LOCAL VIEW —A Sneaky Storm—

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The above map shows a low developing off the east coast of the United States, but what it doesn’t show is what clobbered us. Namely, tropical storm Phillippe.

Phillippe existed on the map produced before this one, but the fellows at the weather bureau decided it no longer fit their standards. It was downgraded to the low to the south of the three lows gathered around Cape Hatteras.  Those three lows are undergoing the usual “bombogenesis”that creates our autumnal gales, and Phillippe has been relegated to the status of an appendage in the developing gale’s warm sector. Seemingly the developing gale grabbed the attention of the forecasters, and the ex-tropical-storm was suppose to simply cease to be. The only problem was, someone forgot to tell Phillippe.

Phillippe then proceeded to make the weather bureau look like dopes.  I figure I really have no right to criticize, unless I am on the record with a different forecast, because any fool can criticize weathermen using 20-20 hindsight. It takes guts to stick your neck out when you are dealing with multiple variables and a chaotic system, and most of the time the weather bureau does an amazing job. If you doubt me, try to forecast better than they do. But don’t try it unless your ego can withstand looking more dopey than a dope.

On this occasion I am kicking myself, because I should have gone on record. I was simply too busy with other stuff to put my doubts down in words, as a short post. I’ll put them down now as an afterthought, so you may share my doubts the next time you notice two things.

First, any sort of tropical storm in the warm sector of a developing gale will up the ante. The “Perfect Storm” 1991 had Hurricane Grace to tap. Other autumnal gales have seemed to fail to weaken even when occluded, as if the occlusion was a pipeline of tropical juice, (and at times as if the tropical storm was unwinding and feeding directly into the Gale.) In such cases a gale can give New England staggering amounts of rain. In other cases the upper air trough, digging down into the USA to create the Gale, is “negatively tilted” in such a manner the remnant of a tropical storm (and the gale-center itself) do not head out to sea, but curve inland, and at times the tropical remnant is accelerated north so abruptly that it is as if it is whipped north, and consequently it retains some of its tropical characteristics over waters so cold one ordinary would expect the storm to cease being tropical.

This brings me to my second point, which is that the hurricane center has some new and nit-picky way of defining a tropical storm that, to be a bit rude, seems ludicrous to me. Often it seems a case of “straining at a gnat while swallowing a camel”.

To say Hurricane Sandy was not a hurricane when it came ashore is a prime example, and may have even cost a few people their lives. Saying “Hurricane Sandy no longer exists” causes the average Joe to drop his guard. People don’t respect a “gale” the same way they respect a “hurricane”, and the weather bureau is suppose to serve the public, and not puff the vanity they display when they think they are showing off some sort of prowess, in being able to make some hair-splitting distinction between when a storm is officially “tropical” and when it becomes “extra-tropical”.

To make matters worse, once they have made this distinction, they then take themselves too seriously. Having determined Phillippe was no longer a tropical storm, because they did not put it on their map as more than an appendage, they were caught off guard when it came crashing through New England between the hours of midnight and 3:00 AM. And I’m sure they would be swift to give a multitude of reasons why it was not an actual tropical storm as it crashed through. But someone ought tell them, “If it walks like a duck and swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, it is probably a duck.”

It is amazing how fast such storms come north, when conditions are right. The 1938 hurricane sliced through New England moving at an estimated 60 mph. Likely it had lost its purely tropical characteristics, and there may even some nit-pickers at the weather bureau who can dicker in a nasal voice, “It wasn’t actually a hurricane.” That is how far from the outdoors computers can jail some poor minds, but anyone who quibbles the 1938 hurricane was not a hurricane quacks like a duck.

(Yet nearly all of these quibblers will tell you Hazel was not a tropical disturbance as it completely clobbered Toronto.)

In actual fact Phillippe ripped through New England like a smaller and weaker version of the 1938 storm, with abruptly rising winds and amazing, torrential downpours. Like the 1938 storm it and came and went before many fully registered what hit them. (Because it was weaker, some even slept through the event.)

I am personally praying we can get through this “warm” AMO without a repeat of the 1938 hurricane, because I don’t want to face cleaning up the mess. (It will be a job for the young and strong.) However Philippe is a reminder of what is possible. It shows how speeding tropical “disturbances” do not lose their tropical characteristics in the manner that computer models foresee. (Also Philippe may explain a strange “mini-hurricane” that lore reports bisected New England in the 1700’s.)

At bedtime on October 29 the forecast was “windy and rainy overnight”, but the wind and rains were light as my wife and I were turning in, around 9:00. I told her, “There will be quite a ruckus overnight. A tropical storm will be whipping past.” (How I wish I had posted that.) The last rainfall prediction I’d looked at stated the heaviest rain would be well to our west, over New York State, yet we might get as much as two inches.

Around midnight the wind awoke me. The rain drops were pelting the window as loudly as sleet, and the branches were roaring in a manner that made me glad that most of our leaves were gone. (Such a storm does far more damage when foliage is green). Then I remembered the auto-save on my ancient computer is having problems, and went downstairs to save my last post manually. Smart move. Shortly after I did it the lights blinked, and I had to reboot. After that I decided I might as well stay awake a while, and watched the unreal rains on the radar.

How much did we get? It’s hard to say, as rain gauges overflow at three inches, and not many were in the mood to go out at 1:30 AM, and again at 3:00 AM, to tend to their rain gauges. But empty wheelbarrows left in yards were brimming by dawn, (when they hadn’t been blown over.)  Despite the autumnal drought, the rains earlier in the week and these rains made small ditches torrents. And, as usual, every drain got clogged, as they always do in October gales, because the waters hold a summer’s worth of fallen leaves. Not only do drains clog, but culverts are plugged, as the clogging leaves are not alone, but mixed with twigs and branches and soon covered by sand and pebbles flushed down gutters by the torrents, until the culvert is completely buried:

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After that, water cannot go underground as intended, and rivers rattle cobblestones as big as grapefruits over tar, which makes things look untidy by dawn.

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Fortunately all this water didn’t go roaring through the center of town, because of the “flood control reservoir” upstream. As it is next-door to my Childcare, I took the children out to see how much higher the waters were. I wanted to see if they cared a hoot, and was somewhat surprised to see it did register upon the psyche of children only three and four years old, even if it can’t impress the ignorance of the computer modelers. Phillippe still had a heck of a clout,  passing through New England, though they had officiously pronounced him dead, a thousand miles south.

When you bother leave the cushy armchairs of computer sanctuaries, the outdoors can allow you to be as wise as a three year old. A little child notices when a spot where I allowed them to practice vandalism by smashing water with stones:

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Becomes a place they cannot go because it is under eight feet of water.

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They notice when the looming concrete outlet of the reservoir, eight feet high, is under water.

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They likely notice a lot of other things as well. Why do I say this? Because they haven’t lived as long as I, and can’t call this water level “the highest since 1997”. Also they lack the math to compute the huge amount of water held in check, and are not able to estimate the down-stream floods that would be occurring if not for this flood-control reservoir (and many others like it). Yet, despite this ignorance, they recognized this was one heck of an “event”, and their little jaws dropped, and they looked at me and exclaimed with owlish eyes, and demanded I tell them “why”.

Fortunately I can get off the hook by simply telling them, “Because it is a flood.” I add a word, “flood”, to their vocabulary. I don’t have to hurt their faith in grown-ups by telling them the grown-ups utterly botched the forecast, and the government experts displayed fabulous ineptitude.

What I especially avoid telling trusting children is that some grown-ups actually expect the government, which botched the forecast, to then step in and provide an answer to the ruin Philippe, (whom the government said didn’t exist), caused in certain neighborhoods (a ruin some children were quite aware of, as they had to stay home a day or two, due to the devastation).

The two best estimates, from people I trust (within limits), is that we had either seven-and-a-half or ten inches of rain, overnight. This turned, in places, ditches into ravines that undermined roads and (with the help of gales) toppled electrical poles. People were concerned they might not be able to recharge their cell-phones, and hurried to use dwindling batteries to call up the government, and demanded their roads be repaired and their electricity be restored, as if repairs involved a few clicks on a computer.

Not.

In earlier posts I’ve mentioned I know fellows on the road department, and am familiar with the work involved in fixing a thing as small as a pothole. It is not a virtual thing, involving a click of a computer. It involves sweat, and when the blemish in the road is not a pothole, but an abrupt gully six feet deep, the work involved is much greater.

In earlier posts I’ve also mentioned I’m friends with the fire chief, which may seem an odd factoid to bring up in a flood. But apparently there are some who do not respond by getting buckets and bailing, when their cellars are flooded, but instead call the fire department. The fire department represents the government, and also has pumps, and therefore the fire department needs to fix the problem, when Philippe floods the cellars of certain idiots.

Excuse me? If you bought the house, isn’t the cellar your problem? Or did the government buy your house? Yet people seem to feel their cellar is the problem I should pay taxes to fix.

It would be one thing if the fire department were called a single time for a single emergency, but certain people call the fire department rainstorm after rainstorm.

One fellow bought a house with a cellar so prone to flooding that he actually qualified for FEMA assistance. He had not only a pump, but a generator to run the pump when electricity failed, given to him for free, paid for by taxpayers like me. However, because Philippe was not forecast, he did not expect to lose power, or for his cellar to flood, and he therefore didn’t turn on the free generator and the free pump the government had provided. So he called the fire department at three in the morning, and told them the water in his cellar was nearly up to his electrical box. Then, as the local volunteers, groggy and called from warm beds, arrived, he jabbed a thumb backwards towards the door to his cellar, and went back to bed.

This really happened. I’m not making it up. As a consequence,  the volunteers were irate, and what used to be a freely given gift of good-heated local volunteers will soon be a deed you are charged for. If you want your basement pumped you will pay. (This is much like search-and-rescue now charging the people they search for and rescue.)

What it boils down to is this:

There is an outdoors reality that bureaucrats indoors by computers completely miss.

When this “outdoor reality” does more than tap our shoulders with a little “event” like Philippe, but instead clouts our jaws with a 1938 hurricane, a lot of our neighbors will be utterly helpless. They will call the government on their cell phones and then go back to bed. When they wake up and realize no help has arrived, someone will have to help them.

What are we to do? To a certain degree volunteers can be counted upon to step in as saviors even before the government bureaucrats show up for work, as happened when Harvey flooded Houston.  However beyond that certain point one cannot sit and think someone else will come to the rescue. At that time a person must discover an old fashioned thing called “self-reliance”. The question, looking at certain people, is: “Do they actually have any self-reliance? Or do they assume the mouse of a computer answers all problems?”

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