Label: Hurricane Irene

August 30, 2011

As Hurricane Irene exited the scene she left a crisp, cool, pre-autumn day here in the Northeast. I worked at my desk all day on a new book, and then decided that I would like to get some exercise before dinner. I went to the driving range to hit some golf balls…..and discovered a beautiful Great Egret picking its way through puddles of water on long spindly legs!

The owner told me that the entire field was under water after the storm, and as the flood from the nearby river receded, his 10-year-old daughter Starsea found crawfish in the puddles. That makes sense. Great Egrets (also known as White Herons) are wading birds that eat fish, crustaceans (shell fish) and small reptiles, like frogs. They stalk their prey in shallow water, running or shuffling their feet to flush their prey into view. 

Once the field dries out, these water birds will make their way back to the nearby lake, and soon they will be flying south for the winter. And we’ll get our driving range back for hitting golf balls!

Posted by: Seymour Simon

(3) Comments  •   Labels: Animals, birds, Cool Photo, Hurricanes, Hurricane Irene   •  Permalink (link to this article)

August 29, 2011

Don’t pay any attention to people who are saying that government officials over-reacted by urging us all to prepare for Hurricane Irene. The past 48 hours were a textbook example of the value of good preparation. This was a massive, slow-moving storm, and forecasters correctly predicted days in advance that the problem would be huge amounts of rain and flooding, rather than wind. Many, many more lives could have been lost had people not heeded orders to evacuate the areas that have been flooded by rivers and streams overflowing their banks.

Meteorologists did an amazing job of predicting this particular storm’s path. Retired National Hurricane Center director Max Mayfield described it as a "gold medal forecast. I don’t think there’s any doubt," he said. "I think they saved lives." By Tuesday night, they predicted that Hurricane Irene would rake the coast. And on Friday morning - 24 hours before landfall - they accurately predicted the storm’s next day location to within 10 miles. That is extraordinarily accurate.

The main reason that meteorology (the science of predicting weather) is getting more accurate is that we are building better computer models, and scientists are also getting more and better data to plug into those models. As Hurricane Irene formed in the Caribbean, days before it made landfall in the US, NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency) sent up old-fashioned propeller planes and weather balloons into the storm. They gathered Doppler radar information, which was then plugged into computer models that helped to predict how the storm would be develop.

Twenty years ago, 24-hour forecasts were lucky if they got it right within 100 miles. With Irene, that was about the accuracy of the forecast five days ahead of the storm. The more we learn about hurricanes, the better our chances of staying safe.


Photo: GLENN RUSSELL, Burlington Free Press

Posted by: Seymour Simon

(2) Comments  •   Labels: science news, Weather, Hurricanes, Hurricane Irene   •  Permalink (link to this article)

August 26, 2011


If you live on the East Coast of the United States, you have been hearing warnings for the last several days to get prepared for Hurricane Irene. There are lots of things that need to be done that kids can help with. Hurricane preparation is a family affair!

Here are some things you can do:


  • Walk outside and look for anything that might be blown around in a strong wind - an innocent toy or lawn chair can become a missile that breaks windows or causes injury when it’s caught up in an 80 mile per hour wind! Things that should be brought inside include: bicycles, skateboards, toys, garbage cans, sprinklers, watering cans, toys, garden tools, lawn furniture, umbrellas, recycling bins. Anything that can fly around should be brought indoors.
  • Help your family locate all the flashlights in the house, and put them all in one place, so you can find them easily if the lights go out. Check each to see if they are working, or if the batteries need to be replaced. Make a list of what kind of batteries each one needs, and how many. (You should buy double that number, so that you have backups).
  • Your family is going to need to do some extra food shopping. You can help to carry the bags and put the food away when you get home.
Pick out a favorite "read aloud" book, and put it in the "safe room" (the basement or interior room, with no windows) where your family will all gather together during the storm. When the electricity is out and there is no television or computer, it’s a great time for the whole family to read a story together, by flashlight! 
  • If your family lives in an area that may be evacuated, pack your backpack with a set of clean clothes and three sets of clean underwear. Put in your favorite toy or book, your toothbrush and a comb or brush. That way you are ready to go when the time comes.
  • FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) has a very good website with a checklist for preparing for a hurricane. Go to that website and print out the list, so that you can help your family to know everything that they need to get ready for the storm. 

ONE VERY IMPORTANT NOTE FOR ALL KIDS: After the hurricane passes, the area where you live may be flooded. Don’t go out and play in the water. Flooded areas are dangerous. Rapidly moving water even less than a foot deep can sweep you away. And, water may also be electrically charged from downed or damaged power lines. If you are in the street and see water, turn around and go the other way!

FOR FAMILIES WITH PRESCHOOLERS: It can be very difficult to explain big events like hurricanes to very little kids. My friends and former colleagues at Sesame Street have a great "hurricane toolkit" that includes video, and it’s free for any family who wants to use it. Click on the graphic to find these excellent materials.



Being prepared makes big storms less scary, and helps to keep people safe. 

Posted by: Liz Nealon

(0) Comments  •   Labels: science news, Summer Vacation Science, Weather, Hurricanes, Hurricane Irene   •  Permalink (link to this article)

August 26, 2011

With all the talk on the news about preparation for Hurricane Irene, a lot of you may be wondering what makes hurricanes such a big deal. Hurricanes are the world’s worst storms. That is surprising to some people, since tornadoes have much stronger winds that sometimes get as high as 300 miles (483 km) per hour. Hurricane winds rarely blow at even half that speed - in fact, a tropical storm becomes a hurricane when winds exceed just 74 miles (119 km) per hour.

So why are hurricanes (called "typhoons" in the North Pacific and "cyclones" in the Indian Ocean) the world’s deadliest storms?

A tornado is usually less than a mile (1.6km) wide on the ground, and lasts for less than an hour. So while a tornado causes a great deal of destruction, only a limited area is affected. A hurricane affects a much, much larger area. Even a small hurricane is hundreds of miles wide, and it can last for days or even weeks. In a single day, a large hurricane releases energy that is equal to two hundred times the amount of electricity generated on the entire planet. These are powerful storms!


Hurricane Irene is a particularly large and dangerous storm - nearly 600 miles (1000 km) wide at the time this photograph was taken by NASA’s Terra satellite. You can see bands of thunderstorms spiraling tightly around a dense center. That is the circular shape of a well-developed hurricane.  

The most important thing, when a hurricane is approaching, is to be prepared. If you are in an area that is subject to coastal flooding, you must heed the warnings of local government officials and evacuate when they tell you to. If you are not in a flood zone, there are many things you should do to prepare for not only the storm itself, but also for at least three days without electricity and water. FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) has a good checklist on their website.

To get the latest local information about the approaching storm, go to any Internet search engine, and type in "[your county] [your state] emergency management." That will give you a link for the Office of Emergency Management for your area, where you will find up-to-date information and phone numbers to help you get information about how the storm will affect your area.

We have learned a lot about hurricanes in recent years, and as our weather forecasting software, warning systems and emergency planning get better, we are saving lives. The more we learn about hurricanes, the better our chances of staying safe.


I updated my book HURRICANES in 2007, after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, becoming the costlest and most destructive hurricane in U.S. history. You can learn more about the science behind hurricanes, and see many incredible photographs of these powerful forces of nature.  

Posted by: Seymour Simon

(0) Comments  •   Labels: science news, Summer Vacation Science, Weather, Hurricanes, Hurricane Irene   •  Permalink (link to this article)