Many heroes asserted themselves in Oklahoma yesterday, from the first responders digging through the rubble for survivors, to the teachers who shielded children from the massive tornado that touched down as the school day was ending.
While perhaps not as heralded, certainly the experts at the National Weather Service deserve some credit for saving lives as well. One of the best ways to prevent high body counts when tornadoes barrel through populated areas is to warn residents ahead of time—which is the job of the NWS. They did it well yesterday, issuing early warnings allowed countless people to seek shelter before mayhem arrived.
But the NWS has, in recent years, suffered under serious budget restraints placed on it by deficit hawks in Congress and the White House. Far from the public view, the NWS is starting to come apart at the seams—and the full effects of the sequester haven’t even been felt yet. So what if, next time, the NWS isn’t able to do its job as well?
The tornado in Oklahoma yesterday provides a good case study for both the crucial import of the NWS’s work and the very small margin for error. Tornadoes present a particular challenge because, while the conditions that create them are easily identifiable—warm, moist air from the gulf colliding with warm, dry continental air and cold, dry air from the Rockies—the tornadoes themselves are incredibly unpredictable. Scientists still are not sure why some thunderstorms produce them and others do not.
When a tornado appears, the National Weather Service sounds the alarm. In Oklahoma on Monday, the alert came sixteen minutes before the tornado actually touched the ground, which is three minutes more than the thirteen-minute average warning the NWS provides. It triggered emergency broadcast alerts throughout the region and blaring air-raid sirens that allowed hundreds of thousands of people to seek shelter.
As a tornado is forming, NWS workers are synthesizing a rapid amount of data from radar, satellites, on-the-ground meteorologists, and citizens calling in what they see. The alerts have to be accurate—and they have to be quick.
“The adrenaline is building up. You’re looking at storms that you know are just really bad,” Dan Sobien, president of the National Weather Service Employees Organization, told The Nation. “It takes a special kind of person because you have to juggle ten or fifteen balls all at the same time, and then make life-and-death decisions based on that.
The NWS deserves enormous credit here. But what if it wasn’t up to the task? That’s an increasingly real possibility. Just this month, Sobien’s group, which represents 4,000 employees of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (of which NWS is a part), issued a warning that the budget battles are imperiling crucial NWS functions, and creating “[r]educed efficiency and accuracy for tornado events due to reduced alertness of short staffed offices.” Hurricane monitoring and response is also endangered, along with crucial wildfire monitoring efforts and a wide array of other NWS activities.
Since taking control of the House in 2011, Republicans have targeted NOAA for severe cuts—they came out of the gate proposing a massive 28 percent cut in their first budget that year, which was moderated by the end of the process.
But the assaults on the NOAA budget continued, and the agency couldn’t escape the sequester, which will lop 8.2 percent from the NOAA budget. This lead the acting administrator to institute an across-the-board hiring freeze in March, and four days of mandatory furloughs are on the horizon. (There is already a 10 percent vacancy rate at the agency.)
This is all occurring at an agency that could badly use more money, not less. The satellite equipment there is badly antiquated, and the Government Accountability Office said the “satellite gap” is one of the thirty biggest threats facing the federal government.
“Remember that bridge that collapsed in Minneapolis? The Weather Service is like that bridge a week before it collapsed,” Sobien said. “The strains are happening. I’m just seeing things just not working the way they should be.”
In fact, amidst all the turmoil yesterday, the NWS suffered some notable problems. In the evening a communications outage affected offices in Chicago; Anchorage; Binghamton, New York; and Kentucky, according to Sobien. The Nation confirmed this outage with an official at the NWS office in Chicago.
In addition, Sobien says the NWS office in Midland, Texas—the next office upstream from Oklahoma City that does upper-air surveillance of storms with weather balloons—declined to do a special weather balloon release after the storm to help monitor conditions because of budget concerns. (An official at that office said he was not aware of that particular situation.)
Those ended up being trivial outages, but next time might be different. If a disaster strikes where a NWS office is under-staffed, it’s easy to see how lives could be lost.
“The National Weather Service is an inherent government service, like the Post Office, like the FBI, you can name a dozen others. We had this debate about the National Weather Service a hundred-plus years ago, and said, yeah, this is a service we want for everyone,” Sobien said. “To be dismantling that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.”
My tweet on the NWS and NOAA underfunding by the GOP’s policies:
The GOP-triggered budget cuts aimed at NOAA and the National Weather Service are going to harm weather forecasting. My Slogan: Save the NOAA and NWS, and vote Democratic, as the GOP will lay a bigger assault on those two fine organizations as part of their goal to privatize weather forecasting… akin to what Rick Santorum tried to do in 2005.
BREAKING: US House has voted to pass $9.7 billion in Sandy relief funds
House of Representatives passes bill to give $9.7 billion in Sandy relief funds to flood insurance program - live video bit.ly/UolRMr— Breaking News (@BreakingNews) January 4, 2013
It’ll only be for elections that apply to both that location and your own area— so president and U.S. senator, but not local stuff.
Props to Cuomo.
Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani isn’t exactly famous for his tact, but he kicked his penchant for overstatement into overdrive this Sunday, twice falsely claiming that the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) response to Hurricane Sandy was worse than its botched response to Hurricane Katrina under President George W. Bush.
Speaking at a Romney campaign office in Florida,Giuliani said “[Obama] right now is doing a terrible job of disaster relief in my city, but no one is talking about it…People don’t have water, they don’t have food, electricity and his FEMA is no where to be found. This is a worse response than Katrina.” He also levelled the charge during a Fox News appearance, telling host Neil Cavuto that the notion FEMA was doing a good job was a “joke:”
I think maybe because there’s an election going on, people don’t want to say that, but I think FEMA has dropped the ball, certainly as big they did with Katrina, maybe bigger because they had more warning here and the situation isn’t as big as Katrina.
Giuliani’s view is at odds with the assessment of virtually every other observer of the agency’s performance during the two storms. While the Bush Administration’s famously incompetent response to Katrina delayed the provision of critical federal aid by days and poorly distributed it, FEMA had 1,500 well-organized workers on the ground the day after Sandy hit, which former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security and FEMA critic Paul Rosenzweig called “a massive and admirable [sic] effort.”
Several prominent members of Giuliani’s own party share Lieberman’s assessment. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, one of the leaders faced with most difficult post-Sandy reconstruction,said “The federal government’s response has been great…The President has been outstanding in this and so have the folks at FEMA.” Ed Gillespie, a senior adviser to Mitt Romney’s Presidential campaign, said Governor Romney had no quarrel with President Obama’s handling of the situation. Gillespie added that “from what we’ve heard from the governors, they’re working well with FEMA” and that “there’s a good working relationship between the state and the federal government.”
Shut the fuck up, Sean Hannity! I think it’s time you need a spanking from a dominatrix for your lies, HandTitty!
The powerlessness was felt especially in Manhattan below 39th street, where electricity had been partially shut off preemptively on Monday by local utility ConEdison to avoid more extensive flooding damage from the storm surge. (The location where TPM’s own New York offices are located, also without power at the time of this article’s publication).
So it shouldn’t have been a surprise that Manhattanites descended upon the city like an army of zombies, not in search of brains but rather power for their dead devices: cell phones, tablets, laptops, mp3 players and the rest of the gadgets that run on rechargeable — not easily replaceable — lithium ion batteries.
“If you plan on coming into Manhattan, bring cash, a phone charger, and cigarettes,” tweeted one resident. “You will automatically be Mayor. #NYC #Sandy”
“It’s like there’s two cities, everybody above 39th street is going along like nothing’s happened while everybody below is staggering around without power,” said David Walke, CEO of goCharge, a New York City-based startup that provides mobile device charging kiosks in bars and restaurants, and bills itself as the “world leader in mobile device charging,” in a phone interview with TPM.
Since early 2011, goCharge has 50 free to use electronics charging stations throughout bars in Manhattan, but only 17 of those were active as of Wednesday, all of them above 39th street, Walke told TPM.
“Backup diesel generators are designed to provide emergency response for critical functions, such as access lighting around doors and stairways, and power for escalators and elevators so passengers aren’t trapped,” said Allen Schaeffer, executive director of the nonprofit Diesel Technology Forum, which advocates for and educates about diesel fuel use, in an interview with TPM, “So the fact that folks can’t find outlets that are adequately charged even in buildings that may have lights, that explains why.”
However, Schaeffer said that as smartphones and tablets become more integral to the functioning of critical services like health care and safety going forward, operators of backup generator systems should consider expanding their capacity to power personal devices.
“When you see images of a swarm of people around one power strip, cords everywhere like a bunch of spaghetti lying there, those are important images to think about going forward,” Schaeffer told TPM.
The desperate search for places to recharge in New York came despite earlier articles warning residents to keep their devices powered up and use them scarcely to conserve energy during an outage.
Of course, even once mobile devices owners recharged, there were still other gadget-related problems with which to contend: Dropped calls were a recurring issue into Wednesday, as up to 25 percent of all transmission sites in the Northeast were still offline, as The New York Times reported. Again, Lower Manhattan seemed to be the epicenter of that outage, as well, according to The Wall Street Journal.
H/T: Carl Franzen at TPM
With Election Day just one week away, state officials along the eastern seaboard are assessing the devastation done by Hurricane Sandy, which swept through the Northeast corridor and hit New Jersey and New York hardest.
For the second day, early voting was canceled in Maryland, while some in-person absentee voting locations in northern Virginia were closed, and early voting was suspended in six counties in West Virginia, a state hit by high winds and heavy snow.
But the looming challenge was for counties in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut where the storm surge flooded schools and other locations designated as voting sites next Tuesday. Election officials in coastal counties were struggling to assess whether power outages might force changes in some of next Tuesday’s polling locations.
The potential for disruptions to voting on Nov. 6 could depress voter turnout in storm-affected areas of New York and New Jersey, for example, but President Barack Obama is still likely to carry those two states with no difficulty.
In Nassau County, N.Y., where the south shore was inundated by the storm surge and where there are more than 900,000 registered voters, towns such as Oceanside and Long Beach are now under a foot or more of water.
Nassau County Board of Elections Commissioner William Biamonte said Tuesday that he and other officials were still trying to reach the emergency contact people at each of the polling locations in the flooded areas, but they’d been unsuccessful, as cell phone service was out in parts of the county.
Before the storm hit, officials mapped polling locations in what FEMA designates as Category 1 storm areas: 68 of Nassau County’s 400 polling locations are in that flood-prone zone.
“The real issue is power,” Biamonte said. “If we still have massive power outages a week from today, there are few options.”
One of them: when voters come to a polling location, they would be asked to fill out the ballot used in the county’s optical scan machines and instead of scanning them at the polling location (which is the normal procedure), those ballots could be taken to the county board’s office and scanned there. This option, he said, would delay the tallying of results by a day.
Biamonte said he expects voter turnout of about 670,000 in the county next Tuesday but is concerned that about 300,000 of those voters, who vote only in presidential elections, will be unfamiliar with the optical scan machines the county has adopted since 2008. That unfamiliarity might add another element of confusion on Election Day.
But “come hell or high water – which is what we just had – were going to be voting next week,” Biamonte said.
As in New York, and in New Jersey too, power outages, massive flooding, and impassable streets are making it difficult for officials along the coast to assess polling locations.
After major disasters struck the U.S. last year, Mitt Romney suggested closing FEMA, the emergency response agency, so that states could have greater control over disaster relief. “And if you can go even further and send it back to the private sector, that’s even better,” Romney said during a GOP presidential debate in June 2011.
Those words came back to haunt him, though, as Hurricane Sandy slammed the East Coast and left at least $20 billion in damage in its wake. At first, the Romney campaign vaguelystood by Romney’s plan to get rid of FEMA and put states in charge of disaster relief. And one GOP strategist defended Romney’s idea to dismantle FEMA. But as Politico notes, the Republican presidential candidate’s campaign now insists that Romney would keep FEMA in place:
“Gov. Romney believes that states should be in charge of emergency management in responding to storms and other natural disasters in their jurisdictions,” Romney spokesman Ryan Williams said in a statement. “As the first responders, states are in the best position to aid affected individuals and communities, and to direct resources and assistance to where they are needed most. This includes help from the federal government and FEMA.”
A campaign official added that Romney would not abolish FEMA.
Basically, this is exactly how the system works now. But federal emergency response could be hampered by the GOP ticket’s budget proposals, which stipulate that the government should only disburse disaster relief funding if Congress agreed to offsetting budget cuts elsewhere.
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — Forecasters in Miami say the center of former Hurricane Sandy has made landfall along the New Jersey coast near Atlantic City.
The National Hurricane Center says the storm packing torrential rains and wind roared ashore about 8 p.m. EDT Monday.
Hurricane Sandy projected to make landfall along southern New Jersey coast by early evening
Hurricane Sandy is expected to make landfall along or just south of the southern New Jersey coast by early evening, according to the latest advisory from the National Weather Service.
As of 2 p.m. ET, Sandy is located about 110 miles southeast of Atlantic City, New Jersey, and about 175 miles south-southeast of New York City. Maximum sustained winds from Hurricane Sandy remain near 90 mph with higher gusts. More on BreakingNews.com: http://www.breakingnews.com/topic/sandy
Photo: One of three major approaches to Atlantic City, New Jersey, is covered with water. (Tom Mihalek / Reuters)
The East Coast is bracing for the ever-strengthening Hurricane Sandy, which will affect 50 million people when it makes landfall on Monday evening. President Obama has declared a state of emergency in 7 states and DC, allowing them to receive federal funds for emergency disaster assistance.
Depending on the outcome of next week’s election, future victims of natural disasters may not be able to receive the same kind of assistance. Mitt Romney has suggested shutting down FEMA and turning disaster relief over to private companies. Meanwhile, House Republicans have repeatedly attempted to slash funds for disaster preparedness and response in 2011.
With each major natural disaster in 2011, House Republicans dug in their heels over providing disaster relief. They repeatedly demanded the funds be offset by other spending cuts in the budget — even as a deadly tornado tore through Missouri, an earthquake shook Virginia, and when Hurricane Irene struck the east coast last year.
Hurricane Sandy, currently on a direct course for the East Coast, is sending residents across multiple states scrambling to prepare for heavy wind, rain, and snow. The Obama and Romney campaigns are surely taking stock of its effects as well.
The implications for the election are uncertain, as is the path and extent of the storm’s damage. But given that it’s projected to directly impact such states as North Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, there’s plenty of potential for disruption.
In Virginia, the storm is already poised to wreck a scheduled joint rally with President Clinton and president Obama on Monday. Romney has already cancelled a Virginia Beach event for Sunday. Early voting is less widespread in the state than others like Ohio, since Virginia only accepts absentee votes, so the impact could be minimized at the ballot box if things are back to normal by election day.
That said, if there’s major flooding or snow, where it hits could have an influence. While the coast is evenly divided between swing counties, other regions are more polarized.
“It depends on where it hits and how much, it’s just impossible to say in advance,” Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, told TPM. “If Obama were directing the snowstorm it would be in the Shenandoah valley and Southwest Virginia as they want as low a turnout as possible in those rural areas. If Romney were directing the snowstorm, it would go right down the corridor from Northern Virginia into Richmond, which is where Obama’s votes come from.”
Ohio is another place to watch. Heavy snow could make things more difficult in the many smaller counties where Romney is expected to dominate, but if it hits the more Democratic northwest corner of the state that could have an outsize impact on early voting. Speaking of early voting, it can’t hurt that Democrats already have a big lead banked before whatever weather heads their way.
Similarly in Pennsylvania, heavy storms in Philadelphia seem likely, where Democrats overwhelmingly dominate. But the more Republican suburbs and even more Republican rural parts of the state out west could be more susceptible to heavy snows or power outages, making voter turnout difficult for the other side depending on which way the wind blows. But since there’s no early voting in Pennsylvania, it seems unlikely this would do more than just disrupt the campaigns and distract from their final messages.
H/T: Benjy Sarlin at TPM
AFA's Buster Wilson: "God is using Hurricane Isaac to Punish New Orleans for LGBT Festival" | rightwingwatch.org
American Family Association’s Buster Wilson, who is the general manager of their radio network, is blaming Hurricane Isaac on the city of New Orleans for hosting Southern Decadence, the annual LGBT festival. Wilson joins other pastors in linking the festival to natural disasters which hit New Orleans in the past.
From the 08.30.2012 edition of AFR’s AFA Today:
H/T: Brian Tashman at RWW