Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Irene,Katia and Isabel:Nature's Tropical Blowhards

Mariners and Mid-Atlantic residents are warily observing another tropical system developing,even as the region busily cleans up after the previous one.As of Tuesday evening,Hurricane Irene had killed 43 people,and three million were still without power.A thousand roads were blocked in Connecticut,and water rescues continued.The storm's cost was up to seven billion dollars,and Mid-Atlantic agriculture was taking a blow as well,with 30,000 chickens perishing in Maryland,while New Jersey's significant blueberry crop was damaged.
Hurricane Irene wasn't the worst tropical system we have seen.It will go down as a moderately destructive event;but if you are in one of the eleven towns that remain isolated by flooded or crumbled roadways,it will indeed seem one of the worst to you personally.
Far out in the Atlantic,just off the coast of West Africa,another unwelcome guest is making its way towards us.Tropical Storm Katia is just beginning its path of mayhem,and could be a hurricane by Wednesday.
Sometimes hurricanes occur in patterns,revisiting the same area for an extended period.That would be the worst case scenario for the Mid-Atlantic,which until Irene had not seen a hurricane landfall since Isabel,a Cape Verde storm like the new Katia,struck in September 2003,leaving 51 deaths and 4.3 billion dollars of inflation-adjusted damage in its wake.
Update:Katia has now been upgraded to a hurricane,with top winds of 75 mph.It is located just east of the Leeward Islands.It will be days before its course can be ascertained.
The death toll from Irene was 45 as of Wednesday evening.The damage estimate was over 12 billion dollars.Just over two million remained without power,and food was scarce in some towns.Rescues continued.
All New Jersey rivers were receding,but the Passaic was still a roaring rapids.More than 24 feet above flood stage,the river inundated Wallington.The Passaic drains Northern New Jersey,which had its wettest August on record even before Irene.
In Vermont,the National Guard delivered relief supplies.Road access was restored to all but one community.A base lodge was destroyed by a swollen creek at the Killington ski resort,and several other businesses in the state were ruined by the flooding.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Chimney-Crumbler Startles Residents

Seven nuclear power plants,including Pennsylvania's Three Mile Island and New York's Indian Point,declared an Unusual Event-the lowest level of emergency-and the Pentagon was evacuated as a rare Mid-Atlantic earthquake struck at about 1352 hours on Tuesday afternoon.Working in my office,I felt a moderate up-and-down shaking for about thirty seconds.It was enough to inspire fear of property damage,though not for life and limb.A few minor injuries and perhaps several dozen crumbling facades and chimneys throughout the area resulted from the late summer incident,while a handful of unoccupied cars were crushed by debris near the epicenter of Mineral,Virginia.Some of the pinnacles of Washington's National Cathedral were also damaged,and the cathedral's bookstore experienced items tumbling off the shelves.
In Fredericksburg,Virginia,a section of downtown was evacuated as a gas line ruptured and leaked into the sewer system.Twenty-five buildings were damaged in the town's historic district,mostly bricks collapsing and threatening pedestrians.A Lowe's big box store suffered a roof breach and water damage.
Airports throughout the region suspended operations into the late afternoon.Structural engineers began inspecting buildings,a process expected to continue through the night.The U.S. Capitol and Washington Monument were evacuated as a precaution as the region's emergency procedures went into effect.Roads clogged as federal employees were dismissed early while buildings were assessed.
Bank of America evacuated 20 branches during the quake.
Near the epicenter of the 5.8 magnitude quake about 80 miles south of Washington,two of Dominion Power's North Anna nuclear reactors shut down automatically as three of four back-up diesel generators switched on efficiently when off site power was interrupted by the quake,ensuring that the fuel rods would continue to be cooled.
For most residents of the region,it was their first experience of such an event,an encounter with an aspect of nature they will look back on with fascination for the rest of their lives.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Codename Looking Glass:Navy Jets Have Special Mission

The U.S. Navy's E-6B Mercury aircraft plays a crucial role in the U.S. Strategic Command.Its predecessor,the E-6A Hermes,was a command and control plane only for the Navy's ballistic missile submarines.With the advent of the E-6B and its more advanced avionics,as well as a new battlestaff area,the Navy aircraft was promoted to the Looking Glass mission previously allotted to the U.S. Air Force's EC-135s.
Today,these Boeing 707 derivatives are the Airborne Command Post for the entire nuclear deterrent force,from Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles,to strategic bombers and the Navy's Ohio class of Trident missile submarines.Should the Global Operations Center of U.S. Strategic Command at Offutt Air Force Base,Nebraska become disabled,the E-6B aircraft will assume its command and control functions.
The E-6B has a speed of 0.88 Mach,with a range of 8700 nautical miles and a ceiling of 42,000 feet.It has a crew of 3 pilots,2 airborne communications officers,2 flight engineers and 7-15 mission crew.Totaling 15 aircraft,the 2 E-6B squadrons are based at Tinker Air Force Base,Oklahoma.
A sixteenth E-6B is used as a testbed at NAS Patuxent River,Maryland.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

President Receives Afghan War Dead

President Barack Obama received the remains of 30 U.S. service members killed in Afghanistan and their 8 Afghan colleagues at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware on Tuesday.Media were barred from the solemn transfer ceremony,which was described by eyewitnesses as deeply moving.The President comforted the bereaved family and military members.
Among the fallen were 22 U.S. Navy SEAL commandos;5 U.S. Army Chinook helicopter crew;and 3 U.S. Air Force personnel.The helicopter was downed by rocket-propelled grenade fire in Wardak Province of East Central Afghanistan.Chinooks are considered the flying bus among the helicopters.In service since 1958,the Boeing choppers are known to be vulnerable during their take-offs and landings,when their guns are of limited use.They are quite respected as high altitude aircraft,however-an important consideration in the mountainous environment of Afghanistan.
The SEALs were coming to the aid of a U.S. Army Ranger unit that was pursuing a Taliban militant leader when it came under heavy fire.
The militants are very familiar with the Chinook helicopters.They lay down a barrage of rpg or .51 caliber machine gun fire to try to bring them down.This time,they succeeded.
The loss of the SEALs is most prominent in their home communities of Coronado,California and Oceana,Virginia.
Wardak Province is considered a high security risk.Militants have been recruiting there and asserting control in recent years,roaming freely at night.It is largely a rural area,with most residents engaged in agriculture to some extent.
Update:On Wednesday,General John Allen,USMC,commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan,said ground forces,acting on local intelligence reports,located 2 Taliban militants in a wooded area,one of them the militant who fired the rpg that downed the Chinook,and called in an F-16 airstrike to prevent their leaving the country.The militants were killed,but the Taliban leader originally sought by U.S. Army Rangers has not been found.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Crossing A Summer Field

I walk through a hay field just north of Camp David.With each afternoon step in near hundred degree Fahrenheit heat,hundreds of grasshoppers scatter.The grasshoppers are fine.It's what may lurk unseen that is troubling:venomous copperhead snakes;Lyme disease-carrying deer ticks;or Rocky Mountain spotted fever vector dog ticks.A hornet's nest may also be underfoot,along with the terribly poisonous brown recluse spider.
Fortunately,none of these threats are encountered.
Approaching the shallow streams at the west end of the field,the terrain is thickly matted dried grasses or rushes.The shallow streams seem to have dried up,but they are hazardous ditches obscured by the hummocks of dried vegetation,threatening a foot or leg injury.
Then again,the spiny and huge garlic mustard-not to mention the prickly teasel-present an obnoxious challenge.I think I am hearing an eastern coyote snarling from its day bed,but it stays in hiding.
An American bumble bee flies off a swamp milkweed,but doesn't seem angry with me.At one point,I realize I have lost my wallet.Fat chance of finding it in this thatchy place;yet incredibly I do just that,retracing my steps with only a little hope.