David Shepherd: News Blog

Journalist's Notebook

President Takes A Dip in the Gulf; Says It’s Clean & Safe

David Shepherd  [dshepherd@wtwo.com] – Saturday, August 14, 2010

Gulf Coast beaches are clean, safe and open for business, according to President Obama Saturday, as he and his family take a “working vacation” on Florida’s Panhandle.

The President pledged to “keep up our efforts until the environment is cleaned, polluters are held accountable, business and communities are made whole, and the people of the Gulf Coast are back on their feet.”

From Panama City to Biloxi, the Gulf Coast towns, which depend on tourism revenues, are more like ghost towns as the spill has many Americans making other vacation plans.

Before the spill, a hot summer weekend would attract thousands of vacationers to Panama City’s white sandy beaches and crystal blue Gulf waters.  Even before tar balls began coming ashore, there was a sharp decline in tourism revenues there.  As the spill grew, the number of tourists tanked. 

With so many people and businesses depending on the tourism dollars that continue to vanish because of the spill, the President sent a

NBC Photo

 confident message that Gulf waters are safe and open for business; he and daughter, Sasha, took a swim in the Gulf.

In a statement from the First Family, the Obamas say they came down to “enjoy the beach and the water — to let our fellow Americans know that they should come on down here.”

The trip has been on the books since Mr. Obama began taking heat for not heeding his own advice that Americans should vacation in the Gulf.  Critics point to the President’s North Carolina vacation and his planned trip to Martha’s Vineyard later this month, as not “practicing what he preaches.”

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August 14, 2010 Posted by | News & Current Events, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Alex Strikes Land; Pushed Oil on Beaches, Spawns Tornadoes

— By: David Shepherd [dshepherd@wtwo.com] Thursday, July 1, 2010

NEW INFORMATION:  

Weather Channel Iwitness Photo

Hurricane Alex made landfall as a Category 2 storm along the Gulf of Mexico’s coastline in northern Mexico, very close to the border with Texas.

Neighboring states’ residents had their worst fears confirmed as the powerful storm managed to push thick crude oil onto nearby beaches; kicked up by the high waves Alex has whipped up along most of the Gulf coast.

Heavy rains and maximum winds of 110 mph slammed into Mexico’s northern Tamaulipas state; approximately 110 miles south of Brownsville, Texas.

Residents in the Mexican fishing villages and marketplaces packed onto buses to move inland in the hopes of dodging Alex’s potentially deadly wrath.  Emergency shelters have been set up at several locations in San Fernando.

At least 3 people have been killed by Alex’s furry in Mexico.  No reports of deaths in the United States so far.

Texas Tornadoes

Alex’s fierce rotation spawned at least two tornadoes near Brownsville, TX.  One tornado is being blamed for flipping over a trailer and causing other damage nearby.

The National Weather Service downgraded its storm warning for the Texas coast from hurricane to tropical storm strength.

Photo: Weather Channel Coverage

The Gulf coast has been feeling the effects of Alex’s outer bands for hours.  Two tornadoes were reported near Brownsville, Texas.  No immediate report of injuries but damage reports are coming in from around that area.

KRGV – TV in Rio Grande Valley, Texas reports, on the breaking news, SAN PEDRO – ”

The river level is rising near the Arroyo Colorado river.

It appears a tornado touched down in the San Pedro community. A water station flipped over, a semi-trailer tipped over and tree limbs are scattered everywhere.

The twister jumped the road and headed south, missing some home.”

Mandatory evacuations tonight in Cameron County, Texas, southward to the nearby South Padre Island as Hurricane Alex continues to gain strength in the Gulf of Mexico.  As we’ve been telling you, Alex is taking aim at the coastal areas of south Texas, near the border with Mexico.

Officials in southern Texas have been preparing throughout the day for Alex’s arrival.  They’ve readied rescue vehicles set up emergency shelters in San Antonio and Laredo.

Tourists on South Padre Island left the white sand beaches and heeded official’s evacuation warnings to get out of town.  Hotels and restaurants, usually packed this time of year, have been deserted with very few wanting to tempt the wrath of the year’s first Atlantic hurricane.

Doctor Tells NBC “Oil Spray” Could Be Harmful

Dr. Michio Kaku, host of TV’s “Sci-Fi Science” says “oil spray” could cause negative health effects for many Gulf coast residents during an interview on MSNBC Wednesday afternoon.

Kaku says winds, rotating counter-clockwise miles from the storm’s center, are “churning up a tremendous amount of activity.”

Those who have lived through a hurricane know the mist, or spray, that fills the air from the water being blown onshore at upwards of 100 MPH or more.  Kaku believes that spray will contain crude oil particles which could be harmful if inhaled.

In 1999, researcher Craig F. Stead submitted a study to the CDC Conference on the Health Impacts of Chemical Exposures during the Gulf war.  That study was talking about a much higher rate of exposure than would be experienced in a weather event like Hurricane Alex.  Stead’s study shows even petroleum exposure on a smaller scale can cause life threatening symptoms.

Stead’s study indicates petroleum exposure presented symptoms such as “fatigue, breathlessness, cough, skin rash, headache, diarrhea, and memory loss.”  In extreme cases, it can also cause cancer, according to Stead.

Image: The Weather ChannelIf Kaku’s prediction is correct, it could expose Gulf coast residents to potentially toxic particles.  Kaku told MSNBC, “Emulsified oil coming down in people’s hair from rooftops, it’s going to be a mess…even with a near miss.”

He also thinks tar balls, the size of apples could be “launched through the air in people’s yards, pools, and streets” in the storm’s fierce winds.

Many experts admit they don’t know what will happen since a hurricane has never hit near the site of a major oil spill.  Kaku’s forecast

Image: The Weather Channel

may be a worst-case scenario, but, at the very least, Alex will come as a dress rehearsal for future hurricanes this season.

Either way, it’s just another concern for residents already devastated by the effects of the BP oil spill; which seems to be getting worse every day.

June 30, 2010 Posted by | News & Current Events | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hurricane Alex’s Outer Bands Battering South Texas

By: David Shepherd [dshepherd@wtwo.com] – Wednesday, June 30, 2010

It’s the first time a hurricane has churned through the Gulf of Mexico during an oil spill so there are many unknowns tonight as to how Hurricane Alex will affect coastal areas.

Alex strengthened this afternoon as it takes aim at the Texas / Mexico border and it’s expected to strengthen to a Category 2 storm before making landfall Wednesday night.

As of 11 a.m., the National Hurricane Center says Alex was moving WNW at 7 mph with maximum sustained winds of 80 MPH.

Hurricane warnings have been posted from Baffin Bay, Texas, southward to La Cruz, Mexico.  Tropical storm-force winds are expected in the warned area within the next few hours.

The storm’s rotation poses a risk of tornadoes this evening.  The National Weather Service has issued a tornado watch for southeastern parts of the Texas coast until 8 p.m. [local time].  Flooding rains, damaging winds sustained at 90 MPH, with higher gusts, can be expected as well as severe thunderstorms, flash floods and tornadoes.

Differing Opinions About Alex’s Impact on Oil Spill

Hurricane Alex is not expected to directly hit the areas currently dealing with the BP oil spill in the Gulf; the storm will pass far to the southwest of the spill.  But meteorologists fear the outer wind fields and rotating feeder-bands could be strong enough to push more oil further inland in coastal areas already devastated by the affects of the spill.  Waves up to 15 feet could crash onto beaches as far away from the impact zone as Florida; possibly pushing the thick crude further onto the white sand beaches that line the Gulf coast.

Other researchers hope the storm will cause the opposite effect; stirring up the oil and pushing it further into the Gulf.

As I mentioned, this is an unprecedented event so no one really knows what the hurricane will do with the millions of gallons of oil spewed so far.

Oil and gas operators in the Gulf have begun evacuating rigs within the path of the hurricane.  The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement told reporters Tuesday 28 platforms and 3 rigs have been shut down; that’s nearly a quarter of the Gulf’s oil production and 9 percent of its natural gas production.

Rough seas have caused BP to bring their skimming boats to safe harbor, putting a delay into the oil spill clean-up efforts.  While those boats are out of commission, the oil will continue to spill, unchecked, until it’s safe to get the vessels back to the spill site.

June 30, 2010 Posted by | News & Current Events | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Alex Strengthens Again To Tropical Storm Status As It Moves Into Gulf

By: David Shepherd [dshepherd@wtwo.com] – Monday, June 28, 2010

The latest advisory from the National Hurricane Center [Sunday, June 27, 2010 – 10 PM CDT] shows Alex has gained strength over the warm Gulf waters and is once again classified as a tropical storm.

Tropical systems gain their strength from warm water and weaken as they move over land.

Alex made landfall Saturday afternoon in Belize, and is currently moving into the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.  Forecasters believe Alex will be able to gain enough strength to reach hurricane status before making landfall in northeastern Mexico or the southern coastal areas of Texas later this week.

Alex Could Push Oil Onshore Along Gulf Coast

No one is quite certain how Alex will affect coastal states as millions of gallons of oil continue to pour into the Gulf of Mexico.

Last week, forecasters feared Alex’s track could push it west of the BP oil spill but close enough that it could cause major problems for the clean-up effort in the Gulf.

Now, with the projected track further to the west, experts say the chances Alex would cause serious problems for the Gulf coast’s already desperate oil woes are low.

With that said, tropical systems are very unpredictable and can change course at any time to people along the Gulf coast should still monitor the latest developments as Alex approaches.

Tropical systems rotate counter-clockwise around the center of circulation, or eye.  With the storm projected to move to the west of the BP oil spill, that counter-clockwise flow could push the oil north closer to the coastal states.

Another factor to consider is the storm surge, which pushes Gulf water inland, often flooding coastal areas.  With oil mixed in with that Gulf water, it could leave behind a thick coat of oil on the beaches, streets, neighborhoods and flooded basements.

It’s unclear what kind of clean-up effort this would require on land but many fear it could be even more devastating for the coastal areas, where the oil spill is already hurting local tourism and economies, businesses and residents.

I’ll continue to follow the latest with this developing storm and examine what could happen as Tropical Storm Alex churns toward the Gulf.

June 28, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tropical Storm Alex Develops, Eyes Oil Devastated Gulf

By: David Shepherd [dshepherd@wtwo.com] – Saturday, June 26, 2010

The first tropical storm of the 2010 Atlantic hurricane season has developed in the western Caribbean near Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.

The latest advisory from the National Hurricane Center [6/26/10 11:00 a.m.]:

Location:  17.3 N      86.1 W

Winds: 45 MPH

Moving: WNW 9 MPH

As the tropical storm moves over the warm waters of the Caribbean, it is expected to strengthen.

A Tropical Storm Warning has been issued for the coast of Belize and the east coast of Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula from Chetumal to Cancun and the islands of Roatan, Guanaja and Utila in Honduras.

From there it is expected to move into the western Gulf of Mexico.  Tropical systems are very unpredictable and tracks can shift at any time. 

If the storm continues on its current track, it could pose major problems for the oil spill cleanup effort. 

Alex Could Push Oil Onshore Along Gulf Coast

No one is quite certain how Alex will affect coastal states as millions of gallons of oil continue to pour into the Gulf of Mexico.

Tropical systems rotate counter-clockwise around the center of circulation, or eye.  With the storm projected to move to the west of the BP oil spill, that counter-clockwise flow could push the oil north closer to the coastal states.

Another factor to consider is the storm surge, which pushes Gulf water inland, often flooding coastal areas.  With oil mixed in with that Gulf water, it could leave behind a thick coat of oil on the beaches, streets, neighborhoods and flooded basements.

It’s unclear what kind of clean-up effort this would require on land but many fear it could be even more devastating for the coastal areas, where the oil spill is already hurting local tourism and economies, businesses and residents.

I’ll continue to follow the latest with this developing storm and examine what could happen as Tropical Storm Alex churns toward the Gulf.

June 26, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

New Estimates Show Much More Oil Gushing Into Gulf Than Once Feared

By: David Shepherd [dshepherd@wtwo.com]

New estimates show 500,000 to 1 million gallons of oil are gushing into the Gulf of Mexico in the worst oil spill in the nation’s history.

BP engineers are using robots to place a cap onto the jagged edge of the oil well.  This is the company’s latest attempt to restrict the flow of oil gushing from the blown out well in the Gulf of Mexico.

5,000 feet below the Gulf’s surface, maintenance efforts are being hampered because the hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil gushing out is reducing visibility.

BP says this is not a fix.  Instead, it is meant to restrict, not cut-off, the flow of oil.  As the work is being done, there is the possibility the oil could flow faster than before for a short time (BP hopes).

A permanent fix won’t be ready until August.  With BP’s failure record, many question whether that fix will actually work.

Until Thursday, BP’s plans to stop the oil have failed time after time.  And while it’s too soon to

MSNBC: BP LIVE Video Feed

know if this plan will work, it’s the closest they’ve come so far.

Fears continue to grow along the Gulf coast where oil continues to spread.  So far, between 21 million and 46 million gallons of oil has spewed out of the blown out well and into the Gulf of Mexico.  As of Thursday, oil was spotted six miles from the white sand beaches along the Florida panhandle.

BP will soon be getting a bill from the federal government.  The White House says BP owes $69 million in costs so far.

What do you think?  Is it time for the federal government to take over the emergency efforts going on in the Gulf?  Leave comments and take my Soundoff news poll.

June 4, 2010 Posted by | News & Current Events, Polls, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Breaking News: BP’s Latest “Fix” Hits A Snag

By: David Shepherd[dshepherd@wtwo.com]

BP’s latest effort to contain the Gulf oil spill hit a snag Wednesday when a saw became stuck as it was cutting through a pipe along the busted well, NBC News reports.

BP is working to free the saw.  If nothing more goes wrong, they will resume the cut later in the day.

BP has been plagued with problems containing the oil for over a month.  The clock is ticking.  Every day the oil continues to gush, the worse it becomes for coastal regions of the Gulf.

This latest effort, if it succeeds, will only reduce the flow, not stop it completely.  If it fails, it will continue to compound the problems for residents and tourists along the Gulf.  A permanent fix isn’t expected to be ready until August.

June 2, 2010 Posted by | News & Current Events | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment