The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Sint Maarten under the weather

I've visited St Martin/Sint Maarten twice, once in 2009 and again in 2014. It's unclear when I or anyone will spend a vacation there in future, because this morning the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic smashed directly into the island.

At 8:43 AST, the Guardian posted these videos.

Twitter user Kurt Siegelin posted this video at 9:12 AST.

As of 9:30 AST,

French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb also said that government buildings on the island of Saint Martin - the most sturdy built there - had been destroyed.

“We know that the four most solid buildings on the island have been destroyed which means that more rustic structures have probably been completely or partially destroyed,” he told reporters.

Meanwhile, Puerto Rico is bracing for impact as most models forecast the eye to pass just north of San Juan:

This is the first Category-5 storm to hit Puerto Rico since 1928, and is significantly more powerful.

The forecast track puts the storm in South Florida on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Jose is right behind Irma, but forecast to pass northeast of the Windward Islands over the weekend. And Tropical Storm Katia is about to blow across southern Mexico.

I'll be following all three closely this week.

Replicating climate change denial papers

A new paper in the journal Theoretical and Applied Climatology tries to replicate the most-referenced papers in the 3% minority that find alternate explanations for human-caused global warming. Turns out, the deniers are still looking for their Galileo:

This new study was authored by Rasmus Benestad, myself (Dana Nuccitelli), Stephan Lewandowsky, Katharine Hayhoe, Hans Olav Hygen, Rob van Dorland, and John Cook. Benestad (who did the lion’s share of the work for this paper) created a tool using the R programming language to replicate the results and methods used in a number of frequently-referenced research papers that reject the expert consensus on human-caused global warming. In using this tool, we discovered some common themes among the contrarian research papers.

Cherry picking was the most common characteristic they shared. We found that many contrarian research papers omitted important contextual information or ignored key data that did not fit the research conclusions.

We found that the ‘curve fitting’ approach also used in the Humlum paper is another common theme in contrarian climate research. ‘Curve fitting’ describes taking several different variables, usually with regular cycles, and stretching them out until the combination fits a given curve (in this case, temperature data). It’s a practice I discuss in my book, about which mathematician John von Neumann once said, "With four parameters I can fit an elephant, and with five I can make him wiggle his trunk."

This represents just a small sampling of the contrarian studies and flawed methodologies that we identified in our paper; we examined 38 papers in all. As we note, the same replication approach could be applied to papers that are consistent with the expert consensus on human-caused global warming, and undoubtedly some methodological errors would be uncovered. However, these types of flaws were the norm, not the exception, among the contrarian papers that we examined.

You can count the insurance industry among the groups that believe the science is settled. Insurers appear to have started looking at climate change as an inevitability, not a risk, which changes their models radically:

[F]lood insurance was not a lucrative business to begin with. Congress set up the National Flood Insurance Program in 1968 as it became clear that private companies couldn’t profitably provide coverage. Now, nearly half a century later, the program is—ahem—under water by $24.6 billion. As a result, there’s a push to move flood insurance toward the private market. That could mean less building in flood-prone areas, as they become effectively uninsurable thanks to sky-high rates. Says Morningstar’s Brett Horn: “Frankly, that’s not a bad outcome.”

Meanwhile, the second major hurricane of the season is heading for Florida...

Lagavulin

More Scotland photos. On the 10th, we visited the Lagavulin Distillery. But we got our first look at it from the ferry two days earlier:

Up close, from the ruins of Dunyvaig Castle, it looks like this:

And for comparison between the LG G6 and the Canon 7D mark II, here's the camera-phone photo I took at about the same time:

Scotland (first 7D photos)

I promised to post photos from Scotland once I had a chance to go through all 800 or so from my 7D, and today, I had a (short) chance.

First: the Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, where we had breakfast on August 8th:

Second, Glenmachrie House, where we stayed:

(This is the reverse of the image I posted earlier, about an hour later, and with a real camera and HDR software.)

More tomorrow.

How wet is Houston?

Via WGN-TV, the fourth-largest city in the U.S. has received more rain in the last week than Chicago receives in an average year. 

Chicago's average annual precipitation is 910 mm. Since last Friday, Houston has gotten 1,070 mm. The wettest year in Houston history (1900) dumped 1,851 mm on it. So far this year, with 4 months left to go, Houston has gotten 1,798 mm. Of course, the odds are pretty good that the city will get another 53 mm of rain before December 31st.

We have no idea how bad the damage is yet. The entire Houston Chronicle website is about the flood. At least the rain has stopped for now—but officials worry about additional reservoir overflows and levee breaks.

We're just beginning to understand the magnitude of this disaster. And with key Federal posts, including FEMA Director, yet to be filled, President Trump is so out of his depth one can only hope that state and local governments can help.

Not looking good in Houston

Hurricane Harvey has dropped so much rain on Houston that two 1930s-era dams have been overwhelmed for the first time in history:

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers confirmed Tuesday morning that water was spilling from around the dam gates of the Addicks Reservoir, which has been overwhelmed by extreme rainfall from Hurricane Harvey. Officials said they expect the Barker Reservoir, to the south of Addicks, to begin overflowing similarly at some point Tuesday.

A Harris County Flood Control District meteorologist said the overflow from the reservoirs would eventually flow into downtown Houston.

The reservoirs, which flank Interstate 10 on the west side of Houston, flow into the Buffalo Bayou and are surrounded by parks and residential areas. Water levels in the two reservoirs had already reached record levels Monday evening, measuring 32 m at Addicks and 30 m at Barker.

Engineers were unable to measure water levels at the Barker Reservoir on Tuesday because its gauge was flooded overnight, said Jeff Lindner, the Harris County flood control meteorologist.

In response, City Lab asks, why can't the U.S. manage flooding?

For New Orleans, whose below-sea-level position makes it particularly imperiled, the August floods were a reminder of something we should take much more seriously than we have. We ought to apply more aggressively the lessons we claimed to be learning from the Dutch after Katrina. It’s a course of action that would amount to a sea change in how we approach the wet threat that surrounds us on every side.

We need to get as smart and wily about water as Rotterdam. New Orleans’s continued viability as a population center and commercial hub depends on it. We must learn to live with water, to absorb rainfall and storm surge in massive retention facilities, to designate greenspaces that double as parks. We need to stop paving our yardsto make nifty little pads for the family car. We need to build absorbent rooftop gardens on as many buildings as can be put to that purpose.

Speaking of, I'm planning to visit New Orleans this weekend. Harvey is expected to pass northwest of the city tomorrow and land in the Tennessee Valley by Friday afternoon. I'm still bringing water shoes and an umbrella.

Have a Zima with your Zestimate

On Tuesday, a Federal judge in Chicago dismissed with prejudice a case against Zillow that alleged its "Zestimates" made houses harder to sell:

In the suit, first filed in May, Glenview homeowner and attorney Barbara Andersen alleged that the estimates Zillow posts with for-sale listings essentially act like an appraisal of exact market value. Under Illinois law, only licensed appraisers can issue an appraisal. Andersen's suit alleges Zillow is engaging in illegal practices.

Not so, U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve wrote in her dismissal. "The word 'Zestimate'—an obvious portmanteau of 'Zillow' and 'estimate'—itself indicates that Zestimates are merely an estimate of the market value of the property," St. Eve wrote.

"We always say that the Zestimate isn't an appraisal," [Zillow's] Emily Heffter told Crain's earlier this year. "It's a starting point that people can use when they're working with a professional appraiser or a professional agent to determine the home's value."

St. Eve also wrote that Zillow's estimates do not constitute an invasion of privacy because they are based on public records, with additions submitted by the homeowners if they choose to.

It zeems obvious, when you think about it.

Astronomical

I'm back home, and I've shoved all the Scotland photos out of the way so I could post this:

I didn't notice until I processed the photos from my 7D, but there are two solar storms visible: one at about 3 o'clock and the other, fainter one at about 1 o'clock.

We're already looking into a vacation in Chile in the summer of 2019...