Pick your poison

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 3. toukokuuta 2007 klo 19:41 (GMT)

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A huge, destructive hurricane takes aim at a major U.S. city. The media creates a riveting drama, followed by millions of people, who watch in awe as the massive storm smashes ashore. Grimly, wind-blown reporters and concerned news anchors document the mounting death toll and billions in damage wrought, bemoaning nature's deadliest and most destructive weather phenomena--the hurricane.

We've got it all wrong. The hurricane is not nature's deadliest and most destructive weather phenomena. Yes, hurricanes have taken a terrible toll in the U.S. over the past 20 years. They've killed an average of 150 people and caused $15 billion in damage per year--mostly thanks to Katrina. But the nation's deadliest weather events are not destructive storms that shred cities. Nature's most innocent weather--high pressure systems that bring sunny skies and light winds--are our deadliest weather events, thanks to the witch's brew of pollution we pour into our atmosphere.



Figure 1. Pick your poison--a Category 5 hurricane, or a sunny high pressure system with light winds? If you're an asthmatic, or have heart or lung disease, you'd probably be better off picking the Cat 5 hurricane. Photo of Los Angeles smog courtesy of wunderphotographer boytonbeachboy.

How high pressure systems trap pollution
High pressure systems are regions where the air gradually sinks, warming as it approaches the surface. This warming, sinking air creates a layer of air aloft (typically near 3000 feet in altitude) that is warmer than the air beneath it. This "upper air inversion" acts as a lid on the atmosphere, keeping pollutants trapped near the surface. Updrafts carrying surface air into the inversion suddenly encounter air that is warmer and less dense, so the updraft dies and the pollutants that they were trying to carry aloft settle back down towards the surface. If the high pressure region is large, an extensive area of light winds at the surface will exist, keeping the pollutants trapped under the inversion from being blown away horizontally. If the high pressure system stays in place for several days, pollutants will accumulate day by day, reaching levels harmful to human health and triggering a sharp rise in the death rate. "Particulate matter," also known as particle pollution or PM, is the pollutant that causes the largest rise in the death rate. Particulate matter pollution can occur any time of year, when winds are light and an inversion exists. In summertime, a double-whammy dose of ozone pollution can also hit, if temperatures are warm enough to drive the chemical reactions that form ozone.

How many people does pollution kill?
Why is it that air pollution episodes that kill thousands of Americans don't receive the media attention that hurricanes get? It's because it is not obvious when someone dies from air pollution, and there is very large uncertainty in the numbers. The only way to see air pollution deaths is to analyze death rate statistics for multiple years, carefully filtering out other influences such as weather extremes. Over two thousand studies have been published in the scientific literature documenting the link between air pollution and higher death and hospitalization rates. Most of these studies concern fine particulate matter (less than 2.5 microns in diameter), which can get deep into a person's lungs and be passed into the blood stream. Recent studies have also documented higher death rates from ozone pollution. For example, in a 2004 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Dr. Michelle Bell, an air quality and health expert at Yale University, found that an ozone increase of 10 parts per billion increased the death rate by an average of .52% in 95 U.S. cities (containing 40% of the U.S. population) during the period 1987-2000. Bell's research implies that a change in the ozone standard from the current 80 ppb (parts per billion) to the newly proposed standard of 60 ppb could prevent nearly 8,000 premature deaths per year in those 95 cities. About half of the people who died prematurely in Bell's study were over age 75, but the death rate increased the same amount for both young and old. In some cases, the people who died were victims of strokes or heart attacks that had other contributing causes, such as high blood pressure or sedentary lifestyles. Thus, the "premature deaths" caused by air pollution are only partly attributable to breathing bad air, while drowning in a hurricane's storm surge is entirely due to the hurricane. Nevertheless, a great many children die of pollution-induced asthma attacks who would not have died otherwise, and the mortality due to air pollution in the general population is in the thousands or ten of thousands each year. Outdoor air pollution in the U.S. due to particulate pollution alone was estimated by the EPA in 1997 to cause at least 20,000 premature deaths each year. A 2005 study by EPA scientists (Particulate Matter Health Risk Assessment for Selected Urban Areas) estimated that over 4,700 premature deaths occur each year in just nine cities (Detroit, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Boston, Phoenix, Seattle, and San Jose)--even if those cities all met the current federal standards for particulate matter pollution. Extrapolating these data to the entire nation puts the annual death toll in the tens of thousands--but the EPA has not calculated that total. Some studies have placed the annual pollution death toll in the U.S. at 50,000 to 100,000 (Dockery, D.W., and C.A Pope III. Acute Respiratory Effects of Particulate Air Pollution. Annual Review Public Health, 1994, vol. 15,107-32.) The death toll is much higher in other parts of the world, where air pollution standards are not as stringent (see the photos below of pollution in Cairo and Hong Hong!) Globally, about 800,000 people per year die prematurely due to outdoor air pollution, according to a 2005 study published in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health. This represents about 1.2 percent of total annual global deaths.



Figure 2. Trends in fine particulate air pollution in the U.S. Since 1999, fine particles (less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter) have decreased 15%. Image credit: U.S. EPA.

Progress is being made
Significant progress has been made in recent years in cleaning the nation's air. Between 1970 and 2004, total emissions of the six major air pollutants regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) dropped by 54 percent. This is particularly impressive when noting that the gross domestic product increased 187 percent, energy consumption increased 47 percent, and U.S. population grew by 40 percent during the same time. Fine particulate matter pollution, which causes the most deaths due to pollution, has dropped 15% since 1999 (Figure 2), although it did increase in some Eastern U.S. cities in 2006. In March 2005, the EPA instituted the Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR). This new rule will cost $3 billion per year to implement, but the EPA estimates annual savings of nearly $100 billion in health costs, plus the prevention of over 17,000 premature deaths, by the year 2015.

How you can avoid a premature death due to air pollution
- Pay attention to forecasts for high air pollution days to know when to take precautions
- Avoid exercising near high-traffic areas
- Avoid exercising outdoors when pollution levels are high, or substitute an activity that requires less exertion
- Eliminate indoor smoking
- Reduce the use of fireplaces and wood burning stoves

How you can help others avoid a premature death due to air pollution
- Support national, state and local efforts to clean up sources of pollution. When one hears talk about the high cost of cutting fossil fuels use to reduce global warming, keep in mind that any lessening of fossil fuel use will also reduce air pollution and all of its costs.
- Conserve electricity and set your air conditioner at a higher temperature.
- Choose a cleaner commute--share a ride to work or use public transportation. Combine errands and reduce trips.
- Bicycle or walk to errands when possible.
- Refuel cars and trucks after dusk.
- Limit engine idling.
- Get regular engine tune ups and car maintenance checks (especially for the spark plugs).
- Avoid spilling gas and don't "top off" the tank. Replace gas tank cap tightly.
- Properly dispose of household paints, solvents and pesticides. Store these materials in airtight containers.
- Paint with a brush, not a sprayer.
- Buy low VOC paints for indoor and outdoor painting jobs.
- Reduce or eliminate fireplace and wood stove use.
- Avoid using gas-powered lawn and garden equipment.
- Avoid burning leaves, trash and other materials.
- Use household, workshop, and garden chemicals in ways that keep evaporation to a minimum, or try to delay using them when poor air quality is forecast.
- Replace your car's air filter and oil regularly

For more information
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has designated this week as Air Pollution Awareness Week. Check out their Air Pollution Awareness Week web site to learn more.

My next blog will be Monday.
Jeff Masters

Hong Kong in mist (RobertsChina)
Hong Kong skyline through mist and pollution, as seen from "The Peak" park. South-East China.
Hong Kong in mist
Egyptian Smog (Nefertiti)
This is a picture of the Pyramids at Giza taken from Cairo Tower at sunset. It highlights the pollution problem in Cairo.
Egyptian Smog

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Viewing: 415 - 365

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415. Chocolatethunder
8. toukokuuta 2007 klo 16:21 (GMT)
What about the GDFL model has anyone seen it
414. seminolesfan
5. toukokuuta 2007 klo 18:50 (GMT)
New blog up!!!
Member Since: 14.06.2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 2106
411. i12BNEi
5. toukokuuta 2007 klo 18:17 (GMT)
HurricaneMyles Thank you.
410. MZT
5. toukokuuta 2007 klo 18:12 (GMT)
One of the problems with Alberto last year was there were multiple vortices, and it took him a long time to organize. Seemed like we spent a couple of days here debating where the real center was. Even the NHC wasn't sure.
Member Since: 24.09.2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 793
409. HurricaneMyles
5. toukokuuta 2007 klo 18:08 (GMT)
i12BNEi...If you mean do tropical storm change the winds to lower shear around them, then usually not.

Since tropical storms have outflow in the upper levels that gets very fast as the storm gets stronger this outflow creates areas of shear around the storm. If two storms come close enough to each other the different areas of outflow will interfere with each other and weaken the storms.
Member Since: 12.01.2006 Posts: 5 Comments: 827
408. CaneAddict17
5. toukokuuta 2007 klo 18:05 (GMT)
The 12z UKMET shows it developing, moving over Florida, and dissipating.
Member Since: 31.08.2006 Posts: 5 Comments: 156
407. i12BNEi
5. toukokuuta 2007 klo 18:01 (GMT)
Can/Have any storms ever effected the shearing to a piont where it is favorable for other storms to develope?
406. i12BNEi
5. toukokuuta 2007 klo 17:55 (GMT)
It looks like we would have a few items of interest if it wasn't for the shear.
405. seminolesfan
5. toukokuuta 2007 klo 17:55 (GMT)
So they're saying the L developing now will move off the the east and 'another low' is what the models are forcasting to develop, right?
Member Since: 14.06.2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 2106
404. HurricaneMyles
5. toukokuuta 2007 klo 17:54 (GMT)
Funny thing about May storms is that we havent had one in like 25 years. We've had more April storms since then. If anything we're overdue - and the SE Coast/GoM are normal places for that to happen.

However, I'm still very skeptical of the whole thing. SST's are marginal at best, unless it can park itself over the gulf stream and stay there. Modeled shear is high, and somehow those things have this surface low finding, or creating, an area of low shear. This all just seems real farfetched to me.
Member Since: 12.01.2006 Posts: 5 Comments: 827
403. seminolesfan
5. toukokuuta 2007 klo 17:51 (GMT)
This is from the NHC:

VIS SAT IMAGERY SHOWS A SWIRL
OF LOW CLOUDS ASSOCIATED WITH THE DEVELOPING SFC LOW. THIS LOW
WILL MOVE MAINLY E WITH LITTLE CHANGE IN THE NEXT 24 HOURS. THE
GLOBAL MODELS ARE ALSO GRADUALLY COMING INTO BETTER AGREEMENT
REGARDING THE DEVELOPMENT OF ANOTHER LOW OFF THE SOUTHEAST U.S.
COAST DURING THE SUN-TUE TIMEFRAME. THIS FEATURE COULD HAVE
SIGNIFICANT MARINE IMPACTS FOR THE AREA INTO EARLY NEXT WEEK.
THIS LOW IS FORECAST TO EVOLVE FROM A STATIONARY FRONTAL
BOUNDARY EXTENDING NOW ALONG 31N WEST OF 60W. THIS SFC LOW MAY
REACH STORM FORCE WINDS AS IT MAKES A LOOPING TYPE MOTION OFF
THE SE US.
Member Since: 14.06.2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 2106
401. Levi32
5. toukokuuta 2007 klo 17:42 (GMT)
Ok, first of all it is NOT forming already. It won't be there for another 24-36 hours, so the stuff on the radar isn't part of it. Second, the wind shear doesn't die off completely next week. It gets down to 10-15 knots for about 36 hours and then goes back up to 30 on average the whole time. The possibility of development is remote, but not out of the question.
Member Since: 24.11.2005 Posts: 628 Comments: 26452
400. i12BNEi
5. toukokuuta 2007 klo 17:42 (GMT)
Come to Tampa,My sand needs watered.
399. i12BNEi
5. toukokuuta 2007 klo 17:40 (GMT)
GFS windshear dies off around that whole area next week.
398. MZT
5. toukokuuta 2007 klo 17:37 (GMT)
It's pretty clear to me now from radar that there are northwestward moving rainclouds, offshore of Wilmington. If those start to wrap westerly and then southwest, we may have a circulation out there.
Member Since: 24.09.2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 793
397. Levi32
5. toukokuuta 2007 klo 17:37 (GMT)
Ok Adrian, my bad lol. Yeah they're hyping it a little I guess. They're not far wrong though. To be honest I agree with them. I haven't looked at shear forecasts yet though I should do that...
Member Since: 24.11.2005 Posts: 628 Comments: 26452
395. hurricane23
5. toukokuuta 2007 klo 17:31 (GMT)

ggg

While the Atlantic Hurricane Season does not officially begin until June 1, the first storm of the 2007 season could be named early next week. The storm that may acquire the name Andrea will take shape off the Southeast coast by Monday. Since the storm will develop when a cold pool of air gets removed from the fast-flowing jet stream, the storm will not be a true tropical system. It may though have enough tropical characteristics to warrant a name. Whether or not it becomes Andrea, the storm will make its presence known across the Southeast coast early next week. The flow of air wedged between the storm and an area of high pressure to the north will cause strong gusty winds to rough up the coastline. Since the storm should meander offshore Monday and Tuesday, the chance for rain only exists along the North Carolina coast. Continue to check back with AccuWeather.com for the latest on this storm as its exact track will be finessed.
Member Since: 14.05.2006 Posts: 8 Comments: 13594
394. Thunderstorm2
5. toukokuuta 2007 klo 17:29 (GMT)
TORNADO WARNING IN EFFECT IN NEBRASKA
Member Since: 22.12.2006 Posts: 129 Comments: 7608
393. i12BNEi
5. toukokuuta 2007 klo 17:28 (GMT)
How many storms have headed in this direction though? Remember the first storm of 05 heading east from mexico.
392. Thunderstorm2
5. toukokuuta 2007 klo 17:28 (GMT)
It's getting bad in Kansas.

3 Tornado watches are up with 2 of them being a PDS
Member Since: 22.12.2006 Posts: 129 Comments: 7608
391. MZT
5. toukokuuta 2007 klo 17:26 (GMT)
CaneAddict17, I'd say that May storms are the equivalent of December storms. They happen, rarely, but aren't "freak ocurrances".
Member Since: 24.09.2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 793
390. Levi32
5. toukokuuta 2007 klo 17:25 (GMT)
Hey Adrian, don't go assuming that Accuweather thinks it will become Andrea. That graphic suggests NOTHING about tropical development.
Member Since: 24.11.2005 Posts: 628 Comments: 26452
389. hurricane23
5. toukokuuta 2007 klo 17:22 (GMT)
NHC in 72hrs...

fff
Member Since: 14.05.2006 Posts: 8 Comments: 13594
388. MZT
5. toukokuuta 2007 klo 17:20 (GMT)
It does look like Wilmington Radar is showing a disturbance forming. A squall line arcing towards the northwest, about 100 miles offshore?
Member Since: 24.09.2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 793
387. CaneAddict17
5. toukokuuta 2007 klo 17:14 (GMT)
How many times has a storm formed in early May? Or could this be the first one?
Member Since: 31.08.2006 Posts: 5 Comments: 156
386. hurricane23
5. toukokuuta 2007 klo 17:06 (GMT)
Accuweather seems to think it could become andrea next week.A heck of a start to the season if this occurs.

GGG
Member Since: 14.05.2006 Posts: 8 Comments: 13594
383. Levi32
5. toukokuuta 2007 klo 16:40 (GMT)
Upper level anticyclone right over it.

You know that image is very interesting. What it shows is an upper low associated with the rogue storm, but near the storm the winds turn to clockwise, meaning that the GFS thinks that the rogue storm will create its own outlow! This will be interesting to watch lol.
Member Since: 24.11.2005 Posts: 628 Comments: 26452
380. MZT
5. toukokuuta 2007 klo 16:10 (GMT)
>>Upper level anticyclone right over it.

>Those winds are counterclockwise

Shhh! Don't spoil the wishcasting! ;-)
Member Since: 24.09.2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 793
378. PensacolaDoug
5. toukokuuta 2007 klo 16:04 (GMT)
Are we blob watching yet?
Member Since: 25.07.2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 519
377. Thunderstorm2
5. toukokuuta 2007 klo 16:03 (GMT)
Is This the Link you tried to post stormhank?
Member Since: 22.12.2006 Posts: 129 Comments: 7608
376. stormhank
5. toukokuuta 2007 klo 15:57 (GMT)
well didnt work again go figure
Member Since: 8.09.2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 1382
375. stormhank
5. toukokuuta 2007 klo 15:57 (GMT)
12z GFS 60 hour...http://www.nco.ncep.noaa.gov/pmb/nwprod/analysis/carib/gfs/12/fp0_060.shtml
Member Since: 8.09.2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 1382
374. stormhank
5. toukokuuta 2007 klo 15:54 (GMT)
SJ ,, kris .. you got mail
Member Since: 8.09.2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 1382
373. Thunderstorm2
5. toukokuuta 2007 klo 15:49 (GMT)
mgreen91, yeah it's been wiped off the map
Member Since: 22.12.2006 Posts: 129 Comments: 7608
372. mgreen91
5. toukokuuta 2007 klo 15:46 (GMT)
CNN is reporting the whole town of Greenburg KS has been wiped out by a tornado.
Member Since: 4.08.2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 290
371. StormJunkie
5. toukokuuta 2007 klo 15:46 (GMT)
Looks like the latest GFS wants to push it way off shore.
Member Since: 17.08.2005 Posts: 26 Comments: 15472
370. CaneAddict17
5. toukokuuta 2007 klo 15:42 (GMT)
The GFS 12z forecast is starting to come out and is already on 24hrs.
Link
Member Since: 31.08.2006 Posts: 5 Comments: 156
369. weatherboykris
5. toukokuuta 2007 klo 15:39 (GMT)
Upper level anticyclone right over it.
Member Since: 9.12.2006 Posts: 125 Comments: 11346
368. stormhank
5. toukokuuta 2007 klo 15:37 (GMT)
Hey guys I must be gettin old timers disease but refresh my memory on how this LINK thingy works...i cant get it to work for me and Im getting gray hair fast LOL
Member Since: 8.09.2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 1382
367. seminolesfan
5. toukokuuta 2007 klo 15:35 (GMT)
sh-you know its WAY TOO early!! :)
Member Since: 14.06.2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 2106
366. weatherboykris
5. toukokuuta 2007 klo 15:35 (GMT)
The NMM des typically overdo TCs,though.
Member Since: 9.12.2006 Posts: 125 Comments: 11346
365. stormhank
5. toukokuuta 2007 klo 15:34 (GMT)
hello all ...Is this system going to affect florida coast? Or to early to tell??
Member Since: 8.09.2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 1382

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About JeffMasters

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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