Tag Archives: #tbt

Pineapple Express

Flooded roads, downed power lines, all-in-all it’s been a messy day on the California coast, thanks to heavy rains and wind sweeping in from Hawaii.

All in what a recent study analyzing tree rings calls the worst drought in at least 1,200 years.

Although there are 37 times over the past 1,200 years when there were three-year dry periods in California, no period had as little rainfall and as hot of temperatures as 2012-14, the scientists concluded.

Which can make storms, when they do come, even more damaging. The dry earth is less able to absorb the water, so it runs off into low lying areas, including 101 in San Jose, downtown Rhonert Park, and vineyards in Sonoma.

This is exactly the kind of situation that we prep for. Keeping new batteries in flashlights,  having enough food for a couple of days, being able to batten down the hatches on a moments notice, paying attention to the weather reports so you don’t find yourself up to your windshield while driving through a “puddle” on your way to work.

The storm is forecast to continue through Friday night, so please stay safe out there (or better yet, stay in).

Remembering James Kim

I didn’t know James Kim. In fact, I didn’t know anything about him until a few days after Thanksgiving, 2006, when he and his family, a wife and two daughters, were reported missing somewhere between Portland, OR and their home in San Francisco.

It was everywhere on the news in the Bay Area, and especially around Silicon Valley tech companies back in the days when I still worked in tech. He was local. He worked as a technology analyst. He was one of us. And he had disappeared.

All it took was one missed turn and a bad decision to continue on a secondary route. And then, when the weather continued to get worse, they made another, landing them on an unpaved logging road in a blizzard.

They stopped because they were exhausted, and because the snow prevented them from continuing forward. Four days later, on November 30th, the search began. On December 2nd, Kim set out to look for help. On December 4th, a helicopter pilot found Mrs. Kim and the girls thanks to a cell tower ping from Kim’s phone. On December 6th, they finally found Kim, dead of hypothermia, likely the same day his wife and daughters were rescued–8 years ago today.

James Kim was well educated, young (35 at his death), and healthy. His car was new and had won the highest safety awards. And yet…

At the time and after people talked about what he could have done differently. He could have waited in Seattle or Portland unit the bad weather passed. He could have turned the car around to get back on the main road. He could have stayed with the vehicle instead of venturing out into the snow. But for how long?

That year, that holiday season was when, for me, the importance of preparedness really hit home. A few weeks later, my brother and his family travelled from Seattle to San Francisco for Christmas like they do every year. And with James Kim in mind, I created car kits stocked with emergency supplies–flares and food and space blankets and more–for everyone in my immediate family.

This year, with the weather as unpredictable as it is, it may be time to give a few more. Here are some of my favorite winter prep articles to inspire your own holiday giving.


Giving Thanks

On this day in history, or somewhere near it, a group of Native Americans shared their food and food growing and gathering expertise with a group of European newcomers who were having trouble adjusting to the rigors of their new homes. In the story told in the history books, the Native Americans were generous, the Pilgrims were grateful, and it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. But of course that isn’t quite what happened.

The first thing to notice is that the Native American side is absent from the story. Which is probably a huge part of the reason why the after-effects of that historic meal are also left out.

For many indigenous Americans, “Thanksgiving [is considered] the beginning of the end of life as the native peoples had known it before the arrival of the pilgrims, who began to lay claim to more and more land.” Displacement, smallpox, and massacres became ever more common as the newcomers plowed westward, clearing existing residents and claiming land as they went.

These days Thanksgiving-based oppression is subtler.

The Thanksgiving Indian costume that all the other children and I made in my elementary classroom trivialized and degraded the descendants of the proud Wampanoags, whose ancestors attended the first Thanksgiving popularized in American culture.

Dennis Zotigh, writer and cultural specialist at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.

This year, as we give thanks for our turkeys, cranberry relish, and sweet potatoes, let us pause for a moment, or more than a moment to remember the Native Americans who gave those early Pilgrims so much, and in doing so, lost so much more.

Learn more about the true story of Thanksgiving, the results of centuries of oppression, and the National Day of Mourning.

The Bhola Cyclone

On the evening of November 12, 1970, the Bhola cyclone made landfall on the coast of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), dissipating slowly on November 13. Both the cyclone and the rains leading up to and following it resulted in:

  • A 33 foot high storm surge at the Ganges Delta
  • Complete decimation of the 13 nearby islands, leaving no survivors
  • Flooding that damaged ports, ships, and the local airpot
  • Destruction of homes, boats, and the deaths of more than half of the area’s fishermen

In India, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, got the brunt of the forming cyclone on November 8 and 9 with heavy rains and widespread flooding, while West Bengal and Assam caught the tail end with rain-related damage to housing and crops. In addition, on November 12, the storm sank a 5,500-ton freighter, killing all 50 people on board.

Considered one of the deadliest disasters in modern times, and the deadliest recorded tropical cyclone, the Bhola cyclone claimed between 300,000 and 500,000 lives and did $86.4 million worth of damage.

As if the devastation of the storm wasn’t enough, political tensions between India and Pakistan got in the way of advanced warnings, leading to much higher death rates than might have occurred, while conflict between Pakistan and East Pakistan resulted in delayed aid, triggering the resignation of the Pakistani president, the Bangladesh Liberation War, and eventually the creation of the new nation of Bangladesh. It also inspired the first ever benefit concert, spearheaded by Bengali musician and ex-Beatle George Harrison–The Concert for Bangladesh.

Remembering Sandy

Hurricane Sandy
Hurricane Sandy, Live Cam NY 1

Two years ago yesterday, on October 29, 2012, Hurricane Sandy hit New York City with a storm surge that flooded subways, tunnels, and streets, caused widespread power outages, and even shut down the New York Stock Exchange. Which was crazy enough on its own, but turned out to be only a fraction of the damage done. From its formation on October 22, just south of Kingston, Jamaica to its dissipation over Ontario, Canada on November 2, 2012, Hurricane Sandy was responsible for approximately 150 deaths and 21 missing, millions of people without power, severe gas shortages and rationing, more than 19,700 flights cancelled, and approximately $68 billion (USD) worth of damage.

Those of us not in affected areas spent our days watching unbelievable images–row after row of drowned taxi cabs, boats resting on train tracks or piled like a child’s forgotten toys, street signs buried up to their necks in sand, a roller coaster half submerged in the ocean.

For the US, Sandy was the second costliest Atlantic hurricane, after Katrina in 2005 which did $108 billion in damage. But what really struck me about Sandy, perhaps more than any other disaster before or since, was how just plain apocalyptic it looked–billion dollar, summer blockbuster, The Day After Tomorrow-level apocalyptic. And suddenly, this whole climate change thing felt really, really real.

Here are a few refreshers, just in case those images don’t still haunt your dreams:
50 Dramatic Images of Destruction (The Telegraph, UK)
Hurricane Sandy Then and Now (CNN World)
Shocking Before and After Photos of Hurricane Sandy (Buzzfeed)

Throwback Thursday: October 23

I had no idea when I Googled October 23, that it was such an infamous day. Here are just a few of the high- (and low-) lights:

Natural Disasters

  • Tornado strikes London, destroying London Bridge (1091)
  • Underground earthquake traps 174 miners in Springhill Mine (Nova Scotia) after unde the deepest coal mine in North America at the time; 100 were rescued (1958)
  • Powerful earthquake and aftershocks hit Niigata prefecture, northern Japan, killing 35 people, injuring 2,200, and leaving 85,000 homeless or evacuated (2004)
  • 7.2 magnitude earthquake strikes Van Province, Turkey, killing 582 people and injuring thousands (2011)

Un-natural Disasters

  • Sailing ship “Aeneus” sinks off Newfoundland killing 340 (1805)
  • 12 passengers and crewmen aboard American Airlines DC-3 killed when it is struck by a U.S. Army Air Forces bomber near Palm Springs, California (1942)
  • NBC airs BBC footage of Ethiopian famine (1984)
  • Early morning blackout darkens San Francisco (1997)
  • Dow Jones drops 186.88 points (1997)
  • Hospital fire kills 12 and injures 40 in Tainan, Taiwan (2012)

Uprisings, Revolts, and Demonstrations

  • Outbreak of the Irish Rebellion of 1641
  • Revolt in Haarlem after public ban on smoking (1690)
  • Slaves revolt in Haiti (later suppressed) (1790)
  • African demonstrators shot in Port Elizabeth, South Africa (1920)
  • 22 demonstrators killed at Bijbihara in Indian-controlled Kashmir (1993)

Battles, Wars, & Weapons of Mass Destruction

  • Brutus’s army is decisively defeated by Mark Antony and Octavian; Brutus commits suicide (42 BC)
  • Battle of Bay of Vigo: Dutch & English fleet destroy & occupy Spanish silver fleet & French squadron (1702)
  • 1st Infantry division “Big Red One” shoots 1st US shot in WW I (1917)
  • USSR performs nuclear test at Novaya Zemlya USSR (1961)
  • Suicide terrorist truck bomb kills 243 US personnel in Beirut (1893)
  • France performs nuclear test at Muruora Island (1987)
  • US performs nuclear test at Nevada Test Site (1987)
  • Seven people killed by IRA bomb attack in Belfast (1993)
  • Chechen rebels seize House of Culture theater in Moscow, take approximately 700 theater-goers hostage (2002)


  • First Jewish transport out of Rome reaches camp Birkenau (1943)

Luckily there are a few bright lights on this often dark day:

  • First steam locomotive introduced (1824)
  • Canadian Senate formed (1867)
  • Blanche Scott is the first woman to solo a public airplane flight (1910)
  • 25,000 women march in New York City demanding right to vote (1915)
  • Disney’s animated Dumbo released (1941)
  • Laos granted sovereignty by France (1953)
  • Boris Pasternak, wins Nobel Prize for Literature (1958)
  • 400,000 demonstrateagainst cruise missile in Brussels (1983)
  • The Provisional Irish Republican Army of Northern Ireland commences disarmament after peace talks (2001)

Source: historyorb.com (Check it out–very cool.)

Ebola Number Crunching

With the Ebola virus all over the news these days, it can be hard not to think about it. I remember reading the book The Hot Zone when it first came out, and being surprised when the threat seemed to simply evaporate.

Since it has returned to the center of the global stage I find myself pondering the question “Why?” Looking at the history of Ebola outbreaks, a pattern emerges: A brief, intense period of activity followed by a period of no activity. Why does the virus seem to disappear for sometimes years at a time? What are the conditions or lack thereof that stop the spread of infection? And, can we identify and reproduce these conditions?

According to the CDC, that pattern looks something like this:

  • 1976-1979: First recorded case of Ebola virus in humans–638 infected in Zaire, Sudan,  and England (laboratory-infected)/454 deaths (71% mortality rate)
  • 1980-1994: No documented cases of Ebola in humans*
  • 1194-1997: Ebola resurfaces–468 infected in Gabon, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire), South Africa (aid worker and nurse), and Russia (laboratory-infected)/349 deaths (75% mortality rate)
  • 1998-1999: No documented cases of Ebola in humans*
  • 2000-2004: Ebola resurfaces–743 infected in Uganda, Gabon, Republic of Congo, Sudan, Russia (laboratory-infected)/485 deaths (65% mortality rate)
  • 2005-2006: No documented cases of Ebola in humans*
  • 2007-2009: Ebola resurfaces–445 infected in Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda/239deaths (53% mortality rate)
  • 2010: No documented cases of Ebola in humans*
  • 2011: 1 infected in Uganda/1 death (100% mortality rate)
  • 2012-2013: 53 infected in Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo/20 deaths (37% mortality rate)
  • 2014: ~4655 infected in outbreaks across Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, with limited travel-associated and/or localized infection  in Nigeria, Spain, USA, and Senegal/2431 deaths (52% mortality rate)

4 years active/15 years silent
4 years active/2 years silent
5 years active/2 years silent
3 years active/1 year silent
4 years (so far) active…

Perhaps we are due for another period of silence, soon.

A few things to note:

  • I do understand that the scope of this most recent outbreak–100 times greater than the mid-90s event that sparked the book The Hot Zone–is unlike anything we’ve seen in the past and that is likely to extend the active dates well beyond the previous pattern.
  • All of the numbers of infected and deaths are reported numbers only. Many additional cases may have occurred that were not tracked.
  • The CDC website tracks Ebola cases on an outbreak basis. I have combined both locations and numbers here to simplifying the math in my search for an over-arching trend. Looking at each outbreak and each location individually would yield different patterns.
  • I am not a researcher, a statistician, or any kind of health care professional, and all of my musings should be taken, at best, as conjecture. I am simply a curious onlooker playing with numbers and asking questions.

* Reston virus, a variant of Ebola found in animal populations in the Philippines, did occur  during otherwise Ebola-free years as follows:

  • 1989-1992: Outbreak in Philippine monkey populations–7 laboratory workers in the USA, Philippines, and Italy exposed, all developed antibodies but no symptoms
  • 1996:  Outbreak in Philippine monkey populations and virus identified in USA-based lab–0 human exposure
  • 2008: First known cases of virus in pigs–6 farm and slaughterhouse workers in the Philippines developed antibodies but no symptoms