David Shepherd: News Blog

Journalist's Notebook

Tornadoes & Hurricane Force Winds Rip Through The Midwest

By: David Shepherd [dshepherd@wtwo.com] – Tuesday, October 26, 2010

NBC NEWS PHOTO: Storms cause damage to a home near Chicago Tuesday morning.

A powerful storm system is moving through the nation’s mid-section.  A low pressure system is sweeping an intense cold front through the Midwest, with blizzard conditions in the extreme north, destructive winds in the Great Lakes region, and tornadoes from Texas to Kentucky.

In Chicago, forecasters predict the storm could be the most powerful to hit Illinois in over 70 years.

As of Tuesday morning, tornado reports have come in from several states.  In Indiana, tornadoes were reported in Kokomo and Wanatah. 

A roof was ripped off of a home in Peotone, Illinois.  The people were injured there.  Forecasters have not confirmed tornadoes yet, however they will be out soon to survey the area and determine what caused the damage.

More than 62,000 customers were without power in Chicago.  More than 40,000 reportedly lost power in Indiana.

Hurricane-force winds are being reported this afternoon in northern Illinois and Indiana and through the Dakotas.  The eastern Great Lakes are expecting waves to reach 25 feet with fears of beach erosion. 

NBC News is reporting 300 flights were canceled at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport.

The National Weather Service said the storm is one of the strongest to hit the region in decades.

“We’re expecting sustained winds on the order of 35 to 40 mph with gusts up to 60 mph throughout the afternoon,” Edward Fenelon, a weather service meteorologist in Romeoville, Ill, told NBC News.  He said the storm’s central pressure is equivalent to a Category 3 hurricane.

“This is a very different type of event,” Fenelon said. “But that does give an indication of the magnitude of the winds. This isn’t something you see even every year.”

Weather Service Meteorologist Jim Allsopp tells NBC that the storm could be among the worst to hit Illinois in more than 70 years.

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October 26, 2010 Posted by | News & Current Events | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Earl Re-Strengthens Back to CAT 4, Warnings Issued Up and Down the Coast

By: David Shepherd [dshepherd@wtwo.com] – Wednesday, September 1, 2010

PHOTO: Gerry Broome / AP

Hurricane Earl re-strengthened Wednesday back to a Category 4 storm with maximum sustained winds of 135 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center.

“Tropical storm-force winds are expected to reach the North Carolina coast within the warning area by Thursday afternoon with hurricane-force winds occurring by late Thursday,” the National Hurricane Center said in its 5 p.m. ET advisory. “Tropical storm-force winds will likely reach the coast from Virginia northward to New Jersey by early Friday.”

North Carolina’s governor declared a state of emergency Wednesday as the forecast track of hurricane Earl pushes the storm very close to the east-coast of the United States.

Residents and visitors are on high alert on North Carolina’s Ocracoke and Hatteras islands after the National Hurricane Center issued a hurricane warning for most of the state’s eastern coastline Wednesday morning.

[NOTE:  A hurricane WARNING means hurricane conditions are expected within the next 36-hours.]

Both islands are now under an evacuation order as more than 5-thousand tourists, and some year-round residents, pack-up and get out of the massive storm’s path.  While residents there are being urged to leave, only visitors are being required to evacuate.

The bridge leading from Hatteras to the mainland has been packed with west-bound cars, some pulling campers and trailers, as a mass exodus continues as Earl continues to pack a powerful punch, churning toward the United States with maximum sustained winds of 125 MPH.

On Ocracoke Island, the only passage to the mainland is by ferry.  Evacuees began lining up early Wednesday morning, trying to get on the first ferry off the island.

Dare County, N.C., issued a statement saying the evacuation of visitors to Hatteras was ordered “before high seas produce over-wash on N.C. Highway 12 which will impede safe travel.”

By early Wednesday afternoon, cars were backed up on N.C. Highway 12.  It’s the only way to get from the Outer Bank’s barrier islands to the mainland.

“Our two biggest concerns,” National Hurricane Center Director Bill Read told NBC’s “TODAY” show, are “the coast of North Carolina and extreme southeast Virginia on early Friday morning, late Thursday night, and then on Friday into Saturday for southeastern New England. Just a small change in the direction of the storm could raise an impact, and the large waves, beach erosion and rip currents will be a problem along the East Coast.”

 While the North Carolina coastline is often subject to hurricane conditions, some officials say there has not been an evacuation, on this scale, for a very long time.

“I don’t remember the last time there was a mandatory evacuation order for the island,” Hyde County Commissioner Kenneth Collier told NBC News Wednesday.

Current Track

Photo: Gerry Broome / AP

 The current track has Earl nearing the eastern United States sometime late Thursday – early Friday morning.  As we’ve seen with other hurricanes, the track can change at any minute.  Right now, it appears Earl with just hug the coast as it heads north past the Carolinas, up toward the Delmarva, eventually possibly making landfall on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. 

Even a slight westward shift in the track of this powerful category 3 hurricane could dramatically change the potential damage the storm could cause.  Residents up and down the east-coast are being urged by local officials to continually monitor the situation for any late-breaking developments.  Officials warn more evacuations could be ordered if the storm changes its current track.

The National Hurricane Center said Wednesday Earl’s hurricane-force winds extend 90 miles from the center of circulation, and tropical storm force winds extend out more than 200 miles.  Even if Earl doesn’t make landfall, the storm’s center is expected to hug the coastline as it moves north, circulating those hurricane force winds inland.

September 1, 2010 Posted by | News & Current Events | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Powerful Hurricane Earl Has U.S. In His Sight

By: David Shepherd [dshepherd@wtwo.com] – Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Officials in North Carolina announced an evacuation for the Ocracoke Island beginning at 5 a.m.  NBC News is reporting tourists are being ordered to leave the barrier island which is only accessible by ferry.  At this time, year-round residents on the Ocracoke Island are being urged to evacuate but have the option to stay.  That could change if the powerful storm shifts from its current path.

Hurricane Earl, a powerful Category 4 hurricane is forcing officials up and down the east coast to get a plan ready in case the monster storm makes landfall.

On Tuesday, NBC News reported gusty winds from Earl’s outer fringes are creating waves that are pounding the Grand Turk shore. 

“We can hear the waves crashing against the reef really seriously,” Kirk Graff, owner of the Captain Kirks Flamingo Cove Marina told NBC News, Tuesday.  “Anybody who hasn’t secured their boats by now is going to regret it.”

The hurricane’s wrath is two-fold this go around.  First, the usual damage and risk of injury or death that comes with any powerful hurricane.  But Earl is whipping up a second problem.  His expected arrival comes on the heels of the busy Labor Day Weekend; beach-front businesses usually do a great deal of business on a hot, sunny Labor Day Weekend.  But with a powerful force of nature eyeing North Carolina’s coast, tourists appear to be checking out.

Forecasters say it’s too soon to know exactly what path Earl with take over the next few days.  The likely track would take the storm’s center just along the east coast, possibly making partial landfall somewhere along North Carolina’s coastline.  This storm doesn’t appear to be taking direct aim at the east coast.  But, as it rides north, just barley hugging the coastline by Thursday night, coastal areas can expect hurricane conditions.

But at the same time don’t forget, these storms can, and often do, change paths.  Hurricanes are very unpredictable and can change at any time.  Everyone along the east-coast, including places like North and South Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and Delaware should keep a close eye on this storm as it may affect those areas with powerful hurricane-force winds, storm surge and flooding.

September 1, 2010 Posted by | News & Current Events, Polls, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

BREAKING NEWS: Hurricane Earl Forces Evacuations As He Eyes the U.S.

By: David Shepherd [dshepherd@wtwo.com] – Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Officials in North Carolina announced an evacuation for the Ocracoke Island beginning at 5 a.m.  NBC News is reporting tourists are being ordered to leave the barrier island which is only accessible by ferry.  At this time, year-round residents on the Ocracoke Island are being urged to evacuate but have the option to stay.  That could change if the powerful storm shifts from its current path.

Hurricane Earl, a powerful Category 4 hurricane is forcing officials up and down the east coast to get a plan ready in case the monster storm makes landfall.

I’m getting more information together on this story and will update with developments.

September 1, 2010 Posted by | News & Current Events, Polls, 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

Primetime Address: Lights, Camera, Action???

By: David Shepherd [dshepherd@wtwo.com] – Sunday, June 20, 2010

Did President Barack Obama forget to bring some action to his Tuesday night primetime address?  Some say yes.  Americans have been growing increasingly frustrated over the federal government’s response (or lack thereof for some) to the Gulf Oil Crisis.

 A new Associated Press (AP) poll, released Tuesday, shows 52% of Americans disapprove of the President’s handling of the oil spill.  It’s becoming clear this crisis and the federal government’s response, is frighteningly reminiscent of former President George W. Bush’s Hurricane Katrina catastrophe, where the majority of Americans polled felt like Bush’s response was insufficient.

Many hoped Tuesday’s Oval Office address would contain a bit more “Obama Kick-Ass.”  [The President told a reporter recently he met with experts to learn “whose ass to kick,” in the Gulf.]

The President addressed the nation in a somber tone from the hallowed chambers of the Oval Office, comparing the efforts in the Gulf to a battle and vowing to do everything in his power to make it right.

“Tonight I’d like to lay out for you what our battle plan is going forward:  what we’re doing to clean up the oil, what we’re doing to help our neighbors in the Gulf, and what we’re doing to make sure that a catastrophe like this never happens again.”  

But harsh attacks on BP were not the theme of this address.  The President obviously wanted to take a different approach.  He sounded like someone who has been there and understands what the people down there are going through because he has made several trips to the Gulf coast since the spill.

While his tone may not have been what all were hoping for, he did make it clear he will hold BP accountable for their actions.

“We will make BP pay for the damage their company has caused.  And we will do whatever’s necessary to help the Gulf Coast and its people recover from this tragedy.” 

Mr. Obama used a portion of his address to send a clear message to the American people that he is taking care of business.

Yahoo! News Photo

“Tomorrow, I will meet with the chairman of BP and inform him that he is to set aside whatever resources are required to compensate the workers and business owners who have been harmed as a result of his company’s recklessness.  And this fund will not be controlled by BP.  In order to ensure that all legitimate claims are paid out in a fair and timely manner, the account must and will be administered by an independent third party.”

As promised, Mr. Obama met with BP’s CEO at the White House.  In that meeting, the President ordered BP to create a $20 billion compensation guarantee and an apology to the nation from the company.  The fund would set up a large claims fund for shrimpers, restaurant owners and others whose livelihoods depend on the once beautiful waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

The White House also announced the compensation guarantee account would be led by Kenneth Feinberg, he’s the man who handled the 9/11 compensation account.

 

June 21, 2010 Posted by | News & Current Events | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment