Between the hurricanes raging through the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico and the massive wildfires roaring out West, 2017 has been quite a year for inclement weather in the United States. By some measures, it's been historically intense.
nd watching it all unfold is a new, next-generation, multimillion-dollar satellite. Launched from Cape Canaveral at the end of 2016, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's GOES-16 arrived in orbit just in time to capture a string of weather events matched this year in tumultuousness only by the political situation on the ground in Washington.
GOES-16 is equipped with two weather-related instruments: The first is a lightning mapper designed to continuously record all the lightning strikes across and around North America. Fed into weather models, this lightning data will help forecasters more quickly predict flash floods and tornadoes that often occur alongside lightning bursts. Below, the satellite's tool captured the string of lightning strikes during Hurricane Harvey:
The second piece of weather equipment is a camera called the Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI). Capable of scanning an entire hemisphere in just five minutes, the ABI offers twice the resolution of any other NOAA satellite in orbit. Here GOES-16 stared into the eye of Hurricane Irma as it spun:
And here the satellite is capturimg the smoke billowing from the wildfires around the Bay Area in California:
Though GOES-16 will not be fully operational until next month and "its data are preliminary and undergoing testing," NOAA has whetted the appetite of meteorologists and amateur weather enthusiasts with the satellite's high-quality images from space during a series of catastrophic weather events.
The new satellite transmitted its first images back to Earth in January, and they are stunning. In the Jan. 15 image below, the moon hangs over the Pacific Northwest:
As the name suggests, GOES-16 is one in a series of weather satellites used by NOAA. The three members of the GOES (standing for Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite) series monitoring U.S. weather are nearing the end of their life span. New generation satellites are in production and the events of this past summer should only help bolster their case for deployment and funding. It feels as though the destruction of California wine country and the Texas coast demands the best documentation possible.
And, boy, does GOES-16 deliver. As a demonstration of imaging capabilities of the next-generation satellites, compare these images of the Western Hemisphere taken by GOES-16 (left) and GOES-13 (right):
The next-gen satellite was there for the more pleasant moments of 2017 too, capturing the shadow of the moon as it traced its way across the continential United States during the eclipse:
The Post's Angela Fitz saw the satellite firsthand for its journey from Colorado to Florida at launch:
I arrived with two dozen Lockheed Martin engineers and technicians, safety specialists and quality assurance experts at 4:45 a.m., to transport NOAA’s next major weather satellite to Kennedy Space Center. It’s the project this team has been tirelessly working on for more than two years, and they want to see it fly.
Their final product is a towering monument of technology. GOES-R is the size of a small school bus. It weighs about 6,300 pounds. Transporting the behemoth is a challenge, but it needs to get to Florida.
What's next? The Trump administration's proposed budget cuts to NOAA have rattled meteorologists who rely upon the agency's data for studying and forecasting weather. But amid the cuts, the president's budget does prioritize the GOES program, according to the American Institute of Physics. NOAA is sticking to launch dates for the next three next-gen weather satellites, scheduled between 2018 and 2024.
-- Good news on the California wildfires: On Sunday, fire officials said crews had finally “turned a corner” against the wildfires, skies had started to clear of the smoke, and some residents had finally been given the okay to return home, per the Associated Press.
-- The current fires have killed at least 40 people, more than any other California wildfire on record. About 5,700 buildings have been destroyed. Of the 1,485 missing-person reports in Sonoma County, there are still 235 people whose locations are unknown, report The Post’s Lisa Bonos, Amy B. Wang and Cleve R. Wootson Jr. Some progress was made over the weekend, as fire crews were able to contain about 50 percent of the fires in Sonoma and Napa counties.
-- Read this dispatch from Scott Wilson in Calistoga, Calif.: The area has not seen a major fire since 1964. Now, evacuation orders have left it empty, as fires burn on both sides of the valley. “People get complacent; they do a little clearing of their land, but the embers don’t care,” a 66-year-old tree expert Chip Sandborn who lives in nearby Sebastopol told The Post’s Scott Wilson. “Perhaps for a moment after this, the complacency will end. But it will kick in again, it’s human nature, and we’ll have this conversation again in 50 years.”
-- And from Cleve R. Wootson Jr., a story about the devastatingly arbitrary nature of these fires: In the Coffey Park neighborhood in Santa Rosa, one family’s home burned to the ground while a neighbor’s home a block away survived, untouched.
-- The Post's Wesley Lowery wrote about a couple who huddled inside their pool overnight as they watched their home burn around them.
--The Post’s Avi Selk writes about how Californians are wondering why the president isn’t tweeting about them even as he has tweeted about hurricane victims.
Here are some of the images from across the state this weekend:
From CNN's Natasha Chen:
The Defense Department shared a video of the California Guard dropping water over the fires:
The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection thanked crews from Oregon that traveled to help put out the flames:
Fox 13 reporter Kiersten V. Nuñez shared an image of Utah Fire crews heading to California as well:
-- A road to somewhere in Alaska: The Interior Department is planning to set aside a decades-old ban on development in federally protected areas with a proposed idea to build a 12-mile road through a wildlife refuge in Alaska. The Post's Juliet Eilperin scoops: “The proposal, which entails turning federal land over to a tribal corporation, fits neatly with the Trump administration’s broader goal of giving more control to local communities like King Cove.
Yet environmentalists, several native Alaskan tribes and other critics warn that the road could disrupt the habitat for a variety of animals, most notably migratory birds that use the refuge as a crucial stopover on their marathon journeys along the Pacific Coast of North America. And allowing the project would violate the founding principle of federal wilderness — areas that are to remain pristine, off-limits to vehicles — and would set a precedent that could endanger other refuges, opponents say.”
-- Not just Hollywood: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke promised to end a culture of misconduct after a survey found that more than one in 10 employees inside the National Park Service felt sexually harassed on the job. The Post’s Lisa Rein reported that Zinke addressed employees Friday at the Grand Canyon in remarks that were broadcast to the Park Service’s 23,000 workforce.
“The days of watching things, not saying anything and not taking action are over,” Zinke said, adding that he had fired four “senior leaders” recently. “The consequence of [these] actions has to be clear.”
-- President Trump's Puerto Rico problem: The relief effort in the U.S. territory has turned into a political minefield for Trump. Late last week, Trump signaled that federal relief workers could not help Puerto Rico “forever,” turning the focus on the recovery.
San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, who has sparred with Trump over the disaster, tweeted photos with Rev. Jesse Jackson, thanking Jackson for his “commitment to the people of San Juan and Puerto Rico.”
Jackson called for further assistance following his visit, per CBS Chicago. “I’m very impressed with what FEMA is doing, except FEMA is not enough — there’s not enough helicopters, they’re not covering enough territory,” he said.
Meanwhile, Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said he spoke with the Trump administration and was assured “they were going to be here for Puerto Rico for the long haul,” HuffPost reported. Other lawmakers and activists have pledged continued support. On Friday, a day after the House approved $36.5 billion in emergency relief for wide-ranging disaster recovery eforts, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) said there would be more coming.
Other Republicans in Congress more explicitly contrasted themselves from the president.
“Traditionally, we’ve stayed in a disaster zone as long as needed,” Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said before a town hall, The Post's Elise Viebeck reported. “I would expect there to be people on the ground from FEMA for at least two years in Puerto Rico.”
-- Progress on the island is slow. The death toll following Hurricane Maria has climbed to 48, with recent deaths a result of patients who are unable to get timely dialysis treatments and another who died due to a delayed trip to the hospital, CNN reported. More than a million people still do not have safe drinking water. About 85 percent of the island is still in the dark, and has been for about 26 days.
-- "Beyond disturbing:" Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) has asked the Department of Homeland Security to investigate the status of the drinking water in Puerto Rico, following reports that people were trying to drink out of toxic Superfund sites. CNN reported on Friday that people on the island were acquiring water from a water utility, Autoridad de Acueductos y Alcantarillados, which the network found was distributing water from a contaminated site. The EPA has said it will test the water in the area.
"Reports of Puerto Ricans waiting hours to receive potentially contaminated water that could have long-term health consequences is beyond disturbing," Thompson said Saturday, per CNN. "That it happened on days after EPA warned the people of Puerto Rico to refrain from breaking into Superfund sites to access water suggests a troubling breakdown in coordination among the federal entities playing a role in federal disaster response activities."
-- Sweating the details: On Friday, one day after Energy Secretary Rick Perry briefly misstated that Puerto Rico was a country, Trump spoke of the U.S. Virgin Islands as if they were a foreign nation. Speaking at the values Voters Summit, Trump said he had met with the “president” of the U.S. Virgin Islands. Trump meant that he had met with the islands’ governor, Kenneth Mapp. The president of the Virgin Islands is in fact Trump himself.
-- The EPA’s acting science adviser is retiring, CNN reported over the weekend, telling the network it was “not an early retirement” and “the time was right to go for a variety of reasons.”
Robert Kavlock joined the agency in 1977. More from CNN:
-- Problem? President Trump’s nominee for the Department of Homeland Security Secretary was at the center of the disaster Hurricane Katrina brought to New Orleans. The Post’s Nick Miroff reports: “[I]n the storm of blame that followed the costliest natural disaster in American history, [Kirstjen] Nielsen’s team was widely criticized for its passive and clumsy response.”
And now, Miroff notes, Nielson has been nominated for the top role in DHS. If confirmed, she will “be in charge of a 240,000-employee agency with a $40 billion budget whose many responsibilities include managing disasters such as Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.”
What does this mean for Nielson now? Her involvement in the events following Katrina could leave her facing tough questions during her Senate confirmations.
-- A Texas utility will shut down two more coal-fired power plants in early 2018, the Dallas Morning News reports. Luminant, the state’s largest power generator, announced that the Big Brown Plant and Sandow Plant would close next year. Last week, the company announced it would shut down Monticello Coal Plant as well. Combined, the plants can produce nearly 2,300 megawatts of electricity.
What does this mean? Wind and solar has taken off in Texas's deregulated electricity market, so what's happening in Texas is likely a harbinger for the future in other states that have been slower to adopt renewables. The plant closures are a small sign that the Trump administration's rhetoric on coal may not be inspiring too much confidence in the fuel's future within among utilities. Let's see if the administration's actions — mainly, the Energy Department's sweeping proposal to boost coal and nuclear power — prove to be anything different.
-- Worth a read: The New York Times’s Henry Fountain has a deep look at the Trump administration and congressional Republicans’ recently renewed fight over drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, why drilling might now be allowed and what is at stake.
-- The U.S. Coast Guard is responding following an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana. The Associated Press reported that LLOG Exploration Offshore, an offshore oil and gas operator, said between 7,950 and 9,350 barrels of oil had spilled before the leak from a fractured underwater pipe was halted. The AP added “officials say any surface oil that appears would likely move southwest and not affect the shoreline.”
The moment a California family discovered their dog survived the wildfires:
Hong Kong was covered in clouds as Typhoon Khanun approaches:
Watch how Hurricane Ophelia, which has since been downgraded, barreled toward Ireland:
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