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Thursday, July 05, 2007

Calhoun’s Cannons The Bay News, Morro Bay, CA for July 4, 07



Isaac’s Storm Redux

Nature will win if we decide we can beat it.
Bill Read, NOA Weather Service.
Galveston

The June 24, 07 L.A. Times story made me blow coffee through my nose in a gleeful snort. The picture that accompanied the story looked as if a HUGE Carnival Cruise ship had parked smack dab in the middle of a quaint Victorian village. It was Galveston’s docks, cruise ship central and, if plans by Galveston’s myopic civic leaders continue, it will be the future home of a huge new development – as the story continued – that has geologists warning of “ building along beaches that are likely to be erased by erosion within 30 years” and that constructing “artificial lakes and boat channels could help surging waters pierce the island during a major hurricane, possibly even splitting it in two”

Above all, the geologists have warned that the civic leaders “of this fast eroding barrier island – the scene of the deadliest hurricane in American history – are about to approve 4,000 new homes and two midrise hotels despite geologists’ warnings that the massive development would sever a ridge that serves as the islands natural storm shield.”

Happily eyeing all the nice tax money that will accrue to such a development, Galveston’s officials are apparently bent on ignoring a couple of key things: Past & Future.

As for the past, on Sept 8, 1900, a Category 4 hurricane swept through Galveston. The death toll has been estimated to have been between 6-12,000 people (By comparison Hurricane Katrina caused about 1,600 deaths).

According to a Wikipedia entry, Mr. Isaac Cline, the Galveston Weather Bureau Section Director, had written an article in the Galveston Daily News a few years previously “in which he argues not only that a sea wall was not needed to protect the city, but also that it would be impossible for a hurricane of significant strength to strike the island . . . the sea wall was not built, and development activities on the island actually increased its vulnerability to storms.”

Tragic irony: Mr. Cline lost his wife when his home was swept away during that terrible night, a tale chronicled in Erik Larson’s book, Isaac’s Storm.

So much for the Past. As for the Future, the good boosters of Galveston’s new plan apparently are unaware that something called Global Warming is upon us, bringing with it a rise in both sea levels and hurricane strength. For communities that are considerably above present sea levels, a degree of sanguinity about sea surge would be understandable. After all, glittering tax money from the developer’s hand always outweighs future tax-payer-financed clean-ups in the disastrous bush.

But for communities that lie at or below present sea levels? That blindness can only be described as comic.

In the case of Galveston, it’s coffee-through-the nose funny. Here’s the Times again: “’You would think that we would know better,” said the [planning] commissioner, Chula Sanchez. ‘I expected the city to be a little bit more enlightened than this. We have an eroding economy and an eroding beach, and right now [city officials] seem more concerned about the tax base. I really don’t think they realize the power of nature.’”

No, indeed they don’t. Like mad King Canute of old who commanded the seas to retreat from his power and majesty (and who drowned for his troubles), most of Galveston’s planning commissioners voted for the project and the City Council is set to approve it later on this year. And, unless some wiser heads prevail, soon there will be more huge Carnival Cruse ships pictured as if they were sitting right in the middle of downtown Galveston.

On the bright side, with rising seas and increasingly stronger hurricanes heading for the gulf regions, that image won’t be an optical illusion, a trick of the camera. Soon, Carnival Cruse ships actually will be sitting in the middle of what’s left of downtown Galveston.

And when the storms arrive and the seas rise, the laughter at such folly will die, along with a great many nice Galvestonians. Sadly, the survivors will then look around at the devastation and ask, “Why didn’t somebody see this coming?”

Well, someone did: Mother Nature. And a few geologists. But nobody was listening.

11 comments:

analan2 said...

This is great stuff, Ann, but just for the record, King Canute didn't drown--nor did he actually try to stop the tide. This persistent myth illustrates that political opposition used spin doctors even in the 8th century. What Canute "tried to stop" was the great tidal bore of the River Trent--called the Aegir. He did this to show his people that trying to stop the Viking invasions was like trying to stop the tide, and they had to learn to co-exist peacefully. (I spent three years living in the town founded by Canute's dad, Sven Forkbeard--a town now called Gainsborough in Lincolnshire (Canute and Sven belonged to a Danish tribe called the Gains.)

Anne R. Allen

*PG-13 said...

> “’You would think that we would know better,” said the [planning] commissioner, .... ‘I expected the city to be a little bit more enlightened than this. We have an eroding economy and an eroding beach, and right now [city officials] seem more concerned about the tax base. I really don’t think they realize the power of nature.’”

Always - well, almost every time - it is boggling how short sighted political decision making is. Its worse than adolescent males, hormones and sex. It's right up there with chemical addiction behavior. Political will seems to have no purpose beyond how can I/we raise (and spend) money? Consequences beyond today, maybe tomorrow and certainly nothing beyond their time in office have any meaning. Go figure. Makes one wonder how we ever got to our place in the food chain? And how ever we're managing to stay there? Evolution meets the Peter Principle I guess. We like to think the human brain combined with an opposable thumb are the great differentiators. But the brain seems to have reached its level of incompetence in government. and I'm not sure how much longer we can ride the opposable thumb thing. We better start using them to build dikes if we can't figure out how to run intelligent governments. < sigh >

Sadly, the Dilbert Principle doesn't apply here. I've seen it work beautifully in business but it doesn't work at all in government. (Think: "Brownie, you're doing a heck-of-a job")

> For communities that are considerably above present sea levels, a degree of sanguinity about sea surge would be understandable. After all, glittering tax money from the developer’s hand always outweighs future tax-payer-financed clean-ups in the disastrous bush. But for communities that lie at or below present sea levels? That blindness can only be described as comic.

So, uh, given how near sea level we are. And our somewhat unique position at the wrong end of a shallow bay hunkered down behind a long spit of self-regenerating sand. What is in store for us if global warming continues? Has anybody seen any kind of legitimate analysis for how the Los Osos environment might change? I've seen maps of how the coastlines will change with varying sea levels (1 foot, 3 feet, etc.) Its pretty obvious things are gonna change A LOT in Florida. But I've never seen such a map with sufficient resolution to see how this might change the look of our shore. And sea level is just one factor. How might the weather patterns change? And the sand spit? And ......

Has anybody else seen any data or projections on this? TIA.

*PG-13 said...

PS -

> Sven Forkbeard

Wow! What a great name!

Churadogs said...

Ann sez:" Thanks for the actual (Real) version. What I probably should have written was something like, "as the folk tale version has it," or "according to popular myth that has come down to us," or . . . etc but space limitations often hampers full historical explanations of short-hand symbols or images or phrases.I hope the point of Canute comanding the sea was understood? i.e. the futility of some things, like Galvelston building high rises on a beach that's rapidly eroding and will no doubt be under water in a few years?

And Sven Forkbeard, yes, what a name. They knew how to name guys in those days!

PG-13 sez:"Sadly, the Dilbert Principle doesn't apply here. I've seen it work beautifully in business but it doesn't work at all in government. (Think: "Brownie, you're doing a heck-of-a job")"

Alas, I think you're overlooking the sad fact that businesses no longer are structured for long-term survivaland operations: it's all next quarter earnings, damn the torpedoes, off the cliff so long as the CEO's have their golden parachutes. As for businesses being smart and governments wicked: I give you the recent pet food poisoning. Tip of the iceberg. Government regulators and oversight laws have been deliberately starved into uselessness (don't want to interfere with business, now do we, and don't worry, businesses won't ever poison their customers, ever, now would they?) so there is little or no oversight. So a few pets and people die, the market corrects itself, no problem, see? Unless it happens to be your pet or your family members.

PG also sez:"Sadly, the Dilbert Principle doesn't apply here. I've seen it work beautifully in business but it doesn't work at all in government. (Think: "Brownie, you're doing a heck-of-a job")"

Good point. Some of Baywood park will be underwater, no doubt. But it's the weather patterns that will be more interesting. People in Caliofrnia are rushing around trying to build water pipes to get water from other place, forgetting that weather patters may result in their being NO water where the pipe starts and too much water someplace else.

The best bet for our grandchildren is to tell them to get a horse and a travois and keep moving. Back to being nomads.

*PG-13 said...

> Some of Baywood park will be underwater, no doubt. But it's the weather patterns that will be more interesting.

Which begs another question I was hesitatant to ask for - much like He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named - fear of saying the name, how might rising sea levels effect different sewer designs. Projections of rising sea levels (in our time anyway - as if that mattered) tend to be in inches, not feet, which presumably should have little to no influence on the op's of our new sewer. Right? But has any engineer said as much? And how might changing weather patterns, etc influence the ops? We can't even design a sewer for today's specs much less for possible future scenario's but its still something to think about.

Churadogs said...

To PG-13. Good questions. Heavy rains can fill manholes, overwhelm regular gravity flow systems (the old flying off manhole and gushers pouring out, if memory served, Morro Bay had a sudden influx and had to bypass their system to keep from getting overwhelmed once, so step systems (being sealed) might keep that closed a bit better. Higher ground water from changed weather patterns (monsoons in one place, drought in another or longer wet seasons that would require larger wet-weather holding ponds if you're looking for ag exchange. One key may be in this: Whatever system and site is picked must remain flexible -- i.e. site has enough land around it to enlarge or add stuff as needed; collection system has to be easy enough to futz around with with additions or "fixes" as needed. So, good questions for sure.

Sewertoons said...

Can somebody please tell me how you keep ponds from becoming mosquito breeding grounds?

Mike Green said...

Toons, That realy is not a problem, remember the last West Nile scare we had? Well the helicopter floating over the Chorro flat was spraying a mosquito killer. Also, check out Atascadero lake.

Sewertoons said...

Mosquito killer in our water? Nice thought. Guess I feel much better now.

Churadogs said...

Sewertoons sez:"Can somebody please tell me how you keep ponds from becoming mosquito breeding grounds?

6:57 AM, July 07, 2007"

How's about stocking the ponds with those little mostiquito-eating fishies and waterbugs?

Sewertoons said...

Now I get to trust that a fish or a bug will wipe out all the West Nile carriers instead of poisoning the water? Now I really feel a whole lot better.