SAT 25 APRIL 2009: This commentary was first published on 26 Feb 2006 and is revisited for evidence that this has been on my radar screen for quite some time. ORIGINAL POST:
And you thought this was primarily a weather hazards site? As John Lennon says, “Life is what happens when you are making other plans.” Friends, Mother Nature has conjured up and is carrying out a plan that more sooner than you would expect is going to affect each and every one of us, and may very well change the entire fabric of our society forever. If you’ve come to trust this site for an educated analysis of the weather, then I encourage you to extend that trust another step. Since September 2005 I have been conducting extensive and exhausting research on the impact and spread of a particular avian influenza, of which you all are familiar with by now, H5N1 or commonly referred to as “bird flu.”
My research into this topic has been part of the reason why my posts on this site have stopped being as regular as last year, although adding a child to the family and my wife going back to work were equally as influential. Simply put, the time I used to devote to detailed, long-term meteorological analysis in pinpointing the nuances of the next winter storm has been curtailed. That time has been spent researching and preparing for what I now strongly believe will be an inevitable worldwide epidemic (a pandemic) of highly pathogenic influenza. This event will be unlike any natural catastrophe in human history, will happen in our lifetimes, and may even get underway before the end of this year.
If you are totally thrown out of whack by this so far, then look over the US Government website on Pandemic Influenza, and pay special attention to the tab labeled "Individuals and Families." Let me also provide you some reasons behind this seismic change on a weather site. The purpose of this website has always been to provide a well-researched, straight-forward assessment of potential severe weather hazards which may threaten the U.S. East Coast and Northeast Corridor. Well, the times, they are a’ changing.’ From this point forward, the focus of the site will now include an on-going review of the threat posed by H5N1 to North America, in addition to forecasting for hurricanes and winter storms. In fact, I could argue that my study of meteorological and climatological patterns is closely linked to the epidemiology of bird flu, (as defined by Webster's the sum of the factors controlling the presence or absence of a disease or pathogen) because the whole situation revolves around wild bird migration brought on by change of the seasons. I have been following the bird flu situation so closely that, well, you know, I’ve let other tasks falter from time to time. But the reason I’ve done that is probably more instinctive than anything else, because a pandemic directly threatens my family, my livelihood and our future. I’m a scientist and a teacher, so you’d better believe that when something of this magnitude comes along, I’m not going to sit idly by and wait for it to pounce on me. I’m going to find out everything I can about it, and then do whatever it takes to protect my family.
But as a reader of this site, you are in effect, an pseudo-extended member of that family. For a while I have been thinking that it would be nice someday for those of us whom often correspond here to meet, say on an annual basis… just for fun. A “Friends of Foot’s Forecast” Convention, just a fun random gathering once a year to talk, share stories, get to know each other, let our kids play together, etc. I had actually been thinking about making a formal proposal on the site to host something like that starting this May. Your participation on this site makes it a rewarding endeavour for me, and motivates me to continue the challenge, and to continue being a life-long learner. But sadly, I am learning that events may change too fast in the coming months for such a gathering to happen this year. Instead, I felt it necessary to bring you up to date on those things that do keep me up at night, because as of late it has not been “when is the next storm” but rather “how much time do I have left to prepare for this pandemic?”
That’s what this site will try to sort out and identify over the next 3 months. Instead of creating a new blog solely for bird flu, it’s all going to be right here… winter storms, hurricanes, and the mother of all maelstroms… pandemic influenza. If you think I should just stick to forecasting weather, you are welcome to voice your opinions, or do the research I've done and present an opposing viewpoint. What I’m going to present is not designed or intended to be hype or fear-mongering, but the information is now reaching a level that just stating the facts is getting scary. I do this because I know you have families, I know you saw what happened with Katrina, and I know you’ve wondered what would happen if your family faced that kind of situation. So let me start by breaking it down for you this way: An H5N1 Influenza Pandemic now or at any point in our remaining lifetime would be the equivalent of POST KATRINA NEW ORLEANS WORLDWIDE.
There are so many implications and ramifications of this concept that it will take me hours and hours to spell it all out (which I will attempt to do slowly over the next 3 months). But this virus, though it mostly resides in birds at the moment, is a serious, persistent and growing threat to the very stability of every aspect of our life on Earth and has the ability to unravel the foundations of Western Civilization like no other natural event has ever before. Scared yet? Think I'm crazy yet? Are you in denial yet? I’ve been mortified since September so let me wake you up a little more. The following statements are TRUE and are supported with a source link.
1. The British Government ordered 200,000 body bags last week and is planning to create 15 temporary mortuaries around the U.K. to handle an overload of corpses should a pandemic occur. Source: UK Times-Mirror
2. Marriott International is ordering gloves, masks and protective gear for it's employees in Asian hotels worldwide. Source: San Francisco Chronicle
3. The National Academy of Science is hosting a conference in Washington, DC March 6 and 7 on the topic of developing “re-useable face masks” to help the public protect themselves in the event of a pandemic. Source: National Academy Public Meeting
4. The U.S. Chicken Industry in January began implementing plans to test every flock of commercial poultry in the entire country for H5N1. Source: MSNBC.com
5. Virologists have recently established that if a HIV-positive person in Africa also contracted H5N1, the unique reassortment of those two viruses might enable that person to become a more efficient “transmitter” of a human bird flu strain to others for months or years before themselves becoming ill. Source: AIDSmap News
In short, bird flu is not going away anytime soon, it is going to become a part of our life just like dealing with the events of 9-11 have, and may arrive in North America as early as this spring or summer, as explained by in an International Herald Tribune article written by Laurie Garrett from the Council on Foreign Relations. If you are new to this topic and think I have completely flipped, then spend some time looking through the links I have posted to the right. Another eye-opening assessment of the situation was written by Dr. Michael Osterholm in the July 2005 edition of Foreign Affairs. Dr. Osterholm is one of the nation's premier experts on this virus threat, and is Associate Director of ‘CIDRAP’ the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.
If a winter storm comes blowing up anytime soon, you can bet I'll be on it. But the bigger fish (or bird) for the foreseeable future is going to be getting a handle on, and understanding the bird flu threat as it pertains to your family and our society. The US Government website says it best... "Get Informed, Be Prepared." That's what I've been doing and I hope you will consider doing the same, for the sake of your friends and family. Your comments and opinions are welcome, and I will post again on this topic after it is clear we are finished with winter storms for this season.
The yellow regions shown on this Wild Bird Flyways map show there are at least 4 major regions in the world (2 in North America) where migration paths cross over, creating a persistent and growing ability of infected birds to cross-infect new flocks which can then carry the virus to a major nesting area, hence the recent spreads to Africa and Europe as reported in the news.