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New CRS Report on FEMA’s Public Assistance Program

Claire Rubin, the Diva of all things disaster recovery, is on top of the latest developments, including this new CRS policy analysis report on FEMA’s Public Assistance program. Thanks for keeping us all informed Claire!

The Congressional Research Service recently released this report of FEMA’s Public Assistance Grant Program: CRS-FEMA-PA.  The download is 64 pages.

This report provides a great deal of descriptive detail about the program, including the changes needed to comply with the Sandy Recovery Improvement Act. It is longer than most CRS reports. It should be a useful resource for those responsible for disaster response and recovery after a Presidential disaster declaration.

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Ebola Scoreboard Update

Kaci Hickox stands up to Ebola hysteria and politicalization....and wins!

Kaci Hickox stands up to Ebola hysteria and politicalization….and wins!

Just updating  the  Ebola “crisis” in the United States:

Confirmed Ebola cases diagnosed in the United States: 4

Number of those cases contracted in the United States: 2

Number of non-healthcare workers to have contracted Ebola in the U.S.: 0

Number of U.S. citizens to die of Ebola in the United States: 0

Number of foreign-born citizens to die of Ebola in the U.S.: 1


Total confirmed Ebola cases in West Africa since March 2014: 13,015 (per the CDC)

Number of deaths: 4808

How to Decide Proper Public Health Measures for Ebola in the US

Ryan Byoko is one of two Harvard PhD candidates quarantined after returning from Liberia where they developed an Ebola tracking computer system for the Liberian government but did not treat patients with Ebola.

Ryan Boyko is one of two Harvard PhD candidates quarantined in Connecticut after returning from Liberia where they developed an Ebola tracking computer system for the Liberian government.  They did not treat patients with Ebola.

Among all of the hand-wringing, grandstanding, and debate taking place over what protocols are appropriate for implementation in the United States due to Ebola, seems no one is using some fairly easy statistics that would help make the decision easier….

I will use data that is available from Medicins Sans Frontieres (http://www.msf.ca/en/faq-msfs-ebola-response-and-protocols) as the baseline.  Currently they estimate they have 3200 staff working in Ebola affected areas, and the number working since March is “significantly higher”.  24 staff have become infected with Ebola, 7 of whom were international staff.  Most of the individuals  to have contracted Ebola were local staff who contracted it outside of MSF facilities. So 30% of Ebola cases among staff have been international workers.

Let us conservatively estimate that 6000 staff have worked to treat Ebola since March 2014.  To err on the side of caution, let us also assume all 24 staff members to have been infected with Ebola were international workers.

Percentage of workers to have contracted Ebola: 24/6000 x 100= 0.4% =  less than 1 in 200

This would be the worst-case scenario and assumes that every individual does not show symptoms of Ebola until after leaving Africa; AND that they all came to the United States (Remember only 1 MSF volunteer has developed Ebola after their return to the U.S.).  At the most, 1 in 200 returning healthcare workers would develop Ebola illness.  So if you impose quarantine you will quarantine 199 people who won’t get Ebola to catch 1 who will. Remember this is the worst case scenario: the actual probability would be much lower than this worst-case estimate.

Number of non-healthcare workers to be infected by another person with Ebola while in the United States: 0

Estimated number of contacts Ebola patients in U.S. had before being admitted to hospital: 250

Chance of contact getting Ebola outside of healthcare setting: less than 1 in 250

So, using the existing protocols where those who had treated Ebola patients in Africa would self-monitor for symptoms without any form of self-quarantine, there have been NO secondary infections in the United Sates besides healthcare workers in the hospital setting.

Neither self-imposed nor mandatory quarantines are needed at this point to protect the public. The protocols for returning healthcare workers that was in place before the first Ebola case in the U.S. works just fine.  Stop worrying America.   Governors Christie, Cuomo, and others ought to go ahead and ban automobile driving : they will prevent far more deaths and injuries, thus protecting public health to a far greater degree, by doing this than they will by cynically scapegoating valiant healthcare workers returning from Africa. 


All is Not Well on the Good Ship “American Red Cross”: Another Reorganization and More Staff Thrown Overboard

Screenshot (6)

A couple of years ago I applied to become a paid employee at my American Red Cross chapter.  While awaiting word on the hiring decision, I attended the International Association of Emergency Managers annual conference, which that year was held in Las Vegas.  Several of the faculty members from my Masters program at American Military University where also attending.  and I enjoyed the chance to meet and talk with my instructors in person.  At dinner one evening I mentioned to one of the instructors applying at the Red Cross.  He looked at me and said, “Why would you want to cross over to the dark side?  You have it good as a volunteer.  There is someone I want you to talk to…”  The next day he introduced me to someone who had experience at the higher levels of the Red Cross, and he relayed a similar message.  Although I had suspected based upon my own observations, that the world of the paid staff was much different than that of the volunteers, this was the first time anyone had stated this explicitly.  I ended up not getting the job,  Events of late seem to suggest I should be thankful.

In case you hadn’t heard the Red Cross is once again reorganizing and cutting down on paid staff.

For anyone keeping count, I think this will make the third or fourth  significant reorganization/restructuring effort in the last six years. I only became aware of this last week when a county official mentioned hearing something, and asked if it was true.  Turns out it was true.  The North Texas Region is losing approximately a dozen staff at the end of the month, including some of lengthy service.  Red Cross apparently gave them two weeks’ notice.  Isn’t that nice?

I suppose that is a little better than in 2011-2012, when most every paid employee was effectively terminated and had to re-apply for their position.  Job security does not appear to be part of Red Cross culture….unless you are one of the six and seven-figure salary employees. Successful strategic planning also appears absent, as budget issues have once again been given as the reason behind the latest changes.  I seem to remember writing a blog questioning the wisdom of expanding the role of the Red Cross in disaster recovery : if you are not sure you can fund ARC’s disaster relief responsibilities, why would you think it wise to add more commitments?

I am reaching the point where I no longer can, or even want, to try to keep up with all of this internal change.  By the time you figure out what is going on, it is already changing again. And the lack of transparency in how these organizational transformations go from idea to reality shows a shocking lack of respect for those below by those on high at ARC management.

I hope my guess at where ARC is heading with this latest restructuring plan is just my cynicism getting carried away.  The Red Cross wants to give its volunteers more of the responsibility for what has previously been done by paid staff.  I think this means that volunteers will be expected to carry out providing and over-seeing the disaster relief and recovery services that are the fundamental mission of the Red Cross.  Management can rely on the fact that there will be volunteers to fill service delivery needs.  I expect the “professionals” who will have paid positions will be the executives, the marketing people, the public relations people, the fundraising people….not the disaster, logistics, humanitarian relief, and emergency/disaster management professionals.  Many, if not most, of these paid employees will have had no experience in the field of disasters and they  will do their jobs without ever having to spend  a day working on a disaster relief operation. I wonder if some of them ever will.

If this is where all of these changes are heading, it will say in clear terms what the Red Cross thinks is really important. I hope I am wrong. Because if I am right, my many years of Red Cross service will come to an end.

Ebola and Airborne Transmission: The Truth is More Complicated But Worth Understanding

A sudden mutation to the Ebola virus changing its method of transmission  to become primarily airborne route is possible.  Many other types of sudden, random genetic mutations are  equally possible...

A sudden mutation to the Ebola virus changing its method of transmission to a primarily airborne route is possible. Many other types of sudden, random genetic mutations are equally possible…

The possibility that Ebola will mutate into an airborne virus has displayed remarkable resiliency in the news media and online, despite attempts by the CDC to put people at ease.  Of course, no one should be very surprised by this, as the CDC missteps in response to Ebola in Dallas have done much in a short time to tarnish the almost unanimous respect and trust historically given to that agency.  As a consequence, people appear more willing to entertain the alternative voices and alternative interpretations of the situation to fill the sensemaking void they experience once they become unsure they can trust the federal, state, and local government and health officials.  These voices and interpretations range from the uninformed, to the credible, onward to the preposterous, and maybe all the way to the  delusional.   

Perhaps that is why the message of  Michael T. Osterholmt, PhD, Director for the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, has had staying power. His dire warnings about the possibility of Ebola mutating into an airborne virus have garnered him significant media attention recently, and  parts of a recent New York Times Op-Ed piece have been appearing across the internet.   So on the one hand, we have the CDC saying that Ebola is not transmitted through the airborne route but you should stay at least three feet away from an Ebola patient to avoid body fluids which might be expelled (into the air) and land on you.  On the other hand, you have Dr. Osterholmt, and a couple of others, warning that a deadly pandemic is but a viral replication away.

Who is right?  Turns out that the messaging of both sides is inaccurate. In trying to simplify virology for those of  us in the “great unwashed,” certain details appear to have been omitted.  It is often said that “the devil is in the details.” This might apply even more during times of public health emergencies. Let me try my best to provide an overview of what is going on…


The distinction the CDC has drawn between airborne transmission (in the sense of a cough or a sneeze) and large droplets of body fluid being expelled and landing on someone isn’t really consistent with how airborne transmission is defined in the research literature.  That the virus travels through the air is not what is of greatest importance.  Whether or not  inhalation of the virus produces infection is the question of greatest importance.  If transmission can occur through inhalation, then it does not matter whether the virus came in the form of an aerosol, a large droplet, or rode in on the back of a dust mite blown into the air by a vacuum cleaner–that is airborne transmission.  The ability of Ebola Zaire to be transmitted in aerosol form to non-human primates was experimentally shown back in 1995.  The researchers wrote back then:

“Regardless, we have shown that Ebola virus (Zaire
strain) can be transmitted by aerosol in an experimental
primate model. In light of the pathogenicity of human
filovirus infections, health care personnel at risk of
exposure should use precautions to minimize the risk
of aerosol exposure while managing acutely ill haemorrhagic
fever cases of unknown or filoviral aetiology.”

At this point, you may be starting to panic as you think that just maybe the CDC has been hiding something and you can get Ebola from breathing….don’t panic yet….stay with me. In his recent New York Times piece, Dr. Osterholmt  wrote, “In 2012, a team of Canadian researchers proved that Ebola Zaire, the same virus that is causing the West Africa outbreak, could be transmitted by the respiratory route from pigs to monkeys, both of whose lungs are very similar to those of humans.”  What Osterholmt has left out is the fact that aerosol transmission in non-human primates had already been shown possible experimentally about 7 years earlier.  Seen in this light, the 2012 findings should not be completely shocking.  He also fails to mention that the researchers of the 2012 study specifically point out that the methodology of the study prevented them from any ability to determine the specific manner by which airborne transmission occurred (the distance separating the pigs from the monkeys was 20 centimeters…rather close quarters):

“The design and size of the animal cubicle did not allow to distinguish whether the transmission
was by aerosol, small or large droplets in the air, or droplets
created during floor cleaning which landed inside the NHP cages (fomites).”

You can read the actual 2012 research article here.

But the worst omission by Osterholmt is his failure to place these animal studies within the context of human to human Ebola transmission.  Beginning with the 1995 research and continuing to recent articles, including this 2013 study on aerosol Ebola transmission in non-human primates, authors have repeatedly observed that there has never been a single confirmed case of airborne Ebola transmission between humans.  The authors of the 1995 study hypothesized the reason for this could be that insufficient amounts of virus exist and are shed from the human respiratory system, or become airborne, to produce infection.  If this were to be the case then airborne transmission would be possible but the circumstance necessary for transmission to occur (a large quantity of infected body fluid entering the respiratory system of a non-infected individual). This possibility is given credence by the fact that Ebola, even when transmitted experimentally by airborne means, is not a respiratory illness.  In aerosol experiments, though there is lung involvement, the initial target of the virus appears to be the pulmonary lymph nodes where it can access the immune system and organs such as the liver and spleen.  Thus, airborne transmission, at best, is a possible secondary means of infection……theoretically possible but unlikely to improbable.

To explain all of this is no easy task, and so I now think the CDC has not been trying to hide anything or attempting to backtrack on how the virus is transmitted.  I think they have been trying to explain the transmission of Ebola as simply as possible to be understood by the greatest number of people.  As we saw in the early days of HIV, no matter what the science says or how hard it tries to explain the details, there are going to be people who will believe officials are hiding something.

Finally, the concerns raised by Osterholmt and others that Ebola might suddenly mutate into an airborne menace…..a sensationalistic, fear-inducing load of bollocks.  This requires a virus, already possessing a mode of transmission that has evolved an effective means for quickly reaching the target cells in the host necessary for the virus to replicate itself, to mutate so that a less efficient and effective secondary mode of transmission becomes its primary mode.  Essentially a virus affecting the immune system would mutate into a respiratory illness.  Such a radical mutation in a human virus has never been observed or documented….ever.

I suppose it is possible.  It is also possible that a random mutation could result one day in the birth of pigs with wings.

Looking on the Bright Side of Ebola

Zaire ebolavirus, deadliest of the five known species of genus Ebolavirus, and member of the Filovirus family.

Zaire ebolavirus (EBOV), deadliest of the five known species of genus Ebolavirus, and member of the Filovirus family.

CDC estimates there will be approximately 550,000 reported cases (1.4 million cases when unreported cases are estimated in) in West Africa by January 2015.

CDC estimates there will be approximately 550,000 reported cases (1.4 million cases when unreported cases are estimated in) in West Africa by January 2015.

So the Ebola virus has finally landed in the United States….and in my hometown, to boot!  Even better, when Ebola came to town, the ER staff at Presbyterian Hospital apparently “screwed the pooch” and sent a likely contagious Ebola patient back into the community for 48 hours.

There is a bright side to look at in all of this…

If you wanted a worst case scenario with which to evaluate the likely spread of Ebola in the United States, this is the perfect opportunity.  I myself am expecting perhaps one or two individuals (probably among those who were staying with him), at most, to contract Ebola from this initial case.  Hopefully this will quiet any fears that Ebola is going to wipe us all out.  No, there are plenty of other viral candidates out there to become the next great pandemic: it won’t be Ebola.

This is also a good chance for Public Health and Emergency Management to take notice: people do not react to possible public health emergencies the same as they do for physical hazards and disasters (with the possible exception of radiation hazards).  It appears that when the threat comes to us in invisible, silent, and deadly forms, people begin to lose some rationality.  This fear can make them do odd things, like residents at the apartments the Ebola patient was staying at saying they would need to move out.   PH and EM officials need to take this into consideration when deciding who to tell, when to tell them, what to tell them, how to tell them, and how often to tell them.  Don’t assume that everyone in the community will share in your cool, scientific, rational view of the threats.

We should also not forget the patient, who seems in all of this to have become a thing, not a person.  Our thoughts and prayers should be with Mr. Duncan and his family and friends during what is most likely one of the most terrifying experiences they have ever known.

Finally, most of us should be thankful that we are fortunate enough to be of a time and place to have little to fear from Ebola. And we should have compassion for the millions living in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia, where living with the threat of death from Ebola is a very real fact of life.

The High Cost of Fear: What Has Spending Nearly $ 1 Trillion on Homeland Security Since 9-11 Bought You?


With Police Forces Like This Who Needs a National Guard?  But does it deter terrorism?

With Police Forces Like This Who Needs a National Guard?
But does it deter terrorism?
(image courtesy  of http://www.bravenewfilms.org/policemilitblog)

Mueller and Stewart's 2011 estimate of Post-9-11 Homeland Security Spending (from Slate.com).

Mueller and Stewart’s 2011 estimate of Post-9-11 Homeland Security Spending (from Slate.com).

The recent activities and brutal atrocities of ISIS/ISL in Iraq and Syria have dominated the national news media and  the national attention for several weeks now.  I find some coverage, particularly any suggesting an army of foreign and American-born terrorists has crossed our borders and  now live among us, waiting to unleash wave after wave of evil upon our nation, to be sensationalistic fearmongering of the worst kind.   

Probabilities are that Jihadist Jim did not just move in next door to you.

Or perhaps it is not the probability that matters to you.  The possibility that Jihadist Jim could have moved in next door is more important than the improbability this has actually happened.  If this is you, then congratulations are due you sir/madam! You might have a bright future working for the Department of Homeland Security assessing terrorism risks and overseeing how billions of dollars in the DHS budget will be spent.

This period of heightened terrorism fears is a good time for the interested reader to look at Mueller and Stewart’s 2011 paper on homeland security expenditures, as well as the lack of acceptable risk analysis and cost-benefit analysis upon which to justify the expenditures.  The National Research Council  has also taken issue for a number of years with the methodology of DHS assessments of risk.  These issues are expressed in a  2008 report on DHS’s Analysis of Bioterrorism Risks, and a 2010 report on the use of Risk Analysis at DHS.

Perhaps you think that nearly a trillion dollars spent on homeland security is money well-spent if it in any way reduces the chance of a successful terrorist attack.  I think DHS needs to show its expenditures have provided us with the highest level of risk reduction in the most cost-effective ways possible.  Otherwise we are wasting our money and creating illusions of homeland security.

One final thing….if you really are worried about the possibility of Jihadist Jim living next door, remember that your own coronary arteries, or All-American Bob who runs a stop sign in his SUV, are ultimately far more likely to be the cause of your demise….


http://www.economist.com/blogs/graphicdetail/2013/02/daily-chart-7 Odds of dying in a terrorist attack: approximately 20 million to 1.

Gamma-Ray Bursts and the Patron Saints of Disaster Studies and Sciences

Artist's conception of what a gamma-ray burst might look like as it erupts from the collapsing core of a once-massive star...(http://www.nasa.gov/centers/goddard/news/topstory/2003/0618rosettaburst.html)

Artist’s conception of what a gamma-ray burst might look like as it erupts from the collapsing core of a once-massive star…the two jets erupting along a single plane is the burst.  Even a burst that lasts only a second or so releases more energy in that time than our own sun will release in its entire lifetime.(http://www.nasa.gov/centers/goddard/news/topstory/2003/0618rosettaburst.html)

The Patron Saints of Emergency and Disaster Management: Sisyphus, doomed to forever fail in his efforts to reach the top with his boulder; Cassandra, who was given the gift of perfect prophecy but cursed to never be believed; and Charlie Brown, ever hopeful but forever thwarted from football-kicking success.

The Patron Saints of Disaster Studies and Sciences: Sisyphus, doomed to forever fail in his efforts to reach the top with his boulder; Cassandra, who was given the gift of perfect prophecy but cursed to never be believed; and Charlie Brown, ever hopeful but forever thwarted from football-kicking success.

Today I am talking about gamma ray bursts and patron saints of the field.  There is a connection.  I promise.

If you have followed my blog for awhile, you might have noticed my fascination with gamma-ray bursts, one of my favorite, though statistically unlikely, scenarios for wholesale planetary destruction. The phenomenon of the gamma-ray burst fascinates me because of how such an event, which travels at near the speed of light,  plays with our concepts of what is the present and what is the past.  It is similar to the same amazement when I ponder the idea that when I am looking at the sun, I am not seeing it as it is now, but rather as it was approximately eight minutes ago.  

If the Earth were to be destroyed by a burst tomorrow, then that burst would have likely been travelling towards us for 500-5,000 years since it was first emitted from a dying star’s core  final collapse into a black hole or neutron star.  Yet the moment we first see the light of the burst is not only our first awareness that a gamma-ray burst has occurred, it is also our final moments of existence: a bit like someone being killed today by a bullet fired 50 years ago from the other side of the world.

I don’t bring up the topic of gamma-ray bursts today because I felt the need to explain my curious fascination with them.  In fact, I was minding my own business when  the topic recently came looking for me in two different contexts.

About three weeks ago Dr. Ilan Kelman was kind enough to visit my blog and offer a thoughtful reply to my criticism of the frequently expressed idea that there are really no  “natural” disasters, which Dr. Kelman extends to include the idea that there are also no  “natural” hazards either.  The gamma-ray burst figures rather prominently in the discussion as possible proof that not all hazards/disasters are caused/influenced by the decisions of humans.  Last week I was revisiting the topic of the bursts in writing a reply to Dr. Kelman’s comments.

That I should be revisiting the topic of gamma-ray bursts last week was made all the more amusing by the fact that only a few days before, on November 21st, scientists revealed that on April 27th of this year, Earth was hit by a gamma-ray burst.  And this was no ordinary burst.  Satellites and researchers around the world collected data on the brightest and most energetic gamma-ray burst ever discovered.  The burst bombarded our planet for an unprecedented twenty hours (most bursts last only fractions of a second to several minutes).  Based on calculations completed since the event, astrophysicists believe the burst to be the largest single release of energy since the Big Bang.

“Well, why are we still here, then?” I hear you wondering.  Lucky for us, this particular burst originated from a galaxy in the neighborhood of the constellation Leo approximately 3.6 billion light years away, 3.6 billion years ago.  Naturally, having traveled such a distance over the course of 3.6 billion years, the burst was far too tired by the time it arrived on April 27th to cause much trouble for  our atmosphere.  Had the same burst originated from within our own galaxy, there would have been no May this year….nor June, July, August, etc.,…ever again. April 2013 would most likely have been the last month in the history of a habitable Earth.

This brings me to what gamma ray bursts have to do with my suggestions for the field’s patron saints….

During a session on resiliency at the Hazards Workshop in July, Claire Rubin said she felt she was more pessimistic than other panelists regarding how much disaster resiliency we can really achieve in the near future.  I don’t think she was being pessimistic at all…I think she was being realistic.  I bring up the topic of gamma-ray bursts because it reminds me of a simple fact: time is always against us.  Yet, in our preparations and planning for disasters, we always seem to believe we have another day, another week, or even a few more years to get things right.  But, in terms of disasters, there will never be enough time, or resources, or money, to get things right.  There are just too many hazards, too many possible disasters.  We will always be behind the curve….Even if we think we have planned well for events we believe are probable, it will be one of the less probable events (an event we most certainly would have gotten around to better preparing for, if only we had more time and money…) that will catch us off guard.  

We play the lotto in reverse: everyday we don’t hit the jackpot is a win.  Most of the time, fortunately, probability says we won’t hit the disaster jackpot.  Eventually we will.  

My suggestions for patron saints are meant to remind us that the work of Disaster Studies and Sciences is without end.  The prevention of all disasters, on the whole, may well be largely futile.  Despite our best efforts, disasters, catastrophes, and cataclysms are likely to continue until the end of the human race.  But the attempt, however futile,  to prevent these events, and the suffering they cause,  is also necessary, noble, and very human.

Using the National Severe Storms Laboratory’s WDSS-II for Real-Time Tornado Path Tracking

Archive data from the NSSL's Warning Decision Support System-Integrated Information (WDSS-II) showing storm rotation tracks of rotating supercells across the Southeast on April 27, 2011

Archive data from the NSSL’s Warning Decision Support System-Integrated Information (WDSS-II) showing storm rotation tracks of rotating supercells across the eastern one-third of the U.S. on April 27, 2011, day 3 of the historic April 25th-28th Super Outbreak.  These are not the tornado tracks themselves, but rotation signatures of the parent storms. In real-time, these tracks can be used to roughly estimate tornado paths–any tornado  paths will run parallel and near to the rotation tracks.  

I have been very fortunate in my work with the Red Cross to have worked under individuals willing to embrace technology and explore new techniques for improving the difficult task of Disaster Assessment.  I have learned much from them.

On my first national deployment in 2011, which started out as a tornado disaster relief operation, and eventually transitioned into a flood relief operation, I had the pleasure to work under Lou Fuentes, a DA Manager from Illinois.  Lou, a veteran of Vietnam where he was a Huey door gunner, is no spring chicken (who says innovation and technological integration belong only to the young?).  He introduced me to the USGS stream gauges and how to incorporate them into Google Maps and Google Earth.  Lou would also introduce me to the idea of using Google Maps to build easily shared situation maps. Lou would later introduce me to Robert Althauser and the group of volunteers who would become the fledgling Red Cross Virtual Disaster Assessment Team (VDAT).

Through VDAT I have had the opportunity to work with, and learn from, Steve Klapp, a humorous and quietly brilliant Red Cross Manager out of Norman, Oklahoma.  Steve introduced me about two years ago to the National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL) and its Warning Decision Support System-Integrated Information (WDSS-II), which provides a variety of real-time and archive severe storm Doppler radar data (both basic data and experimental measures) that can be displayed in Google Earth.  Through his use of real-time storm rotation and low level shear data, Steve has nearly perfected the process of estimating tornado paths as they happen, something that I am still learning (the use of the low level shear in this way is slightly different than ongoing work by NSSL and other meteorologists to find algorithms that use 0-2 km az shear to predict tornado formation- an example of this work can be found here).

I am not going to attempt to explain here how the path mapping is done, or how it can be done from almost any computer with an internet connection.  No, my intention today is simply to share some of the work Steve has done, and show some of what is possible in real-time Disaster Assessment…perhaps things, like me, you previously had no idea existed.

Here are the storm rotation tracks from the April 3, 2012 DFW Tornado Outbreak:

Storm rotation tracks

The white lines are Steve’s initial tornado path estimates, sent to me within an hour or so of the last tornado.  The red lines are the NWS’s  paths as found during damage surveys over the course of several days.  The storm rotation tracks and tornado paths do not correlate 1:1, nor are they expected to. It does, however, provide a rapid  and reasonably accurate snapshot of locations where attention should be focused.  Notice that almost all of the errors are false positives (rotation track but no tornado) which tells you that you are unlikely to find a tornado or significant damage somewhere there is no storm rotation track:

Combined Capture

Steve was also very busy this past May. Here are some images of the May 31st El Reno tornado as seen using WDSS-II’s real-time 30 minute maximum low level shear, and relative wind velocity data.  The white area in the first image indicates maximum low-level shear: the tornado’s current location.  The yellow pushpins show previous locations of maximum low-level shear.  Taken together, the pushpins show the path. The second two images are the relative velocity Doppler data…Steve told me he wasn’t sure at first he believed what he was seeing, so he confirmed it using the relative velocity– what he was seeing was an area of rotation near the ground (0-2 km) at least two miles wide.  He was, in fact, accurately capturing the tornado, which would eventually reach a record 2.6 mile width.

El Reno 1

El Reno 2

El Reno 3

This image shows final results: storm rotation track (wide white line); Steve’s preliminary track (blue line) and confidence intervals (narrow white lines); NWS preliminary track (red line)  

11-21-2013 12-53-38 AM

Here is the final path from NWS Norman:


What I have shown  is only a small sampling of the tornadoes Steve for which has used this method, which includes: 2011 Joplin tornado; 2013 Moore Tornado; November 17, 2013 Outbreak.

Considering that these tracks are generated within minutes to hours of the actual event, I would say Steve is on to something. Such accurate information so quickly can make for better impact assessment, damage assessment, as well as overall response planning.

If You Were Paying Attention to the Storm Prediction Center, the November 17th Tornado Outbreak Was No Surprise

If you are not familiar with the useful products of the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center (SPC), the November 17th tornado outbreak may have caught you by surprise.  It shouldn’t have.  Here is an overview showing how the outbreak was forecast, using SPC products that are publicly available….

2:30 am (08:30 UTC) Friday,  September 15th, 2013: SPC issues its Day 3 Outlook (covering Sunday Sept 17th) showing a slight risk (15-30% probability of severe storms within 25 miles of any point in the area) over the upper midwest.  The appearance of Slight Risk area 48+ hours in advance should raise red flags that something big is possibly brewing

Sept 15 2013 230am

11:30 am (17:30 UTC) Saturday,  September 16th, 2013: SPC issues its Day 2 Outlook  showing the risk has now increased to Moderate (30-45% probability of severe storms within 25 miles of any point in the area) with a risk (10% or greater) for significant severe weather, which includes torndoes EF2 or stronger (the hatched area)….Moderate Risk areas on Day 2 Outlooks frequently become High Risk areas on Day 1, usually indicating a significant severe weather outbreak is imminent…

Sept 16 2013 1130am

11:56 pm,  September 16th, 2013 (05:56 UTC September 17th): SPC issues its Day 1 Outlook (which covers Sunday because Outlooks are dated and timed according to UTC/GMT/Zulu time) shows the risk has now become High….the 30% tornado probability (High Risk) should also make the hair on the back of your neck stand up, even if a one-in-three chance may not seem like much.  You must remember that tornadoes are really quite rare at any specific location in the United States. If we conservatively say the High Risk area’s average probability of a tornado on any given day of they year is 0.75%, then the tornado probability for today has increased 40 times! If I told you that tomorrow you were 40 times more likely to be in a car accident, you would probably decide to stay home….

Also, when the SPC talks of severe storm probabilities, they are not using it as an “all-or-none” prediction.  Because the probability is defined  by the SPC as the chance of an event within 25 miles of any point in the area, then the larger the area, the more likely the event will occur somewhere.  If the area is 250 x 250 miles, then a 10% probability translates into a range of actual outcomes: the area might see between 0 and 3 events.  The higher risk categories of Moderate and High Risk, and the associated probabilities,  also indicate the maximum intensity of severe events that may occur:  not only will there be more events, they are more likely to include the upper end of the intensity spectrum.  This means, in severe weather terms, hail larger than 2 inches in diameter, downburst winds in excess of 80 mph, and tornadoes EF-2 or greater.

Sept 16 9pm

2:09 am Sunday,  September 17th, 2013: SPC Issues first Mesoscale Discussion for the area indicating severe potential increasing and that a weather watch may be needed in the future…

11-19-2013 5-10-59 PM

7:00 am (13:00 UTC) Sunday,  September 17th, 2013: Latest Day 1 Convective Outlook shows High Risk of severe storms and tornadoes. Public Severe Weather Outlook statement also has been issued…

September 17 7am

7:47 am Sunday,  September 17th, 2013: New Mesoscale Discussion indicates Watch may be needed by mid-to-late morning for the area…. 

11-19-2013 5-11-30 PM

8:40 am Sunday,  September 17th, 2013: PDS Tornado Watch #561 issued..

11-19-2013 5-13-12 PM

9:36 am Sunday,  September 17th, 2013: NWS Chicago issues first of what will become many Tornado Warnings issued by NWS Forecast Offices in the upper Midwest….

11-19-2013 6-47-36 PM

 10:01 am Sunday,  September 17th, 2013: New Mesoscale Discussion indicates another Tornado Watch will be needed….

11-19-2013 5-12-14 PM

 11:20 am Sunday,  September 17th, 2013: PDS Tornado Watch #562 issued..

11-19-2013 6-40-31 PM

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