Welcome to my second installment of our new weekly wrap-up. This week was quite active for many reasons: one hurricane (with a tropical depression on the way), an earthquake in Southern California, wildfires, and fire scares all over the US, and...there's the continuing saga of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. There's plenty to report on that drama.
This week was a busy one, and yet, with all the doom and gloom of nearly every possible natural disaster facing the United States, all eyes and ears are on...Lebron James. Read on for the serious stuff. The rest of you can skip to the end of you want to read about Bron-Bron.
Hurricane...and more to come
First is Hurricane Alex, which narrowly missed Texas, but flooded the heck out of the region, as well as devasteing Northern Mexico. The system created a lot of tornado and thunderstorm activity in Texas and is still threatening to flood low lying areas in along the Rio Grande Valley, as far inland as Laredo.
As we speak, a new tropical depression (expected to become a tropical storm soon, whereupon it will become Tropical Storm Bonnie) is one week behind Alex. Yesterday Texas Governor Rick Perry activated emergency response forces and issued a statement.
"As South Texas continues to feel the effects of Hurricane Alex, we are closely monitoring a storm system that is expected to bring more heavy rains to the area and increase flooding along the Rio Grande," the governor said. "I urge residents to exercise caution, pay attention to changing conditions and heed the warnings of local officials as this storm system threatens Texas communities."
The storm has maximum sustained winds of 35 mph, but needs to be 39 mph to classify as a tropical storm (and get a name). The National Weather service is describing it as "poorly organized" so it is unlikely to make it to hurricane status, but it's still bad news for the people who are already dealing with flooding.
Oil Spill Update
Speaking of poorly organized, things aren't going so well on the other side of the Gulf either. Alex severely impacted cleanup efforts. While the hurricane steered far south of the leaking well and it's ever-growing slick, Alex kicked up waves as high as 12 feet in the region, forcing boats ashore. Crew continued to work on the leaking well, however, and the relief well is continuing progress, but is not expected to close the well until mid-August.
Meanwhile, Alex tarred over 450 miles of Gulf Coast coastline, making the residents of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida less than pleased with the current crisis alliance of the federal government and BP. Two things bother me the most: 1. the restricted access of journalists and photographers to the spill and cleanup crews, and 2. the refusal of aid from foreign countries with expertise in accidents of this kind. More on that in a couple of paragraphs.
Considering that BP's assessments and public statements haven't exactly squared up with reality so far, you'll have to color me a bit skeptical. I' m sure many of you are skeptical as well. So is the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology at the university of University of Hawaii. Ever wonder what might happen if this leak goes on for a year? So did they, and they made a simulation. It's not good news. If the source wasn't this credible, I'd dismiss it as tinhattery and outlandish paranoia, yet, there it is:
The good news is, the US government has finally decided to allow the help of many other oil-producing countries with expertise in cleaning up oil spills, such as Mexico, Norway and Kuwait. Tiny Taiwan however made headlines with it's mammoth oil tanker converted into a cleanup vessel. The ship, with the odd name, "A Whale" is designed to filter more than 20 million gallons of oil a day out of the water it occupies. This, along with the expertise of nations and crews familiar with oil spills could help a great deal. Still, the relief well needs to be finished, and right now, the longer this goes on, the less optimistic I feel about it.
Earthquake in SoCal
A 5.4 quake rattled Southern California Wednesday, and again was in a relatively unpopulated area. Still, the quake was closer to major population centers, and caused LA's skyscrapers to sway for some time. While not as big as the Easter Sunday 7.2 tremblor that rocked the Mexicali area, this smaller quake hit the more northerly San Jacinto Fault, running from the Salton Sea and northwest towards San Bernadino.
We generally don't report on quakes less than 6.0, unless they occur in unusual places, or do an unusual amount of damage, or cause a tsunami. In this case, Wednesday quake knocked things off shelves in the Borrego Springs area and caused a rockslide near the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, but other than that, there was no major damage or injuries reported. So why am I talking about it?
Largely because of the statements of Cal Tech seismologist Kate Hutton. Hutton claims that while yesterday's quake is not technically an aftershock of the Easter earthquake, she calls is a "triggered earthquake."
Hutton explained to the Los Angeles Times that larger earthquakes (more than 4.0) have been more frequent since the Easter quake along other nearby fault lines. The prevailing theory, she explained, was that large amounts of tectonic movement, such as the tremblor on April 4, puts extra pressure on other nearby fault lines, resulting in quakes likes yesterday's.
With this in mind, seismologists are paying extra attention to the nearby Whittier fault line, which is closer to LA and runs directly under many heavily populated areas. So while southern California may have dodged a bullet yesterday, many predict something in the same ballpark of magnitude in a much more vulnerable area. Nothing of course is certain, but now might be a good time to review your earthquake preparation plans.
Fire, fire, fire
We haven't reported on wildfires much this week, but there's a good reason. It's not that there isn't anything to report -- the problem is that there are so many, even many still raging, that we'd feel we weren't doing our job is we missed one.
Drier than normal conditions usually means wildfires, whether they are natural or man-made, and the Fourth of July almost always causes a spike in in firefighter workload across the nation. Out west, New Mexico, Colorado Arizona, Oregon, Washington and Nevada have all seen some nasty blazes this week.
It's normal for the season, unfortunately. However, reports of fires in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Tennessee are not normal, and it has Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell concerned for his state's forests. In a statement, the governor issued a warning for his state, due to the dry hot summer. So far, fire management in that state have engaged in a rather large controlled burn in Virginia's Orange County.
"Typically, Virginia's summer climate of high humidity and regular thunderstorms translates into green fields, grass and trees, and a lack of the kind of summer fire seasons experienced by many states," he said yesterday in a statement. "But that's simply not the case this year. The extremely high temperatures combined with no real rain for several weeks have turned a lot of things brown and that means the threat of fire has increased."
Right now I'm sure the Rio Grande Valley would be happy to export their thunderstorms, overrun rivers and moist tropical wind to anyone that wants them. Unfortunately, such exchanges aren't possible, and until they are, it's probably not a bad idea to remind yourself how to minimize risk from wildfires.
All risks as we like to say, can be minimized. Forest fires are no different, and Virginia isn't the only state trying to be proactive about it.
Oregon's lawmakers have been trying to address the upswing in forest fires for some time, but the rest of Congress has so far not taken any of the bills too seriously, as they have been sitting in virtual limbo since last year.
Oregon congressman Greg Walden has been pushing a bill since 2009 to thin overgrown public forests, which are largely believed to be responsible for the upswing of fires. Denser forests mean more fire, as the logic goes. Besides the obvious boon to the logging industry, Walden also supports fellow Oregon congressman Kurt Schrader's bill, which calls for $100 million in intrust free loans to take the same cut trees and use them for biomass projects to provide heat and energy for public building such as hospitals and schools.
One bill in the senate has fared a little better, a proposal from Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, who wants to allow increased logging in federal forests east of the Cascades. That one at least, has seen a hearing.
Kudos to you Virginia and Oregon for trying to be proactive.
The column would not be complete without mentioning the most talked about disaster of the week: the free agency of NBA superstar Lebron James.
While it may not have quite the same impact as a forest fire, an oil leak, or a hurricane, it has consumed an undue portion of the nation's news cycle. The tension and drama surrounding the free agency of James, along with fellow basketballers Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh has been dubbed the "LeBroncalypse" by ESPN columnist Bill Simmons.
As an NBA fan, I, like Mr. Simmons, feel very manipulated by the contrived drama that the three basketball players have created since their free agency, when it began at the beginning of July. ESPN and other news sources have swallowed the drama and the resulting litter on twitter, blogs, television, magazines, newspapers and everywhere else has made it difficult to do my job as I am coming the entire media universe and wire services for important keywords, such as "earthquake," "storm," and "tragedy."
Edit: And of course "disaster." (Thanks Daniel).
Low and behold, I have been forced to learn all about LeBron James "important" decision to accept joining fellow stars Bosh and Wade in Miami, to seek a better chance of winning a ring in Chicago, to maximize his "brand" in New York, or to stay loyal to his Ohio roots and fanbase in Cleveland, where has played his career so far.
As I said before, I am an NBA fan, and in my opinion, anything other than resigning with his hometown team could be the highest treason in American sports history, possibly outranking the loss of the Houston Oilers to Nashville. Yet, tonight at 9 pm, LeBron James, a 25 year old basketball player that speaks in third person and calls himself "King" is going to announce which team he is going to...in an hour long press announcement on ESPN.
Please. LeBron James, and you too Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, I think I speak for majority of the American media audience when I say, please shut up and play basketball, and be dignified about it, and gives maybe a simple Tweet like Kevin Durant or Kobe Bryant did when they resigned with their teams.
You have done irreparable harm to our ability to collect news since July 1, and if any of us were inclined to ever like you or any teams you played for, we don't anymore.