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Hurricane Matthew Poses Extreme Threat to East Coast
By Bob Henson
After barreling across the Caribbean and through the Bahamas, Hurricane Matthew backed off from an immediate U.S. landfall on Thursday night, and odds were rising that the system might not come fully ashore before looping out to sea over the weekend. In its 11 p.m. EDT advisory, the National Hurricane Center kept Matthew's top sustained winds at 130 mph, making it a minimal Category 4 storm.
Hurricane Hunters found that Matthew's central pressure had dropped to 937 millibars on Wednesday night. Together with radiometer-derived surface winds of 125 mph, it was clear that Matthew remained a potent hurricane, despite its somewhat disheveled appearance on satellite. At 2 a.m. EDT Friday, NHC downgraded Matthew to a Category 3 storm, with top sustained winds of 120 mph.
Figure 1. Enhanced infrared satellite image of Hurricane Matthew as of 12:45 am EDT Friday, Oct. 7.NOAA/NESDIS
Figure 2. WU depiction of NEXRAD radar from 1:15 am EDT Friday, October 7, 2016. The predominant outer eyewall and its intense thunderstorms (yellow band just east of Port Saint Lucie) was slowly edging toward the Florida coast.
Eyewall to eyewall
Over the course of Thursday afternoon and evening, Matthew ended up with dual, concentric eyewalls—an outer one, about 10 miles wide, and an inner one, about 70 miles wide, where the strongest winds were focused. The development of dual eyewalls often heralds an eyewall replacement cycle (ERC), in which the inner eyewall collapses and the outer one gradually contracts. Matthew appeared ripe for an ERC on Thursday evening, and that process appeared to be underway late Thursday night, as a reconnaissance summary at 12:15 a.m. EDT Friday reported a single closed eyewall, about 55 miles wide.
Figure 3. Observations gathered by a Hurricane Hunter flight through Matthew Wednesday night into early Thursday. The emergence of a single large eyewall can be seen in the extended period between wind peaks (blue trace) at around 0342Z (11:42 p.m. EDT Wednesday).tropicaltidbits.com
Figure 4. Official NHC forecast for Matthew as of 11 pm EDT Thursday, Oct. 6. The unusual look of the "cone" is because of the nearly complete loop that Matthew is predicted to carve out in the next five days.
A coast-scraping track that could still cause major trouble
What was always recognized as a possibility—that Matthew would never quite make landfall on the Florida coast—emerged as the most likely outcome on Thursday night, as reflected in the 11 p.m. NHC outlook (see Figure 4 above). Matthew's track out of the Bahamas was angled just far enough north of northwest to keep the center rolling more or less parallel to the Florida coast. Provided that Matthew carries out the gradual curve to the right expected late Friday through Saturday, its center will likely remain between about 20 and 50 miles off the coast, perhaps all the way to Charleston, South Carolina, by Saturday night.
This path would be enough to keep Matthew's inner core and its top sustained winds offshore, which is very good news in terms of limiting the most severe wind damage. On the down side, Matthew's outer eyewall—which will likely be packing streaks of 60 to 90 mph sustained winds—will probably edge onto or just inland from the coast early Friday. If Matthew's center remains offshore as the hurricane churns north and northeast toward Georgia, then its outer eyewall may be slower to weaken. People along the Florida coast from around Melbourne northward can expect several hours of high wind on Friday, fierce enough at times to topple trees and power lines. If not catastrophic (thankfully!), such damage may end up being far more widespread on this type of coast-scraping path than it would have been with a hurricane slamming onshore at a right angle.
Hurricane-force winds are possible as far north as coastal Georgia and southern South Carolina later on Friday, but the primary threat here will be high water—the most deadly aspect of U.S. hurricanes. Because of the gradual expansion of Matthew's wind field, its direction of motion, and the largely concave geometry of the coastline, barrier islands and inlets from north FL to southern SC remain at risk of major storm surge even if Matthew remains offshore. Late Thursday night, NHC was projecting the potential for coastal inundations of 7 to 11 feet from Sebastian Inlet, Florida, to Edisto Beach, South Carolina, including parts of the St. Johns River between the coast and Jacksonville. Breaking waves of up to 20 - 25 feet are possible atop the coastal surge.
Time and again in recent years, we've seen hurricanes weaken in terms of peak winds as they approach the coast, yet push far more water onshore than residents expected. This is one reason why the Saffir-Simpson scale no longer directly relates its strength categories to storm surge: peak winds near the center are an unreliable index to how much surge a hurricane may actually produce. Even if Matthew weakens and stays offshore as projected, surge levels in some areas (especially far north Florida and Georgia) may be the highest observed in many decades, and I fear that many coastal residents will underestimate this risk.
Figure 5. Projected 3-day rainfall totals from 8:00 p.m. EDT Thursday, Oct. 6, to 8 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 9. NOAA/NWS Weather Prediction Center
Very heavy rainfall is the other water-related threat that still looms large with Matthew. Widespread totals in the 10" to 15" range are projected to fall within about 50 miles of the coast from far north Florida to southeast North Carolina (see Figure 5). The southeast half of the Carolinas can expect 3" to 10" amounts. This may be enough to cause extensive flooding, especially where 10" - 15" of rain has fallen in the last three weeks. With winds potentially gusting to 40 - 50 mph, we can expect extensive tree loss and power outages.
If Matthew fails to make landfall on Friday, or if it does come ashore below Category 3 strength, the remarkable and unprecedented U.S. "drought" in major hurricane landfalls will continue. The last hurricane to strike the U.S. with Category 3 winds was Wilma, in October 2005—nearly 11 years ago.
Beyond the Carolinas
Long-range models agree in turning Matthew gradually seaward from the Carolinas over the weekend, and it now appears that the wacky loop-de-loop solution presented by the models a couple of days ago will materialize, at least in some form or fashion. The path shown in Figure 3 above is one of the most precise and elegant circles I've ever seen in a five-day NHC forecast. By Tuesday, Matthew is predicted to be heading southwestward, back into the northern Bahamas. Matthew will almost certainly be a far weaker system by this point—most likely a tropical storm. It's certainly possible that Matthew will end up crossing Florida at some point next week.
Figure 6. Enhanced infrared satellite image of Hurricane Nicole as of 12:45 am EDT Friday, Oct. 7.
Nicole is now a Category 2 hurricane
Quietly gathering strength while Matthew hogged the spotlight, Hurricane Nicole has become a respectable storm in its own right. Nicole's top sustained winds were bumped up to 105 mph at 11 p.m. EDT Wednesday, making it a strong Category 2 hurricane. Located about 340 miles south of Bermuda, Nicole was stationary, embedded in weak steering currents and in no hurry to head anywhere. Matthew may draw close enough to Nicole early next week to bring the Fujiwhara effect into play, which would tend to push Nicole to the north and Matthew toward the south—consistent with the motions now expected for both systems, although larger-scale steering will probably be the main factor at work.
NHC's Eric Blake provided an interesting climatological tidbit in his Thursday night discussion on Nicole: "This is the first time since September 10, 1964 that two Category 2 (or stronger) hurricanes have occurred simultaneously in the Atlantic basin west of 65W. Interestingly, those hurricanes in 1964, Dora and Ethel, were in similar positions as Matthew and Nicole are now."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Weather Underground.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Randi Spivak
Slashing two national monuments in Utah may have received the most attention, but Trump's Interior Department and U.S. Forest Service have been quietly, systematically ceding control of America's public lands to fossil fuel, mining, timber and livestock interests since the day he took office.
A new report by Greenpeace International pinpointed the world's worst sources of sulfur dioxide pollution, an irritant gas that harms human health. India has seized the top spot from Russia and China, contributing nearly 15 percent of global sulfur dioxide emissions.
By Sue Branford and Thais Borges
Ola Elvestrun, Norway's environment minister, announced Thursday that it is freezing its contributions to the Amazon Fund, and will no longer be transferring €300 million ($33.2 million) to Brazil. In a press release, the Norwegian embassy in Brazil stated:
Given the present circumstances, Norway does not have either the legal or the technical basis for making its annual contribution to the Amazon Fund.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro reacted with sarcasm to Norway's decision, which had been widely expected. After an official event, he commented: "Isn't Norway the country that kills whales at the North Pole? Doesn't it also produce oil? It has no basis for telling us what to do. It should give the money to Angela Merkel [the German Chancellor] to reforest Germany."
According to its website, the Amazon Fund is a "REDD+ mechanism created to raise donations for non-reimbursable investments in efforts to prevent, monitor and combat deforestation, as well as to promote the preservation and sustainable use in the Brazilian Amazon." The bulk of funding comes from Norway and Germany.
The annual transfer of funds from developed world donors to the Amazon Fund depends on a report from the Fund's technical committee. This committee meets after the National Institute of Space Research, which gathers official Amazon deforestation data, publishes its annual report with the definitive figures for deforestation in the previous year.
But this year the Amazon Fund's technical committee, along with its steering committee, COFA, were abolished by the Bolsonaro government on 11 April as part of a sweeping move to dissolve some 600 bodies, most of which had NGO involvement. The Bolsonaro government views NGO work in Brazil as a conspiracy to undermine Brazil's sovereignty.
The Brazilian government then demanded far-reaching changes in the way the fund is managed, as documented in a previous article. As a result, the Amazon Fund's technical committee has been unable to meet; Norway says it therefore cannot continue making donations without a favorable report from the committee.
Archer Daniels Midland soy silos in Mato Grosso along the BR-163 highway, where Amazon rainforest has largely been replaced by soy destined for the EU, UK, China and other international markets.
An Uncertain Future
The Amazon Fund was announced during the 2007 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali, during a period when environmentalists were alarmed at the rocketing rate of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. It was created as a way of encouraging Brazil to continue bringing down the rate of forest conversion to pastures and croplands.
Government agencies, such as IBAMA, Brazil's environmental agency, and NGOs shared Amazon Fund donations. IBAMA used the money primarily to enforce deforestation laws, while the NGOs oversaw projects to support sustainable communities and livelihoods in the Amazon.
There has been some controversy as to whether the Fund has actually achieved its goals: in the three years before the deal, the rate of deforestation fell dramatically but, after money from the Fund started pouring into the Amazon, the rate remained fairly stationary until 2014, when it began to rise once again. But, in general, the international donors have been pleased with the Fund's performance, and until the Bolsonaro government came to office, the program was expected to continue indefinitely.
Norway has been the main donor (94 percent) to the Amazon Fund, followed by Germany (5 percent), and Brazil's state-owned oil company, Petrobrás (1 percent). Over the past 11 years, the Norwegians have made, by far, the biggest contribution: R$3.2 billion ($855 million) out of the total of R$3.4 billion ($903 million).
Up till now the Fund has approved 103 projects, with the dispersal of R$1.8 billion ($478 million). These projects will not be affected by Norway's funding freeze because the donors have already provided the funding and the Brazilian Development Bank is contractually obliged to disburse the money until the end of the projects. But there are another 54 projects, currently being analyzed, whose future is far less secure.
One of the projects left stranded by the dissolution of the Fund's committees is Projeto Frutificar, which should be a three-year project, with a budget of R$29 million ($7.3 million), for the production of açai and cacao by 1,000 small-scale farmers in the states of Amapá and Pará. The project was drawn up by the Brazilian NGO IPAM (Institute of Environmental research in Amazonia).
Paulo Moutinho, an IPAM researcher, told Globo newspaper: "Our program was ready to go when the [Brazilian] government asked for changes in the Fund. It's now stuck in the BNDES. Without funding from Norway, we don't know what will happen to it."
Norway is not the only European nation to be reconsidering the way it funds environmental projects in Brazil. Germany has many environmental projects in the Latin American country, apart from its small contribution to the Amazon Fund, and is deeply concerned about the way the rate of deforestation has been soaring this year.
The German environment ministry told Mongabay that its minister, Svenja Schulze, had decided to put financial support for forest and biodiversity projects in Brazil on hold, with €35 million ($39 million) for various projects now frozen.
The ministry explained why: "The Brazilian government's policy in the Amazon raises doubts whether a consistent reduction in deforestation rates is still being pursued. Only when clarity is restored, can project collaboration be continued."
Bauxite mines in Paragominas, Brazil. The Bolsonaro administration is urging new laws that would allow large-scale mining within Brazil's indigenous reserves.
Hydro / Halvor Molland / Flickr
Alternative Amazon Funding
Although there will certainly be disruption in the short-term as a result of the paralysis in the Amazon Fund, the governors of Brazil's Amazon states, which rely on international funding for their environmental projects, are already scrambling to create alternative channels.
In a press release issued yesterday Helder Barbalho, the governor of Pará, the state with the highest number of projects financed by the Fund, said that he will do all he can to maintain and increase his state partnership with Norway.
Barbalho had announced earlier that his state would be receiving €12.5 million ($11.1 million) to run deforestation monitoring centers in five regions of Pará. Barbalho said: "The state governments' monitoring systems are recording a high level of deforestation in Pará, as in the other Amazon states. The money will be made available to those who want to help [the Pará government reduce deforestation] without this being seen as international intervention."
Amazonas state has funding partnerships with Germany and is negotiating deals with France. "I am talking with countries, mainly European, that are interested in investing in projects in the Amazon," said Amazonas governor Wilson Miranda Lima. "It is important to look at Amazônia, not only from the point of view of conservation, but also — and this is even more important — from the point of view of its citizens. It's impossible to preserve Amazônia if its inhabitants are poor."
Signing of the EU-Mercusor Latin American trading agreement earlier this year. The pact still needs to be ratified.
Council of Hemispheric Affairs
Looming International Difficulties
The Bolsonaro government's perceived reluctance to take effective measures to curb deforestation may in the longer-term lead to a far more serious problem than the paralysis of the Amazon Fund.
In June, the European Union and Mercosur, the South American trade bloc, reached an agreement to create the largest trading bloc in the world. If all goes ahead as planned, the pact would account for a quarter of the world's economy, involving 780 million people, and remove import tariffs on 90 percent of the goods traded between the two blocs. The Brazilian government has predicted that the deal will lead to an increase of almost $100 billion in Brazilian exports, particularly agricultural products, by 2035.
But the huge surge this year in Amazon deforestation is leading some European countries to think twice about ratifying the deal. In an interview with Mongabay, the German environment ministry made it very clear that Germany is very worried about events in the Amazon: "We are deeply concerned given the pace of destruction in Brazil … The Amazon Forest is vital for the atmospheric circulation and considered as one of the tipping points of the climate system."
The ministry stated that, for the trade deal to go ahead, Brazil must carry out its commitment under the Paris Climate agreement to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 43 percent below the 2005 level by 2030. The German environment ministry said: If the trade deal is to go ahead, "It is necessary that Brazil is effectively implementing its climate change objectives adopted under the [Paris] Agreement. It is precisely this commitment that is expressly confirmed in the text of the EU-Mercosur Free Trade Agreement."
Blairo Maggi, Brazil agriculture minister under the Temer administration, and a major shareholder in Amaggi, the largest Brazilian-owned commodities trading company, has said very little in public since Bolsonaro came to power; he's been "in a voluntary retreat," as he puts it. But Maggi is so concerned about the damage Bolsonaro's off the cuff remarks and policies are doing to international relationships he decided to speak out earlier this week.
Former Brazil Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi, who has broken a self-imposed silence to criticize the Bolsonaro government, saying that its rhetoric and policies could threaten Brazil's international commodities trade.
Senado Federal / Visualhunt / CC BY
Maggi, a ruralista who strongly supports agribusiness, told the newspaper, Valor Econômico, that, even if the European Union doesn't get to the point of tearing up a deal that has taken 20 years to negotiate, there could be long delays. "These environmental confusions could create a situation in which the EU says that Brazil isn't sticking to the rules." Maggi speculated. "France doesn't want the deal and perhaps it is taking advantage of the situation to tear it up. Or the deal could take much longer to ratify — three, five years."
Such a delay could have severe repercussions for Brazil's struggling economy which relies heavily on its commodities trade with the EU. Analysists say that Bolsonaro's fears over such an outcome could be one reason for his recently announced October meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, another key trading partner.
Maggi is worried about another, even more alarming, potential consequence of Bolsonaro's failure to stem illegal deforestation — Brazil could be hit by a boycott by its foreign customers. "I don't buy this idea that the world needs Brazil … We are only a player and, worse still, replaceable." Maggi warns, "As an exporter, I'm telling you: things are getting very difficult. Brazil has been saying for years that it is possible to produce and preserve, but with this [Bolsonaro administration] rhetoric, we are going back to square one … We could find markets closed to us."
- Brazil's New President Could Spell Catastrophe for the Amazon ... ›
- Amazon Deforestation Increase Prompts Germany to Cut $39.5M in ... ›
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