Thursday, May 26, 2011

Tornadoes 2011

It's been a hell of a tornado year. The Tuscaloosa, Alabama and Joplin Missouri ones have been the worst ones so far. Yesterday we had 5 tornado warnings here in Indiana. While the storm did result in some damage to homes and trees, and a few people - it was nothing like the damage from the F5s.

Joplin, MO
Joplin, Mo

Warmer Ocean Fueling Tornadoes from Mother Jones/ Deep Blue Home:

The stats on tornadoes so far this year are horrifying. A record-breaking 482 people (and ABC News reports 1,500 are unaccounted for in Joplin, Missouri) have been confirmed killed as of 24 May.

We know that spring's a bad season for tornadoes. We know that La NiƱa years fuel stormy Aprils. But 2011 is redefining even those parameters.

Here's what NOAA has to say about last month alone:

April 2011 set anew record with a total of 875 tornadoes.
The previous April record was set in 1974 with 267 tornadoes.
The average number of tornadoes for the month of April during the past decade was 161.
The previous record number of tornadoes duringany month was 542 tornadoes set in May 2003.
NWS [National Weather Service] records indicate 321 people were killed during the April 25-28 tornado outbreak.
NWS records indicate 361 people were killed during the entire month of April 2011.

Leading up to April's extreme tornadoes were some extreme temperatures, noted Stu Ostro, Senior Meteorologist at the Weather Channel:

The temperature in Laredo reached 111 degrees the day prior to the peak [April] outbreak, the hottest on record at that location for so early in the season. Precipitation extremes have been extreme even by extreme precipitation standards, with April rainfall upwards of 20" in Arkansas and record levels on some rivers in the central US, juxtaposed with an exceptionally large amount of Texas being classified in extreme or exceptional drought.

Now May is racing to catch up to and maybe even pass April. Here's what NOAA finds so far:

The National Weather Service's preliminary estimate is more than 100 tornadoes have occurred during the month of May 2011.
The record number of tornadoes during the month of May was 542 tornadoes set in May 2003.
The average number of tornadoes for the month of May during the past decade is 298.
May is historically the most active month for tornadoes.
As I write, reports are rolling in about a new round of tornadoes—and deaths—in Oklahoma.

Sunday's horrific twister at Joplin, Missouri, was likely a multiple vortex tornado, says Thomas Schwein, deputy director of the National Weather Service’s Central Region, reports the Kansas City Star.

Jeff Masters' WunderBlog describes the Joplin tornado's nine-minute path thus:

A violent high-end EF-4* [Enhanced Fujita Scale] tornado [initial assessment] with winds of 190-198 mph carved a 7-mile long, 3/4 to one mile-wide path of near-total destruction through Joplin beginning at 5:41pm CDT Sunday evening.

*UPDATE: After surveying the Joplin tornado track, the NWS announced that its winds exceeded 200 miles per hour. This makes it the fourth EF-5 tornado this year, according to WonderBlog—and the most costly ever. Initial estimates: $1-3 billion.

So what's fueling this year's record-breaking tornado season? There are the usual suspects, which the Cliff Mass Weather Blog lists as:

Strong Instability
Large Vertical Wind Shear
Low Level Moisture

And then there are sea surface temperatures.

Unusually warm surface waters in the Gulf of Mexico—about 2 degrees Fahrenheit/3.6 degrees Celsius warmer than normal—may be a factor in this season's tornado frequency and strength, according to National Weather Service director Jack Hayes. Add that to an uncommonly southward jet stream track, reports Scientific American, and you've got a recipe for the kinds of disasters we've been seeing so far this year.

Warmer sea surface temperatures are also one of three reasons NOAA is forecasting a 65 percent chance of an above normal season—characterized as 13 or more named storms, 7 or more hurricanes, and 3 or more major hurricanes—in the Atlantic this year.

"Electrons are fantastically round..."

From the

After three months of experiments in a basement laboratory in London, scientists can confirm – with more confidence than ever – that the electron is very, very round.

In the most exquisite measurements yet, researchers declared the particle to be a perfect sphere to within one billionth of a billionth of a billionth of a centimetre. Were the electron scaled up to the size of the solar system, any deviation from its roundness would be smaller than the width of a human hair, the team said.

Abstruse as the experiment might seem, the work has profound implications for scientists wrestling with the mysteries of the cosmos. Even the slightest elongation of the electron can reveal what unknown particles might exist in nature, and even explain why matter won out over antimatter in the universe we observe.

The findings, published in the journal, Nature, already rule out some kinds of particles that theories suggested could pop into existence at the Large Hadron Collider at Cern, the European particle physics laboratory near Geneva.

"It's been hard work. We've been working on this for a long time and we've had a lot of ups and downs," said Jony Hudson, a physicist at Imperial College, London. "We have measured the shape really precisely. The deviations we were looking for are much smaller than the size of the electron. It is very, very round."

The concept of shape might seem obscure when it comes to a subatomic particle, but the rules are the same as for everyday objects. Pick up a pen, for example, and you feel its shape because electrons in the pen push back against the electrons in your hand.

And so it is with the electron itself. The particle is negatively charged, and the more evenly distributed the charge is around the centre of the particle, the more spherical it appears to be.

Scientists pursue ever more accurate measurements of the electron's roundness because any sign of it being mishapen could herald a major discovery. One leading idea known as supersymmetry, which says that every kind of particle we know has a heavy twin, requires the electron to have a slightly distorted shape.

"What's interesting is that the electron is so round it is becoming difficult for theories like supersymmetry to explain it," said Hudson, whose finding already rules out the existence of some supersymmetric particles.

Evidence that the electron is mishapen on a minuscule scale might also explain why the universe we see is made of matter instead of antimatter. At the birth of the cosmos, both were made in equal measure, but some subtle difference between the two caused antimatter to disappear. If the electron is elongated, it will behave differently to its antimatter counterpart, the positron. For example, each would wobble differently in an electric field.

"There must be a difference in the behaviour of matter and antimatter that we've not observed, and amazingly, the shape of the electron might just be enough to explain how the matter-antimatter imbalance built up over billions of years," Hudson said.

His team studied the roundness of electrons by measuring how much, or how little, the particles wobbled in an electric field. The rounder the electron, the less wobble it will display. In the experiment, electrons were anchored to a molecule called ytterbium fluoride and examined with a laser beam. Each measurement took only one thousandth of a second.

Running non-stop for more than three months, Hudson's team took 25 million measurements of electrons and averaged them out. They found no sign of the electron wobbling in the field, meaning it is more spherical than any previous experiment had shown. "To the best of our knowledge, with the experimental precision we have, the electron appears to be round," Hudson said.

In an accompanying article, Aaron Leanhardt at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, said the work provided a window "on the high energy soul of the cosmos".

"This work has important ramifications for the types of particles that can be discovered at high-energy accelerators, and may eventually help to explain the composition of the observable universe," Leanhardt wrote.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Ten lessons from Chernobyl and Fukushima



Here are 10 lessons from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster 25 years ago and the Fukushima disaster this year.

1. Nuclear power is a highly complex, expensive and dangerous way to boil water to create steam to turn turbines.

2. Accidents happen, and the worst-case scenario often turns out to be worse than imagined or planned for.

3. The nuclear industry and its experts cannot plan for every contingency or prevent every disaster.

4. Governments do not effectively regulate the nuclear industry to assure the safety of the public. Regulators of the nuclear industry often come from the nuclear industry itself and tend to be too close to it to regulate it effectively.

5. Hubris, complacency and high-level radiation are a deadly mix. Hubris on the part of the nuclear industry and its government regulators — along with complacency on the part of the public — has led to the creation of vast amounts of high-level radiation that must be guarded from release to the environment for tens of thousands of years.

6. The corporations that run the nuclear power plants are protected from catastrophic economic failure by government limits on liability. If the corporations that own nuclear power plants had to bear the burden of potential financial losses in the event of a catastrophic accident, they would not build the plants because they know the risks are unacceptable. It is only when government limits the liability, as the Price-Anderson Act does in the United States, that companies go ahead and build nuclear power plants. No other private industry is given such liability protection, which leaves the taxpayers on the hook.

7. Radiation releases from nuclear accidents cannot be contained in space and will not stop at national borders.

8. Radiation releases from nuclear accidents cannot be contained in time and will adversely affect countless future generations.

9. Nuclear energy — as well as nuclear weapons — and human beings cannot coexist without the risk of future catastrophes. The survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have long known that nuclear weapons and human beings cannot coexist. Fukushima, like Chernobyl before it, makes clear that human beings and nuclear power plants also cannot coexist.

10. The accidents at Fukushima and Chernobyl are a bracing reminder to phase out nuclear energy. We need to move as rapidly as possible to a global energy plan based upon conservation and various forms of renewable energy: solar cells, wind, geothermal, and energy that is extracted from the oceans and the tides and the currents.

Poet Maya Angelou once said, “History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage doesn’t need to be lived again.” We need the courage to abandon nuclear power. No one should have to experience the wrenching pain of another Chernobyl or another Fukushima.

David Krieger is a councilor on the World Future Council and the chair of the executive committee of the International Network of Engineers and Scientists for Global Responsibility.

Read more:

Fukushima Disaster Continues

Accurate data destroys optimistic TEPCO assessment, hampers cooling plan (

Accurate data shattered the overly optimistic assessment of Tokyo Electric Power Co. concerning the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant and raised doubts about the company's game plan for ending the crisis.

Measurements from a recently installed water gauge provided conclusive evidence that the condition of the No. 1 reactor at the plant was much more serious than TEPCO officials have acknowledged until now.

TEPCO officials admitted on May 12 that a "meltdown" had occurred in the No. 1 reactor. Fuel rods had melted, and the molten fuel accumulated and caused small cracks at the bottom of the reactor pressure container, they said.

Until now, TEPCO officials only said that fuel rods were partially damaged and compiled a work schedule in April for restoring a stable cooling system based on that assumption.

Despite being unable to obtain accurate measurements from gauges in the reactors damaged in the March 11 Great East Japan Earthquake, TEPCO officials still made those optimistic assumptions.

From immediately after the quake, the measurements from the water gauge at the No. 1 reactor showed very little change, casting doubt on the reliability of the instruments.

After workers entered the No. 1 reactor building and adjusted the water gauge, the data obtained showed water levels so low that the gauge was unable to measure it.

TEPCO officials concluded that water had accumulated in only about 20 percent of the volume of the No. 1 reactor's pressure container.

Other specialists had long warned that the situation at the No. 1 reactor was much more serious than the scenario that TEPCO officials were presenting.

At a news conference April 1, Shunichi Tanaka, a former vice chairman of the Japan Atomic Energy Commission, said all the fuel rods in the No. 1 reactor had melted, raising the possibility of damage to the pressure container.

TEPCO's latest measurements found the temperature of the pressure container was about 100 degrees. If the fuel rods had been exposed because of the low water level, the temperature should have been much higher. The only explanation is that the fuel rods melted, accumulated at the bottom of the pressure container and the melted fuel was cooled by the small volume of water at the bottom.

The No. 1 reactor is not the only one with problems. Small cracks have probably also developed at the bottom of the pressure containers of the No. 2 and No. 3 reactors.

Evidence of that possibility is the highly contaminated water found in the basements of the turbine buildings of the three reactors as well as underground trenches.

The contamination was likely caused by water leaking from the bottoms of the pressure containers of the three reactors.

TEPCO officials now admit that the measurements from the water gauges at the pressure containers in the No. 2 and No. 3 reactors are also unreliable.

While those water gauges will have to be repaired as soon as possible, TEPCO will also have to review its work schedule for cooling the reactors.

That will likely mean rethinking the plan to submerge the containment vessel of the No. 1 reactor in water to cool the pressure container within.

About 10,000 tons of water have already been pumped into the No. 1 reactor's pressure container, but about 3,000 tons of that water are unaccounted for. That likely means the water has leaked out of the containment vessel.

Moreover, if TEPCO continues to pump in water to the reactors to cool them, water contaminated with radiation will continue to leak out from the cracks at the bottoms of the pressure containers.

TEPCO officials have also not denied the possibility that melted fuel has leaked out of the pressure container. That would mean the volume of contaminated water will likely increase, making work in the reactor buildings much more difficult.

Setbacks at Japan nuclear plant(BBC)

A reactor at Japan's crippled nuclear plant has been more badly damaged than originally thought, operator Tepco has said.

Water is leaking from the pressure vessel surrounding reactor 1 - probably because of damage caused by exposed fuel rods melting, a spokesman said.

Contaminated water had also entered the sea from a pit near reactor 3 but this had now been stopped, he said...

He said there was likely to be a large leak in the pressure vessel, possibly caused by the fallen fuel.

"As for a meltdown, it is certain that it has crumbled and the fuel is located at the bottom (of the vessel)," he added.

The water is said to be leaking into the containment vessel and from there into the reactor building.

Experts said the announcement from Tepco did not mean that the situation at the plant had worsened because it was likely that the fuel had dropped to the bottom of the core soon after the 11 March earthquake.

Japan nuclear: Tepco halts Fukushima cooling plan(BBC)

Japanese engineers have abandoned their latest attempt to stabilise a stricken reactor at the Fukushima nuclear plant.

The plant's operator, Tepco, had intended to cool reactor 1 by filling the containment chamber with water.

But Tepco said melting fuel rods had created a hole in the chamber, allowing 3,000 tonnes of contaminated water to leak into the basement of the reactor building.

The power plant was badly damaged by the earthquake and tsunami on 11 March.

Cooling systems to the reactors were knocked out, fuel rods overheated, and attempts to release pressure in the chambers led to explosions in the buildings housing the reactors.

The government and Tepco (Tokyo Electric Power Company) said it would take until next January to achieve a cold shut-down at the plant.

Government spokesman Goshi Hosono said the latest setback would not affect the deadline...

Last week the government agreed a huge compensation package for those affected by the disaster.

Analysts say the final bill for compensation could top $100bn (£61bn).

More info can be found @ Radiation Safety Philippines

Mississippi River Flood 2011

All the rain we were getting in April and still in May goes down into the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. Louisville, Evansville, New Harmony, IN; Cairo, IL; Memphis, Vicksberg, MI; have been having flooding problems. Now the Morganza spillway gates have been opened to divert some of the water to the western part of Louisiana to spare Baton Rouge and New Orleans. The first time in 40 years. Of course this means that some people will be flooded who may not have been - but that fewer people altogether will be. It's sad all the way around.

A structure is seen nearly covered by floodwater from the Mississippi River, Tuesday, May 3, 2011, north of New Madrid, Mo. Many areas along the river in Missouri's bootheel are seeing significant flooding and ominous flooding forecasts are raising alarm from southeast Missouri to Louisiana and Mississippi. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

The Mississippi flood in Missouri and Tennessee

The Morganza Spillway - opened May 14th 2011

One of the scenarios considered possible regarding the opening of the Morganza Spillway