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.”

Storm Leslie: Portugal Hit By Hurricane-Force Wwinds

Hurricane-force winds have struck central and northern Portugal, leaving 300,000 homes without power.

The remnants of Hurricane Leslie swept in overnight on Saturday, with winds gusting up to 176km/h (109mph).

Civil defence officials said 27 people suffered minor injuries, with localised flooding, hundreds of trees uprooted and a number of flights cancelled.

The storm, one of the most powerful to ever hit the country, is now passing over northern Spain.

The worst-affected areas in Portugal were around the capital, Lisbon, and in the districts of Coimbra and Leiria. Aveiro, Viseu and Porto in the north also suffered damage.

About 1,000 trees have been uprooted, officials say. The main A1 motorway was among the roads temporarily blocked.

Some 1,900 incidents were reported to emergency services, although civil defence commander Luis Belo Costa said “the greatest danger has passed”.

Hundreds of people remained in an arts centre in Figueira da Foz after a concert because of the high winds.

A resident of the town told SIC television: “I have never seen anything like it, The town seemed to be in a state of war, with cars smashed by fallen trees. People were very worried.”

The roof blew off a stadium hosting the European final of the women’s roller hockey competition, halting the event, AFP news agency reported.

It is rare for an Atlantic hurricane to reach the Iberian peninsula, with only five such events recorded.

Hurricane Leslie had formed on 23 September but was downgraded to a tropical storm before it made landfall. However, it retained gusts of hurricane strength.

The Spanish Meteorological Agency (Amet) said Leslie was moving north-east through the peninsula.

Gusts of almost 100km/h were recorded near the city of Zamora early on Sunday, but winds have now lessened.

Amet said that on Sunday morning large areas of Asturias, Castille and León and Cantabria would be affected, with north-eastern areas hit in the afternoon.

Four departments in southern France have also been put on alert for storms and flooding.

Papua New Guinea Hit by 7.0 Magnitude Earthquake

A magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck remote New Britain island in Papua New Guinea on Thursday, the United States Geological Survey said, though there were no immediate reports of damage.

The quake hit about 200 km (125 miles) southwest of the town of Rabaul at a depth of almost 40 km, just before 7 a.m. local time (2100 GMT Wednesday).

“We felt the earthquake a bit, but it was not too strong,” Constable Roy Michael told Reuters by phone from Rabaul police station.
He said there was no damage in the town, but officers had not yet been able to contact villages closer to the epicenter.

Scientists Develop A New Way To Remotely Measure Earth’s Magnetic Field

Researchers in Canada, the United States and Europe have developed a new way to remotely measure Earth’s magnetic field—by zapping a layer of sodium atoms floating 100 kilometres above the planet with lasers on the ground.

The technique, documented this week in Nature Communications, fills a gap between measurements made at the Earth’s surface and at much higher altitude by orbiting satellites.

“The magnetic field at this altitude in the atmosphere is strongly affected by physical processes such as solar storms and electric currents in the ionosphere,” says Paul Hickson an astrophysicist at the University of British Columbia (UBC) and author on the paper.

“Our technique not only measures magnetic field strength at an altitude that has traditionally been hidden, it has the side benefit of providing new information on space weather and atomic processes occurring in the region.”

Sodium atoms are continually deposited in the mesosphere by meteors that vaporize as they enter Earth’s atmosphere. Researchers at the European Southern Observatory (ESO), the University of Mainz and UBC used a ground-based laser to excite the layer of sodium atoms and monitor the light they emit in response.

“The excited sodium atoms wobble like spinning tops in the presence of a magnetic field,” explains Hickson. “We sense this as a periodic fluctuation in the light we’re monitoring, and can use that to determine the magnetic field strength.”

Hickson and UBC Ph.D. student Joschua Hellemeier developed the photon counting instrument used to measure the light coming back from the excited sodium atoms, and participated in observations conducted at astronomical observatories in La Palma.

The ESO team, led by Bonaccini Calia, pioneered world-leading laser technology for astronomical adaptive optics used in the experiment. Project lead Felipe Pedreros and Dmitry Budker (Johannes Gutenberg University), Simon Rochester and Ronald Holzloehner (ESO), experts in laser-atom interactions, led the theoretical interpretation and modeling for the study.

NASA Checks Out Hurricane Sergio’s Cloud Temperature

NASA’s Aqua satellite peered into Hurricane Sergio with infrared light to determine if the storm was intensifying or weakening. Infrared data showed cloud top temperatures were getting warmer on the western half of the storm, indicating the uplift of air in storms had weakened.

The Atmospheric Infrared Sounder or AIRS instrument aboard NASA’s Aqua satellite passed over Hurricane Sergio on Oct. 9 at 6:17 a.m. EDT (1017 UTC). AIRS uses infrared light and infrared light provides scientists with temperature data and that’s important when trying to understand how strong storms can be. The higher the cloud tops, the colder and the stronger they are. So infrared light as that gathered by the AIRS instrument can identify the strongest areas of a tropical cyclone.

At the time Aqua passed overhead, coldest cloud top temperatures in thunderstorms circled the eye and appeared in fragmented bands of thunderstorms north and south of the center. Those temperatures were as cold as or colder than minus 63 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 53 degrees Celsius). The exception was on the western side of the storm, where cloud top temperatures were warming, meaning they were not getting as high in the atmosphere.

Despite the slow weakening the hurricane still has a large but well-defined inner-core in the low and mid-levels.

The National Hurricane Center noted at 11 a.m. EDT (1500 UTC), the center of Hurricane Sergio was located near latitude 16.6 degrees north and longitude 127.4 degrees west. That’s 1,215 miles (1,960 km) west-southwest of the southern tip of Baja California, Mexico.

Sergio is moving toward the northeast near 7 mph (11 kph). A faster northeastward motion is expected for the next several days. Maximum sustained winds have decreased to near 80 mph (130 kph) with higher gusts. Gradual weakening is anticipated during the next several days.

NHC noted that there are no coastal watches or warnings in effect, but interests in Baja California Sur should monitor the progress of Sergio.

Remarkable Flares From The Galactic Center

Sagittarius A* (Sgr A*), the supermassive black hole at the center of our Milky Way Galaxy, is 100 times closer to us than any other SMBH and therefore a prime candidate for studies of how matter radiates as it accretes onto black holes. SgrA* has been observed for decades and rapid fluctuations reported from X-ray to the near infrared wavelengths (intervening dust reduces optical light signals by a factor of over a trillion) and at submillimeter and radio wavelengths. Modeling the mechanisms of light variability is a direct challenge to our understanding of accretion onto SMBHs, but it is thought that correlations between flare timing at different wavelengths could reveal information about the spatial structure, for example if hotter material is located in a smaller zone closer to the black hole. One of the chief barriers to progress is the paucity of simultaneous multi-wavelength observations.

CfA astronomers Giovanni Fazio, Joe Hora, Steve Willner, Matt Ashby, Mark Gurwell and Howard Smith and a team of colleagues carried out a series of multiwavelength monitoring campaigns that included the IRAC camera onboard the Spitzer Space Telescope and the Chandra X-ray Observatory as well as the ground-based Keck telescope and the Submillimeter Array. Spitzer was able to monitor the black hole fluctuations continuously for 23.4 hours during each session, something that no ground-based observatory is capable of doing, and something that reliably enables scientists to spot slow trends (as distinct from short bursts).

Computational modeling of the emission from the vicinity of a black hole is a complex undertaking that among other things requires simulating how the material accretes, how it is heated and radiates, and (since all this happens close to a possibly rotating black hole) how general relativity predicts the radiation will appear to distant observers. Theorists suspect that shorter wavelength emission arises closer in and cooler emission farther out, with the former produced first and the latter subsequently. A time delay therefore might reflect the distance between these zones, and indeed previous sets of observations, some by this same team, did find evidence that hot, near-infrared flaring preceded the submillimeter flares seen by the SMA. In their new paper, the scientists report on two flares that apparently violate these and other previous patterns: the first event occurred simultaneously at all wavelengths; in the second event the X-ray, near-infrared and submillimeter flares all turned on within one hour of each other, not quite simultaneous but still unexpectedly close. The new observations will be extended with future simultaneous campaigns, and will help theorists refine their still quite speculative set of choices.

Solar Activity Update

The Solar Wind Continues To Blow: For the 3rd day in a row, Earth remains inside a stream of high-speed solar wind flowing from a canyon-shaped hole in the sun’s atmosphere. NOAA forecasters say there is a 40% chance of minor G1-class geomagnetic storms on Oct. 9th as our planet’s magnetic field is buffeted by the gaseous material.

Aquatic Auroras: On Oct. 7th, a stream of solar wind hit Earth’s magnetic field, sparking G1-class geomagnetic storms for more than 9 consecutive hours. Matti Helin watched the storm’s green glow from an unusual position. “I was wading waist deep in a Finnish lake,” he says.

“The first hints of green were visible about an hour after the sunset, which gave me time to drive to a lake far from city lights,” says Helin. “As the auroras intensified, I waded into the water and waited for the right moment to take this shot. It was an extremely beautiful display!”