(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘Hurricane

“I always tried to turn every disaster into an opportunity”*…

Hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, droughts, wildfires– they’re all on the rise, in both number and severity. Which is putting more strain on FEMA… But as Nicole Wetsman explains, FEMA is so hard to deal with that a new industry, “disaster consultants,” has emerged… and looks likely to prosper…

… FEMA is, in theory, complicated for a reason. Its labyrinth of rules is there to curb fraud and to make sure that local governments are using taxpayer money appropriately. But a laser focus on fraud prevention sometimes leads to the agency spending as much or more on documentation and reviews as the project itself should cost. “FEMA will spend thousands of dollars writing a project worksheet for $250 of eligible costs,” says Ben Rose, recovery and mitigation section chief at Vermont Emergency Management. “It’s not seeing the forest for the trees.”

And it also makes the process nearly impossible to navigate alone, particularly for cities and small towns that have never dealt with disasters before. Most don’t have any in-house emergency management experts who understand even the basics of the process. Some states, like Vermont, usually send in their own teams from emergency management departments to help cities and towns with the FEMA process. They only use consultants as force multipliers during really, really big disasters. Others, like Oregon, rely on them more often because the state just can’t maintain the level of staffing required.

That layers on additional costs for communities and, by extension, FEMA — which is well aware of the role consultants play in the public assistance program. It even pays for them: the towns, counties, or other groups applying for public assistance funding can use up to 5 percent of any grants for management costs. Still, FEMA used to be a bit dismissive toward consultants, [disaster consultantr AThat layers on additional costs for communities and, by extension, FEMA — which is well aware of the role consultants play in the public assistance program. It even pays for them: the towns, counties, or other groups applying for public assistance funding can use up to 5 percent of any grants for management costs. Still, FEMA used to be a bit dismissive toward consultants, [disaster consultant Alyssa ] Carrier says. That’s changed over the past few years. “It’s much more like, let’s work together,” she says.

If anything, the public assistance process has only gotten more byzantine over the past few years, experts say. The agency set up a digital portal to streamline the process of submitting public assistance grants. But it’s an undertaking to train local officials — who might have six other jobs — in that tool. “You have to upload every document and do them in a certain order,” Carrier says. “It can be hard to follow if you don’t understand the process to begin with. And one of the issues is, if you don’t do everything in order, you’ll get kicked back out and have to start all over again.”

FEMA is assessing the public assistance program with a focus on simplification, Jeremy Edwards, FEMA press secretary, said in an email to The Verge. “FEMA continues its ongoing efforts and initiatives to simplify and streamline the public assistance program,” he said.

But experts say FEMA also seems to be getting stricter with how it applies its own rules around what’s eligible for public assistance funding and around the rules cities and local governments have to follow to get that funding. Some of that is likely because of pressure from the various oversight agencies, like OIG, that come in and double-check the agency’s work. In 2016, the OIG released a report saying that FEMA wasn’t doing enough to make sure that groups receiving public assistance grants were sticking to procurement guidelines. They followed up with a similar report in 2021. “After another report like this, Public Assistance Recipients and Subrecipients should expect FEMA to take an even firmer stance on requiring compliance with procurement regulations,” wrote Michelle Zaltsberg, an attorney specializing in disaster recovery, in a blog post.

All of that oversight colors FEMA’s decisions. “Too often, FEMA prioritizes or looks through the lens of avoiding audit findings, avoiding Inspector General reports, and avoiding waste, fraud, and abuse complaints,” Phelps says. “And then like third or fourth on the list of what they try to do is help survivors.”

None of this is relieved by the growing frequency of disasters pulling the agency — and its money — in all directions. The amount distributed through public assistance funding has gone up for the past three years. There are no restrictions to the program based on dollar amounts; how much money gets spent is purely based on what’s eligible for the program. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the changing climate meant things like wildfires and hurricanes were appearing more frequently and in places where they may not have hit before. Before around 2015, Oregon used to average a federal disaster every 17 or 18 months, Phelps says. Since 2015, they’ve averaged a disaster declaration every seven or eight months — more than twice as often.

That leads to FEMA almost acting more as an insurance company that only pays out money when it has to than an agency providing aid, Phelps says. The first priority often seems to be making sure the paperwork is perfect…

A sobering read: “The Disaster Consultants,” from @NicoleWetsman in @verge.

* John D. Rockefeller, oil tycoon considered the richest person in American history (and possibly in modern history)

###

As we ruminate on response, we might recall that it was on this date in 1975 that Hurricane Iniki struck the Hawaiian island of Kaua’i; with winds of over 145 mph, it was the second-strongest Pacific hurricane on record, and caused around $3.1 billion (in 1992 USD) in damage and six deaths, making it the costliest natural disaster on record in the state. At the time, Iniki was the third-costliest United States hurricane. The storm struck just 18 days after Hurricane Andrew, the costliest tropical cyclone ever at the time, struck Florida.

Kauaʻi citizens were hopeful for disaster relief from the government or insurance companies, though after six months they felt annoyed with the lack of help.

Hurricane Iniki making landfall on Kauaʻi

source

Written by (Roughly) Daily

September 11, 2022 at 1:00 am

“With the greater part of rich people, the chief enjoyment of riches consists in the parade of riches”*…

California wildfire [source]

As insurance premiums rise, global warming’s effects are impacting collectors’ bank accounts, especially in disaster-prone states like California and Florida where risky conditions have become the norm…

Art collectors in California, Florida and other states experiencing weather-related disasters aggravated by climate change are finding fine art insurance becoming more expensive, with policies increasingly difficult to obtain (or renew) and containing new restrictions.

Earthquake-prone California, which has faced a series of massive wildfires (often followed by landslides) in recent years, is one epicentre in this struggle to find insurance coverage for homes and the art within them, with the annual cost of homeowners policies rising as much as 40% and the premiums for fine art insurance coverage increasing between 5% and 12%, according to Amee Yunn, assistant vice president of the New York-based Berkley Asset Protection, an insurance company specialising in fine art, jewellery and other high-value, personal and commercial assets. Florida, with its increasingly intense hurricanes and floods, is also a concern for the insurance industry.

“Many wealthy people flocked to Florida due to the pandemic,” Yunn says, “and they took their art with them.” That concentration of wealth assets in areas prone to flooding and hurricane damage creates significant risks to the financial wellbeing of insurance carriers. “We are seeing far more billion-dollar claims now than just 10 years ago,” Yunn says, causing companies like hers to write fewer new policies, increase their prices and add deductibles and exclusions. “The problem is acute.”

These days, insurance carriers track the advance of climate change as much as environmental scientists. “We have a corporate catastrophe team, which tracks the company’s total catastrophe exposure,” Yunn says. The risks from tornadoes in the Great Plains, hurricanes up and down the East Coast and earthquakes on the West Coast are well known, but the increasing intensity of hurricanes and tornadoes, as well as the rising numbers of them, are alarming signals. The tornado that ripped through Kentucky and several other states last year in a 200-mile path during the unlikely month of December was yet another sign of a climate that is becoming less predictable, as were a series of hurricanes, wildfires and freezing temperatures that have struck in Texas since 2017. In February 2021 a combination of snow, sleet and freezing rain paralysed Texas’s power grid for weeks, causing more than 200 deaths and nearly $200bn in damage.

“It would seem that there is nowhere safe from the effects of climate change,” [senior managing director at Risk Strategies Steve] Pincus says, all of which impacts the fine art insurance world, leading to higher prices and less available coverage…

‘The only way to stop the bleeding is to stop writing policies’: climate change is making it more expensive to insure art,” from @TheArtNewspaper.

Via @WaltHickey, in his invaluable Numlock News, who observes “Listen, if ‘boo hoo, it’s getting too expensive to insure my vast art collection’ is the thing that gets rich people to actually care about climate change I’m still gonna take that as a win.”

* Adam Smith

###

As we ponder protection, we might recall that it was in this date in 1885 that the first issue of Good Housekeeping was published. A “woman’s magazine” (featuring articles on women’s interests, recipes, diet, and health), it is also known for its product testing service and its the “Good Housekeeping Seal”, a limited warranty program that is popularly known as the “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.” One of the oldest continuously-published magazines in the U.S., it remains popular in its category.

The first issue of Good Housekeeping

source

“People seemed to believe that technology had stripped hurricanes of their power to kill. No hurricane expert endorsed this view.”*…

Tropical Storm Bertha approaching the South Carolina coast, May 27, 2020

For six straight years, Atlantic storms have been named in May, before [hurricane] season even begins. During the past nine Atlantic hurricane seasons, seven tropical storms have formed between May 15 and the official June 1 start date. Those have killed at least 20 people, causing about $200 million in damage, according to the WMO.

Last year, the hurricane center issued 36 “special” tropical weather outlooks before June 1, according to center spokesman Dennis Feltgen. Tropical Storms Arthur and Bertha both formed before June 1 near the Carolinas.

torms seem to be forming earlier because climate change is making the ocean warmer, University of Miami hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy said. Storms need warm water as fuel — at least 79 degrees (26 degrees Celsius). Also, better technology and monitoring are identifying and naming weaker storms that may not have been spotted in years past, Feltgen said…

With named storms coming earlier and more often in warmer waters, the Atlantic hurricane season is going through some changes with meteorologists ditching the Greek alphabet during busy years…

A special World Meteorological Organization committee Wednesday ended the use of Greek letters when the Atlantic runs out of the 21 names for the year, saying the practice was confusing and put too much focus on the Greek letter and not on the dangerous storm it represented. Also, in 2020 with Zeta, Eta and Theta, they sounded so similar it caused problems.

The Greek alphabet had only been used twice in 2005 and nine times last year in a record-shattering hurricane season. 

Starting this year, if there are more than 21 Atlantic storms, the next storms will come from a new supplemental list headed by Adria, Braylen, Caridad and Deshawn and ending with Will. There’s a new back-up list for the Eastern Pacific that runs from Aidan and Bruna to Zoe.

Meanwhile, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration is recalculating just what constitutes an average hurricane season… But the Atlantic hurricane season will start this year on June 1 as traditionally scheduled, despite meteorologists discussing the idea of moving it to May 15…

With so much activity, MIT’s [Kerry] Emanuel said the current warnings are too storm-centric, and he wants them more oriented to where people live, warning of specific risks such as floods and wind. That includes changing or ditching the nearly 50-year-old Saffir Simpson scale of rating hurricanes Category 1 to 5. 

That wind-based scale is “about a storm, it’s not about you. I want to make it about you, where you are,” he said. “It is about risk. In the end, we are trying to save lives and property”… Differentiating between tropical storms, hurricanes and extratropical cyclones can be a messaging problem when a system actually has a cold core, because these weaker storms can kill with water surges rather than wind… For example, some people and officials underestimated 2012’s Sandy because it wasn’t a hurricane and lost its tropical characteristic… 

Rethinking hurricanes in a time of climate change: “Bye Alpha, Eta: Greek alphabet ditched for hurricane names.”

* Erik Larson, Isaac’s Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History

###

As we accommodate climate change, we might spare a thought for George Alfred Leon Sarton; he died on this date in 1956. A chemist by training, his primary interest lay in the past practices and precepts of his field…an interest that led him to found the discipline of the history of science as an independent field of study. His most influential work was the Introduction to the History of Science (three volumes totaling 4,296 pages). Sarton ultimately aimed to achieve an integrated philosophy of science that connected the sciences and the humanities– what he called “the new humanism.” His name is honored with the prestigious George Sarton Medal, awarded by the History of Science Society.

source

Written by (Roughly) Daily

March 22, 2021 at 1:01 am

“We’re not in Kansas anymore”*…

Randy Shoemaker embraces his son Conner, 6, after surviving a deadly tornado that killed at least seven people in Chatsworth, Ga., in April

In March 2019, a violent tornado plowed through eastern Alabama, flattening houses and demolishing mobile homes. Twenty-three people were killed including four children, ages 10, 9, 8 and 6.

Exactly one year later, on March 3, 2020, a tornado gusting at 170 mph ripped through central Tennessee, killing 19 people. Four of the victims were children between the ages of 2 and 7.

The twisters spiraled along the ground for only minutes, but they are the two deadliest natural disasters in the United States since the start of 2019. They received fleeting national attention.

The mortal storms illustrate an alarming trend that is overlooked amid concern about hurricanes, wildfires and floods: Tornadoes are increasingly occurring in the Southeast, where they are twice as deadly as tornadoes elsewhere in the United States…

A shift of tornado activity from the Great Plains to the Southeast has brought heightened danger by concentrating twisters in a far more perilous landscape — one covered by forest that conceals tornadoes and is filled with mobile homes that are easily demolished…

Tornado Alley has moved from the Great Plains to the Southeast: “Migrating tornadoes are the nation’s deadliest disasters.”

* Dorothy, The Wizard of Oz

###

As we contemplate the consequences of climate change, we might recall that it was on this date in 1896 that the Cedar Keys Hurricane finally disapated. Having passed as a tropical storm through the Lesser Antilles on September 22 (the earliest known activity), it grew to hurricane strength over Cuba, then passed on to Florida, over the Keys. Before being absorbed into another low pressure area, it made its way to southern New York State, where it finally gave out.

Its winds stayed high throughout its journey, and it was prodigiously wet: it left 19.96 inches at Glennville, Georgia, caused flash floods in the Shenandoah Valley, left the White House grounds in a wreck, and downed trees at the Gettysburg Battlefield. It is estimated to have caused 130 deaths and $1.5 million in damage (in 1896 dollars, which would be about $46 million today).

Storm victims pose with damaged houses on Cedar Key

source

Written by (Roughly) Daily

September 30, 2020 at 1:01 am

“Disasters are called natural, as if nature were the executioner and not the victim”*…

 

The United States is an enormous country, spanning mountains, deserts, forests, prairie, tundra, and more. This varied terrain is also home to many natural hazards spawned by air, water, fire, and forces beneath the Earth’s surface.

Some of these threats are dramatic; the United States and its territories have the greatest number of active volcanoes of any country except Indonesia, as well as the most tornadoes. Other hazards, like heat waves, are less flashy but can still kill you.

Different regions of the country face very different hazards. But which part of the United States is the most dangerous? It turns out there’s no simple answer, although the south does have a particularly generous share of hazards…

See how the country’s natural menaces differ by geography at “Where in the United States is nature most likely to kill you?

* Eduardo Galeano

###

As we calculate our odds, we might recall that it was on this date in 1899 that New Richmond Tornado– an estimated F5 storm, formed in the early evening, and went on to tear a 45-mile long path of destruction through St. Croix, Polk and Barron counties in west-central Wisconsin, leaving 117 people dead, twice as many injured, and hundreds homeless.  The worst devastation wrought by the tornado was at the city of New Richmond, Wisconsin, which took a direct hit from the storm.  In all, more than $300,000 ($8,825,000 in today’s dollars) in damage was reported.  Still, it ranks as only the ninth deadliest tornado in United States history.

The ruins of New Richmond Methodist Church after the tornado

source

 

Written by (Roughly) Daily

June 12, 2018 at 1:01 am

%d bloggers like this: