The Corpus Callosum

There have already been several posts about href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/09/11/AR2008091100263.html">hurricane
Ike on Scienceblogs ( href="http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2008/09/ike_texas.php">1
href="http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2008/09/ike_friday_pm_texas_as_categor.php">2
href="http://scienceblogs.com/authority/2008/09/hurricane_ike_storm_surge_in_p.php">3
href="http://scienceblogs.com/catdynamics/2008/09/hurricanes_bad_scenarios.php">4
href="http://scienceblogs.com/deepseanews/2008/09/hurricane_websites_getting_coo.php">5
href="http://scienceblogs.com/intersection/2008/09/i_dont_like_ike.php">6
href="http://scienceblogs.com/illconsidered/2008/09/gw_news_september_7_2008.php#AWOGN20080907_Hurricanes">7),
but so far I haven’t seen anyone put the whole picture together.
 We still don’t know exactly where Ike will hit, but it looks
increasingly likely that Ike will hit close to Houston.  In
fact, the most recent (3PM EDT 11 Sept. 2008) damage model posted at href="http://www.theoildrum.com/node/4517">The Oil Drum
indicates that it is likely to be a direct hit on Houston.
 See The Oil Drum for interesting maps and
diagrams, if you like that sort of thing.

This time, the problem is not the oil rigs or the href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louisiana_Offshore_Oil_Port">Louisiana
Offshore Oil Port (LOOP).  Yes, oil rigs are being
evacuated and shut down; yes, this will lower the amount of oil and gas
that we get from the Gulf of Mexico.  From The Oil
Drum
(linked above):

Also, the href="http://www.rigzone.com/news/article.asp?a_id=66473">MMS
reported Wednesday that staff has been evacuated from 452 production
platforms (63.0%) and 81 rigs (66.9%) – (95.9% of the oil
production
and 73.1% of the natural gas production has been shut-in as a
precautionary measure for Hurricane Ike.)

But the problem is not the impact to oil supply.  It is much
more serious than that.


The problem is that up to 30 to 38% of our refinery capacity
could be taken offline for an unknown period of time.

Within the current NHC storm path lies about 5-6
million bpd of US petroleum refining capacity. (Perspective: 5 MMBBL is
about 30% of US capacity (about 15 MMBBL), and a bit less than 6% of
global capacity (~85 MMBBL).

A brief disruption would be no big deal.  An extended
disruption would lead to good news and bad news.  The good
news is that we would be using less oil, so the price could fall.
 The bad news is that that reason we would be using less oil,
is that it would be sitting uselessly in storage, rather than being
used to make gasoline, kerosene, diesel fuel, and a zillion other
things that we need.  Gas prices would skyrocket.

Production-side damage becomes irrelevant at that
point.

At the href="http://www.wunderground.com/blog/JeffMasters/comment.html?entrynum=1081&tstamp=200809">Weather
Underground
(one of the first good weather sites,
founded and still located in Ann Arbor), Jeff Masters explains why we
need to worry about Ike.  What he says is that the
Saffir-Simpson category of the hurricane (1, 2, etc.) is not the most
important aspect.  The Saffir-Simpson category is based upon
the wind speed.

Meteorologists are developing a different model.  The new
model is based upon kinetic energy, as opposed to wind speed.
 Ironically, the acronym is IKE: href="http://www.wunderground.com/blog/JeffMasters/comment.html?entrynum=1081&tstamp=200809">Integrated
Kinetic Energy.
 

The amount of water Ike has put in motion is about
10% greater than what Katrina did, and thus we can expect Ike’s storm
surge damage will be similar to or greater than Katrina’s. The way we
can estimate this damage potential is to compute the total energy of
Ike’s surface winds (kinetic energy). To do this, we must
look at how strong the winds are, and factor in the areal coverage of
these winds
. Thus, we compute the Integrated Kinetic Energy
(IKE) by squaring the velocity of the wind and summing over all regions
of the hurricane with tropical storm force winds or higher. This
“Integrated Kinetic Energy” was recently proposed by Dr. Mark Powell of
NOAA’s Hurricane Research Division as a better measure of the
destructive power
of a hurricane’s storm surge than the usual
Category 1-5 Saffir-Simpson scale. For example, Hurricane Katrina hit
Mississippi as a strong Category 3 hurricane, yet its storm surge was
more characteristic of a Category 5 storm. Dr. Powell came up with a
new scale to rate potential storm surge damage based on IKE (not to be
confused with Hurricane Ike!) The new scale ranges from 1-6. Katrina
and Wilma at their peaks both earned a 5.1 on this scale (Figure 2). At
12:30pm EDT today, Ike earned a 5.2 on this scale, the second highest
kinetic energy of any Atlantic storm in the past 40 years.

[emphasis added]

In other words, this is serious.  This chart (from Weather
Underground) compares the IKE of Ike to other major storms:

i-e34c04dd40a1badd53eb0a1a97477f82-IKE_Ike.jpg

There is a potential for loss of life.  I heard on the news
(NPR) on the way home from work, that many people are evacuating.
 But some are not.  The evacuation for Rita was so
onerous, that some people are choosing to stay.  That is a
mistake.  

Here is an excerpt from the NWS warning:

Shoreline of Galveston Bay… 15 to 25 feet

life threatening inundation likely!

All neighborhoods… and possibly entire coastal communities… will be
inundated during the period of peak storm tide. Persons not heeding
evacuation orders in single family one or two story homes may face
certain death. Many residences of average construction directly on the
coast will be destroyed. Widespread and devastating personal property
damage is likely elsewhere.  Vehicles left behind will likely
be swept away. Numerous roads will be swamped… some may be washed
away by the water. Entire flood prone coastal communities will be
cutoff. Water levels may exceed 9 feet for more than a mile inland.
Coastal residents in multi-story facilities risk being cutoff.
Conditions will be worsened by battering waves closer to the coast.
Such waves will exacerbate property damage… with massive destruction
of homes… including those of block construction. Damage from beach
erosion could take years to repair.

So the economic damage is likely to be high.  Damage to food
production will occur.

Sustainability advocates like to talk about the href="http://www.unu.edu/unupress/unupbooks/uu17ee/uu17ee04.htm#4.%20environment,%20economy,%20energy,%20and%20sustainable%20development">three
E’s: environment, economy, energy.  With Ike, we are
likely to see all three in play.  

The hurricane is a manifestation of environment, and may cause further
environmental damage.  Of course, if it leads to a reduction
in fuel consumption, that could actually help a tiny bit.

It will disrupt energy supplies.  For how long, we don’t know.
 But right now, the economy is fragile.  If energy
supply is disrupted, the economy will suffer.

When Katrina struck, our economy was still strong.  We could
afford to take that hit.  Not that we made all the investments
we should have, but we could have done so; we had the money.  

The href="http://seekingalpha.com/article/94759-foreclosure-rates-rising-all-over-the-u-s-housing-tracker">housing
crisis, the href="http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2008/09/central-banks-anticipate-mother-of-year.html">credit
crunch, failed
banks
, href="http://www.rgemonitor.com/blog/roubini/253529/comrades_bush_paulson_and_bernanke_welcome_you_to_the_ussra_united_socialist_state_republic_of_america">Fannie/Freddie,
href="http://calculatedrisk.blogspot.com/2008/09/wsj-lehman-in-sales-talks.html">Lehman
Brothers, href="http://calculatedrisk.blogspot.com/2008/09/wamu-45-billion-in-loan-loss-provisions.html">Washington
Mutual, href="http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601101&sid=aHTN6MQee3K4&refer=japan">faltering
carry trades, href="http://economistsview.typepad.com/economistsview/">falling
wages, href="http://economistsview.typepad.com/economistsview/">trade
deficit, href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/09/09/AR2008090901029.html">federal
deficit, href="http://www.econbrowser.com/archives/2008/09/three_pictures_2.html">unemployment,
href="http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=newsarchive&sid=ah0H0gIVJONM">declining
retail sales, href="http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2008/09/china-and-japan-post-deteriorating.html">slowing
economy in Asia, href="http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2008/09/emerging-markets-outflows-highest-since.html">declining
investment in emerging markets, href="http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/11/business/worldbusiness/11euro.html?ref=worldbusiness">European
financial woes, these all are varieties of what Ben Bernanke
likes to call “ href="http://www.federalreserve.gov/newsevents/speech/bernanke20071129a.htm">headwinds.”
 He probably does not know how ironic that word choice may be.

Of course, predicting the economy is like predicting the weather.
 You never really know until the storm is about to hit, and
sometimes not even then.

My point is this: Hurricane Ike has a high likelihood of causing
significant economic damage.  It is something that we are
particularly ill-suited to withstand at this point in our Nation’s
history.  Our policy of scrimping on infrastructure is going
to haunt us.  Our policy of focusing on defending the country
against unlikely threats, while ignoring probable
threats, is going to hurt us.  

Tomorrow, we will have a much better idea of the specific threat that
Ike poses.  However, it will take months to get an
appreciation of the significance of the economic damage.  

Comments

  1. #1 Janne
    September 12, 2008

    The loss of life is nothing to shrug about. Here in Japan most worry and anxiety is tied to earthquakes, but even in this so seismically active country the reality is that typhoons take more lives and cause more damage than earthquakes do. And yes, that is with disasters like Kobe included. You can see this in the traditional Japanese buildings, with heavy tile roofs. Heavy roofs on buildings on poles may seem like a dumb idea for earthquakes – but the design is very resilient to typhoons.

    But a major factor for typhoon damage is preparedness. The south of Japan – Kyuushuu and Okinawa – typically see several typhoons every year. People know it and they (and their buildings) are prepared for it so the damage is generally contained. Evacuations, for instance, are typically never done no matter how strong the typhoon. But two years ago one typhoon wound up moving through the sea of Japan, between Japan and China, all the way up to Hokkaido. By the time it reached the island it was the Pluto of typhoons – only barely qualifying at all. But as typhoons never hit Hokkaido the damage was substantial – much more than when it had hit Okinawa at full strength a week earlier.

    So, with more and stronger typhoons/hurricanes, you will eventually see better preparedness, both from people and structures, and the effects of them will decrease. If, in fact, devastating hurricanes become a yearly occurrence in the southwest US it’s probably only a matter of time before you start seeing building codes reflecting this just as they reflect the risk of earthquakes in California.

    Meanwhile, less refinery capacity should mean more and thus cheaper oil for other parts of the world, right? And even cheaper would the dollar sink again due to economic uncertainties. Which would help create an economic cushion so that not all parts of the world economy is dragged down in tandem. Which in turn would greatly help economic recovery in those areas that are getting hit.

  2. #2 Joseph j7uy5
    September 12, 2008

    It is true that the loss of life is important; I certainly did not mean to minimize that.

    Economic disturbances do tend to be self-correcting, up to a point. The whole point of this post though, is to suggest that we a close to a tipping point. (Some would say we are well past the tipping point.) Like the environment, the economy is a complex system. Complex systems tend to having tipping points. Once they are reached, it is extremely difficult to undo the damage.

    Sure, the Gulf coast can be reinforced, and I hope that happens. Note, however, that the current projections for Ike call for tropical depression-force winds well into Arkansas. There is no way to reinforce that much of the country.

    A few months ago, the remnants of Dolly caused two deaths in New Mexico.

    Update:

    (WaPo)Television news reports from Galveston showed water already breaching the island’s seawalls, even though the storm, as of 11 a.m., was still about 200 miles away.

    This illustrates how massive this storm has gotten to be.

  3. #3 Constance Reader
    September 12, 2008

    It bears mentioning that the Galveston seawall you mention is 17 feet high. That’s how tall the storm surge is already. Surfside Beach is underwater already.

  4. #4 Janne
    September 12, 2008

    “There is no way to reinforce that much of the country.”

    Part of my point, I think, was that given time and encouragement (economic and direct) it will indeed be reinforced, just like the structures of much of Japan is. Right now it seems the attitude of a lot of people in those areas of the US is one of resignation – they’re too big, too strong, nothing can be done. That attitude will pass, and gradually people will start looking at building designs that mitigate the damage. And as such structures start showing up in any numbers and illustrate how relatively little you need to do to increase protection (as Japanese wooden houses show, there’s no need for reinforced concrete bunkers), it will start to become commonplace, even expected.

  5. #5 Dennis
    September 12, 2008

    Hello. First I will say that I live in New Orleans and have experienced my share of hurricanes, which include Hurricane Katrina and the recent media-event/fire-drill — Hurricane Gustav. While I am not the doomsday type, I will admit that I am leaning more and more toward accepting the idea that our weather is in some way being influenced. By whom?

    My working theory is that whoever is actually in financial control of our nation (thus its resources, which our entire society labors to get a meager and critically necessary share of)is utilizing undisclosed scientific advancements in weather control technology to strengthen its position.

    I do not ask you to agree or disagree with this seemingly paranoiac and/or alarmist notion. I only ask you to post my response so that other sensible people (and this discounts a majority of these online conspiracy theorists) who are thinking along similar lines will know they aren’t alone in their thinking.

    For instance, I see a recent visitor to this blog was “Crazyharp81602″. Is this name an allusion to the H.A.A.R.P. facility in Alaska? Or “thegamecomposer”. Possibly a game theorist who (because game theory is economic theory at the end of the day)has speculated on the ability to manipulate storm systems from a purely strategic perspective and thus followed a logical line of thinking to your blog, as I did?

    Along these same silly lines of speculation, perhaps someone who recently watched The Dark Knight (the odds are high, as it was a box-office record-breaker) noticed that the Joker’s final act of “terrorism” is a situation known to game theorists as “The Prisoner’s Dilemma”. If so, maybe they can’t help drawing parallels now between it and the decisions some of us are being forced to make with regard to our water-related dilemmas. Our catastrophes. And also observing the slow and steady increase of military presence and influence where keeping the peace is concerned. Not to suggest that either the News or Hollywood Movies are some sort of form of propaganda. Or that suddenly the Batman logo looks a bit Nationalistic.

    I’m just speculating. Toying with notions, as any creative and free-thinking mind is want to do.

    Thanks for the good information as well as a place to post a thoughtful response.

    -PlywoodLeviathans

  6. #6 llewelly
    September 17, 2008

    That attitude will pass, and gradually people will start looking at building designs that mitigate the damage.

    And for 5 or 10 years those buildings will get built. But there’s no metro area of the US that receives a major hurricane landfall every year. For a city like Galveston or New Orleans, the historical averages are about 1 in 30 per year. In the past, after a few years or maybe a decade of improved building codes, building codes have been weakened, either by lack of enforcement, or by legislation intended boost retail markets. “Ain’t been no hurricanes ’round here in years!’ seems to be the attitude. The hurricane scientists publish paper after paper warning of the dangers, and they’re called ‘alarmists’ ‘prophets of gloom and doom’, and (my favorite) ‘Cassandras’ .
    The past 10 years of Atlantic hurricane weather have been highly anomalous – over 40% in excess of historical averages. And we’ve have 3 years of disproportionate hurricane landfalls very close together – 2004, 2005, and 2008. But we still have cities like New Orleans, Galveston, and Miami that are inadequately protected.
    History has shown that the engineering, conservation, and location strategies necessary to mitigate the risk require regulations the free marketeers chafe at. In the past, the argument that business should be enabled to make more money has often triumphed over safety regulations, as soon as a few years with no disasters have gone by.

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