Bob Schwartz

Tag: Isaac

Hints For Hurricane Watchers

In 2005 we became a nation of hurricane watchers. We couldn’t help it: there were so many Atlantic hurricanes and tropical storms that season that the National Hurricane Center ran out of names:

Tropical Storm ARLENE
Tropical Storm BRET
Hurricane CINDY
Hurricane DENNIS
Hurricane EMILY
Tropical Storm FRANKLIN
Tropical Storm GERT
Tropical Storm HARVEY
Hurricane IRENE
Tropical Depression TEN
Tropical Storm JOSE
Hurricane KATRINA
Tropical Storm LEE
Hurricane MARIA
Hurricane NATE
Hurricane OPHELIA
Hurricane PHILIPPE
Hurricane RITA
Tropical Depression NINETEEN
Hurricane STAN
Tropical Storm TAMMY
Subtropical Depression TWENTY-TWO
Hurricane VINCE
Hurricane WILMA
Tropical Storm ALPHA
Hurricane BETA
Tropical Storm GAMMA
Tropical Storm DELTA
Hurricane EPSILON
Tropical Storm ZETA

It turned out to be a season of devastation, not the least of which was the still-resonating aftermath of Katrina. One of the upshots was political: the memorable and controversial response of President George W. Bush to Katrina (“heck of a job, Brownie”) still sticks to him as a mark on his Presidency.

Hurricanes and politics are back again, this time as Isaac heads toward a possible disruption of the Republican Convention in Tampa.

For those who experienced Hurricanes 2005 firsthand, checking the 5:00am advisory on the National Hurricane Center website became a ritual—as did checking the 11:00am, 2:00pm, 5:00pm, 8:00pm, 11:00pm and 2:00am advisories. Besides the text descriptions from “Forecaster Avila” and “Forecaster Franklin” there were the maps.

The maps provided a wealth of graphical information, including the famous “Uncertainty Cone.” This is a prediction, three and five days out, of the broad possible route of the storm, including possible timeline and strength. The cone is meant to catch the attention of all areas that might be subject to the storm’s dynamic path.

That cone is in turn based on very sophistical computer modeling of how storms behave. There are at least eight different guidance models used by forecasters, all them with a different record of successful prediction. Sometimes the models are close to each other, especially as the late life of a storm. But often the models are widely divergent. On a map, these tracks are represented by colored lines; they look like, and are sometimes called, spaghetti tracks.

Maps of uncertainty cones and advisories are still available for viewing on the NHC site, along with educational briefings and a fascinating and exhaustive history of storm seasons past. But something has gone away, as NHC explains:

The National Hurricane Center does not generate a graphic of the guidance models it uses to produce its forecasts. Such graphics have the potential to confuse users and to undermine the effectiveness of NHC official tropical cyclone forecasts and warnings.

NHC is right. If you don’t recognize that one track is more reliable than another, especially in light of current conditions, you could easily jump to an ill-informed conclusion. However, those who don’t have a degree in meteorology but who do have an unofficial certificate in hurricane tracking (those hours in front of the computer in the middle of the night have to be good for something) still love to watch those colored lines squiggle around the map.

If you are watching Isaac, visit the National Hurricane Center website. And then, if you dare to and can watch responsibly, check out the models for yourself. One of the best places to find them is here—which happens to be, by chance or fate, at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, just about an hour from Janesville.

Mene Mene in Tampa

We should not be surprised by the latest craziness in the Republican campaign. Anything seems possible. Even the mysterious appearance of a finger writing something like this on the wall of a $5,000-a-plate fundraiser:


According to ancient reporting:

King Belshazzar made a great festival for a thousand of his lords, and he was drinking wine in the presence of the thousand.

Under the influence of the wine, Belshazzar commanded that they bring in the vessels of gold and silver that his father Nebuchadnezzar had taken out of the temple in Jerusalem, so that the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines might drink from them. So they brought in the vessels of gold and silver that had been taken out of the temple, the house of God in Jerusalem, and the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines drank from them. They drank the wine and praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone.

Immediately the fingers of a human hand appeared and began writing on the plaster of the wall of the royal palace, next to the lampstand….

Then Daniel was brought in before the king. The king said…”I have heard that you can give interpretations and solve problems. Now if you are able to read the writing and tell me its interpretation, you shall be clothed in purple, have a chain of gold around your neck, and rank third in the kingdom.”

Then Daniel answered in the presence of the king, “Let your gifts be for yourself, or give your rewards to someone else! Nevertheless, I will read the writing to the king and let him know the interpretation….You have exalted yourself against the Lord of heaven! The vessels of his temple have been brought in before you, and you and your lords, your wives and your concubines have been drinking wine from them. You have praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood, and stone, which do not see or hear or know; but the God in whose power is your very breath, and to whom belong all your ways, you have not honored.

“So from his presence the hand was sent and this writing was inscribed. And this is the writing that was inscribed: MENE MENE TEKEL PARSIN. This is the interpretation of the matter:

MENE, God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end
TEKEL, you have been weighed on the scales and found wanting
PARSIN, your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians

(Daniel 5, NRSV)

It is fitting that the writing on the Republican wall may have first appeared in April 2011, when Donald Trump led the field of Presidential prospects (Mitt Romney was third). Fitting because Trump will be appearing at next week’s Republican convention with a surprise “that I think is going to be I think really amazing. It’s going to be great. And we’ll see what happens. I mean, we’ll see how it’s received. But it will be pretty wild.  I think it will be potent.” Fitting also because you can just see Trump not only attending Belshazzar’s over-the-top feast, but hosting it at one of his hotels.

If Trump’s lead in last year’s polls wasn’t the sign, maybe the whole Republican primary season was. Looking back from down the road (“Years from now, when you talk about this, and you will, be kind”), people of all political persuasions will have their mood lifted by just the mention of Herman Cain, who also led the polls (and as recently as nine months ago).

The point is not that the Republicans are destined to lose the election because of this craziness; it remains a close race. The point is that we have reached the point in the tale—introduced to all the characters (or so we think: Todd Akin?), to most of the intertwined story lines, and to some of the secrets—that nothing would be surprising, and anything seems possible.

Like a biblical storm.

Biblical as in Tropical Storm Isaac, one of the few names on the National Hurricane Center storm list that comes from the Bible.

Biblical as in the belief among a few that storms are a form of divine intervention.

It appears that Isaac will turn into a hurricane, and that it may be headed near Tampa, the site of the Republican convention. Contingency plans are in the works.

As long as we have a biblical hurricane, we might as well consider whether it is a sign.

Among the Old Testament patriarchs, Isaac stands apart from his father Abraham and his son Jacob. Unlike them, he is represented as passive, pliable and indecisive in his dealings. Noted commentator Gunther Plaut has said that Isaac must be an historic figure, because no tradition would create a patriarch so weak.

We all hope—especially those of us who have lived through the devastation of a hurricane—that Isaac stays far away from everyone and everything, including the Republican convention. But for those who are so inclined, it couldn’t hurt to read the writing on the wall.