Natural Disaster Forecasting

August 1, 1971. George Harrison and Ravi Shankar joined on stage by friends Bob Dylan, Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, Billy Preston to raise funds for UNICEF relief in Bangladesh.

August 1, 1971. George Harrison and Ravi Shankar joined on stage by friends Bob Dylan, Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, Billy Preston to raise funds for UNICEF relief in Bangladesh.

No snowmageddon in NY — though it’s nice, no school or work. After warnings of a snow storm of “historic proportions” it’s fun mocking the “state-of-emergency closure” of NY and NJ’s highways, bridges, tunnels, even the subway. Only 15″ snow total here (less than .5 meter), counting old snow from an earlier, small Alberta Clipper storm.

But forecasting is real, and it is saving hundreds of thousands of lives, I recently learned (in part through some writing for UN humanitarian-emergency agencies). Bangladesh suffered the Bhola tropical cyclone in 1970 (tropical cyclone, in American English, equals hurricane; Ghola was Cat. 3 in strength; Hurricane Sandy was just a Cat 1). Bhola was the deadliest storm ever recorded. Its storm surge was responsible for the deaths of 500,000 people, when their villages, in the Ganges Delta, were erased by the thousands. George Harrison and Ravi Shankar’s Concert for Bangladesh was organized for the survivors.*

Now compare that to an equally strong storm that caused disastrous flooding in Pakistan in 2014. Same-strength cyclone. Yet fewer than 500 people died in the disaster. Instead, because of investments in forecasting, 700,000 people were evacuated in time

[ * The 1971 Bhola cyclone hit millions of refugees uprooted by Bangladesh’s gruesome war for independence from Pakistan. The humanitarian crisis was worsened still more by larger-than-usual annual rains the next year, 1971, when the concert was held in NYC. ]

 

Chinese earthquake sensor. American Museum of Natural History.

Chinese earthquake sensor. American Museum of Natural History.

Second amazing thing: This ancient Chinese earthquake sensor (A.D. 132) (From “Nature’s Fury: The Science of Natural Disasters,” a current special exhibition at the AMNH. Eight toads, eight dragons’ heads. This didn’t forecast or measure magnitude of the natural dissaster, but showed its direction. Depending on where the shaking was coming from, a ball would fall from one of the dragons mouths into one of the frogs’. Not bad for 2,000 years ago.

Of course (tragically), the most deadly natural disaster in human history is believed to be the 1931 flooding in central Chin of the Yellow River, (which we discussed in “Yellow River of Sorrows“) in which as many as 4 million people died.

Stay warm & dry.

And thank you, whoever you are, readers on so many continents! If you like our blog, click “Sign me up” on the right for an email when we post, or follow @jillhamburgcoplan on Twitter.

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