Quotulatiousness

October 15, 2014

60 years after Hurricane Hazel

Filed under: Cancon, History — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 10:08

John Stall marks the 60th anniversary of the devastation caused by Hurricane Hazel in Toronto:

On Oct. 15, 1954, the hurricane made landfall near Myrtle Beach, S.C. and ravaged islands in the Caribbean and Bahamas.

The effects of the hurricane pounded Toronto with winds topping 110 km/h, washing out bridges and homes.

Around 285 millimetres of rain fell in 48 hours, causing the Humber River to breach its banks, leading to destruction in the Toronto area. Bodies were also carried away as far away as Rochester, N.Y.

In Toronto, more than 30 people died on Raymore Drive — a street that runs parallel to the Humber River, just south of Lawrence Avenue, alone.

The storm claimed the lives of 81 people in southern Ontario and left thousands homeless.

Published on 7 Nov 2012

In October 1954 disaster struck the Humber Valley in Toronto when Hurricane Hazel came inland 960 km from the Carolina coast. Archival film footage and old photos reveal the tragedy unfolding as 10 metres of water came down the valley trapping people in their homes and cars and sweeping them down river. Emergency services were called in to help and volunteers perished as they were struck by a wall of water. Eighty-one people died, 4,000 families were left homeless and flooding rivers took out 20 bridges. Hazel changed the landscape forever leading to dams and water conservation, park and ravine management, and laws banning home building on flood plains.

June 22, 2014

“Draw Play” Dave on how Minnesota got the Super Bowl in 2018

Filed under: Business, Football, Humour — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 10:20

I probably don’t need to say that the Super Bowl is a big ticket item … that much must be clear even to people who don’t have any conscious awareness of the NFL. Part of the push for a new football stadium in Minnesota was the hope that the new stadium would allow Minneapolis/St. Paul to bid on (and hope to win) the competition to host the Super Bowl in the newly completed stadium. The NFL being what it is, this meant a lot of “sweeteners” had to be offered to entice the league up to the deep freeze of Minnesota in the middle of winter. (Full disclosure: I’ve never been to Minnesota in winter, so maybe I’m just being swayed by pro-winter propaganda, but I believe it gets a tad cooler in the land of the ten thousand frozen lakes than it does in, say, Miami.)

“Draw Play” Dave Rappoccio admits he’s a bit late to this story, but I rather liked it anyway:

Click to see the full cartoon

Click to see the full cartoon

Again, older news that I never got to, but deserved a joke.

Has anyone actually looked up the requirements for cities to host the Super Bowl? The NFL is shameless in how is screws cities over and I can’t believe cities sign up for it.

June 11, 2014

Winter damage to vineyards in Niagara and on the Bench

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Wine — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 08:20

The first — and probably not the last — definite sign of how bad this winter was for the wineries comes from today’s newsletter from Featherstone, where Louise Engel says they’ve suffered severe damage to some of the vines:

Every season is an adventure in weather here in Niagara. Every year since we bought the vineyard fifteen years ago, Dave and I have looked at each other at some point during the grape growing season, sighed deeply, and said:

“Hmm … well, never seen that before.”

This past year we added ‘polar vortex’ to our table talk. However, we were optimistic that the vines would come through relatively unscathed from the punishing winter temperatures. Our optimism was misplaced. Both the Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc vines have been badly damaged and will need extensive re-planting.

The Gewürztraminer has been virtually wiped out. We are considering replanting that entire field with a hardier variety, like Riesling. The Riesling field that was planted in 1998 is sixteen, going on seventeen, and still thrives. So it may be so long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, goodbye Gewürztraminer.

Does this mean that prices will increase? No, it doesn’t. But if you are a fan of our Gewürztraminer, I suggest you climb ev’ry mountain to get here before it’s all gone. Forever.

If you’re not familiar with the Niagara Escarpment sub-appellations, Featherstone is in the Twenty Mile Bench: most of my favourite wineries are in this sub-appellation.

May 21, 2014

QotD: February in Minneapolis

Filed under: Football, Humour, Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:17

It’s not surprising that the Wilfs, the Vikings and downtown Minneapolis business leaders want the Super Bowl in Minneapolis. Their pockets will be lined, and with more than fur.

The question is why the average Minnesotan would want the Super Bowl here in February.

We don’t invite friends and relatives to Minnesota in February. Why would we invite the world?

Especially the portion of the world that wields laptops and cameras?

You remember February, unless your therapist has helped you block it out. February is when we suffer from cabin fever and cold sores, when we lock ourselves indoors with a fire (whether we have a fireplace or not) and stare at screens until our skin matches the blue fluorescent glow emanating from the TV.

And those are the good days.

I’ve spoken to visitors who are forced to travel here during winter. They ask why we live here. They laugh at us. When Jerry Seinfeld did a show in downtown Minneapolis this winter, he referred to our skyways as “Habitrails.”

The rest of the country cannot fathom why we put ourselves through this, and let’s be honest: We can’t either when we’re in the throes of winter. We all just pile on layers and pray that, this year, summer will fall on a Saturday.

Jim Souhan, “We’re back on center stage, with frozen warts and all”, Star Tribune, 2014-05-21.

March 16, 2014

David Friedman responds to William Nordhaus on global warming costs

Filed under: Economics, Environment — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 09:40

At his blog, David Friedman links to a recent New York Review of Books article by William Nordhaus (itself a response to a Wall Street Journal article) which argues for economic action to address the impact of global warming:

His final, and possibly most important point, is based on his own research, which he complains that the WSJ article is misrepresenting. He starts with a correct point—that it is the difference between benefit and cost, not the ratio, that matters. He goes on to summarize his conclusion:

    My research shows that there are indeed substantial net benefits from acting now rather than waiting fifty years. A look at Table 5-1 in my study A Question of Balance (2008) shows that the cost of waiting fifty years to begin reducing CO2 emissions is $2.3 trillion in 2005 prices. If we bring that number to today’s economy and prices, the loss from waiting is $4.1 trillion. Wars have been started over smaller sums.

What he does not mention is that his $4.1 trillion is a cost summed over the entire globe and the rest of the century. Put in annual terms, that come to about $48 billion a year, a less impressive number. Current world GNP is about $85 trillion/year. So the net cost of waiting, on Nordhaus’s own numbers, is about one twentieth of one percent of world GNP. Not precisely a catastrophe.

I suggest a simple experiment. Let Nordhaus write a piece explicitly arguing that the net cost of waiting is about .06% of world GNP and see whether it is more popular with the supporters or the critics of his position. I predict that at least one supporter will accuse him of having sold out to big oil.

[...]

The future is very much too uncertain to have confidence in estimates of what will be happening fifty years from now — for an extended demonstration, see my Future Imperfect. If we follow Nordhaus’s current advice and tax carbon now in order to slow warming, it may turn out that the costs were unnecessary or even counterproductive. We may be spending money in order to make ourselves poorer, not richer.

I conclude, on the basis of Nordhaus’s own figures and without taking account of my past criticism of his calculations, that he has his conclusion backwards. The sensible strategy is to take no actions whose justification depends on the belief that increased CO2 produces large net costs until we have considerably better reason than we now do to believe it.

March 13, 2014

It’s not just your imagination – this is a truly terrible winter

Filed under: Cancon, Environment — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 08:46

In Maclean’s, Michael Friscolanti and Kate Lunau round-up the tales of cold weather misery from across the country:

From coast to coast, Canadians have done everything they can to survive this winter of discontent. The Old Man arrived early and never let go, unleashing a harsh brew of bone-chilling mornings, wicked gusts of wind and collective pleas for mercy. We learned a new scientific term — “polar vortex” — and felt it, firsthand, on our fingertips. It’s been so bleak that, as of early March, 92.2 per cent of the Great Lakes were covered in ice, the most since 1979. On March 1, Regina broke a 130-year-old record for that day’s temperature: -36° C, with a wind chill of -53° C. In Kenora, Ont., where all-time winter lows have wreaked havoc on its maze of underground pipes, the city is in the midst of a two-week boil-water advisory.

In Toronto, where the mercury also nosedived to the lowest point in two decades, the city surpassed its record for consecutive days with at least one centimetre of snow on the ground: 89, as of March 7, and counting. No town, though, amassed more white stuff than Stephenville, N.L. (population 7,800). The winter isn’t even over, and the seaside community has already been hammered with more than two metres (the same height, for the record, as Michael Jordan.) “In December, it snowed 26 days,” says Mayor Tom O’Brien. “The snow kept coming and coming. It wasn’t one big wallop.”

[...]

GDP fell by 0.5 per cent in December, a dip triggered almost entirely by the pre-Christmas ice storms that rocked Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada. Canadian retail stores reported their biggest one-month drop in a year. And in a spat that garnered significant headlines, the country’s two main railways — CP and CN — blamed “the harshest winter in 60 years” for their inability to ship millions of tonnes of grain sitting in bins across the Prairies.

Economists are fairly confident the gloomy numbers will eventually pass, like winter itself. By the second quarter, they say, the season’s losses will be almost entirely recouped, with the North American economy picking up significant steam on its road to recovery. But that rosy economic outlook glosses over a much frostier reality: This winter for the ages will cost Canadian cities untold millions in extra snow-clearing, pothole maintenance and other infrastructure repair bills that have yet to arrive. In this era of climate change — when scientists expect severe bouts of weather to become the rule rather than the exception — the past few months have provided a disturbing glimpse of the overwhelming costs to come.

[...]

In Toronto alone, the ice storm cost the public purse more than $100 million; throw in Hamilton and the rest of the GTA, and the liability climbs to $275 million. Point to any Canadian city these days, and it’s hard to find one that won’t be digging deeper into its pockets to pay for this brutal winter.

In Edmonton, potholes are already such an epidemic that the city is teaming up with the University of Alberta engineering department to figure out ways to make roads more robust in chilly conditions. (Last year, the City of Champions paid out a record $464,000 to motorists whose cars were damaged by craters.) In Chatham, Ont., one winter pothole went so deep, it revealed the city’s original yellow brick road. Down the highway in Windsor, councillors were forced to commit an extra $1 million to their snow-removal budget — by early January. And in Niagara Falls, the unbearable cold triggered 42 water-main breaks by the end of February, more than half the total of the entire year before.

March 11, 2014

“Orange army” to restore Cornwall rail line by early April

Filed under: Britain, Railways — Tags: — Nicholas @ 08:21

Remember the rather dramatic photos of the storm that hit the Cornish coast and took out part of the main railway line at Dawlish?


DAWLISH, UNITED KINGDOM – FEBRUARY 05: Railway workers inspect the main Exeter to Plymouth railway line that has been closed due to parts of it being washed away by the sea at Dawlish on February 5, 2014 in Devon, England. With high tides combined with gale force winds and further heavy rain, some parts of the UK are bracing themselves for more flooding. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

The effort to restore the sea wall and the railway line is going well, with a hoped-for re-opening date of 4 April:

Haberfield reckons there are two premier construction jobs in the world at the moment – the race to finish the football World Cup stadiums in Brazil and this one, the repairs to the train line that hugs the Devon coast at Dawlish after the devastation of the great storm of 4 and 5 February. “You’ll always be able to look back at this and say you were there and you helped fix it,” he says.

Haberfield is a member of the 1,000-strong “orange army” that has been working night and day to fix the hole, the 100-metre breach in a section of sea wall that supported the mainline track from London to the far south-west of Britain — and dozens of other less spectacular but nonetheless tricky breaks along a 3.7-mile stretch.

Network Rail (NR), the owner and operator of Britain’s railway infrastructure, has announced that it is expecting the line to re-open on 4 April — a huge relief to residents and business people whose lives have been disrupted by the break in the line and a vital boost for the region’s tourism industry before the Easter holidays.

The repair work to the line, which is costing around £15m, has been a triumph for imaginative thinking and teamwork. In the early days the first job was making sure that another Atlantic storm heading Devon’s way did not cause more damage to the main breach. One early idea was to rush in a rail-mounted concrete spraying machine that had been specially built to repair a tunnel in Devon and was standing idle. It shored up the sea wall, prevent further devastation and may have helped save houses that were teetering on the edge.

Another was the decision to drop a row of shipping containers in front of the seawall, each filled with 70 tonnes of rubble, to act as a temporary breakwater as more bad weather came in.


DAWLISH, UNITED KINGDOM – FEBRUARY 05: Waves crash against the seafront and the railway station that has been closed due to storm damage at Dawlish on February 5, 2014 in Devon, England. With high tides combined with gale force winds and further heavy rain, some parts of the UK are bracing themselves for more flooding. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

March 6, 2014

Ontario wineries facing severe losses to the vines this winter

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Wine — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:20

In Decanter, Carolyn Evans Hammond says two of Ontario’s three wine-producing regions are experiencing damage to the vines as this long, cold winter continues:

Freezing temperatures across Ontario have damaged vines in the Canadian province’s vineyards, with some producers reporting bud loss of around 90%.
Niagara Peninsula Sub-Appellations
Producers in two of Ontario’s three wine appellations are already facing a smaller 2014 harvest after reporting severe bud loss in the past few weeks.

‘Our winery has 95 to 98% bud loss, so we won’t be getting grapes this year,’ says Tom O’Brien, owner of Cooper’s Hawk Vineyards in Lake Erie North Shore.

That appellation shows the most damage, with an average bud loss of 86 to 90% across all varieties, according to Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI).

Meanwhile, average bud loss in Niagara Peninsula ranges from 34% for Pinot Noir to 66% for Syrah, according to CCOVI with Chardonnay, Riesling and Cabernet Franc faring better than Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot.

Due to the normally colder winters in Prince Edward County, most wineries bury the vines until spring, so the damage in that region will not be as bad as Lake Erie North Shore or Niagara/Beamsville.

February 23, 2014

Winter storms uncover a “Welsh Atlantis”

Filed under: Britain, Environment, History — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 11:54

A story in the Express about waves from recent storms having uncovered a previously unknown ancient forest on the shores of Cardigan Bay:

Gales stripped the sand from a beach at Borth in Ceredigion, West Wales, revealing the remains of a 6,000-year-old forest.

A picture of the same spot taken before the storms shows a strip of pristine sand.

The ancient oaks and pines date back to the Bronze Age.

They were discovered by Deanna Groom and Ross Cook from the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales.

Miss Groom, a maritime archeologist said: “The site around Borth is one where if there’s a bad storm and it gets battered, you know there’s a good chance something will be uncovered as the peat gets washed away.

“It’s regularly monitored and that’s why we went to have a look there again now to see if anything new had emerged.”

The ancient remains are said by some to be the origins of the legend of Cantre’r Gwaelod, a mythical kingdom now submerged under the waters of Cardigan Bay.

It has been described as a “Welsh Atlantis” and has featured in folklore, literature and song.

H/T to Elizabeth for the link.

Update: Elizabeth also sent a link that shows that ancient oak stumps aren’t the only things being uncovered by the waves:

The latest hazard caused by this winter’s devastating storms and floods has been revealed by police — unexploded bombs.

The storms that have ravaged and reshaped parts of the British coastline have led to the discovery of wartime shells long-buried on beaches.

There are also fears that flooding along the Thames will erode riverbanks, leading to the discovery of bombs dropped on the area by the Luftwaffe during the Second World War.

Police say that high tides and huge waves have either exposed devices or brought them closer to the surface.

Further storms and flooding are expected today as a new front moves in from the Atlantic. The Met Office has issued three severe rain warnings and gusts of wind are expected to reach 70mph.

The Environment Agency also still has 48 severe flood warnings issued across the UK following what the Met Office has described as the wettest winter on record.

Now walkers are being urged not to touch unidentified metal objects but to alert police to their finds instead.

In South West England and West Wales, which bore the brunt of the storms, six devices have been handled by bomb disposal units in six weeks.

The Navy’s Southern Diving Group said it had received a 20 per cent increase in reports of unexploded bombs since January.

A 100lb Mk XIX Second World War British anti-submarine mine was found by surfers at Watwick Bay, Haverfordwest, while a rare First World War German mine surfaced on a beach near the popular Cornish resort of Newquay.

February 16, 2014

Winter ice approaching modern record on the Great Lakes

Filed under: Cancon, Environment — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 11:43

In USA Today, Eric Lawrence talks about the ongoing cold weather’s impact on the Great Lakes:

“In the last one to two weeks, we’ve seen rapid accumulations on Lakes Superior, Huron and Michigan,” said Jeff Andresen, an associate professor in Michigan State University’s geography department who also is the state climatologist.

The ice cover on the lakes increased from 79.7% to 88.4% just in the past week, putting the region close to the record of almost 95% set in February 1979, according to data compiled by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory in Ann Arbor.

The extensive ice cover has had some interesting and positive effects, like shutting off lake-effect snow, making it sunnier in portions of states near the lakes and limiting evaporation, which could help boost lake levels.

And the ice cover could help delay the spring warm-up — good news for farmers as it helps keep certain crops, like fruit trees, dormant longer and less susceptible to freezing early in the growing season — Andresen said.

Conversely, it’s bad news for the shipping industry, whose vessels can’t go anywhere when the ports are frozen solid.

The winter of 2013-14 also is shaping up to be one of the five coldest, at least in Michigan’s recorded history, Andresen said, although it’s still early to say for certain.

“We haven’t seen many winters like this that are cold from beginning to end,” he said, noting that this is the fourth consecutive month that is colder than normal. “It has been an extraordinary winter, and the ice cover is a manifestation of that unusually cold winter.”

He cautioned that temperatures forecast in the 40s next week could hurt the chances to break an ice-cover record.

Is it climate change or is it just weather?

Filed under: Environment, Humour, Media — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 11:28

Ant O’Fearghail has developed a useful model to help you determine if a particular situation is caused by climate change or if it’s just ordinary weather:

Climate change or weather

February 13, 2014

Flooding in Britain – call for the Witchfinder Floodfinder General!

Filed under: Britain, Environment, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 12:13

Rob Lyons asks who is to blame for the current flooding in Britain. The answer may be … nobody:

Floods in the UK are getting worse. There’s not much we can do it about it. It’s caused by climate change, which in turn is caused by human beings. It’s payback time.

There you go. In one paragraph, I’ve saved you having to read British newspapers or watch British TV news for the next few days. Of course, the recent flooding is a nightmare for those affected. It’s also a dream for lazy TV news editors who want to plonk their reporters in front of some interesting backdrop offering trite statements about a human-interest story. But the discussion about the causes of the floods and whether we can – or should – do anything about them is rather more worrying than TV’s dumbed-down ‘news values’.

[...]

A briefing published by the UK Met Office earlier this month highlights just how unusual the weather is at present. ‘Although no individual storm can be regarded as exceptional, the clustering and persistence of the storms is highly unusual. December and January were exceptionally wet. For England and Wales this was one of, if not the most, exceptional periods of winter rainfall in at least 248 years. The two-month total (December + January) of 372.2mm for the south-east and central southern England region is the wettest any two-month period in the series from 1910.’ It’s the conveyor belt of stormy weather, rather than any particular individual event, which is causing the problems. The ground is already soaked and rivers are already high; further rainfall has nowhere to go but out on to the flood plains.

However, a quick look at the Met Office briefing shows that while rainfall in southern England in January was very exceptional, it is hard to glean any particular overall pattern – other than that rainfall is very variable.

January rainfall, southern England, 1910-2014. Source: Met Office

January rainfall, southern England, 1910-2014. Source: Met Office

Indeed, just two years ago, Britain was in drought. Consecutive winters of below-average rainfall had left water companies enforcing restrictions on supply. Then the heavens opened, and it seems to have barely stopped raining since. So how on earth did the head of the Met Office, Dame Julia Slingo, conclude that while there was ‘no definitive answer’ to what caused the storms, ‘all the evidence suggests there is a link to climate change’? Indeed, Slingo is not alone in her assessment. The prime minister, David Cameron, said in January that he ‘suspected’ climate change was behind the floods. Labour leader Ed Miliband declared that climate change was sure to bring ‘more flooding, more storms’. Yet less than a year ago, scientists were assuring us that climate change would lead to more droughts in the future in the UK.

January 24, 2014

Government subsidies that make flooding worse

Filed under: Britain, Environment — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:51

Chris Edwards on the oddity of an EU subsidy that inadvertently makes it more likely that floods will be worse:

… Britain has been suffering from river flooding, and a Daily Mail article explains how subsidies are a key culprit: “Thought ‘extreme weather’ was to blame for the floods? Wrong. The real culprit is the European subsidies that pay UK farmers to destroy the very trees that soak up the storm.”

The author is a liberal environmentalist, but his piece illustrates how liberals and libertarians can share common ground on the issue of government subsidies.

The article describes how forests in the upstream areas of watersheds can mitigate floods. However, there “is an unbreakable rule laid down by the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy. If you want to receive your single farm payment … that land has to be free from what it calls ‘unwanted vegetation.’ Land covered by trees is not eligible. The subsidy rules have enforced the mass clearance of vegetation from the hills.”

In the United States, we’ve got our own environment-damaging farm subsidies. We’ve also got the Army Corps of Engineers, which the Daily Mail could be describing when it refers to British policy: “Flood defence, or so we are told almost everywhere, is about how much concrete you can pour.

Another foolhardy thing, in the long term, is government subsidizing people to rebuild after devastating floods … in the same location that is just as likely to be damaged in the next flood. If you can’t get property insurance without getting the government to force insurers to offer it, you’ve probably built in an area that you shouldn’t have. A lot of the perception that major storms are more dangerous now than fifty years ago is that a lot of buildings are being erected in areas where storm damage is more likely to occur.

January 10, 2014

Weekend weather forecast

Filed under: Cancon, Environment, Humour — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 09:27

Scott Feschuk on the weather situation we should expect to encounter this weekend:

On Saturday, the snow and record cold will continue as a trilogy of all-seeing, all-knowing fronts moves in from Mordor and tracks across the region, covering all the lands in darkness, conferring the power of speech on trees and generally lasting about twice as long as it needs to. Although daytime temperatures are expected to hover around -37°, it is forecast that your teenager will nevertheless insist on going out in sneakers and a windbreaker. As if the cold were not depressing enough, Environment Canada also forecasts the imminent end of the limited-time return of the McRib.

Looking ahead to Sunday, the long-term forecast calls for the moon to become as blood, and the sun as black as sackcloth of hair, and lo shall the earth quake and skies part and every mountain and island move out of their places. In addition, Environment Canada forecasts an 80 per cent chance of every star of heaven falling unto the Earth, for the time of Mother Nature’s wrath will be upon us, and who shall be able to stand? Especially with all this freezing rain.

December 20, 2013

QotD: (Almost) Winter in Maine

Filed under: Humour, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 09:44

I love the weather channels. Hair farmers and dime-store Kardashians waving their arms over an imaginary map, talking about WINTER STORM FABIAN or WINTER SEMI-BLIZZARD OSAMA or WINTER ARCTIC DEATHSTORM INGA. The least you could do is explain what the hell I’m suppose to expect on Monday on that forecast there. Is the weather going to be serrated on Monday? Will I be expected to swim laps in some sort of frozen pool? Is frozen angel hair pasta going to be made available to me? What are those squiggly weather lines? Should I make out a will, and make out with my wife one last time on Sunday night?

I got up this morning and it was fifteen below zero, car wouldn’t start, because the car is smarter than a person, and we were still shoveling a foot of “partly cloudy” from the day before. I didn’t really mind, exactly, because I didn’t move to Uppastump Maine expecting palm trees and grass skirts on the babes, but there is one aspect about it that rankled. Listen to me, you weather idiots. It’s not the winter. It won’t be winter for four days or so. The average nighttime temperature here in December is fourteen degrees Fahrenheit. That makes last night thirty bleeping degrees below normal. Thirty degrees is a lot, don’t you think?

Sippican Cottage, “I Was Considering Putting On A Sweater”, Sippican Cottage, 2013-12-17

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