El Nino looks set to be strongest ever

These folks had checked weather within 24 hours – still were caught

The developing El Nino is stronger than the last major event of its type in 1997.

According to the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the UK Met Office, this El Nino is shaping up to be the strongest since records began in 1950.

El Nino is a natural phenomenon which occurs every two to seven years and lasts between six and 18 months.

It manifests as a warming of the surface waters of the eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean. The current El Nino is so strong that in some areas sea surface temperatures (SSTs) are more than 2 degrees Celsius above the long-term average.

Aside from the devastating effect that El Nino has on the Peruvian fishing industry, the real significance lies in the change in weather patterns that it produces around the globe.

In the Pacific, the warmer waters in the eastern part of the ocean have spawned more typhoons, super typhoons and hurricanes than usual, with the tracks of those storm systems also being altered considerably. Severe weather conditions have been experienced around the Asia-Pacific region…

In North America, where much of the south and west has been experiencing the worst drought in a century, the El Nino could bring the benefit of rain, although if the El Nino of 1997-98 is anything to go by, that rain could result in severe flooding and deaths.

Yup. Here in New Mexico, many look forward to El Niño. Snowier winters bring lots of tourists to the best powder skiing in the United States. In high desert country, more moisture is always welcome. As long as people are bright enough to stay out of arroyos and away from flash flood danger, the additional precipitation is beneficial.

In the Caribbean, the developing El Nino has already had the opposite effect to the one experienced in the Pacific: namely, it has reduced hurricane frequency by causing an increase in wind shear. This is a change of wind direction and speed with height that can disrupt hurricane formation.

In Africa, El Ninos are associated with drought across southern portions of the continent, and drought in countries such as Zimbabwe, Botswana and South Africa is causing a looming food crisis.

Even Europe is not immune from the effects of an El Nino. If this year’s event follows the pattern of previous ones, then winter weather here could be colder and drier than average and last well into spring.

Regular readers down in Oz are well aware of the dangers El Niño brings to their part of Earth. The fire danger experienced there can be the worst on the planet.

No two El Ninos are the same. There are lots of other short and long-term variables in the global weather patterns, but the coming months could see some unusual and spectacular weather in many parts of the world.

Cleanup suspended at 10 mine sites since the Silverton spill

Click to enlargeLa Plata County, CO


Site investigations and some cleanup work at 10 polluted mining complexes in four states were suspended because of conditions similar to those that led to a massive wastewater blowout from an inactive Colorado gold mine, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials said.

The sites include three in California, four in Colorado, two in Montana and one in Missouri, according to details obtained by The Associated Press following repeated requests for the information.

They have the potential for contaminated water to build up inside mine workings, EPA Assistant Administrator Mathy Stanislaus said. That would set the stage for a possible spill such as last month’s near Silverton, Colorado, where an EPA team triggered a 3 million gallon blowout of toxic sludge while doing excavation work on the inactive Gold King Mine.

The accident fouled rivers in three states and attracted harsh criticism of the EPA for not being prepared despite prior warnings that such a spill could happen…

Cleanup efforts on some of the mines have been going on for years yet remain unfinished, underscoring the complexity of a long-running attempt to address an estimated 500,000 abandoned mines across the U.S. Work on others was in the early stages.

In a report to Congress delivered Friday, the Government Accountability Office said federal agencies identified thousands of contaminated mine sites in recent years — even as their attempts to assess what harm is being done to people and the environment have lagged.

Further investigations were needed to gauge the danger posed by the 10 mining complexes under the suspension before work could safely resume…

That includes categorizing their level of hazard. For those deemed a “probable hazard,” the EPA plans to keep the work stoppage in place until emergency plans are drawn up to deal with any accident…

The Aug. 12 stop-work order from EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy did not apply to sites where halting operations would pose a threat to people or increase the potential for harm to the environment, according to internal EPA documents.

Also exempted were portions of the 10 stopped projects where construction already was completed, such as treatment systems for contaminated water that pours continually from many abandoned mine shafts.

RTFA for a bit more detail on the additional sites, location, etc.. As well as the updated, upgraded emergency procedures added by the EPA’s cleanup contractor.

Feds drop charges against professor – Scientific reality beats Cold War bigots

Xi Xiaoxing, the chairman of Temple University’s physics departmentDavid Maialetti/Philly.com

When the Justice Department arrested the chairman of Temple University’s physics department this spring and accused him of sharing sensitive American-made technology with China, prosecutors had what seemed like a damning piece of evidence: schematics of sophisticated laboratory equipment sent by the professor, Xi Xiaoxing, to scientists in China.

The schematics, prosecutors said, revealed the design of a device known as a pocket heater. The equipment is used in superconductor research, and Dr. Xi had signed an agreement promising to keep its design a secret.

But months later, long after federal agents had led Dr. Xi away in handcuffs, independent experts discovered something wrong with the evidence at the heart of the Justice Department’s case: The blueprints were not for a pocket heater.

Faced with sworn statements from leading scientists, including an inventor of the pocket heater, the Justice Department on Friday afternoon dropped all charges against Dr. Xi, an American citizen.

It was an embarrassing acknowledgment that prosecutors and F.B.I. agents did not understand — and did not do enough to learn — the science at the heart of the case before bringing charges that jeopardized Dr. Xi’s career and left the impression that he was spying for China…

…Dr. Xi’s case, coming on the heels of a similar case that was dismissed a few months ago in Ohio, raises questions about whether the Justice Department, in its rush to find Chinese spies, is ensnaring innocent American citizens of Chinese ancestry…

The science involved in Dr. Xi’s case is, by any measure, complicated…Dr. Xi’s lawyer, Peter Zeidenberg, said that despite the complexity, it appeared that the government never consulted with experts before taking the case to a grand jury…

And the grand jury did what grand juries always think they’re required to do. They handed over an indictment.

Mr. Zeidenberg, a lawyer for the firm Arent Fox, represented both Dr. Xi and Sherry Chen, a government hydrologist who was charged and later cleared in the Ohio case. A longtime federal prosecutor, Mr. Zeidenberg said he understood that agents felt intense pressure to crack down on Chinese espionage, but the authorities in these cases appeared to have been too quick to assume that their suspicions were justified.

In Dr. Xi’s case, Mr. Zeidenberg said, the authorities saw emails to scientists in China and assumed the worst. But he said the emails represented the kind of international academic collaboration that governments and universities encourage. The technology discussed was not sensitive or restricted, he said.

“If he was Canadian-American or French-American, or he was from the U.K., would this have ever even got on the government’s radar? I don’t think so,” Mr. Zeidenberg said…

About a dozen F.B.I. agents, some with guns drawn, stormed Dr. Xi’s home in the Philadelphia suburbs in May, searching his house just after dawn, he said. His two daughters and his wife watched the agents take him away in handcuffs on fraud charges…

Temple University put him on administrative leave and took away his title as chairman of the physics department. He was given strict rules about who at the school he could talk to. He said that made it impossible for him to continue working on a long-running research project that was nearing completion.

Last month, Mr. Zeidenberg delivered a presentation for prosecutors and explained the science. He gave them sworn statements from the experts and implored the Justice Department to consult with a physicist before taking the case any further. Late Friday afternoon, the Justice Department dropped the case “in the interests of justice.”

Nice of the DOJ finally to get round to consideration of justice – instead of continuing to act like obedient little blue minions on the payroll of a government committed to unrelenting Cold War ideology. Our political leaders – the two flavors we’re allowed – are dedicated to the imperial ideal we took over from a poverty-stricken British Empire after World War 2. That this ideology leads the United States further down the path of economic and social corruption is of no concern. That lives and careers may be crushed by bureaucrats is of no concern.

The bigotry and racism that is a central characteristic of American culture is no less strong in our system of justice than daily life. If Professor Xi tried too hard to stand up for his rights, his innocence, he could have died at the stroke of a moment’s decision made by FBI agents with guns drawn.