Sea level rise: what has happened so far

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 2:05 PM GMT on June 10, 2009

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Sea level has been rising globally since the late 1700s. This rise has accelerated in recent decades, thanks to increased melting of glaciers and ice sheets due to a warmer climate, plus the fact that warmer oceans are less dense and expand, further increasing sea level. Though sea level rise appears to have slowed over the past five years, it will significantly accelerate if the climate warms the 2 - 3°C it is expected to this century. If these forecasts of a warmer world prove accurate, higher sea levels will be a formidable challenge for millions of people world-wide during the last half of this century. Sea level rise represents one of my personal top two climate change concerns (drought is the other). I'll present a series of blog posts over the coming months focusing on at-risk areas in the U.S., Caribbean, and world-wide. Today, I focus on the observed sea level rise since the Ice Age.

What's at stake
Higher sea levels mean increased storm surge inundation, coastal erosion, loss of low-lying land areas, and salt water contamination of underground drinking water supplies. About 44% of the Earth's 6.7 billion people live within 150 km (93 miles) of the coast, and 600 million people live at an elevation less than ten meters (33 feet). Eight of the ten largest cities in the world are sited on the ocean coast. In the U.S., the coastal population has doubled over the past 50 years. Fourteen of the twenty largest urban centers are located within 100 km of the coast, and are less than ten meters above sea level (McGranahan et al., 2007). The population of many vulnerable coastal regions are expected to double by 2050, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Sea level rise since the Ice Age
Before the most recent Ice Age, sea level was about 4 - 6 meters (13 - 20 feet) higher than at present. Then, during the Ice Age, sea level dropped 120 meters (395 ft) as water evaporated from the oceans precipitated out onto the great land-based ice sheets. The former ocean water remained frozen in those ice sheets during the Ice Age, but began being released 12,000 - 15,000 years ago as the Ice Age ended and the climate warmed. Sea level increased about 115 meters over a several thousand year period, rising 40 mm/year (1.6"/yr) during one 500-year pulse of melting 14,600 years ago. The rate of sea level rise slowed to 11 mm/year (0.43"/yr) during the period 7,000 - 14,000 years ago (Bard et al., 1996), then further slowed to 0.5 mm/yr 6,000 - 3,000 years ago. About 2,000 - 3,000 years ago, the sea level stopped rising, and remained fairly steady until the late 1700s (IPCC 2007). One exception to this occurred during the Medieval Warm Period of 1100 - 1200 A.D., when warm conditions similar to today's climate caused the sea level to rise 5 - 8" (12 - 21 cm) higher than present (Grinsted et al., 2008). This was probably the highest the sea has been since the beginning of the Ice Age, 110,000 years ago. There is a fair bit of uncertainty in all these estimates, since we don't have direct measurements of the sea level.


Figure 1. Global sea level from 200 A.D. to 2000, as reconstructed from proxy records of sea level by Moberg et al. 2005. The thick black line is reconstructed sea level using tide gauges (Jevrejeva, 2006). The lightest gray shading shows the 5 - 95% uncertainty in the estimates, and the medium gray shading denotes the one standard deviation error estimate. The highest global sea level of the past 110,000 years likely occurred during the Medieval Warm Period of 1100 - 1200 A.D., when warm conditions similar to today's climate caused the sea level to rise 5 - 8" (12 - 21 cm) higher than present. Image credit: Grinsted, A., J.C. Moore, and S. Jevrejeva, 2009, "Reconstructing sea level from paleo and projected temperatures 200 to 2100 AD", Climate Dynamics, DOI 10.1007/s00382-008-0507-2, 06 January 2009.

Sea level rise over the past 300 years
Direct measurements of sea level using tide gauges began in Amsterdam in 1700. Additional tide gauges began recording data in Liverpool, England in 1768 and in Stockholm, Sweden in 1774. These gauges suggest that a steady acceleration of sea rise of 0.01 mm per year squared began in the late 1700s, resulting in a rise in sea level of 2.4" (6 cm, 0.6 mm/yr) during the 19th century and 7.5" (19 cm, 1.9 mm/yr) during the 20th century (Jevrejeva et al., 2008). There is considerable uncertainty in just how much sea level rise has occurred over the past few centuries, though. Measuring global average sea level rise is a very tricky business. For starters, one must account for the tides, which depend on the positions of the Earth and Moon on a cycle that repeats itself once every 18.6 years. Tide gauges are scattered, with varying lengths of record. The data must be corrected since land is sinking in some regions, due to pumping of ground water, oil and gas extraction, and natural compaction of sediments. Also, the land is rising in other regions, such as Northern Europe, where it is rebounding from the lost weight of the melted glaciers that covered the region during the last Ice Age. Ocean currents, precipitation, and evaporation can cause a 20 inch (50 cm) difference in sea level in different portions of the ocean. As a result of all this uncertainty, the 1996 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report gave a range of 4 - 10" (10 - 25 cm) for the observed sea level rise of the 20th century. The 2007 IPCC report narrowed this range a bit, to 5 - 9" (12 - 22 cm), or 1.2 - 2.2 mm/year. Rates of sea level rise are much higher in many regions. In the U.S., the highest rates of sea-level rise are along the Mississippi Delta region--over 10 mm/yr, or 1 inch/2.5 years (USGS, 2006). This large relative rise is due, in large part, to the fact that the land is sinking.


Figure 2. Absolute sea level rise between 1955 and 2003 as computed from tide gauges and satellite imagery data. The data has been corrected for the rising or sinking of land due to crustal motions or subsidence of the land, so the relative sea level rise along the coast will be different than this. The total rise (in inches) for the 48-year period is given in the top scale, and the rate in mm/year is given in the bottom scale. The regional sea level variations shown here resulted not only from the input of additional water from melting of glaciers and ice caps, but also from changes in ocean temperature and density, as well as changes in precipitation, ocean currents, and river discharge. Image credit: IPCC, 2007

Sea level rise over the past 15 years
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2007 report, sea level accelerated from the 1.2 - 2.2 mm/yr observed during the 20th century to 3.1 mm/year during the period 1993 - 2003. These estimates come from high resolution measurements from satellite radar altimeters, which began in 1992. Tide gauges showed a similar level of sea level rise during that ten-year period. The IPCC attributed more than half of this rise (1.6 mm/yr) to the fact that the ocean expanded in size due to increased temperatures. Another 1.2 mm/yr rise came from melting of Greenland, West Antarctica, and other land-based ice, and about 10% of the rise was unaccounted for. However, during the period 2003 - 2008, sea level rise slowed to 2.5 mm/year, according to measurements of Earth's gravity from the GRACE satellites (Cazenave et al., 2008). This reduction in sea level rise probably occurred because ocean sea surface temperatures have not warmed since 2003 (Figure 3). The authors concluded that sea level rise due to ocean warming decreased more than a factor of five from 2003 - 2008, compared to 1993 - 2003, contributing only 0.3 mm/yr vs. the 1.6 mm/yr previously.


Figure 3. Global average sea surface temperatures (SSTs) from 1990-2008. SSTs have not increased in the past seven years. Image credit: NASA/GISS.

For more information
The best source of information I found while compiling my sea level pages was the Coastal Sensitivity to Sea-Level Rise: A Focus on the Mid-Atlantic Region report by the U.S. Climate Science Program. It has a huge number of references to all the latest science being done on sea level rise.

References
Bard, E., et al., 1996, "Sea level record from Tahiti corals and the timing of deglacial meltwater discharge", Nature 382, pp241-244, doi:10.1038/382241a0.

Cazenave et al., 2008, "Sea level budget over 2003-2008: A reevaluation from satellite altimetry and Argo", Global and Planetary Change, 2008; DOI:10.1016/j.gloplacha.2008.10.004

Grinsted, A., J.C. Moore, and S. Jevrejeva, 2009, "Reconstructing sea level from paleo and projected temperatures 200 to 2100 AD", Climate Dynamics, DOI 10.1007/s00382-008-0507-2, 06 January 2009.

IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), 2007: Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Solomon, S., D. Qin, M. Manning, Z. Chen, M. Marquis, K.B. Averyt, M. Tignor, and H.L. Miller (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, and New York, 996 pp.

Jevrejeva, S., J.C. Moore, A. Grinsted,, and P.L. Woodworth, 2008, "Recent global sea level acceleration started over 200 years ago?", Geophysical Research Letters, 35, L08715, doi:10.1029/2008GL033611, 2008.

McGranahan, G., D. Balk, and B. Anderson, 2007, "The rising tide: assessing the risks of climate change and human settlements in low elevation coastal zones", Environment & Urbanization, 19(1), 17-37.

Moberg, A., et al., 2005, "Highly variable northern hemisphere temperature reconstructed from low- and high-resolution proxy data", Nature 433, pp613-617, doi:10.1038/nature03265.

United States Geological Survey (USGS), 2006, National Assessment of Coastal Vulnerability to Sea-Level Rise: Preliminary Results for the U.S. Gulf of Mexico Coast, U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 00-179.

Tropical update
The tropical Atlantic is quiet, and the only region worth watching is the Western Caribbean, which could see formation of a tropical disturbance with heavy thunderstorm activity this weekend.

Jeff Masters

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1631. Ossqss

i heard that! that's when an AR-15 comes in handy :)
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1631. Ossqss
Quoting pearlandaggie:
1621. zoomiami

unfortunately, the dolts here in Texas fail to learn from battle-tested Floridians. i don't know ANY gas stations with a backup generator...."It costs too much", i suppose....


They made it law in Florida for some of those items. Most sewage stations do have nice ones. Problem will be, how long those remote sites would keep one after a big storm.
Member Since: June 12, 2005 Posts: 6 Comments: 8186
Quoting kimoskee:
As I read the blogs about the various generators I chuckle to myself remembering after the last storm when we cranked up the genny and the neighbour complained about the noise... The complaining stopped as soon as we threw an extension cord over the fence!!! ;-)


It's music to my ears.
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As I read the blogs about the various generators I chuckle to myself remembering after the last storm when we cranked up the genny and the neighbour complained about the noise... The complaining stopped as soon as we threw an extension cord over the fence!!! ;-)
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1621. zoomiami

unfortunately, the dolts here in Texas fail to learn from battle-tested Floridians. i don't know ANY gas stations with a backup generator...."It costs too much", i suppose....
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The local Publix in front of my house does not have a generator. And as they threw their bad food out in the back during Francis and Jeanne, so came the rats.
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KoritheMan joine me in the Tropics Talk: chat room i be waiting or you there meet me there
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this is kind of what i had in mind.....note the grounded receptacle......



i know these are generally used for Christmas lights, but they are inexpensive and have a full 15 amp rating (which powers most household appliance)
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Quoting KoritheMan:


Yeah, I remember the GFS predicted the genesis of Bertha a week or two out.


I remember it also predicted Arthur, Edouard, Paloma, and many more.

The GFS did predict 90L and 91L this year though. I think they both should have been named but close enough.
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Yikes! I remember the great GFS forecasting fiasco from late last April!
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Quoting zoomiami:
Sugar, same here. I just have to change out the top track on some of the windows for the lexan panels, they were a little wider than the steel panels.

I figure now we can put up shutters and still look outside, and not get claustrophic. As we have been replacing doors we are installing those rated for hurricanes.

lol - after all the prep we probably won't get another storm for 10 years.


And that's just fine with me. We spent all this money and haven't had a storm...
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I think that the aftermath of a storm will be much different here in South Florida than it ever has been. Many new plans have been implemented, most people have shutters now (new construction had to come with shutters).

Grocery stores, drug stores, and gas stations at main population points throughout the county have generator power. I've even seen the generators set up next to the pumping station for the sewage.

Some of the newer red light installations have generators, and solar batteries to help in the case of a large power loss.

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Quoting zoomiami:
Just hopped over to the blog entries for this same time last year. Although we had Arthur, it was basically a one day event.

Otherwise, the info was the same then as it is now, "tropics are quiet, still early".

So we are basically the same as last year.


Well to be fair, we didn't have an expected El Nino last year that could potentially develop in time to deter seasonal activity.
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Quoting Tazmanian:
the yellow color that was move N and out to sea is now this about gone the gap that tampspin spoted that he wass think that the sea temp may be cooling well that gap is gone



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Quoting CybrTeddy:
Question: Remember how last year the GFS had a GREAT handle on Tropical Cyclone Genesis, why isn't it like that this year? All these ghost storms yet last year, almost all of them were predicted like 2 weeks in advance by GFS first.


Yeah, I remember the GFS predicted the genesis of Bertha a week or two out.
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Just hopped over to the blog entries for this same time last year. Although we had Arthur, it was basically a one day event.

Otherwise, the info was the same then as it is now, "tropics are quiet, still early".

So we are basically the same as last year.
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1612. HIEXPRESS

5 gal/day isn't hard to come by.

hahaha :) you weren't around here during Ike :) gasoline was gold!

see, i'm *lazy* and like to manage as little as possible! i would also suggest purchasing a small window a/c if you can afford it...it will use MUCH less fuel than central a/c
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Quoting ackee:
does that mean the wave near the windward has a chance to develop ?


Uncertain right now but not out of the realm of possibility since shear is expected to be low at the same time in the Caribbean.

Becuz of the necessary but not sufficient conditions for cyclogenesis it's not 100% certain but will be monitored.
Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
1606...Thanks Ed.
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1601. pearlandaggie
Timers... I like that!

I have a 6500W with an efficient OHV engine & big tank. I have run everything on a 3500W, (5 HP - very efficient) generator with only 110V outlet. I even ran the hot water heater, and clothes dryer (rewired, one at a time) off of it. 5 gal/day isn't hard to come by. Freeze up some gallons of water. Turn the temp way down on the fridge a couple of days B4 the storm, & remember to turn off the door heat strip (moisture control) to save the 500w.

BTW one of these will turn a decent computer into a DTV / PVR. 18V will run my laptop (3X6v or a 12v & a 6v deep cycle)very efficiently for a long time.
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1611. Ossqss
Quoting zoomiami:


I thought you had to leave?


Yep, did so and am at my secret undisclosed location. Ok, the garage since I was late getting what I was sent to get an over an hour ago. I think the couch has my name on it to night :(

Rule of thumb #3, never offer to pick up that which can be delivered free faster :)
Member Since: June 12, 2005 Posts: 6 Comments: 8186
1609. CybrTeddy 9:03 PM CDT on June 11, 2009

despite current dogma, climate is not static. different forces are in play from year-to-year and some models handle those forces better than others....just my speculation :)
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Question: Remember how last year the GFS had a GREAT handle on Tropical Cyclone Genesis, why isn't it like that this year? All these ghost storms yet last year, almost all of them were predicted like 2 weeks in advance by GFS first.
Member Since: July 8, 2005 Posts: 259 Comments: 24044
For many people 2,000 is not a possibility. The 300-500 range will give you a lot of flexibility, and let you run small fan or small ac unit in addition to the fridge.

As I said, buy what your budget can afford, because any type of power is better than absolutely none.
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Quoting Ossqss:


You can get a 10kw at BJ's wholesale for less than $2,000 with a 50 amp output plug - generac with a vanguard commercial engine. Most home AC units up to about 5 ton can run on that easily, but they use 1 gal an hour of gas.

I use that unit to power the AC to a cold level and shut it off, and I have a 4kw for the amenities and frig stuff. That unit runs for 13 hours on 4 gal. Both ratings are based upon 1/2 load. Most stuff uses the most power at startup then level off considerably. You gotta do the math and get out the meter to get the real picture of your needs.


I thought you had to leave?
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1606. Ossqss
Quoting GeoffreyWPB:
Thankfully during Francis and Jeanne, I work at an establisment that I could at least bring home ice for my neighbors...would love a generator to take care of the basic needs of my neighbors. But the last time I priced, at least 6 grand for everything involved.


You can get a 10kw at BJ's wholesale for less than $2,000 with a 50 amp output plug - generac with a vanguard commercial engine. Most home AC units up to about 5 ton can run on that easily, but they use 1 gal an hour of gas.

I use that unit to power the AC to a cold level and shut it off, and I have a 4kw for the amenities and frig stuff. That unit runs for 13 hours on 4 gal. Both ratings are based upon 1/2 load. Most stuff uses the most power at startup then level off considerably. You gotta do the math and get out the meter to get the real picture of your needs.
Member Since: June 12, 2005 Posts: 6 Comments: 8186
Quoting sugarsand:


After living here for 22 years, we invested in a generator and lexan(acrylic) and Bahama shutters (versus plywood). Not to say I would ride out a Cat 3, 4, 0r 5 (we are a block from the Gulf). It's not "if" but "when", right?
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the yellow color that was move N and out to sea is now this about gone the gap that tampspin spoted that he wass think that the sea temp may be cooling well that gap is gone



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I saw that you guys were talking about best performing models..

In general...for the tropics.. we prefer the GFDL..along with the GFS in the short term (out to 72hrs) after 72hrs we prefer a blend of the ECMWF and GFS or whichever has a best handle on the overall scenerio.

For North America...we prefer to use the GFS with a blend of the NAM or again..whichever has the best handel on the overall scenerio out to 72hrs. After 72 we do the ECMWF/GFS like said above.
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Sugar, same here. I just have to change out the top track on some of the windows for the lexan panels, they were a little wider than the steel panels.

I figure now we can put up shutters and still look outside, and not get claustrophic. As we have been replacing doors we are installing those rated for hurricanes.

lol - after all the prep we probably won't get another storm for 10 years.
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1571. HIEXPRESS 8:28 PM CDT on June 11, 2009

that's good advice. IMHO, you can automate the alternating of devices with common household timers, which makes your life MUCH easier. have a power strip with several short extension cords and times, and you can set the schedule for them to alternate. then, all you have to do is watch the fuel level if you're using a gasoline-powered generator.
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1600. gator23

I bought my propane generator from this guy. Seemed Honest.
Member Since: August 26, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 2182
1599. ackee
Quoting Weather456:
Wind shear remains in the unfavorable zone but has dropped considerable over the past 24-48 hrs

does that mean the wave near the windward has a chance to develop ?
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Quoting stormwatcherCI:
I am sure they are but everything is brought in here from overseas and priced at about 100% or more profit so you can imagine. Right now we are paying about 3.40 CI for regular gas which is 4.25 US.
Quoting zoomiami:
The big generators are expensive. If you own your home, and need one to stay there after a storm, the insurance will usually pay for it.

While it use to be a luxury for most people, after 05-06 it became a necessity. After living in So Fla for 30 years, that was the first time we ran our office on generator.



After living here for 22 years, we invested in a generator and lexan(acrylic) and Bahama shutters (versus plywood). Not to say I would ride out a Cat 3, 4, 0r 5 (we are a block from the Gulf). It's not "if" but "when", right?
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Geoffrey - it is that much for the big hardwired ones, but a 5000 or 6500 are not that big investment, and the only difference is you have to run your own cords.

Should invest in one that meets your budget, anything helps.

When Andrew hit we were just married, just started our family, and had just bought a house. Needless to say money was not in great supply. Buying just the small generator took all the cash we had.
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at last new toys added to the blog
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Thankfully during Francis and Jeanne, I work at an establisment that I could at least bring home ice for my neighbors...would love a generator to take care of the basic needs of my neighbors. But the last time I priced, at least 6 grand for everything involved.
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After Andrew, my mom's house came back on line in the first few days. So everybody took all their food to her house, and everyone was invited to come and eat.

When had some great meals, and shared with everybody.

Sad to say, the first responders didn't come until after all the food would have spoiled. They really have learned a lot from what happened after Andrew. It was the beginning of a different era for recovery work.
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Quoting GeoffreyWPB:
456...If you were the GFS, would you predict a named storm this month? );


I'm not sure how to answer that but I would predict an increase likelihood for TC genesis from now until July.

Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
Quoting sugarsand:


They are pricey here, too. Believe me.
I am sure they are but everything is brought in here from overseas and priced at about 100% or more profit so you can imagine. Right now we are paying about 3.40 CI for regular gas which is 4.25 US.
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The big generators are expensive. If you own your home, and need one to stay there after a storm, the insurance will usually pay for it.

While it use to be a luxury for most people, after 05-06 it became a necessity. After living in So Fla for 30 years, that was the first time we ran our office on generator.

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Quoting sugarsand:


Before we got the generator, I think it was Hurri Ivan, we used all our food to feed the Emergency crews rather than waste the food. Law Enforcement loved the steaks and seafood. Cooked it on their grills. Was worth every bit of food, those guys were heroes; kept looters at bay and helped those in true need.
I had bought 5 bags of ice and put in the deep freeze with my meats so managed to keep them cold long enough to use.
I live in one of the smallest districts in Cayman and it's more or less like a big family so everyone was cooking and everyone was eating. We are lucky enough to have a very wealthy woman here that helped my district tremendously with food, water and for those who didn't have their own generators. She also
helped with a lot of the rebuilding. She runs
IAMCO which helps a lot of places in the Caribbean.
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456...If you were the GFS, would you predict a named storm this month? );
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1588. Levi32
Quoting Weather456:
Check out the new feature on the personal blogs:





Yeah I guess learning the font code wasn't really necessary lol.
Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26647
Check out the new feature on the personal blogs:



Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
1586. beell
Quoting zoomiami:
Beell - I think with devastating damage all bets are off. We can only protect so much, and then its up to god and mother nature.


Agreed, zoo. One's priorities shift some if you're standing in front of a bare concrete slab where your house once stood.
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Quoting stormwatcherCI:
These types of generators are very pricey in Cayman and not so easy to get. I have a decent size portable but that was a luxury after Ivan. The first things I plugged in were a deep freeze for the ice, a window unit for the cold air and a couple of lights. Didn't need any more than that because due to damage to the house we were all (4) camping in one room anyway.


They are pricey here, too. Believe me.
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Wind shear remains in the unfavorable zone but has dropped considerable over the past 24-48 hrs

Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
1583. Patrap
Tornado Warning
2009-06-11 21:39:27 EDT until
2009-06-11 22:00:00 EDT

837 PM CDT Thu Jun 11 2009

...A Tornado Warning remains in effect until 900 PM CDT for central
Travis and south central Williamson counties...

At 835 PM CDT...a storm spotter reported a tornado with debris near
Jollyville. This rotation was moving southeast at 25 mph.

Some locations in the warning area include Round Rock...Wells
Branch...Windemere...Hutto and Pflugerville.

Precautionary/preparedness actions...

A Tornado Watch remains in effect until 1000 PM CDT Thursday evening
for south central Texas.

Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 424 Comments: 128348
Quoting beell:


Good gosh, yes, ss. It's bad enough taking care of one home refrigerator after a storm-I can just imagine! Yuck!

The natural gas system never lost a second in Houston after Ike. However, if you are in an area that suffers heavy damage-like Bolivar and Galveston Island the gas company may shut-in their system. Makes the clean-up a little safer. All those gas meters buried under debris with bulldozers and backhoes running all over the place.



Before we got the generator, I think it was Hurri Ivan, we used all our food to feed the Emergency crews rather than waste the food. Law Enforcement loved the steaks and seafood. Cooked it on their grills. Was worth every bit of food, those guys were heroes; kept looters at bay and helped those in true need.
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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.