May 2008: month of the natural disaster

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 1:18 PM GMT on May 13, 2008

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We live on a dangerous planet. In the wake of Cyclone Nargis, one of the deadliest tropical cyclones of all time, China's worst earthquake in 32 years has struck just 12 days later. Rarely in recorded history have twin natural disasters claiming 10,000 or more lives struck so close to each other in time. The last such occurrence I could find was in China in 1931. That summer, the world's deadliest natural disaster of all time--the Yellow River Flood of 1931--killed between one and four million people. On August 10 of the same summer, a magnitude 8.0 earthquake killed 10,000 people near Fuyun, China. Another notable twin disaster occurred on September 1, 1923 when the Great Kanto earthquake hit Japan. Winds from a passing typhoon fanned fires that sprang up after the quake, and the resulting fire storm engulfed Tokyo, killing over 100,000 people. Still, with a major volcanic eruption in Chile and an unusually severe tornado season pounding the U.S. with killer tornadoes, May 2008 will long be remembered as one of the worst months for natural disasters in world history.

Cyclone Nargis update
A tragedy of truly epic proportions continues to unfold in Myanmar in the wake of Cyclone Nargis. The United Nations now unofficially estimates that the death toll from the storm is at least 100,000, with up to 220,000 people missing. It is now 12 days since the cyclone struck, and aid efforts are only about 10-20% of what is needed to bring life-saving water, food, and medicine to the 1.5 million people affected by the storm. The death toll will now start to rise sharply, as the failure to provide adequate relief within ten days greatly increases the risk of disease and death in survivors of a cyclone. The indifference of Myanmar's leaders to the plight of its suffering people could make the death toll from Nargis the second highest in history, next to the 500,000 people killed in Bangladesh's Great Bhola Cyclone of 1970. Cyclone Nargis' unofficial death toll of 100,000 currently ranks the storm as the 10th deadliest in world history.


Figure 1. Topography of Myanmar, with track of Cyclone Nargis superimposed. Image credit: NASA.

Was the population warned?
Many of you have expressed amazement that so many could die from a tropical cyclone in this day and age of satellites and modern communications. Why did it happen? I believe there are two main reasons: the historical lack of tropical cyclones that have hit Burma's Irrawaddy delta, and the unwillingness of Myanmar's leaders to provide adequate warnings for fear of jeopardizing their May 10 referendum to consolidate their power.

According to irrawaddy.com:

Appearances on Burma's state television by the country's director general of the Department of Meteorology and Hydrology, Tun Lwin, always attract a large following.

Viewers like his style and informative approach to weather reporting. But now those same viewers are asking: "Why did he fail to warn us of the approach of Cyclone Nargis?"

According to well-informed sources close to his department, Burma's leading meteorologist passed those warnings on to the government in Naypyidaw, together with information about the cyclone's strength, expected course, and timing.

Tun Lwin reportedly suggested the warning should be carried by state media, but sources said he was told by his bosses in the capital: "Don't create public panic ahead of the referendum."

Warnings of the approaching cyclone were finally published in the official press, but they were buried amid news of the approaching constitutional referendum.


I've been sent an image of the warning for Cyclone Nargis as it appeared on May 2 in one of Myanmar's main newspapers, "The New Light of Myanmar". The warnings for Nargis on the day it made landfall as a major cyclone were buried on page 15 of the obituaries and miscellaneous section of the newspaper.

Figuring into the junta's logic for ignoring the approaching cyclone was the history of tropical cyclone strikes on the country. Since reliable records began in 1970, there have been only six hurricane-strength tropical cyclones to hit Myanmar. See the paper, "Simulation of Storm Surges Along Myanmar Coast Using a Location Specific Numerical Model" (Jain et al., Natural Hazards 39, 1, September 2006) for more information. The storms are:

1975 Pathein cyclone, Cat 1 (75 knots), hit just north of Irrawaddy Delta. An estimated 1.2 meter storm surge occurred. This storm did inundate the Irrawaddy delta, and 187 people died.

1982 Gwa cyclone, Cat 4 (120 knots), hit Gwa, north of Irrawaddy delta. An estimated 4 meter storm surge occurred.

1992 Sandoway cyclone, Cat 1 (65 knots), hit Sandoway, farther north than Gwa. An estimated 1.2 meter storm surge occurred.

1994 Sittwe cyclone, Cat 4 (125 knots), hit Sandoway/Sittwe. An estimated 1.2 meter storm surge occurred.

Mala of 2006 was a Cat 4, (115 knots) and also hit north of the Irrawaddy delta. No storm surge estimate available.

Nargis of 2008.

In the pre-1970 years, I could find only one mention of a hurricane-force storm hitting the country, a Cat 1 cyclone in 1936 that killed 36 people. A significant cyclone hitting the Irrawaddy delta causing thousands of deaths would very likely have been recorded, had this happened any time in the past 300 years. Such events were recorded in both India and Bangladesh during that period. Nargis appears to have been the only major tropical cyclone to hit the Irrawaddy River delta in recorded history, and may be a once-in-500-year event.

Comments from Chris Burt
I've been in regular communication about this disaster with Chris Burt, author of the excellent book Extreme Weather. He has been visiting Myanmar every year for 30 years, and has much insight on the situation there:

Anecdotally, I can say in all the time I've spent in Burma I have never heard anyone talk about or worry about tropical storms, it simply is not in their consciousness. This is why people really didn't heed the warnings. People were warned at least 48 hours in advance--I got an email from a friend two days before the storm telling me about the warnings in Rangoon.


More severe weather today
The Storm Prediction Center has placed much of eastern Texas and surrounding states under their "Slight Risk" category for severe weather today. The Weather Underground Severe Weather page and Tornado page are good places to go to follow today's severe weather. A slight risk of severe weather is also expected Thursday over the deep south, from eastern Texas to Alabama.


Jeff Masters

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502. KarenRei
8:49 PM GMT on May 14, 2008
KarenRei, thanks!! lets see on 786 kw (ironically our last month of energy consumption - nothing to do with my name) we paid US $128.74 in energy and $211 roughly in fuel adjustment charges in total that is roughly 46 cents a kwh.

Yow! This one's a no brainer, but I'll do the math for you anyways :)

Most of the carribean gets about 5kWh/m^2/day on average. Latitude and insolation wise, Honolulu is a dead-ringer, so I'll use it. You need 768kWh every month; we'll assume that's constant across the year. Since you say it's a hostile environment to private generation, I'll run the numbers with no power buyback and a small battery bank and try not to let the charge fall below minimum very often. I'll then try to tweak the numbers to optimize. According to the economics calculator, here's what I come up with as probably ideal in your situation, given:

*$480 panels rated for a nominal 100W/panel, 12kg, 0.6m wide, 1.1m tall, with a 15.2% nominal efficiency. Pretty standard, really.
*A reasonable (77%) derate factor
*10% obstruction to light (perhaps a tall palm blocks light in the morning or something)
*Ground about the shininess of grass (about 20% of light reflected back)
*No heliostat
*12 year lifespan on batteries
*No inflation on batteries (assuming tech advances keep up with inflation)
*2% inflation on other solar parts
*3% inflation on electricity costs (with the way oil prices are going, that's sure optimistic!)
*$0.70/W for the inverter
*$5.80/A for the charge controller
*$3k for the installation
*No tax breaks (again, since they seem hostile to private generation)
*$50/year for maintenance on general components
*A 6.5% interest rate
*A reasonable distribution of electricity consumption over the course of the day -- say, 25% as much at 4AM as at 3PM.

Here's what I came up with:

* A nominal 6kW of panels (60 panels) weighing 720kg and covering 39.6 square meters and costing $28,800
* 20kWh of batteries for $1,400, with an annuity to pay for their replacement until the end of time that costs $1,794.92
* An annuity for maintenance on "other" that costs $1,111.11
* $2,898.70 for the inverter
* $1,392.00 for the charge controller
* Total price: $40396.73

* Total electricity bills range from $0 to $80, depending on the month
* Monthly savings ranges from $271 to $353
* Payback time 9.3 years
* Mortgage length 13.3 years (very good!)
* A 20 year IRR of 10.02% (also very good!)

You could probably tweak it a bit more and get slightly better numbers out of it.

Of course, you're moving, so it doesn't matter, but yes, in a situation like yours, solar is a wise investment indeed even if the power company and government are completely unsupportive. If they were supportive (say, net metering), your numbers could significantly improve beyond these already good numbers.
Member Since: September 7, 2007 Posts: 1 Comments: 940
501. JRRP
8:41 PM GMT on May 14, 2008
2005 at this time we had 4 tropical waves
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500. TerraNova
8:36 PM GMT on May 14, 2008
-New blog
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499. TerraNova
8:35 PM GMT on May 14, 2008
-
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498. 786
8:25 PM GMT on May 14, 2008
GUYS we can not say anything with 100% confidence and the last 4 years has proved that, records are being broken worldwide!!!!!!!!!! not saying anything will come out of anything, just that climatology has become more unpredicatable so who knows.

The wave looks healthy and we NEED rain, so even if we don't get a depression, let this bring some of us in the Carib and East Coast some rain
Member Since: August 18, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 910
497. hurricane23
8:22 PM GMT on May 14, 2008
Oh boy once the media got a hold of THIS things got a little crazy.Just a training exercise which had hurricane warnings up for the carolinas.
Member Since: May 14, 2006 Posts: 8 Comments: 13807
495. CaneAddict
8:21 PM GMT on May 14, 2008
Well, I am off for a little while.
Bye!
Member Since: October 5, 2007 Posts: 3 Comments: 2151
494. Cavin Rawlins
8:18 PM GMT on May 14, 2008
485. CaneAddict 4:14 PM AST on May 14, 2008

478. Weather456 8:11 PM GMT on May 14, 2008
This morning....the wave was analysed near 16W

Plan on making a blog update on the new wave?


probably tonight or early 2mr.
Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
493. StormJunkie
8:18 PM GMT on May 14, 2008
I know 23, and that is why I said not always true

Just pointing out, as I am sure you are well aware, that it has been quite some time since we have had a long track season.
Member Since: August 17, 2005 Posts: 26 Comments: 16874
491. Cavin Rawlins
8:16 PM GMT on May 14, 2008
Oh trust me i know, I read your blogs....But your 2 hours late on the confirmation of the wave :)

yeah...I know....a dont normally read the NHC discussion, so I happened to say "let me look at what they said about this feature"
Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
490. hurricane23
8:16 PM GMT on May 14, 2008
487. StormJunkie 4:14 PM EDT on May 14, 2008
The sooner they develope the better for us.

Not always h23, it has been quite sometime since we have had a true long tracker season. No other proof then that, but we are over due for a true CV season.

You know what i mean SJ....The sooner a wave developes its chances that it will turn away before reaching the U.S. go up.Atleast thats the way i view it.
Member Since: May 14, 2006 Posts: 8 Comments: 13807
489. CaneAddict
8:16 PM GMT on May 14, 2008
The sooner they develope the better for us.

Not always h23, it has been quite sometime since we have had a true long tracker season. No other proof then that, but we are over due for a true CV season.
Action: | Ignore User


Good point! StormJunkie.
Member Since: October 5, 2007 Posts: 3 Comments: 2151
488. CaneAddict
8:15 PM GMT on May 14, 2008
483. Weather456 8:13 PM GMT on May 14, 2008
470. CaneAddict 4:06 PM AST on May 14, 2008
467. Weather456 8:05 PM GMT on May 14, 2008
the tropical wave has been confirmed

Your about 2 hours late on that, LOL! Only messing with you 456. ;)

lol....say the wave 2 days prior to 2day


Oh trust me i know, I read your blogs....But your 2 hours late on the confirmation of the wave :)
Member Since: October 5, 2007 Posts: 3 Comments: 2151
487. StormJunkie
8:14 PM GMT on May 14, 2008
The sooner they develope the better for us.

Not always h23, it has been quite sometime since we have had a true long tracker season. No other proof then that, but we are over due for a true CV season.
Member Since: August 17, 2005 Posts: 26 Comments: 16874
486. Cavin Rawlins
8:14 PM GMT on May 14, 2008
that should say 15W not 16W....

Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
485. CaneAddict
8:14 PM GMT on May 14, 2008

478. Weather456 8:11 PM GMT on May 14, 2008
This morning....the wave was analysed near 16W


Plan on making a blog update on the new wave?
Member Since: October 5, 2007 Posts: 3 Comments: 2151
484. hurricane23
8:13 PM GMT on May 14, 2008

Its ok with me let them develope way out there this season,those rather warm sst's of the african coast might actually work in our favor meaning its chances of impacting the united states in anyway are slim.The sooner they develope the better for us.
Member Since: May 14, 2006 Posts: 8 Comments: 13807
483. Cavin Rawlins
8:13 PM GMT on May 14, 2008
470. CaneAddict 4:06 PM AST on May 14, 2008
467. Weather456 8:05 PM GMT on May 14, 2008
the tropical wave has been confirmed

Your about 2 hours late on that, LOL! Only messing with you 456. ;)


lol....say the wave 2 days prior to 2day
Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
482. CaneAddict
8:12 PM GMT on May 14, 2008
In conclusion, The ITCZ is likely enchancing convection with it also.
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481. hurricane23
8:12 PM GMT on May 14, 2008
.
Member Since: May 14, 2006 Posts: 8 Comments: 13807
480. StormJunkie
8:11 PM GMT on May 14, 2008
Afternoon all :~)

CA, this supports h23's statement TCZ AXIS IS CENTERED ALONG 5N9W 3N20W 2N32W 1N47W 2N52W, and I tend to agree with him. Anything that develops in the next few weeks is very likely to be more of a home-brew situation either in the Gulf, Carib, or off the E coast. Which I still don't think is real likely just yet, but unfortunately we will get there soon enough. Once the ICTZ truly moves N and these fronts start stalling off the E coast and in the gulf.

Just my two cent!
Member Since: August 17, 2005 Posts: 26 Comments: 16874
479. 786
8:11 PM GMT on May 14, 2008
oh and Karen did I mention that it was only this year that CUC took off the Ivan surcharge
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478. Cavin Rawlins
8:11 PM GMT on May 14, 2008
This morning....the wave was analysed near 16W

Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
477. CaneAddict
8:11 PM GMT on May 14, 2008
Very intense convection associated with that wave, However it appears like it is partially bundled within the ITCZ.
Member Since: October 5, 2007 Posts: 3 Comments: 2151
476. 786
8:10 PM GMT on May 14, 2008
KarenRei, thanks!! lets see on 786 kw (ironically our last month of energy consumption - nothing to do with my name) we paid US $128.74 in energy and $211 roughly in fuel adjustment charges in total that is roughly 46 cents a kwh. OUCH!!!!!! it is painful just typing that. The problem is that CUC (Caribbean utilities) were the only company willing to invest in Cayman way back when and therefore were granted a 20 year monopoly. They own everything there is to do with electricity on this island no competition allowed (and a 15% guarenteed return for their SHs). The 20 years ends in about 3 years I think, but I don't expect to still live here at that point. I will def. ensure I have solar power when I am in a more permanent place.
Member Since: August 18, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 910
475. CaneAddict
8:10 PM GMT on May 14, 2008
472. Drakoen 8:07 PM GMT on May 14, 2008
466. Ivansrvivr 8:03 PM GMT on May 14, 2008
459. It is still too early, with too much dry air coming south off the CONUS for any major development. The constant increase in activity coming off Africa is ominous sign for coming CV season.

I know Ivan.


He did'nt say development, Ivan...You may want to lay-off on correcting people especially as we near the season, perhaps your should be a little less correcting....to prevent agruments.

I did say, That conditions are rather favorable near the wave and it wouldnt be to surprising to see a short-lived depression. I know its very slim but possible.
Member Since: October 5, 2007 Posts: 3 Comments: 2151
473. hurricane23
8:09 PM GMT on May 14, 2008
You can get a pretty good close-up still/loop of the wave HERE on my tropics page.Just scroll down a bit and click on the eumetsat image and it will take you directly.You now can view windshear satellite images directly from the CIMSS website along with many great satellite views of the tropical atlantic.Feel free to use anytime.
Member Since: May 14, 2006 Posts: 8 Comments: 13807
472. Drakoen
8:07 PM GMT on May 14, 2008
466. Ivansrvivr 8:03 PM GMT on May 14, 2008
459. It is still too early, with too much dry air coming south off the CONUS for any major development. The constant increase in activity coming off Africa is ominous sign for coming CV season.


I know Ivan.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30575
471. CaneAddict
8:07 PM GMT on May 14, 2008

467. Weather456 8:05 PM GMT on May 14, 2008
the tropical wave has been confirmed

Most impressive wave yet...
Member Since: October 5, 2007 Posts: 3 Comments: 2151
470. CaneAddict
8:06 PM GMT on May 14, 2008
467. Weather456 8:05 PM GMT on May 14, 2008
the tropical wave has been confirmed


Your about 2 hours late on that, LOL! Only messing with you 456. ;)
Member Since: October 5, 2007 Posts: 3 Comments: 2151
469. robinvtx
8:06 PM GMT on May 14, 2008
early June 2001 saw Tropical Storm Allison in Houston
468. CaneAddict
8:05 PM GMT on May 14, 2008
464. hurricane23 8:01 PM GMT on May 14, 2008
No development if you ask me in the eastern atlantic atleast for a couple more weeks.My opinion only of course.Its been interesting watching these pretty well developed waves come of africa so early this season.


The only thing that supports your statement at this time is that it's MAY. Other then that conditions are in favor of tropical development, I know climatology doesent allow it but we have a well-defined tropical wave, warm waters, low shear, little dust. So i wouldnt be surprised to a pre-season but very short-lived tropical depression. Usually development doesent EVER happen out here untill the heart months of the season but, Who knows.
Member Since: October 5, 2007 Posts: 3 Comments: 2151
467. Cavin Rawlins
8:05 PM GMT on May 14, 2008
the tropical wave has been confirmed

...THE ITCZ...
ITCZ AXIS IS CENTERED ALONG 5N9W 3N20W 2N32W 1N47W 2N52W. A NEW
TROPICAL WAVE HAS LIKELY JUST MOVED OFF THE COAST OF AFRICA
ALONG 16W OR SO...THIS WILL BE ADDED TO THE SFC MAP SOON.
SCATTERED MODERATE TO STRONG CONVECTION IS S OF 7N BETWEEN
16W-23W. SCATTERED MODERATE CONVECTION IS FROM 4N-6N BETWEEN
35W-45W...WITHIN 240 NM EITHER SIDE OF THE AXIS BETWEEN
23W-31W...AND WITHIN 180 NM N OF THE AXIS E OF 14W.
Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
466. Ivansrvivr
8:03 PM GMT on May 14, 2008
460. The reason none of our politicians will make a move on the energy issue is by the time any such action would make a difference their terms would be up. We need a long term comprehensive energy plan which neither political party has the guts to tackle. That would mean losing too much money that comes from lobbyists and special interest groups.

459. It is still too early, with too much dry air coming south off the CONUS for any major development. The constant increase in activity coming off Africa is ominous sign for coming CV season.
465. Drakoen
8:03 PM GMT on May 14, 2008
464. hurricane23 8:01 PM GMT on May 14, 2008
No development if you ask me in the eastern atlantic atleast for a couple more weeks.My opinion only of course.Its been interesting watching these pretty well developed waves come of africa so early this season.

Agreed.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30575
464. hurricane23
8:01 PM GMT on May 14, 2008
No development if you ask me in the eastern atlantic atleast for a couple more weeks.My opinion only of course.Its been interesting watching these pretty well developed waves come of africa so early this season.
Member Since: May 14, 2006 Posts: 8 Comments: 13807
463. CaneAddict
8:00 PM GMT on May 14, 2008
Once it is confirmed that the wave has NO association with the ITCZ, It could almost become an immediate invest.
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462. KarenRei
7:58 PM GMT on May 14, 2008
Too bad I won't get my electric car until next year. I find myself making fun of the primitive, awkward technology of my gasoline car at the same time I'm riding it. ;)

786: Yeah, I feel bad for all of the places that became reliant on oil for electricity back when it was cheap and are now stuck with it. You know, you can always generate your own power from solar if you want to... Do they have surplus generation buyback? With your insolation levels, you'd certainly have an economically reasonable payback period (one that beats the rate of interest on the loan to take out to fund the installation and still pays off in a couple decades or less). How much do you pay per kWh? I could do the math for you if you'd like.
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461. CaneAddict
7:57 PM GMT on May 14, 2008
453. KarenRei 7:02 PM GMT on May 14, 2008
CaneAddict:

I agree with you about the southern/western Carribean -- you're looking at the area between NW Venezuela and the Yucatan bounded by Jamaica in the north, and especially between Colombia and Nicaragua, no? It's been in ripe shape for development for over a week now except for persistent dry air. Sheer's been low, waters warm enough, etc. When that dry air moves out and convection moves in, we need to be watching for spin.


Right on target!

Drakeon: There is a chance with the favorable conditions off of Africa and the well-defined new wave that we could see a short-lived depression out there. Very slim but possible.
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460. NOWCAST
7:51 PM GMT on May 14, 2008
455. franck 7:34 PM GMT on May 14, 2008 Hide this comment.
Diesel already at $5 in spots.
Taxpayer purchases for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve at 70,000 barrels per day is providing support for Wall Street oil futures speculation. Stopping that should help gas prices to at least stabilizE...
Really think it will help 70,000 is a drop in the bucket to what the US uses everday. It will only amout to 4cents on the gallon at the most.
Leaving the SPR at 97% full. If something major happens to disrupt oil flow our economy and military will last about 65days... The real answer is to drill in our own back yard and work toward having our own source... But we have brilliant, Democrats who wont make a move on this... Enough Said.
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459. Drakoen
7:44 PM GMT on May 14, 2008
Very high amplitude wave has moved of the coast of Africa with some potential vorticity at the poleward end of the wave axis. Cimss wind product show lower to mid level curvature along the wave axis. The waves is current being enhanced by a very diffluent flow aloft under 5-10 knots of vertical wind shear. It is also important to note the current upward pulse of the MJO current over the majority of the Atlantic basin.

This picture of the wave was taken at 18z:
Photobucket
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458. Skyepony (Mod)
7:42 PM GMT on May 14, 2008
April 2008 comes in 10th hottest April since 1880.
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457. 786
7:41 PM GMT on May 14, 2008
more about the tropical wave at 16W any takers on its outlook??
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456. 786
7:38 PM GMT on May 14, 2008
yuo like where I live...$5.00 a gallon, our electricity company uses diesal to power the island and tp put it in perspective...1 month bill, 2 bedrm = US $250.00 no a/c US $450 - 500 with, unbelievable...as if they cannot introduce solar power to a Caribbean island that doesn't need daylight savings
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455. franck
7:34 PM GMT on May 14, 2008
Diesel already at $5 in spots.
Taxpayer purchases for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve at 70,000 barrels per day is providing support for Wall Street oil futures speculation. Stopping that should help gas prices to at least stabilize.
Member Since: August 30, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 1150
454. hurricane23
7:17 PM GMT on May 14, 2008
Premium gas at the corner were i live is 4.19 and will likely continue to go higher.Regular is 4.05
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453. KarenRei
7:02 PM GMT on May 14, 2008
CaneAddict:

I agree with you about the southern/western Carribean -- you're looking at the area between NW Venezuela and the Yucatan bounded by Jamaica in the north, and especially between Colombia and Nicaragua, no? It's been in ripe shape for development for over a week now except for persistent dry air. Sheer's been low, waters warm enough, etc. When that dry air moves out and convection moves in, we need to be watching for spin.
Member Since: September 7, 2007 Posts: 1 Comments: 940

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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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