Hurricane Rita Feed

Clark Boyd's World Tech Podcast #55: A Must-Listen for Google Earth Enthusiasts

Worldpostcast55smClark Boyd's Tech report for The World (BBC/WGBH) has a podcast of the show from the other day, and the podcast (Tech Podcast #55) is much longer than the original show. Let me start by saying that this podcast is a Must-Listen for Google Earth enthusiasts. Yes, it has clips of me sounding really intelligent at the beginning, but that's not the part I'm talking about.

The part you need to hear is the interview from Anne Wright, of  Global Connection -- a collaboration between the NASA Ames Research Center, Google, and National Geographic -- which was too long and info-dense for the original BBC/WGBH broadcast, but which outlines the vision behind some of the perks Google Earth users are currently enjoying, and what can be done with this technology and others out there on the market.

She talks about the origins of the Global Connection project, the National Geographic project, how Global Connection came to process thousands of images NOAA from Katrina and Rita for Google Earth overlays, how she and I came to work together on the earthquake project, and her vision of how things could work in the future. It's packed with really great stuff!

More Updated Rita Google Overlays

Anne Wright of NASA's Ames Research Center writes:

Updated NOAA Rita overlays for Google Earth are available from Images courtesy of NOAA

This revision includes approx 3,700 NOAA images of areas affected by
hurricane Rita, taken 9/25, 9/26, 9/30, 10/5, and 10/6. Included with these overlays are subsampled images, which may load more
quickly than the full-resolution 4k x 4k overlays.

Updated NOAA Rita overlays for Google Earth Available

Anne Wright from NASA announces:

Updated NOAA Rita overlays for Google Earth are available from Images courtesy of NOAA. This revision includes approx 3,200 NOAA images of areas affected by hurricane Rita, taken 9/25, 9/26, 9/30, and 10/5. Included with these overlays are subsampled images, which may load more quickly than the full-resolution 4k x 4k overlays.

The War on Weather

MilitarydisasterBack on September 6th, the new War on Weather was a Tom Tomorrow political cartoon. [If that link doesn't work, try this one.]  But the Bush administration is running a little low on ideas, so they are turning to some unusual sources. For example, the other day Bush's speech writers cribbed from a Naomi Klein Op-Ed piece for Bush's weekly radio address. If you read the Klein piece, the policies described in this passage from Bush's speech sound like they are paraphrased from Klein:

. . . the vision of a revitalized New Orleans should come from the people of New Orleans, and the vision of a new Gulf Coast of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama should come from the people of those states. We will do everything we can to guide the recovery effort, and help them realize their vision so that communities along the Gulf Coast are better and stronger than before the storm.

Surely, he doesn't mean what she meant about letting the people rebuild New Orleans, but it sure sounds good, doesn't it?

But when White House strategists dipped into the Tom Tomorrow brain trust, the failed to notice that the War on Weather was supposed to be a joke.

But not only that, this borrowing of ideas from the left (serious or not) seems to be getting the President in hot water with conservatives. It seems that what he is proposing violates the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 which prohibits the military from acting as a police force within the United States borders. Congress made an exception to the Act to allow for the use of the military in the "war on drugs" (see why they called it that?). And since 9/11, the White House has been angling for a loosening of the acts restrictions (and that's why they called efforts to prevent terrorism "the war on terror").  This is from yesterday's CNN article:

Gene Healy, a senior editor at the conservative Cato Institute, said Bush risks undermining "a fundamental principle of American law" by tinkering with the Posse Comitatus Act.

Healy said the act does not hinder the military's ability to respond to a crisis.

"What it does is set a high bar for the use of federal troops in a policing role," he wrote in a commentary on the group's Web site. "That reflects America's traditional distrust of using standing armies to enforce order at home, a distrust that's well-justified."

Healy said soldiers are not trained as police officers, and putting them in a civilian law enforcement role "can result in serious collateral damage to American life and liberty."

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, a Texas Republican, told The Associated Press he would not favor expanding the federal government's disaster response role.

"I don't want the federal government to take over disaster response, believe me," DeLay told the AP. "Why? Bureaucracy. Bureaucracy. Bureaucracy."

I have a hard time understanding what it is that the Republican party still stands for if it is quite this easy for the Bush administration to discuss circumventing governors entirely and sending in the marines in the event of an "emergency." How elastic a definition can "emergency" have? When did states rights pass so thoroughly from the agenda?


High Country Conservative remarks:

I wonder whatever become of the concept of Federalism, once a major component of the Republican agenda. It seems that more and more agencies and government actions are being put under federal control. This, of course, give much more power to Washington, and vastly decreases the rights of the states.

Is this a conscious abandonment of the principle of federalism? Or is this whole line of thought just desperate ass-covering by an administration in freefall, indicative only of the ferocity of attempts to deflect blame to the locals?

(Anyone notice the extent to which the act was violated during the response to Katrina? Wasn't the whole rhetoric about sending in the military primarily concerned with restoring law and order? Certainly, having the military go in to replace the Fish & Wildlife Service, who had been defacto first responders in some areas rescuing people from their roofs, was an improvement. But to what extent were military forces acting as rescue workers, and to what extent as policemen? To hear the conservative bloggers tell it, policing the place was their main reason for being there. But I was paying more attention to what Blackwater was up to than the regular military, so I'm not sure what the real story is on the Posse Comitatus Act and New Orleans.)

Don_quichotte_1Or is it some kind of power fantasy? The whole notion of domestic militarization on this scale is hard to take seriously as policy. The 9/11 timelines, as concern Donald Rumsfeld, do not suggest that he would have reacted a lot faster than the slow-poke in charge of Homeland Security if faced with the Katrina disaster. Nor do Rumsfeld's failures to meet US goals (capturing Bin Laden? flowering democracies) in Afghanistan and Iraq make for a promising disaster management resume. But it is an idea with tremendous virility!

Just imagine the grand War on Weather. Donald astride his horse, in full military splendor, tilting at hurricanes.

UPDATE 9/28: After perusing posts using the word "Federalism" on Technorati, I am amused to report that the wingnut spin-of-the-day is that Democrats and Liberals are to blame for Bush's proposed attack on states' rights because we made him feel bad by suggesting that he take blame.

MEANWHILE, Karl Rove, busy creating his own more palatable reality, warns against "complacency."

UPDATE 9/30: Jeb Bush, writing in the Washington Post,  comes out against federalizing (i. e.  militarizing) disaster response. Perhaps that is the end of that.

NOAA's First Rita Photos Out, Plus GoogleEarth Overlay from Carnegie Mellon

NoaaritaGlobal ConnectionThe NOAA's first post-Rita photos are up:

NOAA today posted online more than 1,100 aerial images of the U.S. Gulf Coast areas in the path of Hurricane Rita. The regions photographed on Sunday covered the coastal regions of Louisiana and Texas. The aerial photography missions were conducted by the NOAA Remote Sensing Division the day after the center of Rita made landfall at approximately 3:30 a.m. EDT on the extreme southwest coast of Louisiana between Sabine Pass, Texas, and Johnson's Bayou in Louisiana.

And Carnegie Mellon has processed them as a GoogleEarth Overlay. (For more info on how to use it, see Brent's Computer Tutorials.)

Note that the photos cover only the coastal areas of the area hardest hit.

Now, can GoogleMaps please acquire some better satellite photos of the rural coastal areas as a basis of comparison? Surely, Digital Globe has some on hand? And something more recent than the late 90s? VirtualEarth seems to have some USGS black and white images of the coastal areas that are a bit better.

(Thanks, Anne Wright of the NASA Ames Research Center.)

PS: Just so you know, so far, this is a harder problem than doing house-by-house phtographic damage assessment on NOLA. If you are trying to do this and getting frustrated, ask for help and we'll see what we can do. But this is not a solved problem yet.


  1. Brent has just finihed his how-to guide on using GoogleEarth to assess damage from Rita.
  2. Anne Wright of the Global Connection Project NASA Ames Research Center says:

Updated NOAA Rita overlays for Google Earth are now available from Images courtesy of NOAA.

This revision includes approx 2,100 NOAA images from 9/25 - 9/26, and includes links to full resolution 4k x 4k overlays, as well as subsampled overlays which may load more quickly.  The new data covers more inland areas around Port Arthur and Orange.

UPDATE 9/30: VirtualEarth now has a Rita site up.

Rita Satellite & Aerial Surveys?

Cameron_la_1[UPDATE: See NOAA's First Rita Photos Out, Plus GoogleEarth Overlay from Carnegie Mellon.]

Anyone know when and whether there will be coherent aerial and satellite images of areas hit by Rita? People have been asking me how they can check on houses damaged by Rita, but it seems we don't have a ready source of pictures yet. I've been checking NOAA, Digital Globe, VirtualEarth, etc. and haven't seen anything yet. Digital Globe's site has a message that suggests there are going to be photos, though they don't say when or what areas they'll cover.

DigitalGlobe is working hard to prepare for the landfall of Hurricane Rita, and will make every effort to maximize the collection of QuickBird Satellite Imagery over the impacted areas.

(Image of Cameron, LA from AP via CNN.)


The Flensing of the Aid Packages


First, read this story from The New York Times:
Many Contracts for Storm Work Raise Questions

More than 80 percent of the $1.5 billion in contracts signed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency alone were awarded without bidding or with limited competition, government records show, provoking concerns among auditors and government officials about the potential for favoritism or abuse.

Already, questions have been raised about the political connections of two major contractors - the Shaw Group and Kellogg, Brown & Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton - that have been represented by the lobbyist Joe M. Allbaugh, President Bush's former campaign manager and a former leader of FEMA.

OK. Pleanty of potential for corporate profiteering. But you knew that already, right?

NOW go read Josh Marshall on how choice cuts of the proceeds will end up feeding the hungry political machine.

Continue reading "The Flensing of the Aid Packages" »

Foster & Shell Drive in Lake Charles, LA

Foster & Shell Drive in Lake Charles, LA, before and after Rita. The before image is from Google Maps (presumably a Digital Globe image). The after photo is from the LA Times.


. . . and after:


This doesn't look so bad, but the LA Times caption reads,

Police officers navigate through fallen trees and street signs along Shell Beach Drive in Lake Charles, La., where Hurricane Rita caused a storm surge of about 20 feet.

Port Arthur Area This Morning

Poking around on this morning, I happened across the impressive animation of the total precipitation accumulation for Rita so far. judging from the rapidly changing graphic, it looks like some places are getting rain at a rate of five and six and even eight inches an hour (over the course of the 20 min window I watched) as the hurricane moves in. Here's a screenshot:


And here's a rather disconcerting press photo of the Port Arthur evacuation from last night:


MEANWHILE, here's a guy I'm really glad never showed up in my comments sections.

9/23 Industrial Canal Breach and Possible Others.



Caption reads Water flows through a breach in the repaired Inner Harbor Canal toward the Ninth Ward District Friday in New Orleans.

Anyone got a longitude and latitude on this? (KC approximation: Lat 29.978333240947077, Lon -90.02085221140939.) Anyone want to send me the image on a Google Earth satellite image? Or do some complicated thing like place it on the Katrina image and that on a pre-hurricane season satellite picture?

I think the breach is in the general area of the Florida Avenue Bridge and Surkote Road, as shown below. Can anyone confirm? Here's a closer shot from a screengrab from CNN streaming video:


Leveen clearly broken. The CNN reporter also mentioned another broken levee in the Chantilly (he pronounced it something like Chintilly?) Gentilly area. There are other reports of multiple breaches, but none I can find that name locations.  Here's another view of the same breach.


Above is the Google Maps satellite image of the area before the hurricanes. Below is the Digital Globe August 31st, 10AM image showing one the Industrial Canal breaches. (The bigger one is further south.) I can't tell if the new breach is in the same spot as in the 8/31 image, butit looks to me like it's not.


The New York Times provides the best explanation I've seen so far of multiple breaches, but so far all the images I've seen are of the same one. (We don't have TV reception, so I'm not watching TV.)

One break in the levee was in the lower Ninth Ward, on the east side of the canal. The storm sent e water rising so quickly that it had reached windows of houses up to three blocks east of the levee by late morning. Dozens of blocks in New Orleans's Ninth Ward were under water.

Later today, another break was found in the Upper Ninth Ward, on the west side of the levee.

Here's another shot of that breach found on the LA Times site:


ScreensnapzI'm not sure if this next photo (found on the CNN site at 6AM 9/24) is a breach or just overtopping, but it is clearly not the same spot.

UPDATE 9/24, 7:46PM: I see the Washington Post has another view of the same breach, described in the caption as a 30-yard breach on the east side of the Lower Ninth Ward:


Continue reading "9/23 Industrial Canal Breach and Possible Others." »

The Department of Hassling Airline Passengers

Rita hasn't even arrived yet, and vast gaping holes already appear in the Homeland Security Infrastructure for Texas. From the NYT:

Heeding days of dire warnings about Hurricane Rita, as many as 2.5 million people jammed evacuation routes on Thursday, creating colossal 100-mile-long traffic jams that left many people stranded and out of gas as the huge storm bore down on the Texas coast.

Acknowledging that "being on the highway is a deathtrap," Mayor Bill White asked for military help in rushing scarce fuel to stranded drivers.

Mr. White and the top official in Harris County, Judge Robert Eckels, admitted that their plans had not anticipated the volume of traffic. They maintained that they had not urged such a widespread evacuation, although only a day earlier they invoked the specter of Hurricane Katrina, and told residents that the "time for waiting was over."

Officials also made matters worse for themselves by announcing at one point that they would use inbound lanes on one highway to ease the outbound crush, only to abort the plan later, saying it was impractical.

Nobody can tell me they "no one anticipated" that you can't evacuate a large urban area this way. In Westchester County, where I live, exactly this kind of scenario is the primary argument for shutting down the Indian Point Nuclear Power plant: that in the event of an evacuation, the roads would get clogged.

Yes, sure, the local officials calling the shots aren't rocket scientists. But which regions have local officials who are? But Homeland Security is supposed to have been providing all kinds of support to raise their collective IQ on matters like this.

Can we please rename the the Department of Homeland Security the Department of Hassling Airline Passengers, downsizing it to its core competency, and fire Michael Chertoff and retroactively Fire Tom Ridge?

UPDATE: Here's a really grim evacuation story, also from the NYT.

A FURTHER NOTE: A reader in Fort Worth, TX writes, In Texas, we call the  photo ops "all Hat (Meaning Cowboy Hat) and No Cattle."

Relatives in Houston

Grandma_bond_houseMy closest relatives in the Houston area, my aunt and my grandmother, decline to evacuate. My grandmother was born in Galveston on Christmas Day in 1910, ten years after the big Galveston hurricane, and now lives in Splendora, north of Houston. I suppose can be expected to familiar with the effects of hurricanes. (Photo via Google Earth from my parents.)

My aunt lives in Houston itself.

UPDATE, 9/23: My sister, who just called to tell me that New Orleans was in trouble from the Rita storm surge, tells me the following sad story.

My grandmother had an older sister who is buried in Galveston, an indirect casualty of the Galveston hurricane and the one following in 1915 (a Category 4). The family, originally from Kuopio, Finland, came to Galveston to aid in post-hurricane reconstruction. My great grandfather was (I think) a stone mason. My grandmother's sister, Lila Miettinen born in about 1913 in Galveston, TX, and died in about 1915  in Galveston, TX at age 2, is said to have drank kerosene and died. (as the mother of a two-year-old I find this story hard to take.)

G17713ff938A hurricane hit Galveston August 16-17th, 1915 and wiped out their house, a modest house in the neighborhood where workmen lived. When the family was living in emergency housing Lila got into the kerosene. She died in John Sealy Hospital six weeks later.

She was buried in Galveston, but the grave is 30 ft. down because the height of the land was later raised in preparation for future hurricanes or perhaps for a road.

Also, went I was lazily looking for my own blog post on Galveston, I Googled "Galveston Cramer" and discovered to my dismay that a "Miss Bessie Cramer" is listed among the dead for the 1900 hurricane. The odds we are related? My guess is about 50-50.

SO, yes. I guess if my grandmother survided a Category 4 hurricane hitting Galveston in 1915, she can be presumed to know a bit about them.

(Photo of workers homes detroyed in the 1915 hurricane from the Galveston and Texas History Center at the Rosenberg Library.)


BushstorySo. Is it God or Global Warming, our very own ecosuicide? Me, I think it's the later. How 'bout you, President Bush?

(Image from Salon.)

UPDATE 9/23: Via BoingBoing, a GoogleMaps plot of Hurricane Rita, "(Original Map Code by Ken Robinson. Enhancements, Dynamic Forecast Plots, other Modifications by Mike Cornelius Extra Graphics Tom Pratchios, Some ideas from, Maps from Google Maps)."

Here's how it is really interesting: first, shift to the satellite view, and then zoom in on the area of the map where Rita shifted from a Category 4 to a Category 5 and back again. You can see that the shift corresponds to the level of the sea floor.


(For more of my posts on digital catography, see my archives: GoogleMaps, GoogleEarth, and VirtualEarth, and my album Katrina Floods New Orleans, 2005.)

UPDATE 9/28: For further discussion of the Bush administration and global warming, see the 9/28 NYT lead editoria,l Time to Connect the Dots.

Category 5: "NHC is being conservative, and calling Rita a strong Category 4 hurricane with 150 mph surface winds"

Oseiiod_1Dr. Jeff Masters' WunderBlog:

The 1:53 eye report from the hurricane hunters found a 920 mb pressure and flight level winds of 153 knots (176 mph). These numbers plus the satellite intensity estimates would ordinarily support upgrading Rita to a Category 5 hurricane, but NHC is being conservative, and calling Rita a strong Category 4 hurricane with 150 mph surface winds.

Continue reading "Category 5: "NHC is being conservative, and calling Rita a strong Category 4 hurricane with 150 mph surface winds"" »