36 Hours

I spoke with my sister and my parents yesterday.  My sister and her family live in southwestern Florida (Ft. Myers), along the predicted path for Hurricane Irma.  My parents live an hour east of them, maybe 10 miles from the Atlantic in Boynton Beach.  Note the word “Beach.”  Neither is currently in a mandatory evacuation zone so they’ve been told to stay in their houses and, literally, batten down the hatches.  Authorities ask them NOT to migrate away and clog vital freeways.  All of them have been through hurricanes before and came through relatively unscathed.

But this time they’re worried.  They’ve done everything they should do to prepare but they’re still worried.  As my sister put it yesterday, they have “36 hours to wait.” I literally cannot imagine what that wait must be like.  And it makes me worried, of course.  Just like everyone with friends and family in Florida is.  Just like everyone with friends and family in Texas was last week.

While waiting, I can’t help but think about how natural tragedies bring out the best in people but that it’s often short lived.  And how hypocrisy and short-sightedness seem to coexist with love in the hearts of men.

My parents are in their mid 70’s.  My mom said that neighbors helped them put up the storm shutters over their windows because the relatives that helped them last time had died of old age.  Their front door is made of ornate glass, very common in their complex and very vulnerable.  A young man walked the neighborhood and put some kind of barriers up in front of such doors.  By the time my dad came out to pay him, he had already left and moved on to the next house.

Immediately after Hurricane Harvey, Congress passed an $8 billion relief package after some welcome action from President Trump.  Sadly, $8 billion will barely make a scratch at the recover but it’s a start and was done quickly without too much political bickering.  In contrast, relief for Hurricane Sandy was met with political fighting that stalled the aid and materially hurt people.  Ironically, many of the politicians who opposed aid for Sandy saying that it was “filled with unrelated pork” are in Texas and now are strongly advocating for massive federal dollars — as they should.  The “pork” comment, by the way, was widely debunked.  Maybe we’ve learned something since Sandy.  Or maybe not.

For those in affected areas of Texas and Florida, the next months and years will be hard. I don’t live there so can’t quite grasp it.  Thankfully.  But I do want to offer some thoughts on what to do to lessen the odds of similar events happening in the future and I invite everyone to add their thoughts and ideas.  We have to prevent future tragedies from happening, not just pray afterwards for those hurt.  Our pets can sympathize with us when we’re hurt but only humans can take proactive steps to prevent them from happening again.  Time to stand upright and be human.

First, when tragedies happen, respond immediately with assistance.  That means being prepared to do so.  There is much to this but making sure that FEMA is well funded and well managed is a start.  This is the easy part.  The next parts are harder.

Flood insurance needs to be about recovery and prevention, not about politics.  In 1968, the federal government set up a program to help people whose houses were damaged or destroyed by flooding.  The 1960’s were the height of new social programs in many ways. Since that time, Congress has not properly funded the program, has not been actuarially efficient, and has not taken the obvious steps to run it soundly.  For example, in 2012, Congress took action to raise premiums for those in dangerous areas.  It made sense but was not popular so Congress rescinded the changes in 2014.  Not only that, an astonishing $5.5 billion has been spent rebuilding and rebuilding and rebuilding the same 30,000 homes — sometimes five times per home in just a two or three year period!  That’s insane.  While I feel for those home owners, I don’t want to subsidize their stupidity with my tax dollars.  When you build in an area that is prone to flooding, you shouldn’t get five tries to  figure it out.  Live somewhere else.

Building codes and land use ordinances need to take the long view, not favor quick profits for builders.  After 1992’s Hurricane Andrew devastated Florida, Florida wisely enacted much more stringent rules to ensure that new construction withstand high winds and flooding.  Florida has seen many hurricanes and floods since and has come through them well.  But memories are fleeting and Wall Street is unforgiving about quarterly profits so Florida just started to relax these regulations.  I don’t know the specifics and am not an expert but with some vested interest in Florida, it doesn’t make me happy.

While Florida seemed to have generally learned from their mistakes, I’m having trouble finding anyone saying that Houston has.  Rather the opposite.  Again, I don’t live there and could easily be wrong but there are lots and lots of stories, many predating Hurricane Harvey by months or years, that predicted just such a disaster given the local ordinances.  The one I just cited was from the Texas Tribune, a non-partisan, nonprofit news organization, not a bastion of spotted-owl tree huggers that hate development.  Apparently wetlands are supposed to be wet and pavement doesn’t drain well.

And why must oil refineries be put at the most vulnerable locations possible?  Places like Seattle have great ports with no risk of hurricanes.  For the record, some say that the refineries are in exactly the right place.  The problem with that story is that the logic is circular.  It says that the refineries are there because the oil industry is there.  Duh.  Maybe the oil industry should be somewhere safer?  I’m sure lots of states would love a chance to offer a new and safer home to the industry.  By putting them along the Gulf coast, tax payers and gasoline buyers get to subsidize and bail out the oil industry when predictable disaster strikes.

Science is good; it’s not fake news.  There I said it.  For the last hundred years, science has propelled this country forward with innovation and genius that has made the world jealous.  It has been a key reason for the strength of American industry and the ascendence of America in general.  But now it’s under attack from politicians who call it fake and ignore or even bury its sound conclusions.  Yes, human activities have dramatically affected our climate and the effects will get exponentially worse as the ocean’s ability to absorb our carbon dioxide dwindles.  That means temperature increases, sea levels rising, and more flooding.  Dead people, billions of dollars of damage.  Don’t take my word for this; as some politicians like to say, I’m not a scientist.  But do take the word of the 97% of environmental scientists who have spent their lives studying it.  Oh, it’s these same people who give us the exceptional storm prediction algorithms that have and will save thousands of lives during hurricanes.  The same people.  No one has been questioning their conclusions about the storms yet some politicians question their conclusions about climate change.  While climate change didn’t cause the recent storms, the increased ocean temperature has made them worse.

I don’t claim to have the answers (well maybe a few) but a lot of good people are thinking about preventing the next disaster.  That’s great.  We need it.

If you have thoughts on how to prevent or mitigate these kinds of disasters, please share below and, more importantly, with your elected representatives.

In the meantime, about 15 hours until Irma hits Florida.  My love, hope, and prayers are with them and I’m sure yours are as well.





26 thoughts on “36 Hours

    • I don’t think there was anything especially political about doing things to stop disasters from happening or wishing the best for my family and others but OK.

      BTW you’ll see a major new FlyQ EFB release on Monday and lots more goodies later in the week. We have been busy.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Unfortunately, climatology is more a religion than a science. What you describe as “excellent storm prediction algorithms” have waffled on the path of Irma by hundreds of miles, even over the course of a few hours. If my navigation equipment provided the same precision, I’d be pissed. Climatologists can’t predict what is going to happen. There has been serious problems with every prediction they have ever made. Their attempts to explain why they were incorrect are just more guesses. I suggest that you raise the very low standard that you expect of them to something worthy of science. Advocating policies that will affect the livelihood of billions of people at a 100% probability, on theories that still can’t predict a few years in advance, is folly. Don’t drink the Kool-Aid.

    Liked by 2 people

    • If Irma or Harvey had happened 100 years ago, even 50 years ago, hundreds or thousands of people who now know to get out of harms way and live in stronger/better houses due to science would probably be dead within the next 48 hours. Seems pretty good to me. Many sciences are not precise and don’t claim to be. Nor do they need to be precise to be useful. They are based on best estimates and the available data, both of which tend to get better all the time. The evidence of human activity affecting the planet is well beyond any reasonable doubt to virtual all scientists and even most of the people in the world (even most people in the US). Everyone is welcome to their opinion but when we choose not to do anything because there is a 1% chance that the considered scientific analysis is wrong, that’s grave folly to me. I’d rather play the odds. All the evidence says we need to do something about how we handle the environment or very bad things will happen. I don’t care if the definition of “very bad” mutates a little over time. As a dad, I want to give my kids the best world possible. But, as I said, to each his own.

      As I said twice in the piece, I’d love to know your thoughts on how to best keep events like Irma and Harvey from wreaking so much damage in the future. That’s the point of this piece, not any one statement I’ve made. Everyone needs to think about solutions to our problems.


      • If you believe that there is only a 1% chance that the climatologists opinions are wrong, then that certainly would explain your position. However, it is nowhere near that. If you study confidence statistics you will find that climatologists’ predictions are very inaccurate.

        The issue of how to react to climate change is one of control. Those that have bought into this religion based on faith, not data, are insistent on controlling the world. If I am entitled to my opinion, please don’t ask me to pay for yours. I am more than willing to allow those who have drank the Kool-Aid to do as they see fit with their own money. When they want mine for this ridiculous escapade, then I protest.


      • Hi Dan. Maybe you’re a climate scientist but I’m not so yes, I believe the 97% who say humans are causing this.

        I have also read about as much of the literature as a layman like me can understand and the effects of CO2 saturation in the oceans scares the heck out of me. Once the oceans are at saturation, the effect of CO2 in the atmosphere will get dramatically more pronounced.

        That said, I’m ending this discussion now as it’s wandering far from the point of the blog entry. I’d rather not discuss climate change but focus on ideas to prevent disasters like this from happening in the future. You are clearly a smart and educated guy and I look forward to your thoughts on that topic.


  2. Steve,

    I appreciate your candid comments and concern, and admire you for taking a stance. You and I agree on the critical issues you identified. I hope and pray for the best for you and your family.

    When I worked for CDC, I served on the storm response and recovery teams, both from Atlanta at FEMA’s regional center and on the ground in Pensacola and New Orleans. The scale of damage is hard to wrap your head around. The human misery goes on for months, even in the best of circumstances. Let’s hope that our political leaders realize that we do not have to keep making the same errors through policy and rebuilding over and over again. Pray, too, for the responders.

    I have seen the reports on the Northwest’s ongoing disaster, too, and hope that you and your family there are staying safe.

    John Steward


    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you very much, John. You had one heck of an important job that surely saved countless lives. Thank you for doing that for the rest of us. The smoky sky (due to forest fires) we’ve had here for about a week hasn’t been fun but not remotely comparable what Texas and Florida are experiencing.


  3. Science is not a matter of consensus. The record of climate data manipulations leaving out data that goes against pre conceived notions is unfortunately long and discredits many claims of anthropogenic climate change proponents. A simple thermodynamic analysis comparing the daily sun energy incident on the earth with heat energy released from world wide daily oil consumption (93 million bbl / day) shows the sun incident energy is 6 orders of magnitude greater. Since the sun luminance is known to vary at least 0.1% (3 orders of magnitude) over the 11 year sun spot cycle, it certainly calls into question how big an impact fossil fuels could have on the climate by comparison. There is also the problem that the second law of thermodynamics makes it impossible for heat to flow from a cooler reservoir to a warmer one (i.e. from the cooler atmosphere to the warmer earth). The earth’s atmosphere is NOT a greenhouse (an enclosed space that heats because free circulation of air is inhibited by the glass enclosure). The atmosphere is far more complex, as any pilot knows, and there are no computer models that are accurate for more than a few days in advance. The idea that world temperatures and ocean levels are predictable 20 years hence is pure fantasy, despite whatever “consensus” claims otherwise.

    We are sympathetic to your family and all others in the path of Irma and earlier with Harvey. But let’s not let these events fool us into rejecting real science in climate analysis.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. You stated: “Science is good; it’s not fake news. There I said it.” The first sentence is meaningful, the second one could be omitted. People that believe in science can say it with confidence.


    • I’m not sure what your point is, Carlos. Trust me, I am *very* logical and scientific. The second sentence was for rhetorical effect only as it seems that many people seem to suddenly believe that science is somehow false or biased or political — which is as far from the truth as you can get.


  5. Thank all of you very much for your kind words and thoughts for my family. I wish the same for you and yours.

    The point of most of this piece is to encourage people to consider what steps can be taken to lessen the odds of such disasters in the future and to reduce the effects when they do happen. I’ve seen a few comments about climate change which surprised me as that’s not the main point. I don’t like to censor as I strongly believe in free speech so I’ve approved all of them. But I’m going to not approve any posts about climate change one way or the other because that isn’t the point of this blog entry. There are a number of very smart people reading this and I look forward to your thoughts on disaster prevention.

    If anyone wants to continue the discussion about climate change, I encourage you to email me directly as I would like to hear from you. My email is stevep@seattleavionics.com


  6. Fair enough Steve. Appreciate your stirring the conversation & pushing to keep it on the topic of things that can be done to reduce the effects of future disasters.

    To suggest that people not build in vulnerable locations might be a good place to start. One may not be able to anticipate tornados ripping across the plains & randomly taking out homes & farms, but could it not be said that one knowingly takes on flooding risks if one builds stick wood housing on a coastal waterway – no matter how inviting it may be in fair weather?

    So better building codes & being more firm about government not assuming the replacement costs for those who build where such risks can be anticipated would be at the top of my list. I think both Harvey & Irma bring credit to the well coordinated local & federal evacuation management response so far.

    Efforts to actually change weather patterns still seem very far off which is why the controversy over anthropogenic climate change unavoidably arises. My only point here would be that politics should have no role in the pursuit of true climate science.


    • Thanks Lee. I completely agree with both your location and building code comments. If someone courts trouble, they should not be surprised to find it and should not expect others to bail them our repeatedly. The response to both events, so far, seems good from a local perspective but keep in mind that state and local authorities are generally first responders while federal action often has more to do with rebuilding so I’ll withhold immediate judgement on that. I hope you’re right.

      I don’t expect we’ll be able to control the weather any time soon. And yes, science MUST be free from political pressure except where it may conflict with moral issues (cloning, AI, autonomous weapons, that sort of thing).


  7. Glad to see you speak out, Steve. Science non-believers really need to educate themselves. The evidence for human modified climate change is indisputable.

    We are all looking for ways to make a difference.

    Thanks Steve.

    Liked by 1 person

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