaching hurricanes by cooling ocean temperatures.

It’s a noble idea, given the horrible memories from Hurricane Katrina, which slammed into the Gulf Coast four years ago this week…

Skeptics applaud the motive of the concept but question its feasibility.

“The enormity of it, in order to do something effective, we’d have to do something at a scale that humans have never really done before,” said Gabriel Vecchi, a research scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration…

Hurricanes are fueled by warm water, and cooling the waters surrounding a storm would slow a storm’s momentum.

According to the patents, many tub-like barges would be placed directly in the path of an oncoming storm. Each barge would have two conduits, each 500 feet long.

One conduit would push the warm water from the ocean’s surface down. The other would bring up cold water where it lies deep undersea.

RTFA. Perfectly understandable. As are the reasons why a lot of folks think it couldn’t work.