Hurricane Irma Could Pick Up Speed, But Path Still Uncertain

Hurricane Irma, with its 110 mph winds, posed no imminent threat to land Saturday as it drifted across the Atlantic Ocean.

The National Weather Service warned the Category 2 storm was likely to pick up speed and strength when it reaches the Caribbean Sea in the coming days, although it was too soon to say if Irma will reach the United States.

The storm was moving northwest at 15 mph, and could possibly affect the eastern end of Puerto Rico by Thursday morning.

Forecasters have not issued coastal watches or warnings for Irma.

Irma comes on the heels of the destructive Hurricane Harvey, which devolved into a tropical storm after pummelling the Texas coast with deadly flooding. Harvey was responsible for at least 44 deaths.

Tropical Storm Lidia Weakens After 5 Dead In Mexico’s Baja

CABO SAN LUCAS, Mexico — A weakening Tropical Storm Lidia marched up Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula on Saturday after flooding streets and homes in resort cities, stranding tourists and leaving at least five people dead.

Lidia’s maximum sustained winds dropped to 40 mph (65 kph), just above the minimum threshold for a tropical storm, as its center passed over a sparsely populated area of the peninsula that is home to a large nature reserve and back out over Pacific waters. It was forecast to lose more strength over the course of the day.

Authorities have said the death toll could rise over the weekend as emergency crews surveyed the damage in villages with ramshackle homes. One person was considered missing and video broadcast on local networks showed vehicles being swept away by flooded rivers.

Baja California Sur Gov. Carlos Mendoza reported that Lidia had dumped about 27 inches (700 millimeters) of rain, “the largest amount of water we have had since 1933.”

The dead included two people electrocuted by power lines, a woman drowned after being swept away by water on a flooded street and a baby was ripped from its mother’s arms as she crossed a flooded area. Mendoza said late Friday that there was a fifth victim but did not give details.

State Tourism Secretary Luis Genaro Ruiz said about 20,000 foreign tourists were stranded after airlines suspended flights to the area.

About 1,400 people had sought refuge at storm shelters as the storm flooded streets and stranded tourists.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Lidia made landfall early Friday west of La Paz, the capital of Baja California Sur state.

The storm was centered about 75 miles (120 kilometers) north of Punta Eugenia on Saturday evening and was heading northwest at about 10 mph (17 kph).

NASA Lays Out Plan to Defuse Yellowstone Supervolcano

Lying beneath the tranquil settings of Yellowstone National Park in the US lies an enormous magma chamber. It’s responsible for the geysers and hot springs that define the area, but for scientists at NASA, it’s also one of the greatest natural threats to human civilization as we know it.

“I was a member of the NASA Advisory Council on Planetary Defense which studied ways for NASA to defend the planet from asteroids and comets,” explains Brian Wilcox of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) at the California Institute of Technology. “I came to the conclusion during that study that the supervolcano threat is substantially greater than the asteroid or comet threat.”

There are around 20 known supervolcanoes on Earth, with major eruptions occurring on average once every 100,000 years. One of the greatest threats an eruption may pose is thought to be starvation, with a prolonged volcanic winter potentially prohibiting civilization from having enough food for the current population. In 2012, the United Nations estimated that food reserves worldwide would last 74 days.

When NASA scientists came to consider the problem, they found that the most logical solution could simply be to cool a supervolcano down. A volcano the size of Yellowstone is essentially a gigantic heat generator, equivalent to six industrial power plants. Yellowstone currently leaks about 60-70% of the heat coming up from below into the atmosphere, via water which seeps into the magma chamber through cracks. The remainder builds up inside the magma, enabling it to dissolve more and more volatile gases and surrounding rocks. Once this heat reaches a certain threshold, then an explosive eruption is inevitable.

I came to the conclusion that the supervolcano threat is substantially greater than the asteroid or comet threat – Brian Wilcox, NASA

But if more of the heat could be extracted, then the supervolcano would never erupt. NASA estimates that if a 35% increase in heat transfer could be achieved from its magma chamber, Yellowstone would no longer pose a threat. The only question is how?

One possibility is to simply increase the amount of water in the supervolcano. But from a practical perspective, it would likely be impossible to convince politicians to sanction such an initiative.

“Building a big aqueduct uphill into a mountainous region would be both costly and difficult, and people don’t want their water spent that way,” Wilcox says. “People are desperate for water all over the world and so a major infrastructure project, where the only way the water is used is to cool down a supervolcano, would be very controversial.”

Instead NASA have conceived a very different plan. They believe the most viable solution could be to drill up to 10km down into the supervolcano, and pump down water at high pressure. The circulating water would return at a temperature of around 350C (662F), thus slowly day by day extracting heat from the volcano. And while such a project would come at an estimated cost of around $3.46bn (£2.69bn), it comes with an enticing catch which could convince politicians to make the investment.

“Yellowstone currently leaks around 6GW in heat,” Wilcox says. “Through drilling in this way, it could be used to create a geothermal plant, which generates electric power at extremely competitive prices of around $0.10/kWh.

You would have to give the geothermal companies incentives to drill somewhat deeper and use hotter water than they usually would, but you would pay back your initial investment, and get electricity which can power the surrounding area for a period of potentially tens of thousands of years. And the long-term benefit is that you prevent a future supervolcano eruption which would devastate humanity.” But drilling into a supervolcano does not come without certain risks. Namely triggering the eruption you’re intending to prevent.

“The most important thing with this is to do no harm,” Wilcox says. “If you drill into the top of the magma chamber and try and cool it from there, this would be very risky. This could make the cap over the magma chamber more brittle and prone to fracture. And you might trigger the release of harmful volatile gases in the magma at the top of the chamber which would otherwise not be released.”

Instead, the idea is to drill in from the supervolcano from the lower sides, starting outside the boundaries of Yellowstone National Park, and extracting the heat from the underside of the magma chamber. “This way you’re preventing the heat coming up from below from ever reaching the top of the chamber which is where the real threat arises,” Wilcox says.

However those who instigate such a project will never see it to completion, or even have an idea whether it might be successful within their lifetime. Cooling Yellowstone in this manner would happen at a rate of one meter a year, taking of the order of tens of thousands of years until just cold rock was left. Although Yellowstone’s magma chamber would not need to be frozen solid to reach the point where it no longer posed a threat, there would be no guarantee that the endeavour would ultimately be successful for at least hundreds and possibly thousands of years.

But to prevent a catastrophe, such long-term thinking and planning may be the only choice. “With a project like this, you’d start the process and the main ongoing benefit you’d see in everyday terms is this new supply of electrical power,” Wilcox says.

Such a plan could be potentially applied to every active supervolcano on the planet, and NASA’s scientists are hoping that their blueprints will encourage more practical scientific discussion and debate for tackling the threat.

“When people first considered the idea of defending the Earth from an asteroid impact, they reacted in a similar way to the supervolcano threat,” Wilcox says. “People thought, as puny as we are, how can humans possibly prevent an asteroid from hitting the Earth.”

Well, it turns out if you engineer something which pushes very slightly for a very long time, you can make the asteroid miss the Earth. So the problem turns out to be easier than people think. In both cases it requires the scientific community to invest brain power and you have to start early. But Yellowstone explodes roughly every 600,000 years, and it is about 600,000 years since it last exploded, which should cause us to sit up and take notice.”

Tropical Storm Mawar To Renew Flood Threat In Southeastern China This Weekend

Tropical Storm Mawar threatens to bring yet another round of flooding rain and damaging winds to southeastern China this weekend.

Mawar should remain a moderate tropical storm before to reaching southeastern China on Sunday, local time.

Landfall is expected from near Shanwei, between Hong Kong and Shantou. While Mawar may strengthen some before making landfall, it is not to reach Typhoon strength before landfall.

The compact nature of Mawar should limit its most severe impacts to a small fraction of southeastern China. However, hazards still exist to lives and property in Guangdong and neighboring Fujian province, as well as the Special Administrative Regions of Hong Kong and to a lesser degree Macao.

Occasional downpours and gusty winds starting the weekend will be replaced by increasing rain and wind along the coasts of eastern Guangdong and southern Fujian into Sunday.

Soaking rain will also spread over parts of Taiwan during this time, leading to localized flash flooding.

“Given that this region has seen impacts from two tropical systems [Hato and Pakhar] in as many weeks, a third cyclone could more easily bring flooding and wind damage,” AccuWeather Meteorologist Adam Douty said.
The storm is expected to whip up wind gusts of 80-115 km/h (50-70 mph) along the coast as it moves onshore. Near and east of where the storm makes landfall will also be subject to storm surge flooding.

Residents of the region, should prepare for power outages and tree damage. Be sure to secure loose lawn items as they can easily get blown around and damaged. Weak structures may also incur some damage.

With the ground already saturated from Hato and Pakhar, trees may be more susceptible to being downed by gusty winds.

A total of 125-250 mm (5-10 inches) of rain in about as many hours may inundate a swath of the Guangdong coastline.

Flood-prone areas should anticipate rapidly rising water and possible evacuations as the ground cannot handle much more rain and already swollen rivers and streams overflow their banks. Mudslides may also get triggered.

Travel is expected to be disrupted as the flooding rain threatens to close some roads and lead to flight delays and cancellations.

The heaviest rain and strongest winds will focus on coastal central Guangdong on Sunday before the rain spreads to inland areas late Sunday night into Monday.

“Due to the projected landfall of Mawar being in central Guangdong, the worst impacts of damaging winds are expected to stay just east of Hong Kong,” AccuWeather Meteorologist Evan Duffey said.

“The city will still see a flood threat, with around 75 mm (3 inches) of rain expected. Some wind damage is possible with gusts up to 80 km/h (50 mph) on Sunday and into Monday morning.”

Due to the recent soaking rain from Hato and Pakhar, any significant rainfall can renew flash flooding or trigger more mudslides in and around the city.

Rain and wind across southeastern Guangdong is expected to wind down on Monday as Mawar presses farther inland, weakening to a tropical rainstorm.

However, flooding rain may still start the new week soaking far interior Guangdong along with southern Jiangxi and southern Hunan.

The heavy rain is expected to gradually lessen and become more scattered in nature by Tuesday from Jiangxi to Zhejiang and Fujian. Any flooding issues by this time would be isolated in nature.