Outspoken hurricane scientist Ivor van Heerden cut loose by LSU

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 12:38 PM GMT on April 14, 2009

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Louisiana State University (LSU) will not renew the contract of controversial hurricane scientist Ivor van Heerden, according to nola.com . Dr. van Heerden has been stripped of his title as deputy director of the LSU Hurricane Center, and will lose his job in May 2010. The Director of the LSU Hurricane Center, engineering professor Marc Levitan, resigned from that post in protest over the firing of van Heerden. LSU has given no reason why it is removing Dr. van Heerden, but said it was not because of his performance. Van Heerden, who holds a Ph.D. degree in marine sciences from LSU, was one of the most outspoken scientists on the vulnerability of New Orleans before Katrina struck in 2005. He worked extensively with FEMA, the Army Corps of Engineers, and political figures at the local, state, and U.S. Congressional levels to try to improve New Orleans' disaster readiness. In the aftermath of the storm, he provided support for the search and rescue efforts and plugging of the levee breaches, then headed one of the teams assigned to figure out what caused the levees to fail. PBS's NOVA did a nice story on him in 2006, featuring interviews before and after Katrina. He was highly critical of the Army Corps of Engineers and politicians at the local, state, and federal level for allowing the Katrina disaster to happen, and for their abysmal response to the storm's aftermath.

It is no surprise that van Heerden has been fired, as he has also been very critical of the LSU administration. His May 2006 book, The Storm: What went wrong and why during Hurricane Katrina--the inside story from one Louisiana scientist, (see my review), tells of a case in November 2005 after Katrina where two LSU assistant chancellors told him to stop talking to the press, because it was "hurting LSU's quest for federal funding across the board." Van Heerden further remarked:

A balanced view on research is lacking at many universities obsessed with competing for the big brownie points, where upper administrators' egos and boasting rights are more important than solving problems to the benefit of society at large. You would think that our work before, during, and after Katrina might have turned some heads at LSU, but not really. Witness the gag order placed on me by the school during the levee investigation a couple of months later (soon rescinded with apologies)

Van Heerden is a big proponent of building a flood protection system that will protect Louisiana from a Category 5 hurricane. He proposes doing this by restoring wetlands, building armored levees, and installing huge flood gates on Lake Pontchartrain, similar to what the Dutch use to protect their country from the North Sea. I especially like his emphasis on the importance of doing good science. He is not a fan of what politicians and business leaders do with good science:

The science is the easy part. The hard part is overcoming the narrow-mindedness and selfishness of politics and business as usual. For decades the two have undermined plan after plan to restore wetlands, build new ones, and thereby protect people and property. They have played hell with improving the existing levee system. We must do better now, or we can kiss it all good-bye for good. I was not exaggerating in the introduction when I said that politics and business as usual in Louisiana will eventually put everything below Interstate 10 underwater. Science and engineering can save the day, but not if they're censored or manipulated. If that's to be the case, just shelve them and start packing. It's over.

According to an article in The Nation, Dr. van Heerden is scheduled to testify in a trial that begins in federal court on April 20. Judge Stanwood Duval will rule on a claim by six homeowners that the Corps failed to heed environmental laws in building and maintaining the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet shipping shortcut, which they claim led to the catastrophic flooding of New Orleans during Katrina. A second trial will begin shortly after that--a large class action suit seeking hundreds of millions in damages from the Corps. When Dr. van Heerden was first asked to testify at these trials in spring 2007, LSU's then-president, Sean O'Keefe, told plaintiffs' attorneys that if van Heerden testified against the Corps he would be fired (O'Keefe had served as head of NASA under George W. Bush between 2001 - 2005, and stepped down as LSU chancellor in January 2008). According to van Heerden, the LSU president said "nobody from LSU was going to embarrass the Bush administration or upset the major Republican companies that benefit from Corps of Engineers contracts." LSU has officially blocked Dr. van Heerden from testifying as an "expert witness" in the upcoming trials, but he can still testify as a "fact witness".

Regardless of where he winds up next, I'm sure Van Heerden will continue to voice his valuable views on the science of what is best for Louisiana and New Orleans. In an interview with the Associated Press, Dr. van Heerden said Friday he would appeal the college's decision and was considering legal action. "Before going that route, I hope LSU will recognize the signal they've sent to the world is that academic freedom does not exist at LSU. The folks who are going to lose in this is LSU, not me. I will find a job rather easily. There have already been some offers."

Less politics and better science would go a long ways towards reducing our vulnerability to hurricanes. Ivor van Heerden has been a much-needed critical voice in advocating this, and I applaud his tenacity in calling it as he sees it. Louisiana very much needs Dr. van Heerden's input over the coming decades on how to move ahead to protect the vulnerable coast of the state against the twin threats of hurricanes and rising sea levels. The move by Louisiana's flagship university to silence his voice should concern everyone in the path of the next Katrina.

Jeff Masters

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What is an Omega block??
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
According to the NHC: "TROPICAL WAVE-LIKE FEATURE...ANALYZED AS A SFC TROUGH IS ALONG
13W FROM 6N TO THE EQUATOR."

Trough like this is being supported by an expansive upper level ridge.
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My apologies if this double posts my PC had a hickup

One other note and I will be out for a while, I see an Omega block setting in over the eastern US. Is that happeing ? L8R


Member Since: June 12, 2005 Posts: 6 Comments: 8185
he White House has distanced itself from the analysis. When asked for comment on its contents, White House spokesman Nick Shapiro said, "The President is focused not on politics but rather taking the steps necessary to protect all Americans from the threat of violence and terrorism regardless of its origins. He also believes those who serv
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can't belive the drought monitor has most of Florida in a moderate drought with possible flooding, that sites nuts@
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One other note and I will be out for a while, I see an Omega block setting in over the eastern US. Is that happeing ? L8R
Member Since: June 12, 2005 Posts: 6 Comments: 8185
he White House has distanced itself from the analysis. When asked for comment on its contents, White House spokesman Nick Shapiro said, "The President is focused not on politics but rather taking the steps necessary to protect all Americans from the threat of violence and terrorism regardless of its origins. He also believes those who serv
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Quoting Orcasystems:
Complete Blog Refresh, with New Weather/CritterCam
Mirror Site
Current Home weather station data.

Daily Area of Interest
Click to enlarge


That is cool orca, you have individual/personal sites posted on the radar when clicked and blown up. OK, except me, how much does it cost ?
Member Since: June 12, 2005 Posts: 6 Comments: 8185
Complete Blog Refresh, with New Weather/CritterCam
Mirror Site
Current Home weather station data.

Daily Area of Interest
Click to enlarge
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We just had a 10 minute power outage in Port st. Lucie. it's really windy here.
Member Since: August 12, 2007 Posts: 2 Comments: 2838
Quoting severstorm:
225 your on the ne side of Tampa correct?


Due north about 15 miles. In Wesley Chapel
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Quoting KEHCharleston:
re:240. Ossqss
My favorite microwave trick.

- use a clear drinking glass
- pour in enough water to cover the metal part of an incandescent light bulb
- place bulb in glass (metal covered by water)
- place in microwave
- hit the on button - lightbulb will glow.


It absolutely worked great. The kids loved it, but my wife has sent me to timeout for 10 minutes for doing something that I was not supposed to in front of the kids with her microwave. Another catastophic success. Be back in 10 minutes. I will not ask how you figured this out.
Member Since: June 12, 2005 Posts: 6 Comments: 8185
re:240. Ossqss
My favorite microwave trick.

- use a clear drinking glass
- pour in enough water to cover the metal part of an incandescent light bulb
- place bulb in glass (metal covered by water)
- place in microwave
- hit the on button - lightbulb will glow.
Member Since: August 19, 2008 Posts: 6 Comments: 2490
I'll be it is very far south, high shear, and a .01% chance of development, its still very interesting and gets the hurricane juices flowing!
I don't know why, but I think this has something to do with the strange lightning item I saw earlier. Perhaps the plasma show, or just the fact that it happened across my search prior to finding something better for the example. He could have atleast cleaned the pepperoni out of his microwave first, ya think?


Member Since: June 12, 2005 Posts: 6 Comments: 8185
Hmmm, a Tropical Wave on April 14th and going to be a normal season?! Hmmm...
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Quoting Skyepony:
Hiexpress~ any whitewater? Tough to find anything above a class one in FL without a good flood.
Actually the Suwanee, Santa Fe and Ichetucknee backup and slow down at flood.
The only decent Fla white water that I know of is the rapids south of St Rd 6 on the Suwanee when the river is not at flood. Be carefull. You can get hurt there.
Addendum: Beware "Big Shoals". Part of the rapids system. Very dangerous. Best to walk around that puppy.
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Close Strike..

Quoting Patrap:
Great Book on Lightning


Lightning: Sheets, Streaks, Beads, and Balls (First Book) (Library Binding)


Editorial Reviews
Product Description
Discusses ancient legends about lightning as well as what scientists have learned about this phenomenon in recent years and includes information about thundercloud and lightning formation, types of lightning, and safety tips.


Awe, cr@pacola, more homework! Can't ya find us a movie? And not the singularity thing. I am still trying to realign my singlular brain cell from that one.
Member Since: June 12, 2005 Posts: 6 Comments: 8185
question, is the warm front along the carolina/VA border moving northward?
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Great Book on Lightning


Lightning: Sheets, Streaks, Beads, and Balls (First Book) (Library Binding)


Editorial Reviews
Product Description
Discusses ancient legends about lightning as well as what scientists have learned about this phenomenon in recent years and includes information about thundercloud and lightning formation, types of lightning, and safety tips.
Hey all , witnessed a first in my weather experience. Having a cold beverage of choice at a local provider, outside. We saw a long distance bolt of lightning strike a few miles from the seat. The lightning was like none I have seen previously. The bolt, very strong and from a far distance, produced small embers as a fuse would on a firecracker. It literally, made about 50 little small balls of fire in the air from top to bottom along its path. If it were not for several others who saw it also, I would have thought someone spiked my beverage. This occurred at the intersection of SR70 and I75 at about 6:30pm. I have no clue as to what may have been vaporized as part of that strike, but something burned. Live and learn. I wonder, has this been witnessed prior?
Member Since: June 12, 2005 Posts: 6 Comments: 8185
around....sorry fingers dont work long day.
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I think i saw the one your talkin about on the wunderground radar. out aroung Oldsmar Fl.
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225 your on the ne side of Tampa correct?
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Very active day here in north Tampa. Got to see inside a wall cloud, and stood under a funnel cloud right before touchdown. Great day :)
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Dr. Ivor van Heerden, of LSU's Hurricane Center, shows the
two things that can be done, aside from building better levees, to
prevent a Katrina rerun.

This is from 2 years ago,..Harry Shearer,a New Orleans advocate interviewed Van Heerden ,and he speaks then of LSU making his Life miserable.
This story is Known by many locally here and the LSU decision wasnt much of a surprise.



I well remember the Flak over Bill Proenza and Quickscat...in 07.

That got wild and wooly too and was a mess for months.

This Ivor/LSU Flap will go national in a Hurry now.


Eggcellent.

222. N3EG
Quikscatted: When a person in the weather community is fired for his or her opinions.
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220. N3EG
Quoting Vortex95:
oh btw recently one of my friends invited me into the strange world of chem trails and to me i'm not really buying into it. Is there any basis to this or is it just another conspiracy theory.


We see "chemtrails" off the PNW coast here. It's a bunch of hooey, in my opinion.
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Quoting Patrap:
Quikscatted..

Another Urban Dictionary entry for sure.
Kinda rolls off the tongue well too.


LOL


Now you are being nasty.
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12461
I know KEH..its very confusing to me too..and I got a yardstick.

"Quikscatted"..

Another Urban Dictionary entry for sure.
Kinda rolls off the tongue well too.


LOL
209. Patrap
Hi there Pat,

Please feel free to correct the NOLA elevation stats. 'Goggling' gave me sites with different stats. One said -10 feet (that did not seem right - so I went with the -4ft)

EDIT(In any case NOLA and Charleston both at elevations that are equal to storm surges that have been seen over the last few decades. No doubt about it wetlands will play a huge factor in each cities success in minimizing hurricane effects)

Member Since: August 19, 2008 Posts: 6 Comments: 2490
Quoting N3EG:
It appears that Van Heerden got "Quikscatted"...


Now I will not be able to think about QuikScat without tying a poo-fast to it. Thanks. LOL.
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12461
I was Taz's buddy Long fer you had a Handle duff.

210. N3EG
It appears that Van Heerden got "Quikscatted"...
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One more point
I am amazed that folks in flood prone areas, or along rivers do not build their houses
on pilings - what is that all about?


The same reason folks in San Diego,L.A. Build on the outcroppings of Cliffs.
And folks Build on the Red River and Mighty Mo as well.
Its cuz they can and its their Home.

Your NOLA elevations stats are "vary wrong" too.


LOL



Ivor van Heerden - What a great name for a scientist - Wow, did his parents have him pegged, or what?.

Regarding van Heerden's work.
I have not heard anyone discredit van Heerden's science or his findings. Sounds like van Heerden, realized the problems, determined what was needed, sounded the trumpet and then no one responded - I quote Patrap Post #48.

It was Dr. Ivor van Heerden that wrote the science in The PAM exercise from 04.
It showed.almost EXACTLY what would happen to NOLA and the surrounding Parishes.

Not one FEMA ,State,or Federal official pulled the Book off the shelf and used it as a outline on what to do.
Ivor was ridiculed then for warning many about the Levee's,Federally Built,..

The exercise used realistic weather and damage information developed by the National

Weather Service, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the LSU Hurricane Center and other
state and federal agencies to help officials develop joint response plans for a
catastrophic hurricane in Louisiana.


Regarding firing of van Heerden:
Not sure that non-renewal of contract would be considered a firing. If Louisanna works anything like South Carolina, firing van Heerden might have set up all sorts of problems for LSU
1)He could apply for unemployment benefits (then LSU would have to defend their reasons for firing - or pay up)
2)LSU might be constrained in their comments. (Not allowed to make negative comments, give negative recommendation, etc ) Not sure if this is a legal or liability issue. van Heerden could say what ever he wanted, LSU would not be able to defend their actions.

Regarding van Heerden's comments (STIR STICK OPINION WARNING)
I was bothered that van Heerden quoted the LSU president as saying "nobody from LSU was going to embarrass the Bush administration or upset the major Republican companies that benefit from Corps of Engineers contracts."
Excuse me? I cannot believe that anyone would say "Republican" companies". Not only does it not roll off the tongue naturally, it seems to me that the president of LSU would not say it to van Heerden (who would definitely make political hay with it). Was this second hand? At the very least, it sounds like a re-phrasing of what was actually said, and at the worst it sounds like a fabrication. If his other comments have been similar, it is no wonder that LSU is very displeased. 'Knife in the back' generally gets poor results, folks.


Regarding elevation of Port Cities (see Patrap's post #24
Er,..duh..every port is at Sea Level.
Thats not news,thats fact
.)

Though every coastal port may be at sea level, every port city is not. Have you ever been to a city and looked down from a bluff at the port?
Here is a list some port cities in the USA that I have listed from lowest elevation to
highest elevation of the city (City - Low/High)

New Orleans: –4 ft./ 15 ft (20 ft per this blog)
Charleston: sea level/ 24 ft
Savannah: sea level / 49 ft
Jacksonville: sea level / 71 ft
Houston: sea level / 120 ft
Long Beach: sea level / 170 ft
Boston: sea level / 330 ft
New York: sea level / 426 ft
Philidelphia: sea level / 440 ft
Baltimore: sea level / 490 ft
Seattle: sea level / 521 ft
San Francisco: sea level / 925 ft
Portland: sea level / 1073 ft
San Diego: sea level / 1,591 ft
Oakland: sea level / 1,700 ft
Los Angelos: sea level / 5,081 ft
'Nuff said on that matter

Wetlands have been a saving grace in the Charleston LowCountry. Not only to spread out
some of the storm surge, but also as a filter, source of food and recreation. Love that marsh smell - it is a very, very good thing.

One more point

I am amazed that folks in flood prone areas, or along rivers do not build their houses
on pilings - what is that all about?
Member Since: August 19, 2008 Posts: 6 Comments: 2490

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Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.