Zombie Storm Leslie Slammed Portugal, France And Spain With Unusual Strength

There are no two ways about it — the storm known as Leslie was a weirdo, the strangest to develop in the Atlantic Ocean this year, if not in many years.

The storm finally crashed into Europe’s Iberian Peninsula over the weekend, creating all sorts of havoc, after meandering over the open Atlantic Ocean for 19 days, where it took on many forms.

Previously a hurricane, Leslie arrived in Europe as an intense extratropical or mid-latitude storm, having lost its tropical characteristics. While not a hurricane in name at landfall, it was just as powerful, battering the Iberian Peninsula at virtually unprecedented strength.

Winds gusted to 109 mph along the western coast of Portugal in the community Figueira da Foz. The storm left behind flooding, uprooted hundreds of trees and caused 27 minor injuries in Portugal.

The unusually strong winds were due in part to a sting jet, a potent but narrow surge of exceptional winds caused when evaporative cooling within the storm drags the jet stream to the surface.

Leslie became the first tropically borne system to directly impact Spain since Vince in 2005 and was far more powerful. The BBC said winds gusted over 60 mph in the city of Zamora.

Farther north, devastating floods engulfed France as Leslie’s tropical connection drenched southern areas with heavy rainfall. At least 10 deaths were blamed on the floods.

Meteo-France reported the following rainfall totals in the south of France:11.6 inches (296 mm) fell in eight hours near Carcassonne, 9.6 inches (244 mm) fell in six hours and 4.4 inches (111 mm) in two hours.
14.3 inches (364 mm) fell in 24 hours in the Haut-Languedoc region. As of Tuesday, Leslie’s remnant circulation had merged with the remnants of Hurricane Michael, both entities substantially weakened.

Leslie first got its name on Sept. 23 as a subtropical storm in the middle of nowhere in the open Atlantic. Spinning absentmindedly in the central North Atlantic, the prospects for Leslie’s development weren’t good. In its first advisory, the National Hurricane Center ironically said it was “forecast to be a short-lived cyclone.”

Nobody knew Leslie would become the 11th-longest-lived Atlantic cyclone on record, fluctuating between tropical storm and Category 1 strength for at least 19 days.

But Leslie defied the odds, stubbornly dodging systems that could harvest its energy and strengthening when all signs suggested it shouldn’t. The National Hurricane Center first stated that Leslie was “forecast to become absorbed by a larger non-tropical low” within two or three days.

On Sept. 25, Leslie fell apart into a subtropical depression right on schedule. All done. Or so we thought.

Leslie’s brief falter didn’t last long, and the capricious storm rose from the dead two days later. The “zombie cyclone” took on the characteristics of a mid-latitude nor’easter-type storm instead, stirring up the seas with powerful hurricane-force winds on Sept. 27. Meteorologists refer to this type of storm as extratropical. Despite gusts exceeding the 74 mph criterion, however, Leslie’s cold-core nature did not fit the bill for it to be classified as a hurricane.

That’s when Leslie decided to switch things up. The post-tropical cyclone swirled in some warmer air on the 28th and became subtropical — a wacky hybrid combination of a tropical cyclone and a mid-latitude low — again.

Until this point, Leslie was never “officially” a tropical cyclone or hurricane. Only at 11 p.m. Atlantic time on Sept. 29 did the hurricane center finally award a tropical designation to Leslie. By then, the 50 mph storm was quickly acquiring the textbook hurricane shape and at last matured into a Category 1 hurricane with 80 mph winds on Oct. 3.

All the while, Leslie didn’t bother anybody but mariners. The storm went through an entire cycle again between different structures, wandering over the open ocean. Leslie began to peter out around Oct. 7 but then got feisty on the 8th. By Oct. 10, Leslie was mean — baring its teeth with winds of 90 mph tightly packed around a symmetric clouded-in center.

Part of Leslie’s perceived longevity is due to the wide arsenal of satellite imagery currently at the disposal of Hurricane Center meteorologists. Nowadays, forecasters can utilize remote sensing to better understand the internal organization of storms. A mere three or four decades ago, these tools existed in a much more rudimentary form — and Leslie probably would not have been named until it actually looked like a tropical cyclone in early October.

The takeaway? Leslie’s life span is certainly unusually long, but by no means unheard of. The San Ciriaco hurricane of 1899 persisted a whopping 27 days, and in the Pacific, cyclones have stuck around even longer. John clocked in at a staggering 30 days in 1994.

New Maps To Support Decision-Making After An Earthquake

Researchers from diverse institutions, including the School of Land Surveying, Geodesy and Mapping Engineering from Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, have developed a new methodology to create easy-to-understand maps for decision-making support after large earthquakes.

By using spatial geodesic techniques, such as the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) and the Interferometric synthetic aperture radar, (InSAR), researchers have developed a methodology to estimate the activation of faults and volcanoes in a region after an earthquake. The results are presented in a traffic light scale in order to improve the transfer of the obtained scientific results after an earthquake to the management of this post-event.

This study has been led by researchers from Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (UPM), Complutense (UCM) and the Geological and Mining Institute of Spain (IGME) and published in the journal Remote Sensing.

The developed methodology was applied to the earthquake that occurred in April 2016 in Pedernales (Mw 7.8), and is based on the estimation of effort changes in nearby faults and volcanoes which are the consequences of the energy release after an earthquake. To do this, researchers combined, modeled and assessed geological data from catalogs of faults and volcanoes in the area; they also assessed data from the cosmic deformation caused by an earthquake and obtained with techniques of spatial geodesics: InSAR- Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar and Global Navigation Satellite System, GNSS.

From the results of this analysis, researchers developed a set of simplified maps represented with a traffic light scale to find out if an earthquake will be activated after a volcano. To quantify this estimation is a challenge to be developed in future research.

Although the techniques used for the analysis and modeling of data are widely used in the scientific field, the novelty of this study lies in the transfer of these results to the post-event management field. This methodology could also be adapted to pre-event management.

Huge Earthquake Simulator To Get An Upgrade

The University of California, San Diego’s outdoor shake table in Scripps Ranch will soon give engineers a truer sense of the fury released when big earthquakes erupt in places around the world.

The National Science Foundation gave the school $16.3 million to upgrade the center so it can more accurately simulate quakes, a complex phenomenon that in some years kills hundreds of thousands of people worldwide.

The table is the largest of its kind and has conducted experiments that have led to tougher building and design codes for bridges and housing. But it can move structures only backward and forward. Quakes can move the ground in many directions.

Engineers will modify the table so that it also can move up and down, right and left, and simulate the pitch, roll and yaw that can come with ground motion. Collectively, these movements are called the “six degrees of freedom.”

The upgrade involves adding pistons and power to a table that’s used by researchers from around nation to simulate quakes big enough to send seismic waves coursing through the earth for weeks.

“We will be able to reproduce earthquake motions with the most accuracy of any shake table in the world,” said Joel Conte, the structural engineer who is overseeing the project. “This will accelerate the discovery of the knowledge engineers need to build new bridges, power plants, dams, levees, telecommunication towers, wind turbines, retaining walls, tunnels, and to retrofit older structures. It will enhance the resiliency of our communities.”

The upgrade comes at a worrisome time in California.

In June, the U.S. Geological Survey said 38 high-rise buildings in San Francisco constructed between 1964 and 1994 could buckle if they were hit by the type of earthquake that devastated the city in 1906. The list includes the Transamerica Pyramid in the Financial District.

There’s also concern about a newer skyscraper, the 58-story Millennium Tower, which has been sinking and tilting, making it more vulnerable to big quakes.

San Diego is also on shaky ground.

In 2017, the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute released a report that says that 2,000 people could die in San Diego if a 6.9 magnitude quake erupts on the Rose Canyon fault, which runs through the heart of the city. Potential property damage: $40 billion.

The EERI emphasized that the figures are just estimates because modeling the complexities of earthquakes is hard to do with existing models and technology.

Even so, engineers have made progress.

Since it opened in the late 1980s, UC San Diego’s Powell Laboratories has been heavily involved in developing and testing key portions of roads and bridges, leading to changes in building codes.

The shake table was added in 2004 to give scientists and engineers better ability to test large structures, from wood-frame buildings to bridge columns to a 70-foot wind turbine.

The need for such a table had been apparent for decades.

The 6.7 magnitude Northridge quake in 1994 appears to have caused the ground to move vertically and horizontally. That vertical movement may be the reason that some bridge support columns rose and pierced the decks of bridges.

Such wild ground motion wasn’t unknown to engineers. The 1971 San Fernando earthquake, which measured 6.6, appears to have caused the soil to rotate in some areas. That, in turn, may have caused some buildings to turn like corkscrews.

The movement contributed to the billions of dollars in property damage inflicted by the quake.

The table has been used to simulate some of those jarring events, notably the Northridge quake.

That earthquake caused the collapse of a parking garage at Cal State Northridge. Engineers from the University of Arizona built a similar garage in 2008, and then shook it harder than the real quake.

The experiment revealed a great deal about how such structures absorb and distribute energy, leading to a strengthening of national building codes.

More recently, a team led by UC San Diego built and tested a five-story building that had many of the features of a hospital—such as an ICU and a surgery suite—and a working elevator and a sprinkler system. The goal was to understand what would happen inside a hospital during a catastrophic quake.

To ensure that they didn’t miss anything, engineers placed 500 sensors in and around the building, and installed 70 cameras.

Then they simulated several high-intensity earthquakes, and later set part of the building on fire to replicate a frequent aftereffect of quakes.

“What we are doing is the equivalent of giving a building an EKG,” lead engineer Tara Hutchinson said.

The experiment helped lead to the design of safer hospitals, and it was followed by a project that focused on a subject of great concern in California—four-story wood-frame residential buildings that have garages on the first floor.

The structures -built mostly in the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s—are now considered vulnerable to collapse in a huge quake.

In 2013, Colorado State University built one of the structures on the shake table and outfitted it with various types of retrofitting to see what would happen.

The result was good, and bad.

The building survived shake tests with the retrofitting in place. When it was taken out, calamity ensued.

“There was creaking and crunching, then a thunderous collapse, followed by dust and debris floating up,” said John W. van de Lindt, the Colorado State engineer who led the project.

Now, Lindt is drawing up plans for a 10-story building that will be built on the same spot. But this time, he’ll be able to move the building in any direction he wants.

“The U.S. and California have really been at the forefront of this kind of research,” Lindt said. “The upgrade will help us keep pace with the world. We really need this.”

Mystery At The Center Of The Milky Way Solved

Astronomers from Lund University in Sweden have now found the explanation to a recent mystery at the center of the Milky Way galaxy: the high levels of scandium discovered last spring near the galaxy’s giant black hole were in fact an optical illusion.

Last spring, researchers published a study about the apparent presence of astonishing and dramatically high levels of three different elements in red giant stars, located less than three light years away from the big black hole at the centre of our galaxy. Various possible explanations were presented, for example that the high levels were a result of earlier stars being disrupted as they fall into the black hole, or a result of debris from the collisions of neutron stars.

Now another group of astronomers from Lund University among others, in collaboration with UCLA in California, have found an explanation for the high levels of scandium, vanadium and yttrium. They argue that the so-called spectral lines presented last spring were actually an optical illusion. Spectral lines are used to find out which elements a star contains — by using its own light.

“These giant red stars have used up most of their hydrogen fuel and their temperatures are therefore only half of the sun’s,” says Brian Thorsbro, lead author of the study and doctoral student in astronomy at Lund University.

According to the new study, the lower temperatures of the giant stars helped to create the optical illusion that appeared in the measurements of spectral lines. Specifically, it means that the electrons in the elements behave differently at different temperatures, which in turn can be misleading when measuring the spectral lines of elements in different stars. The conclusion is the result of a close collaboration between astronomers and atomic physicists.

Brian Thorsbro and his colleagues have had the world’s largest telescope, at the W. M. Keck Observatory on Mauna Kea, Hawaii, at their disposal, thanks to their collaboration with R. Michael Rich at UCLA. Using this telescope and others, the research team is currently conducting a comprehensive mapping of the central areas of the Milky Way, exploring the spectral lines in the light from different stars to find out which elements they contain. The purpose is to gain an understanding of the events that have occurred in the history of the Milky Way, but also to understand how galaxies in general have formed.

“Our research collaboration is world-leading in terms of systematically mapping the elements contained in the huge central star cluster — the star cluster that surrounds the black hole,” says research leader and astronomer Nils Ryde at Lund University.

The spectral lines for different elements are recorded in a high-resolution spectrometer — an advanced camera that generates a rainbow of the starlight. The research team has studied the part of the spectrum consisting of near-infrared light, i.e. the heat radiation emitted by the stars. The reason for this is that infrared light can penetrate the dust that obstructs the line-of-sight between us and the centre of the Milky Way, approximately 25,000 light years away. The technology for recording this light is very advanced, and has only recently become available to astronomers.

“We have only started to map the stellar compositions in these central areas of the Milky Way,” says Nils Ryde.

Europe’s Most Active Volcano Is Sliding Into The Sea

Perched on the northeastern edge of Sicily, Italy’s Mount Etna is a hyperactive volcano capable of producing incandescent lava flows as well as explosive, lightning-surrounded pyrotechnics. It’s also sliding into the Ionian Sea—and a new study provides fresh evidence as to why.

It’s been known for some time that the so-called Roof of the Mediterranean has been on the move. Etna is not slipping quickly; on average, its migration is happening at a rate several times slower than the growth rate of your fingernails. But geologists have been hunting for the exact cause of the volcano’s motion, since it’s linked to the risk that the fiery mountain may suffer a catastrophic collapse.

About a million people live on Etna’s slopes, and millions more reside on the coastlines across the Ionian sea. If part of the volcano near the shoreline becomes unstable and falls into the water, it could create mega-tsunamis that would devastate the shores of the eastern Mediterranean.

“A massive collapse would be a disaster for a vast and densely populated area,” says Boris Behncke, a volcanologist at the Etna Observatory at Italy’s National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology who was not involved in the latest work. (Find out why people chose to live in the shadows of active volcanoes.)

Etna’s slippery slope
For their new study, published today in Science Advances, a team led by Morelia Urlaub at the Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Kiel, Germany, deployed several underwater transponders around Etna’s southeastern flank, which they suspect is the most mobile section of the mountain.

These transponders contained pressure sensors that picked up on the slightest movements of the offshore flank. The devices also recorded their positions relative to each other, which meant that the team could detect movement of the flank compared to the more stable parts of the terrain.

According to the team, their results show that gravity is the primary force causing this flank of the volcano to move. Magma rising inside the volcano also plays a role, but the team thinks it has less of an overall effect on Etna’s seaward slide.

The new results “take us into the exciting realm of underwater monitoring for the first time at Etna,” says volcanologist John Murray of the U.K.’s Open University, who was not involved in the new work. Murray led a previous study that also looked at Etna’s slippage, and he says the new data are in line with his team’s observations, in that “magmatic forces are less important than gravitational spreading in the outward expansion of Etna.”

Until recently, many experts thought that shallow magma injections within the fiery mountain were the primary drivers of this volcano’s displacement. Indeed, during some of Etna’s eruptions, monitoring devices have recorded movements of tens of feet. This makes sense: Rising magma can inflate parts of the mountain, adding extra weight to sections of it and causing structural weaknesses to appear.

But Etna’s southeastern flank tends to slip in fits and bursts, and not all of that motion is linked to internal, molten turmoil.

Keeping a close eye on things between April 2016 and July 2017, the latest monitoring effort detected one case of major movement around mid-May of 2017, when the volcano’s flank jutted forward into the sea by an inch or two. This activity coincided with the eight-day movement of a local fault.

The team agrees that rising magma does play a role, because other flank accelerations match up nicely with unambiguous intrusions of new molten material. But the fact that such huge deformations are also occurring far from the magma-dominated summit suggests that gravity is the star of the show—a notion shared by other research groups.

In April, Murray’s team reported on their work using hundreds of onshore GPS kits to assess Etna’s movement. Their data indicated that, from 2001 to 2012, Etna moved toward the Ionian Sea in a southeasterly direction at a rate of 0.6 inches (about 14 millimeters) every year. These researchers also suspect that gravity is the driving force, pushing Etna along on a layer of loosely packed sediments.

Gravity will bring you down
The April study suggested that the entire volcano was moving, but the new paper only looked at the southeastern flank. Still, with both studies in mind, “it seems that the consensus is shifting toward gravitationally driven sliding as the dominant mechanism” for Etna’s movement, says Urlaub.

The new study’s interpretations are quite reasonable, Behncke says, although he adds that the situation is complex, and it’s likely that contributions from gravitational pulls and magmatic movements vary with time. Both factors are also connected, with gravitationally driven flank movements allowing magmatic intrusions to take place.

“It’s very difficult to make definitive statements unless the methods used by the authors are applied over a much longer period, encompassing a broader area,” he says.

There’s also the question of whether the southeastern flank movement could one day turn into a catastrophic collapse. Urlaub’s data indicates that it’s possible, although she notes that there’s not yet enough information to say for sure. Geologists need decades’ worth of monitoring data before they can tell the difference between normal and fast slippage.

There’s presently no sign of an imminent collapse on Etna’s slopes, but a lack of data on any similar incident means that there isn’t any way to tell when a major flank collapse might occur. No wonder, then, that Etna is one of the most heavily monitored volcanoes on Earth.

Guatemala Volcano Spews Ash Months After Deadly Eruption

Guatemala’s Volcano of Fire spewed ash and lava Saturday just months after an eruption killed at least 110 people.

The country’s seismology and volcanology institute said hot lava was spilling from the crater and flowing toward a ravine.

Constant rumblings from the volcano sounded like an engine, and columns of gray ash billowed 4,600 meters (15,091 feet) into the air.

Authorities urged nearby residents to evacuate and be alert for possible lahars – flows of mud, debris, water and pyroclastic material – that could be fed by afternoon rains.

The Volcano of Fire is one of the most active in Central America.

Dozens of people were buried alive or burned beyond recognition in June when the volcano expelled smoldering gas, ash and rock, catching residents off guard.

After Hurricane Michael: Shortages, Mourning, Darkness

Gas was in short supply, power outages were rampant and search teams continued their arduous tasks Sunday as Florida’s recovery from Hurricane Michael remained painfully slow along the coast of the state’s battered Panhandle.

There were some victories. Classes will resume Monday at Florida State’s sprawling, 40,000-student campus in Tallahassee and several other area universities. State offices also reopened.

In the Bay County communities of Panama City and Mexico Beach, where the strongest hurricane to hit the Panhandle since record-keeping began slammed onto the coast four days earlier, search-and-rescue crews accompanied by dogs solemnly picked through the rubble of shattered neighborhoods

The storm killed at least 17 people, including one in Mexico Beach. Entire communities were wiped out by the Category 4 storm’s roaring winds, and authorities feared the death toll would rise.

“If we lose only one life, to me, that’s going to be a miracle,” Mexico Beach Mayor Al Cathey said.

More than 170,000 power customers in Florida remained in the dark Sunday, including more than half the homes and businesses in Bay County. For some, power could be weeks away.

The effort to get schools and hospitals fully operational will be herculean. Bill Husfelt, superintendent of county schools, assessed damage over the weekend and had not decided when they could reopen.

“The superintendent wants everyone to know we are focusing on three things right now: faith, family and our future,” the district said in a Facebook post. “We will open our schools as soon as is feasible, but right now the county is focused on a humanitarian mission.”

Gulf Coast Medical Center in Panama City remained closed because of storm damage. Bay Medical Sacred Heart Hospital had “significant” damage that required evacuation of patients, CEO Scott Campbell said.

“Our hearts are heavy as we begin the process of rebuilding our community following the devastation of Hurricane Michael,” Campbell said.

A silver lining: Emergency rooms at both hospitals remained functioning.

Prison and jails were also hit hard. The state Department of Corrections said 2,600 inmates were evacuated from the Gulf Correctional Institution and Annex. An additional 305 were removed from Calhoun Correctional Institution.

No injuries were reported, and a website was provided for families to determine where their loved ones had been transferred.

“All inmates were secure and had access to food and drinking water through the duration of the storm,” the department said.

President Donald Trump is scheduled to visit the area Monday. The destruction he’ll encounters will be bleak.

“We’re all in this together,” Tallahassee Mayor and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum tweeted Sunday. “Our office doors are open to collect supplies and donations for people in North Florida.”