Sat, May

Hurricane Stalling: Something Else to Worry About


GELFAND’S WORLD--Over the past few years we’ve been hit by hurricanes that build up to enormous sizes and then hover over the target area – sometimes for days.

Houston suffered massive flooding and now the Bahamas have been severely damaged. At one point, hurricane Dorian moved a mere 30 miles in 30 hours. If the death toll were not so tragic, comedians would be tossing out lines comparing the new hurricane model to a drive on the 405. But it wasn’t funny for the families of the dead, who now have to deal with a large fraction of their islands being damaged or entirely destroyed. 

Of course there are still a few deniers of human caused global warming (“anthropogenic global warming” or AGW for short). For the rest of us, it’s still a matter of science and observation. Is hurricane stalling another aspect of AGW, or is it just bad luck? The science is not yet settled, but there are ominous suggestions that climate change is playing a role.  

Another thing: The increasing violence of these storms 

Many of us can remember decades in which a category 3 storm was considered a big one. All of a sudden, the Atlantic Ocean has spawned 5 category 5 hurricanes in the past 4 years. Something has happened, and it correlates with all sorts of other phenomena such as melting polar ice caps. 

We shouldn’t even have to debate such issues – they are becoming more and more self-evident – but the current administration and its apologists continue to adopt a denial stance when they think they can get away with it. 

Southern governors and the irony of it all 

Think about those prediction cones for hurricane Dorian we’ve been seeing on the late news. Each pathway prediction includes the current location of the storm along with a predicted path that includes some uncertainty, but generally predicts the future size and direction of the hurricane pretty well. We might ask the politicians who continue to waffle on the subject of global warming, “How do you think the government agencies do these predictions? What are their models based on?” 

Put it this way. Hurricane science has gotten pretty good over the past couple of decades. The forecasters try to factor all the data and information into their predictions. Ocean temperatures are a significant part of those calculations, along with prevailing winds and so forth. When an Atlantic coast governor holds a press conference and warns people about the danger of the storm coming their way, that warning is based on a maturing climate science. And that climate science factors in the increased temperatures and the effects those global temperatures have on air movement on a hemisphere-wide scale. Those warming-related changes in air movement are now being built into the models for hurricane stalling, as the above linked article notes. 

The Alabama Extension 

Pundits, especially those on the anti-Trump side, are getting a chuckle out of the president’s continued insistence that Alabama was once a possible target of the hurricane’s predicted movement. The story isn’t the storm itself, but Trump’s obsession about being caught in errors. 

And now for something at least a little bit different 

The Labor Day weekend included edition 55 of the Cinecon film festival. The festival has ensconced itself in the Egyptian Theater on Hollywood Blvd, a welcome thought except for those who have to pay for parking on a daily basis. As usual, there was a mix of classic film from the silent era and sound films from the immediately later period. I was particularly taken with Mills of the Gods, a 1934 film about the human effects of a factory going out of business. In this case (remember that the film was made at a point that was still early in the Great Depression), the matriarch who controls the factory dips into her own savings to get things running again. It was a picture of capitalism with a human face, an interesting thought that perhaps could be presented to Green New Deal advocates. 

Delicious Little Devil (1919) was a story about an Irish American girl who gets a job as a dancer in a road house (that’s a restaurant and bar that required some driving to reach). She is wooed by a young man played by the recently discovered Rudolph Valentino. It is of note that this film was a mere two years earlier than his star-making Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. 

Finally, we got a chance to see the now nearly forgotten but wonderful film actress Pola Negri in A Woman of the World (1925). This was a lesson in why it is worthwhile to revisit films of that era. It’s clearly a different artform from the modern sound film, and differently effective in its own right. 

One of the major virtues of attending Cinecon is that you get to see and meet people who are related to the greats of film history or are themselves historians and writers. This year, there were two descendants of Rudolph Valentino who seemed tickled to have their ancestor featured in a major film festival once again. Also of particular interest was Kelly Smoot, who is the editor of Douglas Fairbanks, The Fourth Musketeer. Doug was the great swashbuckler who starred in the original Robin Hood as well as The Iron Mask, among others. He was the cinematic hero to a whole generation and is similarly revered by the small number of people of this era who get the chance to see one of his films presented on the big screen with musical accompaniment. 

Smoot -- herself a former petroleum geologist and software engineer, may be distantly related to Oliver Smoot whose identity is known to several generations of MIT students as well as countless Bostonians who have walked the length of the Harvard Bridge. She also remarks on being related to Senator Smoot, the same man who was mentioned in one of my previous columns. Smoot is related to the late Letitia Fairbanks.


(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at [email protected])



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