Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Storm Surge

I am unseemly fascinated by natural disasters. An earthquake and a hurricane in one week! It makes life here seem tame by comparison*.

One headline from CSM, Hurricane Irene: why storm surge could be the biggest problem, piqued my interest, but it didn't explain all the environmental dangers.

Do visit this University of Illinois multimedia page with a video demonstrating the effect of a hurricane-generated storm surge and the slope of the beach at landfall.

The timing of the storm surge upon landfall is also going to be key. If it coincides with a high tide, it will be more damaging than if it made landfall at low tide. Keep an eye on the NOAA tide tables and the predicted storm track. Right now, Irene looks likely to approach the shores of NC and New England shortly after low tide. But things can change in the upcoming days.

The article didn't even mention salt water intrusion into aquifers, something I mentioned in Consequences and Blog Action Day 2010: Our water footprint. I follow this closely, as part of my tapwater comes from a coastal aquifer.

According to NOAA, "U.S. coastal counties depend on groundwater for 18% of their fresh, potable water. This groundwater is at risk from an increasing coastal population and coastal storms." Salt water from the storm surge can contaminate freshwater aquifers through cracks in the ground, both natural and man-made (wells). If that happens, wells turn brackish and unusable.

If you have it, you can throw money at the problem. I read about one family in North Carolina who complained to a reporter about how they had to buy trucked-in water for a year following another hurricane for that reason. A Bangladeshi family living on low-lying delta farmland probably does not have that option.

There is an entire magazine devoted to promoting the lifestyle of putting oneself in harm's way Coastal Living. I, for one, would like to stop subsidizing this lifestyle with our federal FEMA money, but I digress.

Read Saltwater Intrusion Puts Drinking Water at Risk and the case studies. IMHO, that's a much better use of our federal tax dollars. I'd much rather support scientists and their work than shoring up beaches for the vacation homes of the wealthy who really ought to know better.

If you want to read some more hair-raising stories about storm surges, try Storm-driven groundwater flow in a salt-marsh. "Storm-related flow could also drive significant contaminant discharge from developed coastlines. The enhanced transport and variability observed here likely affected hundreds of kilometers of the coastline impacted by the storm."

Happy reading.

* Actually, this week is very exciting chez BMGM. We've got a camp production and a botched school registration (class schedule conflicts galore) on the home front, a field test on the work front, and then another field test almost immediately following this one. I will be launching weather balloons timed for satellite overflights while Bad Dad flies under the satellite track with a spectrometer. What an exciting date! It's enough to make one dream about two line elements.

We hope to be back in time for the camp production. I heard the kids in rehearsal this morning and they sound awesome.

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