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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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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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"
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Just something to ponder on the science/politics front.

What happens if all/most colleges are fed run, like K-12, as proposed by this administration?
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Quoting ajcamsmom2:
40. atmoaggie 9:25 AM CDT on April 14, 2009
It is built on land that was below sea level from the beginning

Whuuuut? No, the older parts of town are a number of feet above sea level and always have been.

Pat, what is the elevation of Audubon Park area and the quarter? 10 feet above?


My homes in Pass Christian, were 13.5 and 18 feet above sea level...you can look at my blog and see what good that did me. New Orleans will not make it against a major strike. The water was over the top of my home. My home is gone, but, I saw the water marks on the tree tops (my live oaks made it thru Katrina)...Pat's house at 20 feet has a chance, although, once you fill it up with all that stinky, dirty water, it will be a tough clean up job...
We now live in Lafayette, and I don't feel safe here either...If the right storm comes up Vermilion bay, at the right angle, well...let's just say, the outcome is one of my worst nightmares.
[NOTE: MAJOR oversimplification of historical facts in this section, esp. abt. New Orleans!]
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. I wonder if modern developers realize just WHY there weren't any houses right at the water's edge? In The Bahamas the tradition was to build at least 300 ft back from the water's edge. A road might run down in front of the property, but the houses were back from the water. Along the east coast of the US, only "summer shacks" were built on the dunes. They were of light construction, and cheaply built. Additionally, there's a reason why only the poor people, and in the Carolinas / Gulf Coast areas, the blacks (i. e. former slaves) lived on those little islands. Why was that?

Because otherwise the storm would wash people away!

I think because we now have all the "modern" devices of sat imagery and 3 day warnings and reinforced concrete buildings we have forgotten the simplist principles of storm survival. First on that list is beating the storm surge, something people often forget in the "excitement" of the high winds and potential tree fall.

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. Today the descendents of those black people view areas like the 9th ward as symbolic of their struggle and survival in the face of daunting circumstances. It's more than just a piece of land to them, and I can understand their attachment.

I agree that there are some vital scientific steps that have to be taken if NOla is going to survive as as city. But I am also convinced that some important social steps must also be made. An area like the 9th Ward may need to become part park, part historical district, where the original owners of the land retain their stake in the land but no longer live there. Some provision also has to be made so that these people can afford to live elsewhere without becoming debtors to society; it's a matter of personal dignity as much as of economic viability. There has to be innovation in people's thinking about the land use in New Orleans to make any adjustments in the science and technology both possible and worthwhile.
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99 - something like that. Combined with the "pre" quakes.

Bottom line is, you can't evacuate LA every time there is a potential for a quake. Impractical.

If you live in a quake prone area, all you can do is prepare the best you can. Like living in tornado areas. I wouldn't live in one w/o having a basement.
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Good news..no more Tornado or t-storm watches or warnings for Florida.
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96 Wasn't that fellow making his prediction based upon increased levels of Radon gas?
Member Since: June 12, 2005 Posts: 6 Comments: 8186
Wishcasting that some of that rain makes it down this way.

Stay safe all farther N.
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As follow up to my 96... completely agree with Tampa, though. When you work for someone else, you must follow their rules. Otherwise, go somewhere else.

With his credentials, I would imagine he will have no problem finding another position somewhere that has more compatible views.
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Quoting Chicklit:
Keep in mind the scientist who was hushed after warning about signs of earthquake potential in Italy. Also keep in mind the blog is now linked to the NY Times so many more people will hear about Dr. van Heerden's story.


Just pointing out that the guy was going around 2 weeks before the quake.

If you are suggesting that folks should have evacuated the town and stayed out for two weeks, nothing I can say other than impractical and not feasible.

You can't evacuate whole towns/cities everytime there might be an earthquake. Sometime they happen sometimes they don't.

'canes and weather are different, in that it is a short term evac and the accuracy % is much higher. You know the time window. Can't do it for earthquakes.

Just saying. That whole thing about him being silenced is bunk. He should have been silenced for causing economic and emotional harm. And, two weeks out? Saving no one. Anyone who heeded his warning would have gone back by the time it hit.

To be clear, purely speaking about the earthquake guy.
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Quoting Ossqss:
Orbiter question

I was told some time back that NASA was forced to use non-freon based foam on the external fuel tank and that is when they started having issues with it and costing lives. Valid or not?


Great, answered my own question. I was hoping it was not true. That cost lives.
Link
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India Meteorological Department
Tropical Cyclone Bulletin Number TWO
DEPRESSION BOB01-2009
17:30 PM IST April 14 2009
===========================================

At 12:00 PM UTC, Depression BOB01-2009 over southesat and adjoining central Bay of Bengal remained practically stationary and lays at 12.5N 88.0E, or 550 kms west-northwest of Port Blair, 700 kms southeast of Visakhapatnam, and 800 kms southwest of Pathein, Myanmar.

Under its influence, rainfall at many places with isolated heavy falls is likely over Andaman & Nicobar Islands during next 48 hours.

Squally winds speed reaching 45-55 kmph gusting to 65 kmph are likely over Andaman Islands and adjoining Sea areas during next 48 hours. Sea condition is rough to very rough along and off Andaman Islands. Fishermen are advised not to venture into the sea.

Satellite imagery indicates gradual organization of convection during the past 12 hours. The intensity of the system is T1.5. Associated broken intense to very intense convection observered over areas between 7.0N to 16.0N and 83.0E to 91.0E. The lowest cloud top temperature due to convection is around -60C.

Maximum sustianed surface wind speed is estimated to be 25 knots with a central pressure of 1000 hPa. The state of the sea is rough to very rough around the system's center.

Vertical wind shear of horizontal wind over the region is around 10 knots. 24 hours shear tendency is negative to the west of the system. The depression lies to the south of the upper tropospheric ridge, which roughly runs along 15.0N. Sea surface temperatures are favorable for intensification as it is 0.50 to 1.00 celsius above normal.

Considering all the information above, this system is likely to intensify further and move in a northwesterly direction.
Member Since: May 24, 2006 Posts: 51 Comments: 45319
a little info on viewing the ISS this weeks viewing will be brighter than the ones last week the times of local transit for swfl are friday morning april 17 between 6:27am-6:30am at 73degrees in the ssw with a magnatude of-3.9,and sunday morning april 19th between 5:47am-5:50am at 89 degrees in the ssw witha magnatude of -4.0,which is extremely bright....once again I'll try and take some time lapse pictures and will post them on my twitterphoto's page,I'll let everyone no if/when I post...
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The tornado this morning flipped a car in its driveway and tore parts of roofs off of many houses.
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Orbiter question

I was told some time back that NASA was forced to use non-freon based foam on the external fuel tank and that is when they started having issues with it and costing lives. Valid or not?
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GOM IR LOOP
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Is this severe weather going to make it to so. fla.? I see the inland t-storms are firing up and making their trek to the east coast.
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re 87

You betcha. Thats why I was asking. When I heard KSC was under the red box I got nervous
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Thats the Orbiter going up to the Hubble.
We dont need any more delays on that one.
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Thanks Pat for the Roating structure info.

Looks to be letting up on the latest refresh, hopefully it gets past by
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KSC webcams shows the Rain at the Active Pad



The Rotating Service Structure Protects the Orbiter from Hail and Rain. But the ET can be damaged by Hail as in the Past

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Tampa did you get that file I sent you a few days back?
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KSC looks to be getting wolloped right now checking the live feeds from there and hearing the tornado warning and looking at radar.


I know one bird is on the pad and the othe ris in the VAB but what if any protection does the bird on 39 have?

KSC Video Feeds
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FLASH FLOOD WARNING RAPID CITY SD - KUNR 911 AM MDT TUE APR 14 2009
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Strong rotation near Merritt Island
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Regarding the dismissal of Dr van Heerden from LSU/HC, I share Dr Masters' grave concerns over the continuing policy of FEMA and allied agencies to sweep problems under the carpet for the sake of a few measly dollars. I have never understood why the Army Corps of Engineers didn't go to Holland for a quiet chat with folks there on their flood prevention schemes. Weren't 1500 dead enough to bring about change?
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I would have thought the storms earlier and the rain would have stabalized the atmosphere.
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Tornado warning heading for the spacecenter
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Quoting tampabos:
Does CAPE = Severe weather and tornadoes?


A High CAPE means the environment is good for a high chance of Severe Weather including tornados. YES!
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WTSP-TV 10 Tampa Bay Weather Cams
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Stillwaiting, did not know if you used this live radar feed or not. Link
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Does CAPE = Severe weather and tornadoes?
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Quoting npenta519:


My mother's favorite saying: I gave you life, and I can take it away. Extremely apt in regards to Nature also, wouldn't you say?


True that. No matter who's president, or who's political ego you stroke, we humans are insignificant to the face of this planet, and we can not get out of her way when she wants to come home to roost.
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The latest tornado watch, via the NWS:


WATCH COUNTY NOTIFICATION FOR WATCH 154
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE TAMPA BAY AREA - RUSKIN FL
949 AM EDT TUE APR 14 2009

FLC049-057-081-103-105-115-141800-
/O.CON.KTBW.TO.A.0154.000000T0000Z-090414T1800Z/

TORNADO WATCH 154 REMAINS VALID UNTIL 2 PM EDT THIS AFTERNOON FOR
THE FOLLOWING AREAS

IN FLORIDA THIS WATCH INCLUDES 6 COUNTIES

IN WEST CENTRAL FLORIDA

HARDEE HILLSBOROUGH MANATEE
PINELLAS POLK SARASOTA

THIS INCLUDES THE CITIES OF...BRADENTON...BRANDON...CLEARWATER...
LAKELAND...SARASOTA...ST. PETERSBURG...TAMPA...VENICE...
WAUCHULA AND WINTER HAVEN.
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67 yep and it has started to rain.
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Hmm, might have a few flood and thunderstorm watches and warnings tonight, especially in the south of the UK.

Wouldn't be surprised to see a tornado watch come out if it gets bad.

Something to keep an eye on.
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NEXRAD Radar
Tampa, Base Reflectivity 0.50 Degree Elevation Range 124 NMI
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CAPE Convective Available Potential Energy

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ogss look to your nw it must be getting black,I'm on the 3rd floor and the clouds just keep getting darker and darker....
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Quoting tampabos:
The storms damaged about 25 houses in Wesley Chapel in Pasco County.


Check this -- they have some pictures already of the damage linked in the story below in the box on the rightLink
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just watched the same shelfcloud push in from the NE...now there actually stalling,w/some retrograding SW!!!,the ingredents for severe wx along our shoreline is there,be aware....
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His firing is indicative of the political conditions that exist everywhere if one wishes to receive federal funding. It's exactly the reason more scientists aren't more outspoken about the fraud of global warming. If they voice their true opinions, they don't eat.
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CAPE - Convective Available Potential Energy
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An "Ike Dike" Could Lessen Hurricane Damage

Media Newswire (press release) - ‎Apr 13, 2009‎

William Merrell, who holds the George P. Mitchell Chair and also directs the Center for Texas Beaches and Shores, says the proposed “Ike Dike” – named after the devastating hurricane that hit the area in September of 2008 -- would be the best solution to protect the fragile Galveston-area coastal region. It would carry a hefty price tag, somewhere around the $2-3 billion mark, but since Hurricane Ike caused an estimated $32 billion in damage to Houston and Galveston, the Ike Dike would more than pay for itself in the long run, probably after the first hurricane it encounters, he believes.
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What is CAPE?
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Very High CAPE in Tampa........

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posted a storm pic@ twitpic.com/3bs1z
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still watching the meso,although nothing looks imenent,its still strengthening....
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The storms damaged about 25 houses in Wesley Chapel in Pasco County.
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Quoting stillwaiting:
mesocale thunderstorm offshore sarasota 40 miles moving East at 50mph....sarasota may have a tornado warning in about 20-30minutes....I'm staying on top of it!!!,one things fo sure the clouds are moving in different directions...


The clouds look like prop wash up here.

Must of been a bit of a gust front, they are now gone
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40. atmoaggie 9:25 AM CDT on April 14, 2009
It is built on land that was below sea level from the beginning

Whuuuut? No, the older parts of town are a number of feet above sea level and always have been.

Pat, what is the elevation of Audubon Park area and the quarter? 10 feet above?


My homes in Pass Christian, were 13.5 and 18 feet above sea level...you can look at my blog and see what good that did me. New Orleans will not make it against a major strike. The water was over the top of my home. My home is gone, but, I saw the water marks on the tree tops (my live oaks made it thru Katrina)...Pat's house at 20 feet has a chance, although, once you fill it up with all that stinky, dirty water, it will be a tough clean up job...
We now live in Lafayette, and I don't feel safe here either...If the right storm comes up Vermilion bay, at the right angle, well...let's just say, the outcome is one of my worst nightmares.
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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.