Sunday, August 30, 2009

No comments:

The Atlantic basin is entering the historical annual peak of tropical cyclone activity, represented by the two week period on either side of September 10.
Relatively few hurricanes in 2009 may have permitted areas of the western Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico to experience warmer-than-normal sea surface temperatures.
El Nino is present in the equatorial Pacific and expected for duration of the 2009-10 Northern Hemisphere winter.
These and other indicators may signal a snowier winter for the Eastern United States, concurrent with the possibility of an earlier than usual start to the winter storm season.

10:00 AM Sunday, 8-30-09 The Atlantic Basin is nearing the climatological "high water mark" of tropical cyclone activity, historically peaking on September 10. The next two or three weeks may turn out to be the most active period of the entire season. However, a strengthening El Nino signal in the equatorial Pacific may continue influencing westerly shear enough that any developing systems spend more time looking like a threat than turning into one. On the cautionary side, sea surface temperatures (SST) in the Gulf of Mexico are at or above the seasonal peak, with large areas 86 F or greater. All of us coastal-types are not only entering the school zone, but also the hurricane primetime zone. With the 4-year anniversary of Katrina a painful reminder, anything tracking across the Altantic for the next 2-3 weeks bears close monitoring.

For snow-starved powderhounds, the current SST trend is a strong indicator of what dreams may come this winter. I closely monitor Global SST anomalies in the fall as a key signal of what winter may bring. A prime example of this hypothesis is the winter of 2002-03. Hurricane Isabel was the only notable system to significantly affect the East Coast, during a weakening El Nino with Pacific temperature anomalies averaging 1.0 C. Moderate shear influenced by those Pacific anomalies finally relaxed in mid September 2003, permitting Isabel to make her unstoppable westerly beeline for the East Coast. This year, El Nino is stronger, with "sea surface temperatures across the equatorial Pacific .5 to 1.5 C above average," per the Climate Prediction Center's weekly report. The CPC goes on to say, "Current observations and dynamical model forecasts indicate El NiƱo is expected to strengthen and last through Northern Hemisphere winter 2009-10. For snow-starved Mid-Atlantic powderhounds, this could be a very good sign, and a source of my hypothesis.

This hypothesis is centered on two seemingly unrelated events: (1) A strengthening El Nino increases potential for disruptive westerly wind shear in the Altantic basin; and (2) Wind shear that reduces or deflects the impact of tropical cyclones near the coast permits SST's to reach warmer-than-normal levels in certain areas. Undeniable evidence is plain to see in the current Caribbean SST anomaly map as of 8/27/09, as denoted by the "blue swath" indicating the path Hurricane Bill followed in mid-August.

What's the connection to a snowier winter? Just keep reading, we're almost there. But compare the Atlantic SST data to the Gulf of Mexico on that map. Notice that large areas of the Gulf are at or near 86 F (30 C). Whatever energy not removed from the water by tropical activity during summer may persist into winter. That energy can be tapped by developing winter storms crossing the southeast in the much the same manner of the President's Day Storm in February 2003. Although 60 or more days remain for the tropics to "stir things up," with some water temperatures already well-above normal, it will take several strong systems to put a dent in those levels. There are several more factors that must take their place in the "Circle of Life" as it pertains to a snowier signal for this winter, among them trends in the North Atlantic Oscillation, Northern Hemispheric snow cover, Arctic sea ice, and most importantly tracking the snowline descent from Canada each fall. The National Ice Center has links to useful daily imagery.

The long and short of it is this: I hypothesize a high probability winter 2009-10 in the Mid-Atlantic produces at least the climatological "normal" amount of snow (for example, a 30-year average of 19.2 inches at BWI). If the trends continue, perhaps we will see a whole lot more. The real answer that administrators and district-level employees seek is simply: "That's nice for the teachers, but will it be ENOUGH to close schools AND offices? ;-)

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

No comments:

8:00 am Friday, 8-28-09. Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, the Coastal Mid-Atlantic and Northeast for the second time in a 10-day period will face effects from a tropical cyclone. The primary impacts will be another frustrating weekend for beach-goers, boaters and lifeguards alike as Danny's passage will produce high surf conditions and dangerous rip currents. Luckily for coastal residents, this will not resemble the period of late August to early September in 1999, when Hurricane Floyd delivered 12 or more inches of rain on areas still saturated by Hurricane Dennis the week before. Residents of North Carolina can never forget the horrific aftermath of Floyd, with catastrophic flooding that destroyed millions of cattle and ruined thousands of square miles of agricultural land. While Danny is not likely to patch that kind of punch, it is worth noting from a climatological perspective two back-to-back tropical systems taking a similar path along the East Coast. With yet another area of disturbed weather in that critical "Cape Verde" region of coastal Africa, is Mother Nature hinting that Danny and Bill were sent just to lay the red carpet for... Erika?

WHAT WILL DANNY DO? By examining the historical tracking map (paths of previous August tropical storms), and compare that to the current computer model projected paths for Danny as of 7:00 AM Wed, there is comfort in the trends. Both historical data and model output suggest Danny DOES NOT make landfall along the Mid-Atlantic or Northeast unlike Floyd or Isabel (as shown by the StormPulse site). However, it goes without saying that lifeguards, boaters and beach-goers alike face . NOAA reconnaissance aircraft will continue to investigate the storm several times a day, and if the storm reaches Hurricane strength, you'll be among the first to know by monitoring the "Vortex Data Message" on the NHC site.

ON POST FREQUENCY For my colleagues in education, it comes as no surprise that with our return to school in advance of the students, the frequency of posts will be diminished for a time. To bridge the gap and maintain meaningful content, I have a report in development that discusses quantitative data of trends heading into the winter pattern. This post will likely have to wait until Danny has moved on, but in the draft version right now are four key climate indicators which will form the basis of my prediction for the winter storm season.

The four indicators:
(1) Impact of the Solar Minimum on atmospheric temperatures;
(2) Current state of El Nino and effect on North America this winter;
(3) Sea surface temperature anomalies in Gulf of Mexico, western Atlantic and central Pacific;
(4) Evidence of a "negative trend' for the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) for fall and early winter.

A majority of this report is written, and it will be presented as soon as time and school preparations permit, but not before the weekend. Until then, we have something new to talk about, so onward with the discussion topics, such as "What will Danny do?" or "Do you remember Floyd?" or "Will this affect the start of school?"

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

No comments:
In motion on the ocean...

Bill's current wave heights 8-19-09

9:00 am WEDNESDAY 8-19-09 Today's headline is straight from Enya's "Anywhere Is" in the 1995 album Memory of Trees and fits perfectly within several venues:

1. If your cruise ship is sailing East Coast waters this weekend, ocean motion may cause a few problems while completing the 1-2 "fun days at sea" en route to or from the Carribbean. Look carefully at the Ocean Prediction Center's map above, you'll notice the wave heights in and around Bill presently. See that number in the right corner? That's not a typo.

2. Coastals* may be in motion heading to the ocean, but by Saturday the best-laid plans could screech to a halt once reaching the beach. Dr. Steve Lyons of the Weather Channel suggested last night that wave heights of along the Carolina coast and near mouth of the Chesapeake Bay will build to the 6-9 foot range on Saturday. According to NOAA's WaveWatch, by Sunday morning, waves along the Maryland, Delaware and Jersey coasts could exceed 12 feet. Maybe boardwalk restaurants should offer special menu pricing and front row seating for weekend wave watching.

In using NOAA WaveWatch, to see projection, click the pull-down menu at "info page" and select "North Atlantic hurricane (reg.)" and click "go." Then you can scroll forward in time using the right arrows.

From the Wakefield, VA National Weather Service's 4:25 AM 8-19-09 Discussion for MD/VA Coastal areas:
* Today marks the introduction of this new Foot's Forecast term denoting those readers who count spending time at the beach of equal or greater importance as witnessing a heavy snowfall. Now all you powderhounds finally have an appropriate off-season identity. This is designed to provide you cover during those uncomfortable dinner-party moments in the summer when the topic of snow comes up, and while sweating on the portico sipping a mint julip, you fruitlessly explained to friends why just love heavy snow and cold weather. Example conversation:

Conditions: 94 F, humidity 86%, wind: calm. Location: Ocean city, MD beach at 120th street.

Friend: "It's been such a strange summer, I wonder if this means we'll have the same kind of bizarre weather this winter. I've heard there are some really strange people on the internet that, like, follow this stuff 24-7."

You: (using your stained right sleeve to wipe away forehead sweat) "Well, I don't know anyone like that, but for me personally, I enjoy super hot weather, as long as I'm at the beach when it happens. But I also really look forward to those long cold stretches in the dead middle of winter-- you know when the ground is all covered in a pristine blanket of crystal white snow -- and (excitedly) and the sun has just come up, casting this beautiful bright fan of light across the landscape. So I call myself a "coastal" because I love hot weather at the beach, and cold, snowy weather at home caused by big coastal storms. Makes sense, right?

Friend: (period of silent perplexed look) "Uh huh. (Gets up) So anyone need another drink?" (Leans down to you and says) "As for more of that 'Ocean motion potion' bucko."

Monday, August 17, 2009

No comments:

Hurricane Bill 5:00 PM EDT 8-17-09

6:00 pm MONDAY, 8-17-09 This headline is a slight take-off of the 1988 pop hit "She's Got The Look" by the artist/group Roxette, but I think we can all agree Bill is starting to get "the look" himself. Recent NOAA satellite scans this afternoon suggest the hurricane is starting an eye-wall replacement cycle (ERC) which is usually followed by rapid intensification. Category 3 status seems very likely in 24 hours or less. All those with weekend plans for the coasts of the Carolinas, DelMarVa or New Jersey may be faced with a lot of unexpected beach closures. Yes, I know some of you made a deposit on that beachfront rental back last October. But Mother Nature is probably going to beat the Route 50 Bay bridge traffic Friday afternoon, and be waiting for you just across the dunes with a little surprise in big red letters: BEACH CLOSED.


7:00 am MONDAY, 8-17-09 With a rush of headlines and three storms forming in two days, it's apparent the Atlantic basin has awoken from a long summer slumber. The real questions for tropical watchers are simple:

1. Does Hurricane Bill pose a threat to the East Coast?
Early indications of the projected path suggest that Bermuda may feel more direct effects from this storm, whereas the US East Coast could experience several days of dangerous rip currents.

This week, two upper level features will be of primary influence to Bill's track: The 500 millibar Atlantic Ridge as shown on this forecast map from the Ocean Prediction Center (OPC), and an upper level trough sliding across the central US. While the hurricane travels around the southern pheriphery of the Atlantic ridge, it will enter a confluence zone created by the clockwise flow around that ridge, and the counter-clockwise southerly flow generated by the trough. The combined effect of these two features is likely to veer Bill from the current westerly track to more northwest as shown in the NHC graphic, and eventually north-northwest by the weekend. This expected turn is also reflected in the tropical cyclone early-track guidance provided by Colorado State University and depicted on the interactive site Based on this analysis, some media forecasters suggest that Bermuda is more likely to experience effects of this storm.

Kimberlain (2009): Hurricane Bill Discussion 8 from National Hurricance Center's 500 AM EDT 8-17-2009 update. Retrieved August 17, 2009 from

By Friday, rip currents and swells will increase along the southeast coast, and by Saturday affect the entire Eastern seaboard from Florida to Maine. This will pose a significant hazard to swimmers, beachgoers and lifeguards. You can monitor the progress of swell heights with the OPC's Wind/Wave Analysis. Hopefully local and national media will convey the shoreline's hidden dangers enhanced by a passing hurricane. Of particular concern will be ocean-going cruises departing from or returning to East coast ports. If you are among those hopeful travelers, be prepared for changes in the itinerary, or at least be cautious in how much you consume at the dining hall! (I assume you understand the connection.)

2. Do these storms signal the start of an active period heading into September and the all-important Labor Day Weekend? As you can plainly see from the StormPulse visible satellite image below, a series of tropical waves is in the queue ready to keep forecasters busy for at least the next 2 weeks.

African Waves 8-17-09

Answers to those in addition to your questions will be posted in the next day or two.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

No comments:
Big News, Little Time

TUE 19 MAY - 8:45 AM. The development of this year's first tropical system signals the annual shift on this site to tracking Atlantic basin storms. (5/21 Edit- "invest 90L" apparently dissipated but heavy tropical rains will affect Florida and the southeast coast all weekend.) To speed your access to relevant information, I have many improvements planned, and hope the tropics will permit time to complete the upgrades.

A larger issue looming on the climate analysis horizon is the start of a neutral to weak El Nino trend heading into summer. This shift will most certainly impact the outcome of Atlantic basin tropical systems. Long range projections suggest a weak to moderate Nino persists into the winter month. If this coincides with the slowly rebounding solar minimum, the Northern Hemisphere could be in for one heck of a blockbuster winter regarding coastal snowstorms and frequent cold spells.

Spread of H1N1 Influenza A remains a top concern with regard to the inter-disciplinary aspects of climate, weather and infectious diseases. Consider looking over this intriguing Accuweather report about the connections between El Nino and Influenza. The CDC believes cases among school-age children should decrease once summer vacation begins, but the increasing rate and severity of infections reinforces the uncertainty on what's really driving the virus right now. A separate website, called "Foot's Flucast" is being developed to monitor flu activity heading into our summer, and the southern hemisphere winter.

Frequency of posts will decline after June 29, as I am joining the Baltimore Ecosystem Study as part of a Summer Research Fellowship with Towson University. It will be an exciting time of hands-on field investigations throughout the Baltimore region, as I will assist a research scientist from UMBC in the areas of urban hydrology and geomorphology (that's the study of how ground water behaves in urban environments and landforms.) Where appropriate and approved by my mentor scientist, I hope to post an overview of the project later in the summer.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

No comments:
Humidity & Flu: A connection?

THU 7 MAY - 10:00 AM. Loyal and new readers alike have been waiting patiently for a return to normalcy on this site. I have heard your pleas! To start the transition, I present this "bridge" topic to further our understanding of the synergistic relationships between climate and human health. A February 2009 report to the National Academy of Sciences raised intriquing theories about the apparent increased ability of viruses to survive and transmit among humans in cold and dry conditions versus that which is warm and wet. Talk about relevant weather and relationships to climate. Adding influenza to this mix creates an inter-disciplinary concept so big it's going to take some time to wrap my head around it! A direct quote from the article:
"It seems that the influenza virus' ability to survive and be transmitted person-to-person is greatly affected by how dry or wet the air is," says Jeffrey Shaman, Ph.D., an atmospheric scientist at Oregon State University in Corvallis, who specializes in ties between climate and disease transmission, and a co-author of the new study.

This introduces a whole new world of research possibilities that are just fresh out of the gate. I encourage any of you or your students to investigate, including:

(1) Cross-referencing spread of the H1N1 outbreak with April daily humidity data in Mexico, New York, Texas and California: what patterns or indications might this reveal?

(2) Comparing that data to climate norms: Was it more or less humid than normal at onset? Could this have influenced the March-to-April outbreak phase in Mexico?

(3) Real-time tracking of current humidity and temperature data as compared to spread of the virus in the Maryland or the eastern U.S. Has our recent washout slowed progress of the virus?

(4) Historical analysis of temp/humidity data in the fall of 1918: Did this influence velocity of the lethal second wave that swept the globe in two months (when trans-Atlantic travel alone took a week or more?) For a glimpse at early research on this very idea, review a 1923 report by the Canadian Medical Association Journal. Now that's what I call back in the day.

The organizing question going forward would be: Could weather data be used to predict how a reassorted virus might spread in a second wave this fall? Things that make you go hmmm....

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

No comments:

TUE 5 MAY - 10:00 pm. A sigh of relief is heard across the country as the CDC issues updated interim guidance on K-12 school closures. It would appear that while the virus remains high transmissible, it has a low infectivity rate, which is the technical way of saying: "Not everyone who gets exposed will get sick." There is much good news from this development, but health officials at the CDC and WHO remain very cautious about what may come this fall. It's just as important to recognize that Mother Nature has given the entire world a full dress rehearsal for how we might react in a severe pandemic. This is not to suggest the suffering of those whom lost loved ones is merely a statistic in order to better our lives through their pain.

On the contrary, all societies will stand to benefit from the volumes of knowledge disease researchers have gained the past few weeks. That knowledge will go on to save and improve lives this fall and beyond should H1N1 reassort in the southern hemisphere or elsewhere. All those who fell ill or passed away in this outbreak did not do so in vain. Their "involuntary participation" in an startlingly-fast influenza epidemic will serve the greater good of all humanity for a long time to come. The unfortunate news is that for public health professionals and governments alike, the real surveillance period has just begun. We're still at WHO Phase 5, signaling that a pandemic is imminent, and it may be some time before that backs down. In preparation for that day, the gathering of research continues.

Over the next week, the majority of flu monitoring links on this site will be transferred to a new website titled "Foot's Flucast" complete with it's own URL. From there you will continue to have quick glance access to the latest auto-updating features in order to track the H1N1 situation in the US and around the world. On-going research about this virus and the mitigation strategies for a secondary outbreaks will remain priority topics on that site.

To the many faithful readers, please accept my thanks and appreciation for your patience during this whip-lash of a topic shift from weather to influenza. I'm sure many of you are suffering from "flu fatigue" by now, and would welcome back the good old days of simply tracking hurricanes. That time will be here soon enough my friend, soon enough.

No comments:

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

No comments:
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

No comments:

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

No comments:

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
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

No comments:

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

1 comment:

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 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 ( and we address those in upcoming Q & A sessions.

Monday, April 27, 2009

No comments:

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.

No comments:

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

No comments:
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 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

No comments:

(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

No comments:
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

No comments:

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 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 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.