August 31, 2015

Hurricane Fred Threatens Cape Verde Islands

Way back on May 9th we reported on an unusually early start to the 2015 Atlantic Hurricane Season. Things have been fairly quiet since then. There have been a few named tropical storms, one of which became Hurricane Danny on August 20th. Danny didn't pose much threat to life and limb, but another unusual tropical storm is about to change that. At 06:00 UTC this morning the National Hurricane Centre advised that:


LOCATION…15.3N 22.5W

Fred is unusual because he's still so close to the African coast. It's very rare for an Atlantic hurricane to form at a longitude east of 35 degrees west. The only one that formed in the area that I can find in NOAA's historical records is an unnamed hurricane from September 1892 that reached hurricane force over the islands:

The 09:00 UTC bulletin from the NHC reports that:


LOCATION…15.6N 22.9W

A Hurricane Warning is in effect for the Cape Verde Islands

A Hurricane Warning means that hurricane conditions are expected
somewhere within the warning area, in this case within the next 6
to 12 hours. Preparations to protect life and property should be
rushed to completion.

Here's Fred's current forecast track:

and here's how Fred looked from space yesterday:

[Edit - 14:45 UTC 31/08/2015]

The view of Fred from the Terra satellite today:

Here's a video of the effect Fred is having on Sal Island, which is the most northeasterly in the image above:

[Edit 01/09/2015]

Thanks to mosomoso for pointing out that in 1900 a hurricane formed east of the one in 1892, but still west of Fred:

The view of Fred from the International Space Station yesterday, courtesy of Scott Kelly:

The view of Fred from the Terra satellite today:

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July 26, 2015

Wet and Windy Weather is Bad For Our Beaches

The Met Office currently has a yellow weather warning for wind in place for South West England for tomorrow:

saying that:

Winds are already strong in many places though Sunday. However, west to southwesterly winds are expected to increase further during Monday. Inland gusts of 40-45 mph are possible, whilst gusts may exceed 50 mph along the north coasts of Cornwall, Devon and Somerset

Not only that but they've also just published a blog post which shows that the summer of 2015 thus far hasn't been too bad for rain in this neck of the woods:

However the article also points out that:

Over January to June 2015 the pressure has been lower than normal to the north of Scotland but higher than normal to the south-west, resulting in a predominant westerly airflow over the UK, meaning that our weather has often been windy. Although during 2015 there have been some periods of high pressure, for example during March and early April, they have been relatively infrequent, particularly from May onwards.

Despite the recent increasingly inclement conditions our Environment Agency flood widget currently shows no warnings. However please also take a look at the Surfers Against Sewage interactive map for South West England:

There are currently "short term pollution incidents" reported for lots of beaches across the South West peninsula, including some of our regular haunts including Woolacombe and Bude Summerleaze. Be careful out there just at the moment!

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May 10, 2015

Super Typhoon Noul Pounds the Philippines

As Tropical Storm Ana makes landfall on the coast of the Carolinas as the first named tropical cyclone of the 2015 season in the Atlantic, in the western Pacific the 2015 typhoon season started back in January. Following three tropical cyclones and two full blown typhoons so far already in 2015 here's how things look over there at the moment:

NASA “true-color” image of Super Typhoon Noul on May 10th 2015, derived from bands 1, 4 and 3 of the MODIS sensor on the Aqua satellite

NASA “true-color” image of Super Typhoon Noul on May 10th 2015, derived from bands 1, 4 and 3 of the MODIS sensor on the Aqua satellite

As you can see super typhoon Noul is about to make landfall, in this case in Cayagan Province in the northeast of Luzon, the largest and most populous island in the Philippines. Here's what the latest bulletin about Noul from the Joint Typhoon Warning Center has to say:

100600Z — NEAR 17.9N 122.6E

As you can also now appreciate, Noul is a much stronger storm than Ana. Here's what the Philippines' National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council report in their 11:00 bulletin on May 10th, using their own name for the storm:

Typhoon Dogong has accelerated as it moves closer to Sta. Ana Point, Cayagan.
Maximum sustained winds of 185 kph near the centre and gustiness of up to 220 kph.
Forecast to move Northwest at 20 kph.
Wave Height (Open Sea) more than 14.0 meters.

For Northeastern Cagayan the projected effects of Noul include:

  • Very heavy damage to high risk structures
  • Heavy damage to medium risk structures
  • Moderate damage to low risk structures
  • Many houses of medium-built  materials are unroofed, some with collapsed walls; extensive damage to doors and windows
  • There is almost total damage to banana plantation
  • Most mango trees, ipil-ipil and similar types of large trees are downed or broken
  • Coconut plantation may suffer extensive damage
  • Rice and corn plantation may suffer severe losses

As we wait to discover the full extent of the damage to life, limb and property wrought by Noul, already waiting in the wings is "Dolphin".

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May 9, 2015

Early Start to 2015 Atlantic Hurricane Season

The Atlantic hurricane season officially runs from June 1st until November 30th. Last year the first named storm of the season was called Arthur and he formed on July 1st. This year the first storm of the 2015 season is called Ana, and the United States National Hurricane Center first mentioned the as yet unnamed storm on May 3rd 2015:

A non-tropical area of low pressure is expected to form north of the Bahamas later this week. This system could gradually acquire some subtropical characteristics by Thursday or Friday as it moves slowly northward.

* Formation chance through 48 hours…low…near 0 percent
* Formation chance through 5 days…low…30 percent

Despite those low probabilities the NHC issued their first public advisory message for Ana late on May 7th:


LOCATION…31.5N 77.6W


Ana formed unusually early, and is in fact the earliest named Atlantic tropical cyclone since another Ana in 2003. By this morning she had acquired the characteristics of a fully fledged tropical storm. According to the NHC once again:


LOCATION…32.4N 77.6W

A Tropical Storm Warning is in effect for: South Santee River South Carolina to Cape Lookout
A Tropical Storm Watch is in effect for: Edisto Beach South Carolina to South of South Santee River

WIND: Tropical storm conditions are expected within the warning area, and possible within the watch area, by this afternoon or evening.

STORM SURGE: The combination of storm surge and the tide will cause normally dry areas near the coast to be flooded by rising waters. The water could reach 1 to 2 ft above ground at times of high tide in coastal areas from Cape Hatteras, North Carolina southward through South Carolina. For information specific to your area, please see products issued by your local National Weather Service forecast office.

RAINFALL: Tropical Storm Ana is expected to produce rainfall accumulations of 1 to 3 inches, with isolated amounts of 5 inches, over eastern portions of North Carolina and South Carolina through Monday.

SURF: Swells generated by Ana are affecting portions of the southeastern U.S. coast. These swells will likely cause life-threatening surf and rip currents. Please see statements issued by your local National Weather Service forecast office.

Here is Ana's current forecast track:

The NHC forecast track of Tropical Storm Ana issued at 08:00 EDT on Saturday May 9th, 2015

The NHC forecast track of Tropical Storm Ana issued at 08:00 EDT on Saturday May 9th, 2015

And here's what she looked like yesterday from on high, in a "true color" image derived from the MODIS instrument on the Aqua satellite:

NASA Worldview “true-color” image of Tropical Storm Ana on May 8th, derived from bands 1, 4 and 3 of the MODIS sensor on the Aqua satellite

NASA Worldview “true-color” image of Tropical Storm Ana on May 8th, derived from bands 1, 4 and 3 of the MODIS sensor on the Aqua satellite

If the forecasts are accurate Ana isn't going to turn into a hurricane, but nonetheless she is certainly going to cause a few problems for the inhabitants of the coast of the Carolinas.

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February 26, 2015

Further Flooding Forecast for SW England

Following on from the floods earlier in the week another "super swell" is now heading in our direction from the North Atlantic.

Here's the Magic Seaweed surf forecast for 3 PM this afternoon (February 26th 2015):

Once again the maximum swell height is in the black (48 feet and over) range, but this "super storm" is aiming a bit further north than the previous one. Hence the first red flood warning today is for North West England:

Nonetheless the Environment Agency have issued their first orange alerts in South West England this time around, along the North coasts of Devon, Cornwall and Somerset:

The details for North Devon state that:

The River Torridge and tributaries are responding to overnight and morning rainfall. The band of rain should clear the area around lunchtime. Its expected the river will rise until the rain has cleared. This alert and floodline will be updated by 6pm or earlier if the situation changes.

Finally, for the moment at least, here's the "Earth/Wind" visualisation at 12 noon of the massive storm currently centred over Iceland that is sending all this weather our way:

Can you also see the smaller storm in the top right of the picture that is currently buffeting the Arctic sea ice in the Barents Sea?

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February 22, 2015

Britain Expects a Battering From a "Super Swell"

The Met Office has published a joint article with the Environment Agency about what it refers to as "super tides":

There has been a lot of media coverage about the potential impact of so-called ‘super tides’ which are due from today (Friday, 20 February) through to Monday.

Tides are governed by the gravitational pull of the moon and, to a lesser extent, the sun. Because the sun and moon go through different alignment, this affects the size of the tides.

When the gravitational pull of the sun and moon combine, we see larger than average tides – known as spring tides. When the gravitational pulls offset each other, we get smaller tides known as neap tides. We see two periods of spring and neap tides roughly every month.

However there is a longer cycle at work too, associated with the gravitational pull of the planets in the solar system. This means we can see additional, albeit relatively small, increases and decreases in the size of spring and neap tides over long periods of time.

We are currently at the height of those increases, so the astronomical tide is at an 18-year peak – although this is only a few centimetres bigger than a more average spring tide.

Of course then there is the weather to consider. Here's the Magic Seaweed surf forecast for 9 AM tomorrow morning (February 23rd 2015)

Note that the swell currently heading for Western Ireland is off the top of the maximum 50 foot scale. Here's how the Met Office's current national flood forecast looks:

The Met Office isn't forecasting any out of the ordinary winds today, but here's their yellow wind warnings for tomorrow:

As you can see, we're not going to get the worst of the incoming storm down here in the West Country. Nonetheless the coastal battering we can expect has already resulted in red flood warnings for the North coast of Somerset, and orange alerts for a long list of other north and south coast areas. Here's how our South West flood widget looks this evening:

We confidently expect some of those orange alerts to turn red tomorrow. Here's an Environment Agency video explaining their flood warning service in more detail:

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February 17, 2015

Dave, Nick and Ed Pledge to Save the Planet

The Green Alliance say they are:

A charity and independent think tank focused on ambitious leadership for the environment.

Since 1979, we have been working with a growing network of influential leaders in business, NGOs and politics to stimulate new thinking and dialogue on environmental policy, and increase political action and support for environmental solutions in the UK.

They announced on Valentine's Day 2015 that:

In a highly unusual move the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition have agreed to work together across party lines to tackle climate change.

The agreement follows the launch of The Climate Coalition’s SHOW THE LOVE campaign which has reached millions across the UK, thousands of whom are wearing green hearts and telling the world what they love that could be lost to climate change.

Here's video evidence of Dave, Nick and Ed showing their love for our planet by signing the agreement:

and here is another video revealing some famous faces ranging from Stephen Fry to Jarvis Cocker showing their love for our planet by reciting a Shakespeare sonnet.

The agreement our glorious leaders and would be leader signed states that:

Climate change is one of the most serious threats facing the world today. It is not just a threat to the environment, but also to our national and global security, to poverty eradication and economic prosperity.

Acting on climate change is also an opportunity for the UK to grow a stronger economy, which is more efficient and more resilient to the risks ahead. It is in our national interest to act and ensure others act with us.

2015 offers a unique opportunity to accelerate that opportunity, with countries pledging their contributions to action before the world comes together at Paris at the end of the year to reach an agreement on tackling climate change. It is vital that this agreement is a success, and the UK will play its part in ensuring an ambitious outcome.

That is why we pledge:

  • To seek a fair, strong, legally binding, global climate deal which limits temperature rises to below 2°C.
  • To work together, across party lines, to agree [UK] carbon budgets”, which are required by law but which caused serious cabinet clashes in 2011.
  • To accelerate the transition to a competitive, energy-efficient low-carbon economy and to end the use of unabated coal for power generation.

Many fine words from the likes of Dave, Nick, Ed, Stephen and Jarvis then, but for me at least here's a different quote from Will that sums things up neatly:

It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Why do I quote those words of Macbeth, or these?

Gracious my lord,
I should report that which I say I saw.

Last Friday I attended a seminar at Exeter University given by Professor Kevin Anderson,  who is professor of energy and climate change in the School of Mechanical, Aeronautical and Civil Engineering at the University of Manchester. Here is a brief extract:

You will note that Kevin asks a rhetorical question at 1:10:

What about 2°C?

and summarises the answer as follows:

He goes on to say that:

We can't do [2°C] with low carbon supply. We can't make the changes quick enough. You have to do something with our demand for energy, and that is very, very unpopular amongst all of us, all of our colleagues, all the policy makers, so basically the whole world, all the high emitting parts of the world, which is only a small proportion, none of us like this at all, and that's why we don't really like the science.

My words to that effect on the Green Alliance blog currently remain hidden from public view.

A copy of Professor Anderson's slides from his presentation can be downloaded from the seminar archive web page.

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January 21, 2015

The Climatic State of the Union

I stayed up late last night (UK time) to watch Barack Obama deliver his 2015 State of the Union address to the United States Congress. I was particularly interested to hear what he had to say about climate change. In the event he said the word "climate" four times. Apparently that's a new record.

Mr. Obama referred to another record in his speech:

2014 was the planet’s warmest year on record.

That "fact" is causing considerable controversy in the media at the moment, with the usual suspects disputing the overwhelming scientific evidence. Getting back to Barack Obama's speech for now though, the White House has conveniently uploaded a video of the "climate" section of his speech to YouTube. Here it is:

The White House also made a full transcript of the speech available online, even before Mr. Obama's stood up and started talking. Here's the climate section of that:

No challenge poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change.

2014 was the planet’s warmest year on record. Now, one year doesn’t make a trend, but this does  – 14 of the 15 warmest years on record have all fallen in the first 15 years of this century.

I’ve heard some folks try to dodge the evidence by saying they’re not scientists; that we don’t have enough information to act. Well, I’m not a scientist, either. But you know what – I know a lot of really good scientists at NASA, and NOAA, and at our major universities. The best scientists in the world are all telling us that our activities are changing the climate, and if we do not act forcefully, we’ll continue to see rising oceans, longer, hotter heat waves, dangerous droughts and floods, and massive disruptions that can trigger greater migration, conflict, and hunger around the globe. The Pentagon says that climate change poses immediate risks to our national security. We should act like it.

That’s why, over the past six years, we’ve done more than ever before to combat climate change, from the way we produce energy, to the way we use it. That’s why we’ve set aside more public lands and waters than any administration in history. And that’s why I will not let this Congress endanger the health of our children by turning back the clock on our efforts. I am determined to make sure American leadership drives international action. In Beijing, we made an historic announcement – the United States will double the pace at which we cut carbon pollution, and China committed, for the first time, to limiting their emissions. And because the world’s two largest economies came together, other nations are now stepping up, and offering hope that, this year, the world will finally reach an agreement to protect the one planet we’ve got.

Whilst I have to agree that the "historic announcement" in Beijing is a small step in the right direction, it is in fact far too little far too late given the scale of the problem. I've said this before, far too often, but I'll say it once more. Actions speak louder than innumerable fine words, and despite Barack Obama's stated "determination" the evidence of his first 6 years in office suggests that both American leadership and international action will continue to be sadly lacking.

By way of some evidence for that conclusion here once again is a graphic overview of the most recent data from the PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency's annual report on global carbon dioxide emissions, in this case for 2013:

and here are some brief extracts from the main findings of the report, which reveals yet another new global record:

In 2013 global CO2 emissions grew to the new record of 35.3 billion tonnes (Gt). Sharp risers include Brazil (+ 6.2%), India (+ 4.4%), China (+ 4.2%) and Indonesia (+2.3%). The much lower emissions increase in China of 4.2% in 2013 and 3.4% in 2012 was primarily due to a decline in electricity and fuel demand from the basic materials industry, and aided by an increase in renewable energy and by energy efficiency improvements. The emissions increase in the United States in 2013 (+2.5%) was mainly due to a shift in power production from gas back to coal together with an increase in gas consumption due to a higher demand for space heating.

Whilst we wait to discover what all the hot air that will no doubt be emitted at the UNFCCC COP 21/CMP 11 conference in Paris later this year produces in the way of American or international "acting like it", here are the long term trends in carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere:

global mean surface temperature:

and Arctic sea ice extent:

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August 28, 2014

Ashcombe Solar Farm Planning Deadline Extended

The original target date for the delegated decision on Solstice Renewables' application to construct a 7.5 MW solar PV park on the Ashcombe Estate was August 29th 2014. However I have just checked the Teignbridge District Council planning web site to see if my own objections to the proposal are visible yet. There I discovered a new letter from the applicant's agent which was posted yesterday, and part of which reads as follows:

Thank you once again for meeting us this afternoon; we hope you found it as constructive as we did.

We hereby agree to an extension of time until 19 September 2014.

It would therefore seem that if you would like to comment further on these proposals there is still time to do so, although I would suggest not leaving it until the (revised) last minute like I did!  My own objections incorporated my long standing arguments about the balancing act between food security and energy security here in the United Kingdom. In addition they now also include evidence concerning what seems to me to be the inevitable conclusion to the piecemeal addition of renewable generation to Western Power Distribution's electricity distribution network here in South West England:

Extract from Western Power Distribution's distributed generation EHV constraint map

Extract from Western Power Distribution's distributed generation EHV constraint map

The green lines represent 33 kV high voltage cables. Those bordered in yellow, including the line from Dawlish to Chudleigh Knighton that Solstice Renewables would like to connect the Ashcombe solar "farm" to, are already subject to "Voltage Constraint". Those bordered in blue are already subject to "Thermal Overload". In simple terms, most of the electricity grid in SW England is already "overloaded" by "intermittent" renewable energy generation. Getting slightly more technical the "capacity factor" of a power plant is the total amount of energy generated during a period of time divided by the amount of energy that would have been produced operating continuously at full capacity.

The latest UK government statistics reveal that in 2013 the average capacity factor for solar PV in the UK was 10.3%, which effectively means that the local grid infrastructure needs to be overspecified by a factor of 9.7 times in order to accommodate the peak power generated by the proposed solar farm, compared to the average power it might produce in practice. By way of comparison the capacity factor of "onshore wind" generation is 28.9%. Better still are "anaerobic digestion" at 60.2% and "plant biomass" at 65.5%. The obvious question, or so it seems to me at least, is why not do rather more of the last two and rather less of the first two down here on Devon's green and pleasant agricultural land?

I also noted that the recently "adopted" Teignbridge Local Plan for 2013-2033 explicitly states that:

The target in Policy S7 is based on carbon emissions rather than on renewable energy generation, as this is the key issue leading to global climate change.

which strikes me as most definitely a step in the right direction. Quoting my own most recent missive to Teignbridge District Council, and conjecturing whether things like "NegaWatts" or "NegaTonnes" enter into their carbon calculations:

Perhaps an even better option when you’re trying to reduce carbon dioxide emissions is to recall that as plants grow they take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen. If you plough them straight back into the soil that carbon dioxide is released again fairly quickly.  If however you convert straw and/or other plant "waste" into charcoal by “pyrolysing” it in the absence of oxygen, the resulting carbon (commonly referred to as "biochar")  can be ploughed back into the land whilst any excess “syngas” generated during the process can be used as a renewable fuel, in much the same way as the "biogas" produced by an anaerobic digester.  The carbon thus sequestered remains buried in the soil for hundreds if not thousands of years, and has the added benefit of greatly increasing the soil’s fertility. It also increases the “absorbency” of the soil for both water and nutrients. A win-win-win situation if ever there was one.

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August 22, 2014

Floodgates open to solar farm "monstrosities"?

According to today's edition of the Western Morning News:

Planning Minister Kris Hopkins has revealed he will not “call in” plans for 45,000 solar panels to be build at Coombeshead Farm, Diptford, South Devon.

The decision has angered Sarah Wollaston, MP for the area that has been targeted by a series of solar proposals, who said the Government’s promise to offer greater protection to rural areas from “monstrosities” was now “in limbo”.

The Tory MP for Totnes added the move “opened the floodgates” to developers.

Whether this is how things actually pan out in practice remains to be seen, since Western Power Distribution's electricity distribution network is already full to capacity across most of South West England. For the present at least, the WMN continues by pointing out that:

South Hams District Council, the planning authority in charge, approved proposals on the 58-acre parcel of land in May, but planning permission was not to be granted until the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) had run the rule over the plan.

Dr Wollaston said: “I am dismayed that the Secretary of State has failed to call in the planning application for yet another vast solar array near Diptford In my opinion it is simply not good enough to pass the buck to the district council. The question was whether this was ‘cumulative impact’. It now opens the floodgates. As I have raised with DCLG before, district government approves these monstrosities partly because of massive cost of appeals and penalties. What was needed was a clarification of whether this constituted ‘cumulative impact on landscape’; an important principle is now left in limbo.”

On her own web site Sarah Wollaston reproduces Kris Hopkins' letters to herself and South Hams DC in full:

I was very disappointed when I received the following correspondence from Kris Hopkins, Minister for Local Government to tell me that the Secretary of State has decided not to call in the Coombeshead Solar Farm application.

Thank you for your letter of 8 May requesting the Secretary of State to call in the above planning application.

We remain committed to giving more power to councils and communities to make their own decisions on planning issues, and believe that planning decisions should be made at the local level wherever possible. The call-in policy makes it clear that the power to call in a case will only be used very selectively.

In deciding whether to call in this application, I have considered my policy on calling in planning applications. This policy gives examples of the types of issues which may lead me to conclude, in my opinion that the application should be called in. I am satisfied that the application should be determined at local level.

I appreciate that this is not the preferred outcome for you and your constituents. However, it is now for South Hams District Council to determine the application and a copy of our letter to the Council is attached for your information.

The following is a copy of the letter sent to South Hams District Council.

Town and Country Planning Act 1990

Application for the installation of up to 45,000 ground mounted solar pv panels, erection of ancillary buildings and structures and access tracks at Coombeshead Farm, Diptford, nr Totnes, Devon.

I refer to the above application.

The Secretary of State has carefully considered this case against call-in policy, as set out in the Written Ministerial Statement by Nick Boles on 26th October 2012. The policy makes it clear that the power to call in a case will only be used very selectively. The Government is committed to give more power to councils and communities to make their own decisions on planning issues, and believes planning decisions should be made at the local level wherever possible.

In deciding whether to call in this application, the Secretary of State has considered his policy on calling in planning applications. This policy gives examples of the types of issues which may lead him to conclude, in his opinion that the application should be called in. The Secretary of State has decided, having had regard to this policy, not to call in this application. He is content that it should be determined by South Hams District Council.

In considering whether to exercise the discretion to call in this application, the Secretary of State has not considered the matter of whether this application is EIA Development for the purpose of the Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 2011. South Hams District Council is responsible for considering whether these Regulations apply to this proposed development and, if so, for ensuring that the requirements of the Regulations are complied with.

In conclusion according to the Western Morning News once again:

No-one from London-based developer AEE Renewables was available for comment.

and there is no new news bulletin on the Coombeshead Solar web site as yet either. However AEE are presumably very pleased with this outcome!

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