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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NWS just extended the tornado warning until 245 for us in st lucie
Member Since: August 12, 2007 Posts: 2 Comments: 2838
Welcome back Weather...looking forward to your observations this season!
Member Since: September 10, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 11003
First Possible wave of 2009

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... A Tornado Warning remains in effect until 215 PM EDT for St. Lucie
County...

At 201 PM EDT... National Weather Service Doppler radar continued to
indicate a tornado. This tornado was located 10 miles west of Port
Saint Lucie... moving northeast at 35 mph.

The tornado will be near...
Saint Lucie mets... White City and Fort Pierce south by 215 PM EDT.

Precautionary/preparedness actions...

In addition to the tornado... this storm has produced hail the size
of quarters and is capable of producing destructive straight line
winds.

Member Since: September 10, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 11003
Breaking News....Thunder heard in West Palm / Lake Worth!
Member Since: September 10, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 11003
Quoting vortfix:
That cell heading into PSL is still carrying a tornado warning.



Yup until 2:15 but maybe longer.
Member Since: August 12, 2007 Posts: 2 Comments: 2838
Big cell coming towards us in port st lucie in about 15 minutes
Member Since: August 12, 2007 Posts: 2 Comments: 2838
tornado threat increasing from tampa bay south......
Member Since: October 5, 2007 Posts: 20 Comments: 4970
Quoting Patrap:
On the rebuilding in New Orleans, I can see where Orca is coming from. OTOH, I understand why people whose families have owned those properties for 200 years would be unwilling to move. In NOla, the white people kept the "high land" for themselves, while the blacks, free and slave, were expected to live in the lower-lying swampy areas away from the river's edge

This is perfect example of not knowing the areas demographics. Nor the people living here,Nor the Historical context of which,well..would require much more Blog space here.



I guess lakeview, with it's 12 feet below sea level throughout, just got demoted from it's lofty white-flight, suburbia, status.

Katrina quite equally ruined lives of all kinds of people...except purple people.
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wouldn't be suprised to see a flood warning or two....these storms will intensify and train over swfl for the next 4hrs or so,imo
Member Since: October 5, 2007 Posts: 20 Comments: 4970
SWFL heads up for a heavy wind event,winds over 50 mph.....
Member Since: October 5, 2007 Posts: 20 Comments: 4970
Ya we are under a tornado warining in st lucie county really nasty here
Member Since: August 12, 2007 Posts: 2 Comments: 2838
Living in Southeastern Louisiana I hate to see Ivor get the horrible treatment that he got from LSU. And some of the remarks from the admistrators over their explains EVERYTHING. Heck, maybe some of the die hard LSU fans will realize that LSU is not the only school in Louisiana.

Anyway Ivor knows his stuff and I definately respect him for his work and I aggree with him on it. Im thrilled that someone decided to stand up and say hey, this isn't right.

Maybe he'll get a state job overseeing the rebuilding of the wetlands!!! That would stick it to LSU!!LOL!!!
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Looks a bit nasty around St. Lucie and Vero Beach. We're just under cloudy skies and breezy winds here in Daytona area. With the recent rain, I may finally have to mow for the first time this year!
I give van Heerden 10 points for courage.
I get really sick of academics who stick together like a flock of birds.
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stay safe in St. Lucie.... I believe you have a touch down (not the football kind).
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THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE IN MELBOURNE HAS ISSUED A

* TORNADO WARNING FOR...
SOUTHERN OKEECHOBEE COUNTY IN FLORIDA...
THIS INCLUDES THE CITY OF OKEECHOBEE...
ST. LUCIE COUNTY IN FLORIDA...
THIS INCLUDES THE CITIES OF...WALTON...FORT PIERCE INLET...WHITE
CITY...SAINT LUCIE NUCLEAR PLANT...PORT SAINT LUCIE...INDRIO...FORT
PIERCE...

* UNTIL 215 PM EDT.

* AT 131 PM EDT...NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE DOPPLER RADAR INDICATED A
SEVERE THUNDERSTORM CAPABLE OF PRODUCING A TORNADO NEAR
OKEECHOBEE...MOVING NORTHEAST AT 35 MPH.

* THE TORNADO WILL BE NEAR...
FOUR SEASONS ESTATES BY 140 PM EDT...
8 MILES NORTHWEST OF SAINT LUCIE WEST AND 9 MILES WEST OF WHITE
CITY BY 215 PM EDT...
Member Since: December 18, 2006 Posts: 7 Comments: 2685
TVS's popping up all over the place in St. Lucie county
Member Since: December 18, 2006 Posts: 7 Comments: 2685
Field goal!

B1 passed to the SE, E2 to the NW. Been happening all winter!
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Wow it just started to get nasty here in port st lucie , really windy and dark clouds but no rain.
Member Since: August 12, 2007 Posts: 2 Comments: 2838
Quoting Seastep:
Just speaking in generalities, not specific to this.

Just as devil's advocate, say one of the dr's research team kept going out and contradicting what he said? Think that researcher would be around very long on his staff?

Again, absolutely not saying that is what happened here. Just the general idea of things.

Fully believe, especially in science, that folks should be free to pursue all valid angles.

But that is not absolute. Just like free speech is not absolute. You can't yell bomb on a plane.


Correction: You can yell bomb on a plane, especially if you're looking for an all-expense paid trip to a federal prison, courtesy of Uncle Sam, for 40-50 years.
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For those of you glued to the radar if you goto your radar on WU and click on Storm tracks it will give you symbols for hail, and or/tornadoes as the radar updates. Really useful.
Member Since: December 18, 2006 Posts: 7 Comments: 2685
Quoting stillwaiting:
ogss:nasty weather headed our way in the next 45minutes,severe thunderstorm warning maybe needed for nw srq and western manatee counties,imo...


Rumblin, bumblin, and stumblin here. And some funny wet stuff is pouring from the sky. I see my grass dancin.
Member Since: June 12, 2005 Posts: 6 Comments: 8185
Think it's gonna miss me though. :(
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Many individuals of superior intellect have a difficult time conveying things they have derived as important. Their cognition can be skewed mostly toward the analysis and they lack the persuasive skills needed to convice those who don't understand or comprehend that which they are being told. Additionally,the aforementioned senario can trigger discomfort and aggrevate the overall environment and provide undesirable results as it appears was exemplified in this blog.
Member Since: June 12, 2005 Posts: 6 Comments: 8185
looks like a nasty line about to hit the treasure coast
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I am now under severe warning.

Woo hoo! Not about any potential damage, but rain... PLEASE rain.
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1231 4 E HOLIDAY PASCO FL 2819 8268 TORNADO DAMAGE REPORTED IN TRINITY OAKS SUBDIVISION. (TBW)
1250 2 SSW LAND O' LAKES PASCO FL 2819 8247 PUBLIC REPORT OF A TORNADO JUST NORTH OF INTERSECTION OF STATE ROAD 54 AND U.S. HIGHWAY 41 MOVING EAST NORTHEAST. (TBW)
1300 3 NNE WESLEY CHAPEL PASCO FL 2828 8231 POSSIBLE TORNANDO. NWS ON ROUTE TO DO SURVEY. (TBW)
Member Since: December 18, 2006 Posts: 7 Comments: 2685
Just speaking in generalities, not specific to this.

Just as devil's advocate, say one of the dr's research team kept going out and contradicting what he said? Think that researcher would be around very long on his staff?

Again, absolutely not saying that is what happened here. Just the general idea of things.

Fully believe, especially in science, that folks should be free to pursue all valid angles.

But that is not absolute. Just like free speech is not absolute. You can't yell bomb on a plane.
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msnbc saying there are tornado watches for 20 counties in fla. Huh?
Member Since: September 10, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 11003
ogss:nasty weather headed our way in the next 45minutes,severe thunderstorm warning maybe needed for nw srq and western manatee counties,imo...
Member Since: October 5, 2007 Posts: 20 Comments: 4970
123. Liann
Quoting Vizachero:
I do not remember hearing shouts of warning years leading up to Katrina. Could more have been done, yeah, of course. But what happened was no one's fault. Blame is akin to bitterness, and does no one any good. As for the firing of this man, if I showed as much disregard for my employer's wishes as this man did. I too would be looking for a new job.


One year before Katrina there was the impending strike of hurricane Ivan, a once-category-5 hurricane which had scoured Jamaica, Caymens, West Cuba, and the coast of Venezuela. There was lots of talk, SHOUTS OF WARNING, on this blog, on television, on newspapers. Your faulty memory is not the standard by which the truth is measured.

In a UNIVERSITY science department employers and employees both have no other choice than to defend the truth no matter where the chips may fall. Any faculty leader who threatens his/her employees that they must lie or be silent should themselves be fired. Do-noting Bush, who did NOTHING before, did NOTHING after and played politics cutting the birthday cake with McCain DOING NOTHING while people drowned in their attics is not the kind of leadership worth telling lies for, especially by a publicly funded UNIVERSITY. I am his, their, employer, as taxpayer, and my command is always tell the truth, chips fall where they may.
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Quoting lakeEFX:
There is no such thing as "it is what it is". It's only what you are able to accept.


Yes there is. You go in and say fu to your boss.... it is what it is... pack up.
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There is no such thing as "it is what it is". It's only what you are able to accept.
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Quoting lakeEFX:
A man of intelligence and principle doesn't "sell out" to keep the status quo. Most people don't realize that because there are so few people like that. Thoreau always said "sell your clothes and keep your thoughts." Kudos for Heerden; wish their were more like him.


I don't think anyone has suggested he should have sold out. Just that, it is what it is.

He should probably go to a private university. They tend to be way more hands-off. And I am sure there are plenty that would love to have him.
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He wasn't fired in the usual sense. He actually still has his job until 2010. The University said they will not renew his contract as Research Faculty in 2010. The "firing" is in regards to his position as Deputy Director, an unpaid position. The university removed the position, hence fired him from it. However, it was not a paid position, nor one that people are hired to in the traditional sense.

Jeff Masters' description is a little misleading, which I'm a bit surprised at! Firing vs. not renewing contracts are two quite different things. While there is probably truth behind LSU not liking the guy's opinions, it doesn't appear as harsh as some are making it out to be:

http://www.lsureveille.com/scientist-fired-as-deputy-director-1.1713312

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GBlet - yep. Definitely a surreal look. That "tornado" look to the sky. Can't describe it. Just know it.

Our family had to take shelter more than once. If I remember back, at least three times. Remember one time we were actually out and three touched down simultaneously and we could see them all.

Needless to say, we were FLYING to get home.

Another one that was weird, it turned out that it was something like horizontal winds, NOT in a rotation, but tornado force. House was flattened about 2 miles from us. Just that one lone house. It was weird, to say the least.
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A man of intelligence and principle doesn't "sell out" to keep the status quo. Most people don't realize that because there are so few people like that. Thoreau always said "sell your clothes and keep your thoughts." Kudos for Heerden; wish their were more like him.
Member Since: March 29, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 114
102-This brings me to a point, one I've reiterated in here several times. It has to do with "beachfront" property, aka underwater-in-a-storm-surge" property.

Nearly caused me to fall out of my chair laughing. Gotta say, that was a hilarious comment, even though the rest of your comment is a pretty sobering commentary, one that I mostly agree with.
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115. GBlet
Sea, I've been lucky also. We have needed shelter just one time in 10 years. If the tornado that hit Greensburg had hit Great Bend it would been awful as there seems to be a lack of basements or shelters. These people are convinced they are somehow protected. My employer actually got upset last summer when I closed up shop because the tornado track on radar was headed right at us. Everything was green and the sky looked like a scene from A space ivasion flick. COLD BEER SHOULD BE AVAILABLE DURING TORNADO WARNINGS! Morons...
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Woo hoo! Actually got a few raindrops.

Hopefully more to come!

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I will refrain from taking any more time to banter this Subject,..I'll leave it to observe from afar.

I've spent plenty of time on it over the last 3.5 years.

Many things come into play before and "after", a Major Catastrophic Hurricane.

Some even wish for it daily seems,even here.

But rest assured ,..."Calamity Knows no Borders,only men's Minds and Maps do"..

And as surely as Thousands found out last Sept,..one can become,...."Those people",in a Single Day.
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 421 Comments: 127636
107. Patrap 12:30 PM EDT

Also Pat, I was trying not to put the entire history of NOLA on the blog. There is historical validity to what I said, albeit of greater complexity than my comments suggested. I'm not as knowledgeable as you are, by even the most minute stretch of the imagination, but at the same time I'm not a complete ignoramus either.
Member Since: October 25, 2005 Posts: 19 Comments: 21558
Getting ready for what looks to be a nasty line of storms forming. Hasn't rained HERE yet, but I think it's about to in PC. Weather Station #2 arrives today. Hopefully I can get it set up and running in the next couple of days.


Member Since: December 18, 2006 Posts: 7 Comments: 2685
Quoting Patrap:
On the rebuilding in New Orleans, I can see where Orca is coming from. OTOH, I understand why people whose families have owned those properties for 200 years would be unwilling to move. In NOla, the white people kept the "high land" for themselves, while the blacks, free and slave, were expected to live in the lower-lying swampy areas away from the river's edge

This is perfect example of not knowing the areas demographics. Nor the people living here,Nor the Historical context of which,well..would require much more Blog space here.

Yeah I need to add disclaimer as in MAJOR OVERSIMPLIFICATION INCLUDED. (in fact, will do so in a min.) However, I do think my point is valid, in that the EMOTIONAL attachment to a place as well as the FINANCIAL commitment (i. e. no $$ to replace the property) have to be taken into account.
Member Since: October 25, 2005 Posts: 19 Comments: 21558
***
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Quoting GBlet:
Actually, a basement is a BIG misconception. Having lived in tornado alley all of my life, we always had a place that had a storm cellar. There is no way I would use a basement for shelter purposes as they are usually not sound enough for protection. Either everything caves in or worse, sucked out.


That depends. Lived in MN and through many tornadoes... basements saved many, many a life.

House flattened. People OK.
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On the rebuilding in New Orleans, I can see where Orca is coming from. OTOH, I understand why people whose families have owned those properties for 200 years would be unwilling to move. In NOla, the white people kept the "high land" for themselves, while the blacks, free and slave, were expected to live in the lower-lying swampy areas away from the river's edge

This is perfect example of not knowing the areas demographics. Nor the people living here,Nor the Historical context of which,well..would require much more Blog space here.

Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 421 Comments: 127636
Quoting Seastep:
Sorry if I'm beating a dead horse, but just want to make it clear on the earthquake guy.

It was the way he did it. Bullhorn driving through towns telling them to get out.

Giving warning that there is increase potential is one thing.... that shouldn't be silenced and really wasn't. The guy wanted evacs.

"Vans with loudspeakers had driven around the town a month ago telling locals to evacuate their houses after seismologist Gioacchino Giuliani predicted a large quake was on the way"
Sounds like "boy who cried wolf" syndrome. Byt the time something bad really happens, nobody's checking anymore. If they were ever checking to begin with.
Member Since: October 25, 2005 Posts: 19 Comments: 21558
105. GBlet
Actually, a basement is a BIG misconception. Having lived in tornado alley all of my life, we always had a place that had a storm cellar. There is no way I would use a basement for shelter purposes as they are usually not sound enough for protection. Either everything caves in or worse, sucked out.
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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.

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