Tuesday, May 5, 2009

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TUE 5 MAY - 9:30 AM. I suppose that today is a happier "Cinco De Mayo" for some but not for others. Ten days into the world's first brush with a pandemic-like outbreak, it is encouraging to hear cafes in Mexico city are re-opening and some Queens, NY students are back to class. Still, doesn't it feel we're caught in some twilight zone of uncertainty? Many want to be cautious, but are not sure how to interpret conflicting expert opinions on where to go from here. If you find yourself in that grouping, good company abounds. For example, the Montgomery County, MD School superintendent is taking steps to challenge whether Rockville High School should remain closed. Signals from the CDC indicate the K-12 school closure guidance may be scaled down this week based on data and feedback. With statewide assessments and senior finals bearing down, a decision is eagerly anticipated.
This recent article by Time magazine appropriately captures our current state of "pandemiconium" yet reminds us all that viruses, a freak of nature to begin with, have one predictable constant: unpredictability. (Source: Atlanta Journal & Constitution article - 5/3/09)
Public health officials know that if history is valued for this situation, then we know two lessons about all pandemics since 1889: (1) more than one wave; (2) the second wave was not mild. Whether our society can truly internalize those lessons, only time will tell.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

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Containing the confusion

MON 4 MAY - 2:00 PM. Despite contradictory reports in the media, this virus could be noticeably present in the human population for the 6 to 18 months regardless of it's severity. While Mexico's outbreak should begin declining as this is near the end of their first six- to eight-week wave, the World Health Organization (WHO) cautions against complacency going forward. To that end, this is a unique opportunity to learn about the policies and rationales that now govern closing of schools in a pandemic, so you can be an informed observer of the situation.
To deepen understanding about this virus, the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) has published this excellent and in-depth "study sheet" on all available scientific knowledge on H1H1 at present. ProMED mail is a daily report from the International Society of Infectious Disease detailing all credible public health threats and providing extensive background or explanation behind data reported in regular media.
Consider these two issues below regarding the different environments this virus will encounter, and the natural human tendency to "let our guard down" at the first sign of improvement. In designing this site, the objectives are to you with provide authentic sources and credible reporting that emphasize scientific facts, not false hopes.
(1) THE HEMISPHERIC FLU SEASON PROBLEM: The seasonal flu period is about to begin in the southern hemisphere, and this introduces a new set of concerns. (Source: Google news article - 5/4/09). On the BBC world map, it is clear H1N1 is appearing below the equator in places like Colombia and New Zealand. This increases the likelihood over the next few months for this virus to infect someone already possessing seasonal human influenza. Would that not provide ideal opportunities for genetic reassortment and emergence of a novel strain that may be more lethal and transmissible? This is the prime reason why public health authorities across the globe are mobilizing their pandemic plans.
Highly regarded administrators such as Dr. Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General said in a weekend interview with the London Financial Times that an apparent decline in mortality rates outside and within Mexico does not mean the (epidemic) was ending. “We hope the virus fizzles out, because if it doesn’t we are heading for a big outbreak.” She went on to say: “I’m not predicting the pandemic will blow up, but if I miss it and we don’t prepare, I fail. I’d rather over-prepare than not prepare.”

(2) THE WEAKENING HURRICANE PROBLEM: With the first inkling of a decrease in new cases within Mexico, US and British news media seem eager to sound the "all clear." Contrast this with the start of an exponential rise in new cases worldwide outside of Mexico, and we are encountering the same misconception epidemic that pervades hurricane season. Effect Measure, a forum operated by public health professionals, has a short but thought-provoking essay on this same topic.
Remember how the media seem to enjoy hyping up an approaching hurricane? Then, once the storm is actually a destructive Category 3 or above, and has slight decrease in it's maximum sustained winds, we start hearing: "it's weakening!" Even more deadly to some was that same misperception of risk when Hurricane Ike dropped from a catastrophic 4 to a just-as-destructive 3 prior to landfall? How many residents of Galveston, upon hearing the storm was weakening and would not hit them head on, decided to stay? How well did that work out for them?
In my opinion, we are watching an apparent mild "herald" wave of a pandemic unfold across the globe in real-time. Every global epidemic since 1889 resulted in 2 or 3 successive waves of infection over an 18 to 24 month period. (Source: CNN article, 4/30/09) As the number of cases in this "mild" outbreak continue to rise in the US and across the world, it is irresponsible to suggest the threat posed by this virus is "fizzling out" as has been implied by some. An analogy I believe best fits this situation is what happened with Hurricane Katrina. Imagine if the media and public officials had lead the public into believing evacuations were not necessary, because despite the storm's size and intensity, it was not clear where it would make landfall and how strong it might be upon arrival?
Closing statement: I hope these discussions and the straight-forward source material helps to contain your confusion. Granted, this is a hugely complex situation we're all in, so I understand and respect that many are beyond overwhelmed in how to deal with it all. This site is designed to arm you with hard facts and sound science, so that knowledge can be used to reduce uncertainty and increase informed decision-making.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

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SAT MAY 2 - 7:00 AM. (Updated 5/3/09) Whether this virus produces a pandemic occurs or not, the genetic material of 2009 H1N1 will eventually join the flu cocktails that routinely traverse the globe during seasonal influenza. While it may be good news in the short term that this flu causes just "mild cases," some infectious disease experts such as Dr. Michael Osterholm from the University of Minnesota view that data in a different light. Consider listening to this 4/30/09 interiew with him conducted by Minnesota Public Radio.

The unnerving part of how this virus performs is very similar to what happened in the spring and summer of 1918. You might cry foul with that idea, claiming: "What about technology and advances in modern medicine, surely we can do better than relying on data almost a century old?" To that I would respond by echoing what epidemiologists have said for years: The key to to understanding the next influenza pandemic is to study every available aspect of past ones. The situation now closely resembles that of the Spanish Flu and the Hong Kong Flu of 1968: A "herald wave" of a highly transmissible virus with low lethality. This enabled those viruses to spread quickly, infect a high number of hosts, and provide astronomical opportunities for antigenic shift, or reassortment of the recombinant DNA into another new novel strain.

What disease researchers hope will not happen is H1N1 infects a host (whether human, pig or bird) which has or may catch a pre-existing virus such as season human influenza A, (H3N2) or avian influenza subtypes (H5N1, H6N1 or H9N2). Update: Canadian farmer infects swine flock with H1N1. (Source: UK Times Online article - 5/4/09). This is why every health agencies around the world are working around the clock to glean as much data from this virus. Now the CDC has begun that drumbeat of concern for what may come this fall. (Source: Bloomberg article - 5/3/09)

Why would that be a problem? A long-studied theory is the idea of reassortment. Let's say today's virus reaches a host in Southeast Asia who has just been exposed to the bird flu, a virus with a 50% case fatality rate (421 confirmed cases, over 200 deaths). Inside that person's cells, both viruses exchange RNA and reassort into a completely new pathogen which retains the worse elements of both parents: Easily transmissible, highly lethal to certain populations. That is a snapshot of what may have happened in 1918: an entirely new strain that was so unusual, it even "tricked" the host's immune system into turning against itself. This describes the much-theorized "cytokine storm." (Source: Dr. Osterholm in Washington Post, 11/9/2005)
The result was that healthy young adults ages 15-34 experienced the highest mortality rate in the U.S. In extreme cases, some victims started their day with no symptoms, and by nightfall had drowned in their own blood-choked mucus as their lungs filled with fluid. Too alarmist for you? Then ignore history at your own peril. Remember the saying: "those who fail to understand history are" .... (you finish the sentence.)

Since we're on the cusp of WHO declaring a full-blown pandemic, it's time you come face-to-face with what it means. No doubt the parents and school community of Milford Mill Academy in Baltimore County are quickly finding out what it means to "shelter-in-place" or implement "social distancing." The best part about a mild case of pandemic influenza is those individuals might have a better shot at overcoming the virus should it reassort prior to a second wave this fall. I am not making this up, it is based on volumes of research into what happened with the three previous major global epidemics. Nature and science have given us fair warning, because this changes everything.

Friday, May 1, 2009

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Balancing caution with consistency

FRI 1 MAY - 7:00 am. This issue is no doubt on the mind of Montgomery County, MD school officials, who temporarily closed Rockville High School starting today "until further notice." Many of us, from school officials to parents to teachers alike, are somewhat perplexed on how to remain consistent to our day-to-day priorities while addressing influenza concerns in a cautious, balanced manner. To that end, readers have forwarded these useful and appropriate links from Johns Hopkins University.

On this site, the approach remains the same, balancing accurate data without conveying undue alarm. The Centers for Disease Control are putting their best face forward in keeping us informed, yet keeping an eye on data such as the Case Fatality Ratio and the implications for all of us if the US ratio rises. If you want a serious look at CDC strategies for mitigation of a major epidemic, this 4/27/2009 report covers it all, from the simple to the scary. If anyone is interested in collaborating on identifying authentic research and information about all this, you can email me at footsforecast@comcast.net.
The next Q & A session will address these issues: (1) Effectiveness of N95 masks; (2) The difference between infection, contagion and incubation; (3) The flu and your house: what steps are worth taking versus what's over-kill? (4) Those "ity" terms: morbidity, mortality and why they are not the same; (5) The burning question YOU want answered.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

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TUE 29 APRIL - 4:00 pm. The World Health Organization held an emergency briefing in Geneva, Switzerland today at 4:00 PM EST, to raise the Pandemic Alert Level to Phase 5, indicating a "pandemic is imminent." President Obama will be holding a news conference at 8:00 PM EST today. The tone of officials today transitioned from "be cautious" to "strongly recommend contingency plans." Earlier today at a 3:00 PM news conference, the Secretary of Homeland Security advised all U.S. parents to begin contigency plans in the event their child's school was temporary closed if a suspected or confirmed case of H1N1 was identified in the student population of that institution. That has now come to pass in Maryland with six suspected cases in two counties: Baltimore Co. and Anne Arundel Co. Two of the six are school-aged children, and according to ABC2 News, neither child has been in school since last week. Please continue to post your questions or observations in the comments, as there will be no major updates until after the evening news.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


WED 29 APRIL - 9:00 AM. Today's quick links: For a worldmap view of current confirmed or suspected cases, view this BBC report as of 6:30 AM 4/29. Educators and health professionals should find useful the following two documents from the CDC: a 1-page poster called "Ounce of Prevention" and a more specific brochure on Seven Keys to a Healthier Home. This third document is a much larger PDF file from the US Dept of Education, and thoroughly discusses all considerations for pandemic preparation in the school community.
1. How is pandemic flu different from seasonal flu?
Visit this pop-up from the US portal pandemicflu.gov for quick definitions. As widely reported in the media, seasonal flu claims over 30,000 victims per year in the U.S. alone, but the vast majority of those cases are the very young, elderly and those with weakened immune symptoms or have a pre-existing illness. While this strain of influenza has not been confirmed as a pandemic, it is exhibiting similar characteristics. Those include a short incubation period (24-48 hours), most victims are healthy teenagers or adults ranging in age from 16 (the median age of infections) to people in their 50's. Seasonal flu traditionally follows the change of seasons, starting in the fall, reaching mid- to late-winter peak, and fading into summer. Pandemic flu can occur at any time of the year, and has historically traversed the globe in several waves in six- to eight-week periods each. It is uncertain at this time if we are currently experiencing the first wave of a possible pandemic.
2. Why is "washing hands" a good first line of defense? What about hand sanitizer?
According to WebMD, the physical and chemical interactions of soap, water and abrasion creating by rubbing your hands together not only kills most bacteria and viruses, it eliminates them from the surface of your hands. That's provided you scrub 20 seconds or more. Hint: Sing the Happy Birthday song twice, and the job is done! According to the CDC and the Mayo Clinic, hand sanitizers containing at least 60 percent alcohol are as effective as hand-washing.
3. Can I catch this virus from eating pork? Why did some countries ban pork imports?
A chorus of medical and agricultural professionals have made it clear the transmission pathways of viruses like these are NOT through handling or eating pork. For that to occur, the virus would have to somehow survive the slaughtering, processing and cooking. The CDC states "Swine influenza viruses are not transmitted by food. You can not get swine influenza from eating pork or pork products...Cooking pork to an internal temperature of 160°F kills the swine flu virus as it does other bacteria and viruses." The current strains of H5N1 avian influenza produce a different outcome, as we all heard reports of people in Southeast Asia and elsewhere falling ill from eating improperly cooked chicken. US and Mexican officials have expressed great displeasure at those countries whom have irresponsibly projected a link between swine products and suspectibility of the current influenza strain.
4. Does the appearance of "mild cases" in the US mean the worst has passed?
Historians and disease researchers alike point to similarities between this outbreak and previous global epidemics, and those indications tell us a trend could be developing. As Dr. Michael Osterholm from the University of Minnesota's Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy said on April 25, 2009, "Milder cases, on one hand, are good, but that may mean little," Osterholm said, adding that, during the first wave of the 1918 influenza pandemic in the spring, many cases were mild, but by late July and early August, the virus caused widespread, severe illness. Source: CIDRAP.
5. How might this affect school schedules since we're so close to June?
President Obama is reported by Reuters as asking schools "to consider closing" if there is a confirmed or even suspected case. The short- and long-term impacts of these decisions are nearly imcomprehensible for most of us. But the Dept of Health and Human Services has a detailed links on strategies for preparation, mitigation and likely impacts of system-wide school closures. The MD Dept of Mental Health and Hygiene conducted a strategy session in 2006 on how to deal with these issues and it provides excellent insight on the challenges.
With increasing awareness of the rapidly evolving flu outbreak, we all will have many valid and sensible questions. This site has been redesigned to provide accurate, reliable information aimed at addressing those questions. We're all on a collective global learning curve, so the teachable moment for everyone is now. As time permits, you will notice answers being added to emphasize authentic scientifically-based or government-supported sources. Any of you are welcome to hunt down sources and references yourself and post in the comments. In addition, feel free to post new questions there or to me directly by email (footsforecast@comcast.net) and we address those in upcoming Q & A sessions.

Monday, April 27, 2009

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MON 27 APRIL - 5:00 pm. the World Health Organization has raised the Pandemic Alert System to Phase 4. After nearly five years of close calls with bird flu, this is the most significant public health statement of the 21st century, and will not be the last. That we are facing the possibility of a pandemic in the post-9/11 world should give you pause. This admission by the WHO indicates the world could already be in the first wave of an influenza epidemic. The current outbreak could extend another six to eight weeks and well into June. The case fatality rate (~6%) is already three times that of the 1918 Pandemic (~2%), unusual for a first wave. The summer could see a decrease in cases and a period of apparent recovery and improvement. One only hopes that a second wave does not occur, or at least that it does not mimic what happened in the Fall of 1918.

It should be obvious to anyone by now we are in uncharted, life-altering terrority. If someone you know is still in denial by now, then it's high time they start doing their homework. I started mine on this subject in 2005. As an intelligent, alert observer of the world around you, I maintain you have a "duty to act" in the best interests of your family, even if they are in denial. At the minimum, that duty involves staying informed and acting appropriately. I welcome anyone's input or questions, and I will update data trackers as time permits and information becomes available.

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UPDATE: MON 27 APRIL - 8:30 AM. Individual schools or districts in 4 states have closed on first signs of infection among students. The most significant example being a San Antonio district with 14 schools that is closed the entire week due to 2 confirmed cases in 1 building. In Ohio, a third-grader is recovering from a mild case, but the child's elementary school has closed for the week. The overall trend suggests school officials would just close the affected school first, and then wait to see what develops. With warm weather for the eastern two-thirds of the country, and increased mobility, we will probably see cases zooming like popcorn this week. It is not unreasonable to expect cases in Maryland by end of the week. If you consider how the virus is traveling by air routes from Mexico and from a world hub like London, then you could almost predict with some accuracy where it should appear next.
The time-honored advice remains true: Wash your hands correctly and frequently, and cover your cough or sneeze in the crook of your elbow if possible. Consider showing students this diagram to illustrate 6 easy steps that get the job done right. Links to PDF versions of Planning Checklists are in the previous post.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

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It's a Public Health Emergency

Enclosed are important informational links if you are concerned and wish to take appropriate but measured action. If you've just heard about this outbreak, a good place to start is this Q & A document from the WHO, posted by one of our readers. Then, if you're serious about being prepared, consider printing these useful Planning Checklists from the US government portal PandemicFlu.gov as follows:

Individuals & Families : K-12 Schools & Districts : Preschool & Child Care : Business & Work

SUMMARY OF DEVELOPMENTS: In White House briefing at 12:30pm EST 4-26, a "public health emergency" was declared by the Department of Homeland Security. The following alerts and advisories have been issued from the CDC, the WHO and Dept of Health and Human Services. A link to the CDC's confirmed US case tracker is also available. A San Antonio, Texas school district with 14 schools is closed this entire week because 2 students tested positive for the Swine Type A/H1N1 influenza. You can review the Superintendent's letter and related public health news release concerning the district's temporary closure.

Updated data on cases confirmed and suspected will be posted in the left sidebar. I recognize doing this will eventually become moot, as we may approach a point where tracking cases by state and country will get cumbersome. The best thing to do is be informed, prepared and prudent. The Texas district appears to be the first US school system closure in this outbreak. My bigger concern is what happens when several cases are reported in just one Maryland school. Do issues of public pressure, fear of infection or liability force the closure of that entire school system, or just the individual school? Image the impact on families and our local economy were one of the larger districts to close at this time of the year. How does this play into upcoming MD state-wide testing? Would MSDE quietly grant waivers to those systems allowing them ample cover before announcing a county-wide closure? Things that make you go hmmm, as one of my colleagues would say.

FOR TEACHERS: I have a feeling district officials across the Mid-Atlantic will prepare a statement of some kind to help answer questions students, staff and parents may have. The challenge of this however is how quickly information on the outbreak is changing. For the week ahead, I see this as a great opportunity for parents and educators alike to model the right kinds of personal hygiene and prudent action. Instead of getting kids all fired up about end of the world...get them talking seriously about appropriate hand-washing, adequate rest (9 hours for a teenager believe it or not). Don't let them draw you into a gotcha game of "are you still coming to class?" or "are we all going to die?" My answer: "Hey, if I'm here, teaching you, answering your questions, I have already done the preparations that are needed."

UPDATE: SAT 25 APRIL - 10:00 PM. The focus of this website is temporarily reassigned to tracking the Swine Flu outbreak. I originally introduced my plan to track pandemic influenza in February 2006, so this is not a new development for me, but it no doubt a bit shocking for some of you. You can link the image above in your favorites, posted in this Google Map format by an influenza research named Dr. Henry Niman, whose website Recombinomics I have quietly followed since starting to track Avian Influenza in Fall 2005. Another site called TB2K provides insight from like-minded observers who post aspects of a story not widely reported in mainstream news. Please note I'm not a contributor to any of these sites.

As reader BioPat has outlined in the comments, this is extremely serious development. We have a novel (never-before-seen) virus which according to the World Health Organization and CDC contains genetic material from pigs, humans and birds. As of today, the WHO is starting to beat pandemic drums in a way I had to never hear. Eye-popping events akin to a Hollywood disaster movie have already happened. You've heard about the closure of most public gatherings in Mexico City and the shutdown of a high school in San Antonio for all of this coming week. But did you know an archaeologist welcomed President Obama to Mexico's Anthropology museum on April 16. That same man died of flu-like symptoms the next day.

If you or someone that you know is at risk of death by denial, let me put this in perspective: It took 3 years for H5N1 (bird flu) to cause 79 fatalities (source: WHO cumulative report) This virus, Swine Influenza Type A/H1N1 caused 62 fatalies people in ONE WEEK. This is not appearing in some far-flung part of the world, it is in your backyard, my fellow Americans. With an incubation period of 2-5 days, the virus is probably already in 25 states by now, but the symptoms are just appearing. Since yesterday, cases have been reported in Queens, New York and Kansas. Though no deaths in the U.S. have occurred, spring flu is absolutely no fun, and all the U.S. cases are under age 40.

The 1918 Pandemic began in the spring when a less complicated version of the H1N1 virus jumped from pigs to soldiers at Fort Riley, Kansas. Public health measures were obviously less strigent then, and Armistice Day celebrations across the country that fall sealed the fate of untold thousands. Over an 18-month period, over 500,000 US citizens died.. with at least 195,000 of those in the month of October 1918 alone. The pandemic came in roughly three waves, starting with a mild onset that spring and summer. A second, more deadly wave in the fall was exacerbated by public gatherings due to commemorations marking end of "The Great War." In Baltimore, schools were closed for over a month from October to November as officials tried to quarantine the public as best as could be expected.

The best any person or government could do still resulted in 20 million deaths worldwide from 1918-1920. Our government is already doing it's best, but those efforts may be confounded by warm weather spawning large public gatherings. Your survival in this outbreak may come down to a slight modification of Allstate's slogan: "Are you in clean hands?" As time permits, I will post details on what appropriate precautions you can take for yourself and your family. Call me an alarmist.. but in order for the deniers to win this one, they have to be right every single day until this passes. I only have to be right once, and it's the one time I hope I'm wrong.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

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(and other interesting climate topics)

WED APRIL 22 - 4:00 PM. Like many of you, we observe Earth Week in the Foot household by doing what we've always done: recycling, composting, minimizing water usage, keeping nighttime lights to a minimum. In honor of better care for the Earth, I'd like to share some global topics to whet your appetite for the upcoming "bridge lessons" that will transition us to tropical cyclone season. Keep in mind these topics are not meant to stir controversy, but given they are outside what you have believed up to now, the following might provoke strong reactions: (1) The death of La Nina (2) Is Global Warming Over? (3) Ozone layer: getting worse not better.

1. HAS THE WITCH (La Nina) FINALLY DIED? What are the implications for hurricane season and next winter in the Northern Hemisphere if eastern Pacific equatorial waters continue warming into the fall? The quick and dirty answer: Some of North America's most significant hurricane seasons/winter storm seasons since 2000 occured in periods of Nina/Nino switchover. Very recent examples: Winter 2002-03, Isabel, Winter 2003-04, the defanging of Florida in 2004, and the A-Z + season of 2005. The current Nina regime ramped up by 2006 and held forth until now. If we wander back into neutral to weak Nino on a "below the charts" solar minimum next winter...high school seniors in 2009-10 will be LOVIN' LIFE let me tell you!

2. GLOBAL WARMING MIGHT BE OVER...FOR NOW? Over-estimates of solar output may have skewed climate modeling to the point that even the IPCC "low-end" projections of 2.4 to 5.3 deg C warming by 2100 may be too high. A number of reseachers, professional and amateur alike, have been comparing actual global temperature data to what the models predicted. I've got scathingly bad news. The IPCC "likely range" of annual temperature increase was set to 0.3 to 0.9 deg C. As reported by climate monitoring agencies such as the Hadley Centre, global temp increased is BELOW this range.
Example: The 2008 global temperature anomaly was projected to be +0.4 degrees C. ; the actual came in at +0.2 degrees C. Doesn't sound like much, right? That's technically 50% error on a planetary scale of average temperatures. Folks that deviation is so huge it's beyond ginormous as the students would say. How does this compare to current CO2 levels as measured by the Mauna Loa, Hawaii observatory? It depends on your perspective. The reported 2008 CO2 level was 387 ppm, but the "annual mean growth rate" of CO2 from 2007 to 2008 decreased from 2.17% to 1.66%. Yes, CO2 is rising, but aside from the seasonal flucuations, why did the Earth cool more than expected last year if CO2 levels still increased?
Is it fair to say one year's data constitutes a trend? Probably not, but the planet cooled last year for more than one reason, and many suspect the real culprit is the current solar minimum.
There's no question human activity has produced enormous amounts of greenhouse gas emissions. However, what is to explain the apparent disparity between expected global temperatures and current solar activity? The UK-based Hadley Climate Center says this about the sun:
"Changes in solar activity do affect global temperatures, but research shows that, over the last 50 years, increased greenhouse gas concentrations have a much greater effect than changes in the Sun's energy."
Is there a correlation between 2008 being the coldest year globally since 2000 and the fact that sunspot frequency on the sun is lowest since 1913? Something worth investigating. For more hard data, take some time to read this well-done report by the Science and Public Policy Institute... it'll challenge your beliefs if you are a diehard Global Warming fan. They're not a front for FOX or MSNBC. Trust me, it's not politics, just plain good old-fashioned solid scientific data gathered from reputable agencies around the world.
3. YES, VIRGINIA THERE IS A CONNECTION (between Ozone depletion and Global Warming). I know, science teachers everywhere will revolt in embarrassment over this one. We've all been told in class for years that the ozone hole has NOTHING to do with climate change. Ozone layer depletion: that problem is purely interference by CFC's from aerosols, right? Global warming: totally separate topic, right? Wrong. Sources: This
I've learned from the Environmental Science I'm taking presently that warming and expansion of the troposphere has caused cooling and contraction of the stratosphere. Scientists realized in recent years these colder stratospheric temps are allowing aerosol chemicals to more efficiently breakup existing ozone into O2 and atomic oxygen, as well as preventing formation of ozone in the first place. I know, you thought banning CFC-12 and -14 from spray cans, refrigerators and AC units would do the trick, right? Problem is, all the decaying appliances elsewhere in the world are still leaking chlorofluorocarbons. Even worse, any of us who use albuterol in a nebulizer are adding millions of CFCs to the atmosphere with each daily use. Just ONE chlorine atom can neutralize 100,000 ozone molecules. (This is a terrible admission, but my child might be a "climate killer" - she's been on albuterol for 3 years! We didn't know, I'm so sorry everyone! We put the machine away last week so as to not upset you all during Earth Week). Sources: 5/30/2008 FDA report and 8/25/2008 EPA report.
More sources, graphics and other supporting data to be added over the next month. Eventually each of these topics will become their own separate post with a full writeup complete with links to the appropriate VSC's for my science colleagues.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

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Celebrate Earth Day by knowing "the last day"

TUE APRIL 21 - 1:00 PM. This is a short news item for those curious the details of a possible "last day" decision by BCPS. It has been PROPOSED to the Baltimore County Board of Education that the last day of school COULD be Friday June 12 according to Exhibit EE in the board agenda for tonight's (4/21) meeting. Please note the following KEY statement in this exhibit:
"This proposed revision will go into effect upon the granting of a waiver for one (1) instructional day for the elementary school level by the Maryland State Board of Education. The waiver request will be considered at State Board’s meeting on 4/27 and 4/28/2009."
So be cautiously optimistic if on Wednesday 4/22 the Superintendent's Bulletin reports this calendar revision as tenatively approved. Being that tomorrow is Earth Day, any celebration of this news should be done in an environmentally appropriate way. As to why Friday 6/12 was proposed, I shall leave that speculation up to the economists and climate scientists among us.

In search of...ground truth
Enhancing data-driven relevancy of this site
This post is to introduce you to a plan for raising value of this site for all readers in advance of tropical cyclone season and the 2009-10 winter storm season. I wanted you to have an early look at the proposals in order to gather your feedback and recommendations. Details and graphics will be added over the next few weeks as your "real-time" input helps to refine the features in design. To familiarize you, let's start with an overview:
COCORAHS: A data-driven Professional Learning Community. Between April and September, a precipitation tracking and reporting network will become a central feature of this site. This will be accomplished by promoting and integrating features of the pre-existing CoCoRAHS network. This stands for "Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network" about which many of you are already aware. Our efforts will start with the Baltimore metro region, with the goal by September 1 of adding at least 10 new reporting stations to the City-County area as shown on the linked map. However, anyone in Maryland, across the Mid-Atlantic or around the country is welcome to join. If interested, please review their background, registration details and requirements.
Please know this is not a reinvention of the wheel. We are focusing solely on precipitation data. Granted there are already many other observation portals (wunderground, weatherbonk, the ABC2 weathernet and more). This project aims to provide a new service not readily available to teachers and others... a map-based, interactive, real-time format showing simply precipitation data during a high impact inclement weather event. For educators interested in relevant applications of weather to their lessons, this can serve as a professional learning community of like-minded science teachers. For weather enthusiasts, parents, emergency managers or even school officials, this "invitation only / password protected" feature will provide an instant and centralized snapshot of "what is on the ground, where and when it fell."
That's the "ground truth" we all seek during inclement weather, high-impact or not. My aim is to put in your hands the most cutting-edge tools and information available so we can all benefit from the collaborative observations of our online community. Check back later for details on how you can join this exciting development, and become a "Foot's Forecaster!"

Monday, April 6, 2009

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This week: Spring goes on break
The biennial bomb: Snow in Baltimore on Tuesday? Surely you jest.

MONDAY, APRIL 6: By now, you're well aware that things are getting wild again, and you thought, "wonder what Mr. Foot says about this?" So here you are, and I caught you...weather snooping again! Knew you'd be back here soon. I wish my snow predictions could be that good. Well it's true, things will go WAY haywire again starting today. Planning to attend Birdland's 4:05 pm season opener at Camden Yards? Better plan for a double-header, because this game might take that long in-between the rain delays, if it's not called outright before hand due to thunderstorms. Too bad the game wasn't held in Philly on Sunday.

My definition of the "biennial storm" refers to an uniquely unseasonal storm occuring on the same date every 2 years. April 7, 2007, was the Saturday before Easter and in tropical Dundalk, MD we awoke to 1/2" of snow. Friends of mine from our Adventure Booster Club were enroute to BWI airport for a southern Caribbean cruise. How ironic was that...it snows the morning of your cruise vacation, talk about the ultimate pre-flight hassle!

STORM SUMMARY: The 2009 version of the biennial storm will much more "Fast and Furious" than the 2007 incident. The "Iowa Irritator" now blasting through the Ohio valley will by Tuesday 4/7 have blitzed into upstate New York. Even for Maryland, Monday into Tuesday could be a "four season day:" Mild in the morning, strong thunderstorms and isolated tornadoes by afternoon, with breath-whipping winds by evening which could deliver rain mixed with snow by nightfall. The NWS has hinting at this possibility on and off, so better keep checking your local forecast. By end of Tuesday, we might not be sure of the month.

Another Unlucky 7th?

At the mininum, most of the Mid-Atlantic will see monstrous but brief rainfall with the frontal passage. Behind that front, well... never mind. Let's just say it might be a good idea to wander on over to Netflix, round up some movies and get 'em in the pipeline. If you're waiting for the nice long stretches of 60's and 70's, I suggest arranging that escape from reality for most of this week. Just be back by Easter Sunday, for early indications are all will be right again with sunshine returning and seasonally acceptable highs in the 60's.

Following this storm, I will be posting an outline of upcoming plans for this site heading into hurricane season and the 2009-10 school year.

Friday, March 20, 2009

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The Long Goodbye?

AS OF 7:44 EST, FRI MARCH 20, SPRING 2009 OFFICIALLY SPRUNG. While I admit being a closet spring-a-ling (shocking I know), the question must still be posed: Will the atmosphere recognize astronomical realities and do it's part in letting nature take her course? Or will this be an another year of persistent irregularity marked by a long, chilly, rainy slog into an abrupt summer? Personally, I count the days to April 1 because March occupies my # 1 spot for all-time least favorite month of the year.
UPDATE: Snowed last night at my parent's in suburban Philadelphia. Had to break the news to them this morning: "Hey, Mom...did you look outside? Her reply: 'OH my gosh would you look at that.' This of course can means only one thing. Photographic evidence forthcoming.
Details and analysis will be added in the coming weeks of what climate patterns are suggesting as we go forward into hurricane season. A wrap-up of the 2008-09 winter will also be included for archiving and reference purposes in preparing for next winter. Until then, please accept my hearty thanks and appreciation for an educational and inspiring dialogue these past few months. I hope the lively nature of our discussions helped compensate for an under-performing winter. All new powderhounds are hereby invited to join our cadre of 'cane-chasers as attention turns to tracking tropical cyclones in the Atlantic basin this summer. If you need an early glimpse of what tropical meteorologists are considering, you can review the Klotzbach/Gray 2009 forecast, and this intriguing report from PhD student Ryan Maue at the Florida State Department of Meteorology.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

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SYNOPSIS: THU MAR 12 - 1:45 PM. The Sterling, VA latest Hazardous Weather Outlook (HWO) for portions of southern Maryland - central and southwestern Virginia suggest the weather is conjuring up some mischief to round out the week. At mid-morning today then again at 1134 AM the NWS made some adjustments to the outlook and area forecasts. Though they are holding off with accepting a northward trend in precip overnight, the reality may be different. Even if current forecasts hold, the likelihood increases that schools in southern Maryland may face surprise delays Friday morning. Even your local forecasts on the Weather Channel are beginning to insert "snow showers" for tomorrow from Baltimore on south. It may indeed be time to invoke the seldom-used LOW model: LOOK OUT WINDOW.

(1) Moisture from the stalling frontal boundary is over-running a 1040 mb High pressure at all critically analyzed levels of the atmosphere: 500mb, 700mb and 850mb. Embedded in the southwest to northeast flow are several shortwaves to cross the Mid-Atlantic overnight.

(2) Rules of climatology are not ruling the day as temps will remain nearly 10 degrees below normal. While the atmosphere over the metro areas remains dry from surface to 12,000 feet even the NWS admits rapid influx of moisture aloft in this cold regime will saturate the air. Relying on guidance and climate norms, without taking into account the trend in plain sight will make for a lot of surprised people Friday morning.

3) Latest NWS update states 1-2" of accumulating snow (or sleet/freezing rain) overnight in the following MD/VA counties: Charles, St. Mary's, Montgomery, Prince Georges, Loudon and even DC means there is a surprise risk of those schools being delayed on Friday. While the ground may be warm, remember this snow will fall at the point when temps are lowest overnight.

WHAT'S REALLY AT THE END OF THIS RAINBOW? If the current trend is any indication, forecasts regarding this snow/ice event across the Tennessee Valley are not going as planned. Just atake a look at the Water Vapor loop and be stunned at the moisture influx. I think we have a serious problem developing for the Mid-Atlantic that sneaking up on everyone right before their eyes. DID YOU CLICK ON THAT FIRST LINK OR JUST PASS OVER IT?

Uh, huh. Caught you there. Now, stop skimming. Go back and look at the RADAR. You see what I see? Tell me none of this makes it into the Mid-Atlantic, or that 12 hours of warm air advection into a cold dome is not enough to overcome low dewpoints. Now, take a look at the US Hazards projection made YESTERDAY (3-11-09) for the period starting TODAY. Umm, Hello Dolly? There's more going on than just "heavy rain." For all the hoopla about" lack of shortwaves" in the southern stream to prevent development of winter precipitation, reality must sure be biting about now. (Frequent readers and storm watchers know who I'm talking about and where this was said.) Winter Storm Warnings and Winter Weather Advisories cover eastern Arkansas and western Tennessee right now. As if that was planned. Just as peculiar is the northeastward creeping of that "pink stuff" on our Mid-Atlantic radar. Obviously most of that is "virga" which is precip falling but evaporating before ground level, but throw in 12 hours of that and you'll have frozen precip reaching the surface by daybreak.
10:15 AM: The game's a-foot (no pun intended). A heads up to all central and southern Maryland teachers, administrators, and especially MSA coordinators: Your best laid plans for tomorrow might be spooked as if it were Friday the 13th. (Oh, wait.. tomorrow is Friday the 13th.) Consider yourself duly advised.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

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...and the month which will be?

SYNOPSIS: WED MAR 11 - 9:45 AM. Teachers, students and coaches alike are no doubt rejoicing in the return of mild Spring-like weather, albeit sporadic. What a difference one week makes! This time last week many in the school community were still basking in the glow of a extended weeked. The see-saw warm to cold back to warm reminds us all that March is a volatile month, and the whipsawing looks to continue into next week. Here's a breakdown of the trends going forward for the Mid-Atlantic region:

WED TO THU: A vigorous cold front passes, and Wednesday afternoon temps might make a brief run towards 65 F along the I-95 corridor. Tonight, scattered light showers will be followed by winds shifting to the northwest. Much colder overnight into tomorrow, with lows nearing 32 and daytime highs holding at or under 45.

FRIDAY: Cold Canadian high pressure settles in behind the front, with highs not cracking 45. A stark difference from last week's 5-7 day forecasts for highs late this week in the mid 50's.. a ten degree difference!

SATURDAY-SUNDAY: Colder than normal, daytime highs in the 40's, lows near 30. While the GFS continues to scare up versions of a southern storm it is likely the most any of us will see from this is clouds and a brief spattering of wet snow. High pressure pressing in from the north looks to keep most precip south of the Baltimore area.

ST. PAT'S DAY TO THE EQUINOX: Long range indicators suggest an unstable pattern from the 16th leading up to the 21st. Will MSA's be affected by wintry weather? All I can say is that 2007 featured a snow day for central Maryland schools on 3/7, then on 3/16 many schools were either closed or had early dismissals, and Easter Saturday 4/7 featured accumulating snow across the region. You can hold fast to the belief that "it's over" but only Mother Nature's vast wisdom can make that determination!

Below: A photo gallery of the Foot girls in a week of contrasts, from cold and snowy on Monday to basking in the sunshine amidst a melting snowgirl by Friday.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

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"Hope Springs Eternal..."
- Alexander Pope, 18th century English poet, in the 1734 An Essay on Man

LOOKING AHEAD: SUN MARCH 8 - 5:45 PM. A welcome respite from below normal temperatures ends at mid-week, when the weekend pre-Spring warmup gives way to 60's and 50's by Wednesday. While Spring-a-lings have Hope Eternal that the Snow Queen is vanquished, by next Thursday Luck o' the Irish could turn for Powderhounds woofing to see one more "White in the Winter night."
Climate data shows that March mischief can be just as crippling as early December or mid-February. Case in point: The March 1962 Ash Wednesday Storm, as discussed on Frank Roylance's Baltimore Sun Weather Blog. Signs that something is brewing between the 13th and 16th are already popping like crocuses among the GFS and European models. Even the Climate Prediction Center in Camp Springs is weighing in on the potential. For a detailed perspective on this potential, review meteorologist Larry Cosgrove's 3-part report from the Houston Examiner. My specifics on long range pattern indicators are forthcoming over the weekend. If this photo from a global warming protest rally held by Snowmen is any indication of what's lurking, then we are in trouble. Note: If your server blocks the image below, it can be viewed at the Washington Post's Capital Weather site.

Snowman Rally

For now, I suggest you make plans to go out and play! A daytime escape to resplendent Longwood Gardens perhaps? Maybe you'd prefer to revel in Spring locally at Irvine Nature Center, or see what's bubbling up at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens? Just go while you still can - for the Ides of March are upon us. :::Insert foreboding doomer music here!:::

STORYTIME: WED MARCH 4 - 9:45 AM. In Tuesday's belated celebration of Read Across America Day, observed each year on the birthday of one Theodor Seuss Geisel, some hard-working elementary school teacher no doubt read "The Cat In The Hat Comes Back."
The story captures a daytime tale of two elementary school-aged children, a brother and sister, at home following a heavy snowfall. They have stern instructions from their Mother to clear the sidewalks, "this was no time for play or fun, there was work to be done." Sure enough, "the Cat" returns to unleash another unwelcome barrage of disruption to the family's personal effects. In a valiant effort to clean up the interior evidence, the Cat and his little cat minions from A to Y inadvertently discolor the surrounding snowfall to a deep cotton candy pink. At this point, Mom is probably just getting off the beltway to arrive home shortly. Her children are understandably in a dither. The saving grace is an impossibly invisible "little Cat Z" who possesses a magic formula-potion-chemical something called "VOOM!" This peculiarly effective substance instantly cleans all the pinkified snow.. as well as renders clear the sidewalks and driveway, right before Mom returns. "And so," says the Cat, "if you ever have spots, now and then, I will be very happy to come here again."
The moral of this story as it pertains to us? Perhaps our late week warmup will be just the VOOM! you need to clean up all the snow and ice, because if you're among those with "Hope Springs Eternal"...I must warn you now: The Cat In The Hat IS Coming Back. This time, he may not have enough VOOM! to clean up what could happen. The following date I release every year, just so you're aware of WHAT the Cat MIGHT bring BACK: MARCH 19-21, 1958. If you need clarification, perhaps our seasoned powderhounds can relate a tale or two.

Monday, March 2, 2009

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"This is the time to remember,
'cause it will not last forever..."
- Billy Joel, in This is The Time from his 1986 album The Bridge

The March 2009 Kahuna from Space

March 3, 2009: Satellite image of Mid-Atlantic snowfall. Courtesy of NASA's MODIS.
If your server blocks this, click here for a wide angle Eastern seaboard view.

POST-STORM DISCUSSION: MON MAR 3 - 2:45 PM. Thank you to all who made this such an enjoyable and memorable late winter event. If you're still curious as to "who got how much," take a look at the latest accumulation tally for Maryland as featured on Frank Roylance's Baltimore Sun Weather Blog, and reported by the Sterling, VA NWS. Though I am mindful of the suffering this storm caused some families in it's wake, a winter storm does reintroduce a different perspective for a short time, and it re-orients us to our proper place in the natural world.
I realize not everyone rejoices at the sight of heavy snow (the road crews, the emergency workers, to name a few). But I would venture to say all that struggle is worth it because somewhere, a little child is experiencing his or her first memorable snowfall. A picture like the one below reminds me that the most precious moments can happen in just going about your everyday life. The challenge is to let nature slow us down enough to be in the moment with them. Being able to share in those simple joys with a child is so important, because sometime, when you show them the picture, or recount the tale, they might just say: "I remember that day."

L'il Foots measuring the snow

I'm sure all your experiences were rewarding and unique in their own way. The calendar says "Madness" will soon be upon us, but I have a sneaky feeling, as do others on this site, that Spring may have to wait it's turn this year. The North Atlantic Oscillation, the European model and even the GFS are hinting that we are not done yet. For now, I insist you take a moment to drink in some heart-warmingly delightful photos of the storm taken by one of our commentors on her blog: SpruceHill. It will be time well spent.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

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My original statement issued at 11:15 PM Sunday March 2 centered on these ideas:
(1) Doubt that a 12" snowfall will be widespread, and a rarity versus commonplace.
(2) By sunrise Monday 3/2: initial 6" along Maryland I-95 corridor, 5 or less in Carroll and Frederick Counties
(3) Banding adds another 1-2", a final at BWI airport and our Fallston reporting station of 8".
(4) Some Local amounts in Annapolis, Dundalk, Aberdeen could approach 10" but on grassy areas, with 5" on roads.
(5) Saturday 2/28 Preliminary Call was 6" on grassy areas and 3" on untreated secondaries/sidewalks. (should have stayed closer to that one!)
STORM GRADE ANALYSIS: % DEVIATION OF ACTUAL FROM PREDICTED: If all percentages are added to reach a total culmulative number and divided by the total number of forecast points (9), we reach this concluding data: As of 2:15 PM 3/2 there are 414.33 storm grade points out of a possible 900: 414/900 = 46% E. Taking a page from my English colleagues, it looks like I get an E for mechanics and an A for effort. Does that fairly quantify an overall C for the event? I'm not sure the powderhound statisticians among us would buy that interpretation! Data below:
Towson: 2.5 / 6 = 41% E. Fallston: 4.5 / 8 = 56% E. Westminster 4.0 / 5.0 = 80% B. Aberdeen: No data yet. Dundalk: 5.25 / 8 = 65% D. BWI Airport: 5.1 / 8 = 64% D. Annapolis: 5.8 / 8 = 72% C.
Southern York County: 6.0 / 9 = 66% D. Philly suburbs: Average of 5.5 / 9 = 61% D.
Martinsburg: .01 / 3 = .33% E----- (total bust)
PREVIOUS SUMMARY: MON MAR 2 - 8:00 AM. Congratulations on what looks to be a near-clean sweep of not only schools throughout the metro areas of Philly, Baltimore and DC, but many county government offices and courts, colleges/universities and even some federal institutions, including Fort Meade, the Naval Academy and a 2-hour delay for the DC Federal government workforce.

The heavy snow that redeveloped across the Mid-Atlantic from mid morning to noon was due in part to the "banding" discussed earlier as the coastal low pulls away, enhanced by the passing of the closed 500 mb upper level low directly above us. This last round of snow should being tapering by 12 noon in Baltimore, but continue into the mid-afternoon across eastern PA. The enhanced fluff factor of this snow energized by the upper low may push totals to near the forecasted amounts, but some of those numbers will fall short. At least there's no bag in the forecast for me. Monitor the latest NWS snowfall reports for the metro regions of Baltimore/DC and Philadelphia (which includes northern DelMarVa).
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"Jump on the wind's back, and away we go!"
- Peter Pan, in early 20th century works by the Scottish playwright J.M. Barrie

1. COMMENTS: OPEN FOR BUSINESS AGAIN. They were disabled last night because WE ALL needed to sleep and not stay up all night obsessing over the storm (or reading comments!) There's an old saying that my friends and I used working on summer camp staff: "My body is going to kill me." To all the Junior Powderhounds out there, make your plans for snow shoveling $$, it's your last chance to cash in on winter's gift of money from the sky this season.
2. SCHOOL CLOSINGS: Despite your concerns about the dry slot and other perceived weakening of the storms, I am confident that enough snow will fall overnight to produce a CLEAN SWEEP of public and private schools throughout the Baltimore metro region. Eastern shore is also a lock, as will be northern Virginia. The areas I'm concerned will miss out on closings may be places like Washington County, the WV panhandle, and perhaps even Frederick County. Southern York and suburban Philly districts will pull the plug, as they may get more than Baltimore. As for questions about Tuesday, the number to watch is 8. If your area snowfall is generally at or above that, then your district is likely delayed Tues and possibly closed.
Thank you to all who made this such a thrilling storm to track and forecast. A shoutout goes to Mr. Winterman16 in Carroll County, MD for calling a major snow event 1st week of March, when everyone else was in spring-a-ling mode, attaboy dude! Now get some sleep and go make mongo money tomorrow shoveling! See you all at 5:30. Oh, and one more thing for my fellow powderhounds (uneasy or not): It's snowing. Are you happy now? ;-)
BIG KAHUNA SYNOPSIS: SUN MAR 1 - 6:45 PM THE I-95 SPECIAL IS HERE, BABY! The Mid-Atlantic's potentially biggest snowstorm since February 11, 2006 is set to impact our region over the next 36 hours. As outlined in the Winter Storm Warnings across the Northeast, a developing coastal storm along the southeast could deliver up to 10 inches of snow in parts of eastern Maryland bordering the Chesapeake Bay. Amounts over 10 inches may occur in the southern Appalachian mountains as well as from Delmarva north and east to New England. With the heaviest snow likely to occur Sunday night into Monday morning, school closings will be widespread from southwestern and central Virginia to DC, along the I-95 corridor including the Baltimore and Philadelphia metro regions. If 8 or more inches accumulate as measured at the Fallston, MD reporting station, then closings/delays will persist into Tuesday.

March Madness 3-1-09 NAM

STORM IMPACTS AND TIMING as of 7:00 AM 3/1/09 Based on interpretation of the 00Z NAM 3-hour precip projections, viewed in this loop. This timing outline is for the region bordered to the north by US-30 in southcentral PA, along I-81 to Front Royal, VA, east on Route 66 to Washington, and north on I-95 to Elkton, MD. For simplicity, here is a google map representation of this region.
OVERNIGHT: Light snow and sleet has overspread the region, accumulated around 1/2".
SUNDAY: Snow and sleet will taper off and possibly stop altogether by noon as the secondary system deepens while moving along the Carolina coast. During daytime hours, sun angle and warm surfaces will permit roads to remain wet and limit accumulation on grass to less than 1" of snow/sleet. Once influence of sun's rays wanes after 3 PM, surfaces will begin to chill.
SUNDAY NIGHT: The heaviest snow will occur overnight to sunrise, with rates near 2 inches an hour at times along the I-95 corridor.
MONDAY MORNING: From Cecil County south to Anne Arundel County as well as DelMarVa, the possibility of "banding" on backside of the departing low's precipitation shield may raise initial totals of 6" by Monday morning to 8" or higher. Areas likely to receive highest accumulation will be along the I-95 corridor. Counties north and west of the major cities, such as Carroll, Frederick, Washington, Loudon should see less than 5 inches total.
ACCOUNTABILITY STATEMENT: Details of this preliminary snow/timing forecast will be revised until approximately 5:00 PM Sunday, at which time the "storm grade accumulations" are issued and left unchanged until end of the storm. Now all we have to do is what Peter Pan said in the headline.