Friday, May 29, 2009

BRACE YOURSELVES! 2009 Hurricane Season Starts June 1. (2009 Hurricane Hype Already Active.)

Disclaimer: The snarky sub-head is in no way meant to diminish the danger of tropical systems. If nothing else, being prepared early saves money and time if you find yourself in the crosshairs of a Katrina, Wilma or just a [yawn] Erin (the cute little cat one that somehow still managed to condemn my apartment in 1995). So go ahead and cut your plywood, fill the water jugs and stock up on double D batteries for the radio (or any other appliances you and the old lady might find handy if you’re locked in doors for a couple weeks without power). Then sit back and watch the tidal surge of SCARY HYPE spew forth from talking heads on every network from The Weather Channel to TMZ as they try to predict the most unpredictable weather systems on the planet.

Of course, these days, we don’t have ‘psychic friend networks’ – we have psychic friend ‘experts.’ Plural. Once the sole domain of Dr. William Gray’s climate team at Colorado State, it seems everyone wants a piece of the tropical season prediction biz: Accuweather, (13 named storms and eight hurricanes), WSI Corp (13 named storms, seven hurricanes) and the Weather Research Center (seven named storms, four hurricanes). Even NOAA – those noble scientific stewards that once only discussed a storm’s future in the vaguest of details (aka what it MIGHT do within hundreds of miles over the next 12 to 120 hours) has decided to go all Nostradamus on us, unveiling their own long term forecast. (Their call? Fourteen named storms, 4 to 7 becoming hurricanes, 1 to 3 of which will be major Cat 3s or more. )

Nevermind, that all the services pull from the same data and global patterns that CSU does. (Which explains why they all sound so similar.) Or that even after two decades, Gray’s team almost always gets it wrong. (2005 had 28 tropical and subtropical storms; they predicted 15.) Or that not one of these tropical tarot-readers saw that the first depression of 2009 would develop on May 27 around noon. (The type of specific info that might be useful for more than driving ratings and Home Depot sales.) If you print some hurricane hype (tip: use the phrase ‘period of heightened activity’), they will come.

So, since everyone else is doing it, here’s what’s swirling inside my 2009 Tropical Crystal Ball:

1. 88% of the swells won’t live up to their hype.
2. Every surf media outlet will use the headline “Happy Hollow-Days” at least once.
3. TWC’s Jim Cantore will continue his Gollum-like, physical transformation into CBS’s Paul Shaffer.
4. Somebody in the Mid-Atlantic’s gonna get creamed

I’m dead serious about the last one. How do I know? Like everyone else: a little voodoo, a little science – my broken wrist is starting to ache – and a touch of past experience. Last year saw barreling bounty like no season since 1995—arguably the best year ever for surf — when Felix did a two-week tango, kicking off a conga line of five storms in August alone, including a rare Fujiwara square dance by Humberto and Iris. One season later in 1996, Southern NC got smashed by Cat 2 Bertha and Cat 3 Fran within two months of each other. So, considering how sick the surf was in 2008, 2009’s corresponding beating must be somewhat solid.

Of course, I could be wrong. But as I said, better to be prepared than impaled by flying debris. And if we don’t get solid waves or an evacuation to keep you busy, guaranteed you’ll be entertained by all the weathermen getting blown away. Now that’s storm coverage you can trust.

While you’re staying glued to your fancy weather predicting machine, don’t just worry about the swell’s behavior, make sure you know what the storm’s doing, too. Two obvious picks: NOAA. (Every 12 hours, 5am and 5pm, they turn real data into a projected path). Shortly after, Dr. Jeff Masters Wunderblog will distill all that fancy scientific talk into clear, believable, terms.

Monday, May 18, 2009

TICK...TICK...TICK: Offshore or on, the push for more petroleum is a coastal timebomb

Lots of times, I struggle with what to complain about each week.(Just check my lame-ass "Moby Dick" post below.) But usually, all I have to do is check the news every few days and I'll find a reason to spew over the push for expanding oil production off our coast. This morning, I woke up to the following bombshell, Fireball lights up oil refinery on Delaware River.

Nobody knows what caused it, but apparently "New Castle County, Del., county councilman John Cartier said he could see the flames from his home at least three miles from the refinery. 'It was almost like seismic,' he told The (Wilmington) News Journal. 'My house was rocked. It was a big large boom.'"

Granted, this isn't from a rig per se, but one of the dirty little secrets behind pushing for more petroleum offshore, is that once they find it they need to bring it in, which leads to an industrialization of the coastline -- bringing potential hazards from miles offshore right to peoples' doorsteps. Furthermore, research -- and the law of averages -- shows that increased production means increased risk of accidents. And apparently, this "refinery sits on a 781-acre site along an international seaport, and it operates around the clock seven days a week with about 700 employees." (Insert 'tick...tick...tick..." noise here.)

So, while our local 24-7 tourism enterprises employ about 10 times that with the greatest of hazards likely being a spilled drink, burned steak or drunken asshole, pushing petroleum means bringing a time bomb to our shores while making rural coastline look -- in the words of UNC researcher Pete Peterson -- " more like northern New Jersey.”

(In the case of Delaware, Chicago circa 1871 or San Francisco 1906 sounds like more accurate comparisons.)

Fired up? Good. Write a letter to your elected officials. Then, burn some more energy by taking the surf-first survey after your next session (assuming you haven't already.)

Friday, May 15, 2009

MOBY DICKS: Offshore oil is also animal cruelty

You better pray God ain’t a whale. Otherwise humans are in for a helluva payback. In fact, all you need to do is see the Danish club pilot whales, and you realize we’ve got a long way to go toward becoming humane. And since I’ve blogged most recently (all though not that recently) about the economic folly of pursuing offshore oil and gas, I figured maybe it as time to point out the ethical folly, as in: how fast humans become animal-abusing dicks just to serve our own shallow needs.

In the case of offshore oil and gas exploration, we’ll literally torture our biggest, bestest ocean mammal buddies in search just a few months supply, as the ‘seismic guns’ used to find pockets of petroleum literally bursts whales eardrums, causing death and disorientation and other problems way beyond learning to sign with simple pair of fins. In fact, here’s just a few gnarly courtesy of Greenpeace :

* Seismic explosions typically reach 260 decibels but scientists believe marine mammals are injured by volumes higher than 180 decibels.

* In the last year, whale deaths believed to be related to noise pollution have occurred off of Baja California, the Canary Islands, and the San Juan Islands.

*Physical impacts of seismic survey noise on marine mammals are believed to include auditory masking or confusion, temporary hearing loss, brain hemorrhage and even death.

In other words, this is way worse than cutting a cat’s whiskers or giving a dog peanut butter (not that I know much about either). Even more troubling, it’s only been about 70 years since whales stopped being tortured in way worse ways by American industry. Not torture like sleep deprivation or cramped boxes or even ‘waterboarding’ . But as in harpooning, jabbing, and ultimately beheading and skinning. (Take that, Talban.) And then there’s the death itself, as described in the following passage from Moby Dick:

“The red tide now poured form all sides of the monster like brooks down a hill. His tormented body rolled not in brine, but in blood, which bubbled and seethed for furlongs behind their wake. . .And all the while, jet after jet of white smoke agonizingly shot from the spiracle of the whale,...Stubb slowly churned his long sharp lance into the fish and kept it there.. And now, the whale once more rolled out into view . . .spasmodically dilating and contracting his spouthole, with sharp agonized respirations. At last, gush after gush of clotted red gore…shot into the frighted air and falling back again, ran dripping down his motionless flanks into the sea. His heart had burst!”

So what were these 19th century Nantuckers after? Meat. Nope. Sperm? Somewhat. But mostly, they too wanted oil. Not to burn in cars, but in lamps, killing thousands upon thousands to meet the world’s energy needs. Better hope when we hit the pearly gates we don’t see Shamu instead of St. Peter, or else it’ll be our turn to burn. (Better have a bucket of fish handy just in case.)

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

SAVED BY THE BELL?: How syndicated TV can bring offshore oil to a ‘screeching’ halt

What’s scarier than taking lessons from third-world countries ? Taking lessons from syndicated TV.

Right now, Ecuador’s indigenous Amazon tribes are suing Chevron because of pollution left behind from decades of drilling. To be fair, that drilling was done by Texaco, which Chevron later acquired – becoming America’s third largest company in the process. But even if the oil execs aren’t taking ownership of the damage, they’re sure taking ownership of the fight by playing some serious hardball. Just like Exxon spent huge amounts and 20 years battling the Valdez decision, Chevron would rather buy slanderous ads in Ecuadorian papers before they’ll pay the $27 billion in damages for polluting the Amazon rainforest and local drinking water. Lesson here? Once you let the oil companies in, promises of clean drilling and “we’re your pal” vanish like exhaust fumes behind a gluttonous SUV.

But what’s more insane is how often this debate resurfaces in 20 year cycles – much like America’s other great source of pollution: syndicated TV. And you need no greater example than Kelly, Zack, Mr. Belding and the rest of the cast of that insanely goofball high school series "Saved by the Bell,” which took up the cause on October 21, 1991.

According to the summary, “When oil is discovered on the property after digging for a new guard post, an oil company arrives to destroy the pond to drill for the oil.” (Keep in mind, this was just 18 months after the Valdez spilled 10.8 million gallons of oil – the largest environmental disaster in US history — so America was still enjoying a silly cultural backlash of oil-hating hysteria.)

Now, I know I used high school cliques as a metaphor for coastal activism just two weeks ago, but I didn’t expect the Dalai Lama of losers – the holy Screech himself – to come to my rescue via boob-tube time machine. Even more surprising? Some of the perspectives were — and remain — surprisingly valid.

Check out this conversation:

Jessie: Because of your oil spills, we put 20 dead animals back into the ground.
Mr. Phelps: Well I'm sorry, that was an accident and we did get that cleaned up.
Lisa: Yeah but can you guarantee it won't happen again?
Mr. Phelps: Well no...
Zack: So what happens if there's another accident? Will it look like this? (squirts oil all over the model of the school, getting some on Mr. Phelps’ shirt)
Mr. Phelps: I'm covered in oil!
Zack: I'm sorry, it was an accident.


Lisa: Nothing survived, the oil's all over the pond.
Mr. Belding: But what can I do?
Screech: What can you do? You're the principal! Aren't you man enough to scare anybody besides the kids?

Of course, with “Jessie” – aka Elizabeth Berkley -- later lapdancing her way through the NC-17 rated “Showgirls’ and “Screech” — aka Dustin Diamond — releasing a sex tape (no ‘diamond tip’ jokes, please), both characters obviously changed their minds about both ‘oil’ and ‘drilling’ over the past 18 years. And so has our sadly short-attention-spanned country. The question is: can the current generation of America’s youth can rise up to ‘save us’ before another Valdez disaster?

Bonus trivia: go to the link to note the mysterious repetition of Slater, Kelly and Lisa as character names; also, the title of the episode is called ‘Pipe Dreams.’

Extra credit to Surfline forecaster Kurt Korte for bringing this little piece of pop culture to my attention. I was in college when this episode originally aired, doing mature college things — like streaking museums and waking up in pools of my own vomit — but apparently this was quite the groundbreaking episode for all the kiddies. For those who missed it the first time around – or just miss it in general — you can even watch it yourself Wednesday, May 6, at 7:30am on TBS. (If you want to know when ‘Showgirls’ is on, you’ll just have to, uh, Google yourself.) Or do something useful for 20 minutes and take the Surf-First survey after your next session.