Matthew J. Parker

“Now about the dead rising—have you not read in the Book of Moses, in the account of the burning bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” – Jesus (Mark 12:26-27, NIV)

Here are the dry facts:

It is with great sadness that the American Meteorological Society announces the passing of AMS President Matthew J. Parker, CCM, who died in his sleep Wednesday night.

 Parker, 53, worked at Savannah River National Laboratory in Aiken, South Carolina since 1989, most recently as Senior Fellow Meteorologist in the Atmospheric Technologies Group. He was elected as AMS President-elect in November 2015, and assumed the role of AMS President during the Society’s Annual Meeting in Seattle this past January. Parker was slated to oversee the Annual Meeting in January 2018 in Austin.

But nothing about Matt was dry. Keith Seitter, AMS Executive Director, captured some of this spark:

 This is an enormous loss not just for the AMS family but for the entire scientific community,” said Keith Seitter, AMS Executive Director. “Matt was deeply admired for his commitment to the AMS community. He was a leader and a friend, and we will all miss him tremendously.”

Commitment to the AMS community? Spot on, and yet at the same time the phrase only begins to capture the depth of Matt’s passion. His predecessors as AMS president have all served with distinction, and yet each, upon shouldering that mantle for a year, showed signs of feeling the weight of responsibility. By contrast, Matt had charged in, oblivious to any cost of time and effort, any additional workload. He saw only opportunity, and he couldn’t wait to start. Encourage early-career professionals at the annual AMS Summer Colloquium? Matt wanted to do that a year early (and in retrospect, how fortunate that he did). Set the theme for his AMS Annual Meeting at Austin in 2018? Matt didn’t vacillate; he knew he wanted the theme to be communication, and set forth his vision promptly. We’ve known for over a year where he was headed. A tumultuous political season in Washington? Matt had already formulated his roadmap for engagement.

We shouldn’t have been surprised. Matt had brought the same larger-than-life vitality to his prior AMS volunteer work, such as his leadership of the Enterprise Commission. Matt brought a unique intersectional perspective to this task, working as he did for a private-sector contractor to a government agency. Early on he embraced the potential for the Weather Enterprise embodied in bringing the public-, private-, and academic-sectors of our community into close collaboration. He worked tirelessly for years to help bring that about. We’re better positioned than ever to serve the American public thanks to his efforts.

It is given to each of us the privilege of seeing at most a sliver of another’s life, no matter how close our relationship. As members of the AMS community, most of us lack direct experience of Matt the family man, Matt the church leader, Matt the citizen. But we can extrapolate from what we see… and to do that is to realize we are not the only ones to feel his loss. Our sympathies go out to Matt’s other communities.

But we can also offer this special insight – and comfort – from meteorology. We know that the weather and the world’s seven billion people are akin, in this respect – they are chaotic systems. The meteorologist Edward Lorenz discovered that the smallest influences, the least details in the atmosphere don’t dissipate. Their impact expands, changing the atmosphere’s destiny to an ever-increasing extent with the passage of time. So it is with our lives. Our influence doesn’t wane on the day of our physical death. It too continues to grow. Matt’s influence on each of us has changed our subsequent engagement with each other, as well as with others outside our immediate meteorological circle. Those small effects in turn have touched even larger circles of friends and acquaintances. Matt’s influence has thus been expanding for years and will continue to do so.

The ministry of Jesus (quoted here) and the coming Easter season reinforce this same idea. Though initially confined to a few square miles of middle East real estate, and lasting only three years, his influence now extends worldwide, and even continues to grow, 2000 years later.

Matt, we all miss you for now, but we’re soldiering on, and we’re told our eternal destiny is to be together again.

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Living the American Dream – ca. 2017

Spending the weekend with friends…

… and my friend shared his dream from the night before:

Seems America had built a wall along the Mexican border. A great wall. An impenetrable wall. A wall so great that it interfered with wind patterns, indirectly creating very subtle changes in the Loop Current in the Gulf of Mexico, and then the Gulf Stream itself – disturbances that grew over time.

 Ultimately, the instability triggered an Ice Age. Ice extended rapidly across the United States , reaching south past the Texas-Oklahoma boundary line. The surge of ice and cold rendered the northern states uninhabitable, driving millions of American refugees before it toward the Mexican border…

…where they encountered a wall. A great wall. Fueled by desperation, the horde hurled themselves at the wall – but, sure enough, it proved impenetrable. Mexican police behind the wall were able to stem the human tide.

The Mexicans were still thanking us when my friend woke up.

For the record, my friend is a self-acknowledged layperson, NOT a climate scientist – he claims we have absolutely nothing to worry about here.

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$100T, (clumsily) translated into jobs and business opportunity.

A week ago, I ran into a long-time USACE colleague in the supermarket. We started out the way people of our generation do: “I’m thinking of retirement,” he said. “I’m pushing seventy.” “I’m pulling seventy,” I replied. Then we talked shop. Oroville was fresh in our minds. “Nobody here knows how to build a dam anymore,” he said. “But China’s building some three hundred dams around the world,” I replied. We chatted on that thought a few moments before going our separate ways.

Recent LOTRW posts have focused on the world’s need to invest in $100 trillion of food, water, energy, and other types of critical infrastructure over the next two decades. Some of this will be refurbishment – repaving and widening roads, replacing existing but aging rail, bridges, ports, water delivery systems, and more. Some of this will be new: high speed Internet, high-voltage DC electrical grids, solar and wind energy systems, etc.

All of it will be critical, in two important respects. First, the infrastructure is necessary to day-to-day and even moment-to-moment needs of seven billion people. Any interruption of services causes social upheaval. Though this is “well-known,” in recent years governments, utilities, and related private-sector service providers have become so skilled at meeting the need for continuity that all of us – you and I – have lost a palpable sense of vulnerability, and realistic appreciation for the complexity and cost of the task. Hence, questions such as “Why do I need the National Weather Service? I get my forecasts from The Weather Channel.” “Why do we need farms? I get my food from the supermarket.”

But second, such modern, up-to-date infrastructure is critical to the continued labor-force productivity growth we need if we are to compete economically and maintain U.S. standing worldwide.

Turns out we’ve suffered memory loss in this respect as well as well. This latter has been documented by Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson in their book American Amnesia: How the War on Government Led Us to Forget What Made America Prosper. They point to a time in post-World-War-II America when government and the private sector were in mild tension but for the most part worked cooperatively. They argue this partnership was responsible for huge labor productivity increases, thanks to infrastructure investments such as the Interstate Highway System. They go on to suggest that around 1980, this synergistic balance began to break down. Moderate business and Republican voices were drowned out by those holding more radical views. According to Hacker and Pierson, the new business ideology didn’t blame deindustrialization or foreign competition for the challenges of the time; instead the enemy somehow became our own government. In consequence, government-business synergy declined, and U.S. productivity growth – and competitiveness – dramatically slowed in like measure.

This matters, because $100T of critical infrastructure investment translates into jobs – a lot of jobs. Recall that this figure amounts to some 5% of global GDP over the same two decades. Give or take, that should translate into jobs for a comparable fraction of the global workforce. Wikipedia provides this background:

Global workforce refers to the international labor pool of workers, including those employed by multinational companies and connected through a global system of networking and production, immigrant workers, transient migrant workers, telecommuting workers, those in export-oriented employment, contingent work or other precarious employment. As of 2012, the global labor pool consisted of approximately 3 billion workers, around 200 million unemployed.

In other words, critical infrastructure investment alone should likely keep some 150 million workers occupied for twenty years – coincidentally comparable to the size of the unemployed group. Since we’re talking infrastructure, most of those jobs will be in-country. That’s good news. There are sizable pockets of unemployment in every country, and studies show it’s the unemployed, particularly the young unemployed, whose frustrations foment unrest and in extreme cases terrorism worldwide. Give young people jobs, and hope for a better future, and the fear and anger dissipate.

Although most of the jobs will be in-country, the project design and leadership, especially for the biggest projects, devolves to a handful of firms and nations worldwide with the needed expertise. In the years following World War II, thanks to its attention to domestic infrastructure, the United States was also preeminent across the world in big infrastructure projects. My father-in-law, Leigh Hill French III (pictured), was a case in point. After serving in the military during the War (he was at Normandy on June 6, 1944, but had the good fortune to go onshore at 6 p.m. instead of 6 a.m.), he used his civil-engineering background around the world for a variety of employers – building a port in Sumatra, an aluminum smelter in Greece, a dam in the Ivory Coast, as well as other similar projects from Liberia and Ghana to Australia and Guam – with a university in Libya thrown in.

Today, it’s China that is visible and active in this arena. The March 1 print edition of USA TODAY ran this story: China eyes global economic leadership as U.S. turns inward.

Some excerpts:

This year, a 300-mile railway will begin slicing through Kenya, cutting travel time between the capital, Nairobi, and one of East Africa’s largest ports, Mombasa, from 12 to four hours and breeding hopes of an economic and tourism revival in the region.

 The country’s most significant transportation project since its independence in 1963 is being built courtesy of China. China Road and Bridge, a state-owned enterprise, leads construction of the $13.8 billion project, which is financed nearly 100% by the Export-Import Bank of China.

 The railroad is one of a host of infrastructure projects China spearheads around the world in an ambitious quest to reinforce its emergence as the world’s next economic superpower while President Trump turns his back on globalization…

…China’s outward foreign direct investment totaled $187.8 billion in 2015, a record and a 52.5% increase from a year earlier, according to the World Bank. Ten years ago, its outward FDI stood at about $17.2 billion. The U.S. FDI — though still significantly larger than China at $348.6 billion — grew only 1.5% year-over-year.

 China’s economic ascendance from poverty is a model for struggling nations eager to modernize rapidly, too. In helping to create wealth abroad, China gets an early say in the formation of markets for its exporters to sell… 

The range of projects China has launched is eye-popping:

  • New Silk Road: China’s modern version of the ancient East-West trade route — known as One Belt One Road — winds its way through Asia, the Middle East and Europe. Launched in 2014 with $40 billion of initial investment, it entails new or reinvigorated railways, ports and roads that will link key cities. The anticipated total investment could top $4 trillion, according to The Economist, citing Chinese government officials. “People don’t’ seem to realize how important it is,” Bottelier says. “A (freight) train is already running between London and China.”
  • Pakistani infrastructure: Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in Pakistan in the spring of 2015 and announced $45 billion worth of investment projects in energy and infrastructure development, some of it tied to the new trade route.
  • Nicaraguan canal: In 2015, Wang Jing, a Chinese billionaire who made his fortune in telecom, began digging in the city of Brito, Nicaragua, in hopes of building a canal that will cut 170 miles across the country and ultimately compete with the Panama Canal. The project stalled as his fortunes sank along with the Chinese stock market, but it has not been abandoned.
  • South American rail: China plans to build and expand rail networks in Brazil, Peru and Colombia, though it has run into opposition from environmentalists…

Bottom line? China isn’t looking at this activity as charity. They’re calculatedly seeing these projects in terms of economic return (in hydropower for China, sources of raw materials, new markets for Chinese goods and services, etc.) employment for Chinese abroad, and international sympathy for Chinese ideas and purposes down the road when push comes to shove. And they’re experimenting domestically with vigor: building high-speed trains, high-voltage DC electrical grids, developing capacity to manufacture solar panels, copying cyber technology, etc. They making mistakes and taking missteps along the way, but learning fast in the process – and using that hard-won experience to build preeminence abroad

Call me chauvinist, but it feels like the Chinese are eating from our rice bowl – in plain view. And we’re squabbling with each other while watching them do it.

What to do? We can’t just whine. And we shouldn’t simply go head to head on these terms. We can and should do better. More on that in a future post.

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$100 trillion? Opportunity or sinkhole? The reaction so far.

The law of holes: “When you find yourself in a hole, quit digging.”Will Rogers

As noted in a previous LOTRW post, the world’s peoples face a $100T bill coming due. That’s how much nations must spend over coming decades to refurbish and augment the critical infrastructure that maintains an adequate, uninterrupted supply of food, water, and energy to seven billion people.

Of course, there’s a difference between merely spending $100T, and wisely investing that sum. Such investment faces substantial risks. Of the many challenges, three stand out:

  • flawed governance/corruption in the countries involved;
  • lack of skills/knowledge needed to operate, maintain the infrastructure (alternatively framed; investment in inappropriate technology); and
  • failure to take fullest account of the environmental consequences of such investment, the changing weather and climate conditions over the lifetime of the infrastructure, and the needed resilience to extremes over the same period.

The latter point motivated a guest-perspective expanding on this general idea, graciously published by the Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang. That piece argued that instead of cutting EPA and NOAA budgets, as suggested by the new administration, now is the time for substantial budget increases – even doubling down – in these agencies and their important work. The work they do (with some work from USDA, USGS, NASA, DoE, NSF, and others thrown in) is the difference between flying blind into a problematic future and proceeding intelligently.

These ideas have received some favor, but not universal acclaim. The pushback has come from three different directions. First, a colleague whose opinions I’ve long respected, John Plodineccommented on the previous post in this vein:

We need to invest $X T so that … why? Is this to provide energy and water systems to folks who won’t be able to maintain them? Or to provide those services in ways that may not be culturally appropriate? Or simply to provide funds to bureaucrats and their governmental sponsors? We can’t provide these things without the education to service them and people who want what we can provide.

 Are Americans supposed to pony up the dough? Hard sell, especially after the wealth we have transferred to other countries this century – an amount equal in value to all of the gold ever mined.

 If these numbers are real, the investments are not sustainable. The ONLY HOPE is for innovation, esp. at the local level. Our increasing agricultural productivity this century indicates that we can innovate even in endeavors as mature as agriculture. But in the US (and much of the developed world) we are still providing energy and water to the populace in essentially the same ways we did in the ’50’s and ’60’s.

 Governments can help – and if they have discretionary funds they can help a lot. But they are not really the answer. The UN is not the answer. If there ever were problems demanding “Whole of Community” approaches, providing potable water, food and CARE (consistent, affordable and reliable energy) to all certainly qualify. But the answers must be local: what works in the US now may not work in a Third World community. However much we may want to see all people adequately fed, watered, and powered, ultimately they will have to forge their own path to that state.

Second, there was the CWG readership. Some were put off by attention to this subject in the midst of the buzz this past week about this coming Monday-Tuesday’s weather and the possible snow/impacts for the DC area. But others stayed on point: some favorably, others not. A couple of the most acutely critical comments:

In total, the world needs to invest $100 trillion in infrastructure over the next 20 years….The United States can pay off its investment easily if our private enterprise can win its share of this far-larger global market.

So you are saying we should dump more money into the EPA because that will help us win global infrastructure contracts?

I read your article a couple times and I can’t figure out what you want NOAA and EPA to spend more money on except this:

continuing investment and innovation in Earth observations, seasonal-to-inter-annual forecasting, water resource management, and risk communication and other social science, as well as working with local publics on the ground through the National Sea Grant Program, Weather-Ready Nation, and other initiatives.

Sounds like a few million dollars to me. But no, you want billions.

And this one:

Trump wants to increase military spending while we’re in no danger of being invaded. I don’t agree with that decision, but, even without that, our government spends way more than it takes in. The national debt doubles every 8 years. It’s not sustainable.

People want our government to do everything while not having their taxes go up. The reality is if we had to pay for everything our government does, our taxes would be so high that our economy would collapse. People would lose their homes. The best way to solve the problem is to reduce government spending and it unfortunately involves reducing government services.

Sandwiched in between I had a lunch conversation with a good economist friend, a former Cornell professor, who has also worked at the Federal Reserve, the Congressional Budget office, and the World Bank in addition to doing private consulting – a guy I’ve admired for decades, ever since he was a senior and I was a freshman at the same college.

I shared some of these ideas with him and tried to draw an analogy to the success of the Marshall Plan. Back then, at the end of World War II, the US had a GDP of $150B/year (compare with today’s $15T) and a national debt of $180B (incurred from the Great Depression and the expenses of the war; compare with today’s $18T). Our ancestors invested $15B in Europe over the next four years, to rebuild the economy/forestall a Soviet hegemony over the region. It not only worked but more than paid for itself. By the end of the four years, the U.S. economy stood at $300B a year, and Europe remained free of Communist domination. My friend’s response was immediate. He pointed out (not an exact quote):

…the Marshall Plan succeeded because prior to the War, Europe had enjoyed technological and economic superiority. They didn’t have to gain new ground; they merely had to bounce back. When it comes to this present-day challenge, the countries needing the investment lack the capacity to build, maintain, and operate such infrastructure.

(Okay! Should. Stop. Digging.)


These ideas, and the high stakes, are too important not to explore, discuss further. In particular, there’s the appeal of jobs. $100T, as the previous post’s graphic drives home, is too big to put under the mattress… or even in a Swiss bank account. It has to generate jobs. So, going forward, I’ll provide more detail, use bigger tools…

What could go wrong?

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What will world leaders pay for a good night’s sleep? $100 Trillion over the next twenty years.

O, sleep it is a gentle thing,

Beloved from pole to pole!

To Mary Queen the praise be given!

She sent the gentle sleep from Heaven,

That slid into my soul. – Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

As described in the previous LOTRW post, world leaders rest uneasy for many and diverse reasons, but there’s one insomnia-inducing concern that besets them all: any interruption of life’s essentials – food, water, and energy – for their people. The noblest see meeting this public need as their sacred responsibility. But even the most self-serving, duplicitous, tyrannical of leaders recognize such disruptions as a threat to their continued life of privilege.

Time was when securing these necessities was a universal and individual concern – and, for that matter, all-consuming. Farmers, hunters, gatherers couldn’t depend on any state to meet these needs. In fact, there was no state. Even as recently as 1800, 90% of the American labor force were farmers. The implication? At the country’s founding, essentially everyone was spending all waking hours eking out these three essentials.

But the Industrial Revolution and urbanization have changed all that. Today agricultural workers comprise only 1% of the U.S. labor force; farming per se contributes only 1% to GDP. (Agriculture-related industries contribute another 4-5%.) The Energy Information Administration tells us that the fraction of GDP that is energy related is something like 10% (varying between 6-14% depending on price fluctuations). The picture for water? Far murkier. But annual direct investments appear to be only a percent or so of GDP.

Adding all this up shows clear progress. Only 10-20% of U.S. attention is taken up with meeting these basic needs. This allows the majority of us to produce wealth through other means: manufacturing, services, and, by no means least – innovation – accelerating that economic growth. (This latter figure is also small; U.S. R&D is only about 3% of GDP[1]).

So far, so good. But worldwide, we’re told:

According to the World Economic Forum, the world needs to invest $26T in water infrastructure over and above the current rate of investment between now and 2030.

According to the International Energy Agency, the world needs to invest more than $48T in energy infrastructure prior to 2035.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates agricultural investments (as opposed to agricultural expenditures), in the developing world alone, over a comparable period need to be the order of $250B/year or $5T over twenty years. (Most of this will be made by farmers themselves as opposed to governments.)

Sum this all up and the bill for energy, water-resource, and agricultural investments comes to $80B over the next two decades. To a single significant figure? $100T. (Not $1000T; but not a mere $10T either.)

The figures quoted above are uncertain, and represent only a sample of the available estimates. For example, a separate World Economic Forum report puts needs for infrastructure investment more broadly (including transportation and waste disposal) at $5T/year for twenty years, or $100T. Another way of arriving at a comparable figure, within the uncertainties acknowledged here? Take the far-more-carefully constructed ASCE estimate of infrastructure investment needs in the United States alone, estimated to be $3.6T (by 2020! But let’s ignore that more urgent time frame) and multiply by the ratio of U.S. population to world population, and again you arrive at a $100T figure.

Two other statistics merit inclusion in this mix. Losses due to natural hazards, if they remain true to form, will amount to $5T globally over the next twenty years.

And Costanza et al. 2014 put the annual loss of ecosystem services[2] over the prior twenty years due to land-use changes at $4-20T/year. A great deal of uncertainty here, but taking the lower end of the estimate and extrapolating suggests an $80T loss in ecosystem services from this cause over the coming two decades.

Bottom line? It’s hard to shake the conclusion that over the next twenty years something like a $100T needs to be spent on energy, water, and food infrastructure, with investment in community resilience to hazards and protection of critical ecosystem services thrown in, if we’re to meet the needs of nine billion people.

Can world leaders foot the bill? Or is the sum too outsized? You be the judge. The figure is eye-wateringly large (per the graphic at the head of this post). But it amounts to no more than 5% of expected world GDP over the same period. This works out to something like $500/person worldwide per year, or a bit more than a dollar a day. Not bad in the developed world, but comparable to the total annual income for many of the world’s poorest.

That said, the world’s leaders, even the most selfish and tightfisted, might see this cheap at the price if it means sleeping easy. And you and I join them in this respect! Meet global needs for food, water, and energy, and we’ll all sleep well.

An added bonus? It puts people to work! More on this latter important aspect in a coming LOTRW post.


[1] With respect to percentages, we’re behind a number of countries, including Denmark, Finland, Germany, Israel, Japan, South Korea, and Sweden.

[2] ecosystem services fall into four broad categories: provisioning, such as the production of food and water; regulating, such as the control of climate and disease; supporting, such as nutrient cycles and crop pollination; and cultural, such as spiritual and recreational benefits. To help inform decision-makers, many ecosystem services are being assigned economic values.


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Why world leaders lose sleep at night.

And in the visitation of the winds,
Who take the ruffian billows by the top,
Curling their monstrous heads and hanging them
With deafening clamour in the slippery clouds,
That, with the hurly, death itself awakes?
Canst thou, O partial sleep, give thy repose
To the wet sea-boy in an hour so rude,
And in the calmest and most stillest night,
With all appliances and means to boot,
Deny it to a king? Then happy low, lie down!
Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.

William Shakespeare (Henry IV, Part 2. Act III. Scene 1.)

In Shakespeare’s day, the concept of “king” was clear-cut, and so was the idea that kings, like the rest of us, face threats real and imagined, deal with anxieties to varying degrees of effectiveness, and in the end – sleep fitfully at best. This was and remains true for kings whether noble, or venal and mendacious; whether governing justly and equitably, under law; or imposing their will through bullying and brute force. The noble are beset by the weight of their responsibilities; the ignoble by fear of losing their fragile (and often ill-gotten) position of privilege.

Case in point: Henry IV (pictured above) was tormented by his deep fatigue, illness, guilt and remorse at his murder of his predecessor (the hapless Richard II), and rebellion in his kingdom. (He wonders why a mere boy on shipboard, tossed by wild seas, can sleep better than he can.) Many of today’s corrupt leaders share similar concerns (and suffer similar insomnia): the Swiss bank account that is coming to light; the illegitimate accumulation of wealth by family and close friends that is prompting national anger; the loosening of the once-firm grip on power that comes with the ravages of age. Najib Razak, the current prime minister of Malaysia, who has been accused of diverting $1B into his personal accounts from a state investment firm; Robert Mugabe, the president of Zimbabwe, at age 83 nearing the end of his string: these and others come to mind.

Of course, power and influence today are more broadly distributed, unevenly to be sure, but nevertheless widespread. Presidents and prime ministers share power with legislators and with leaders of business and others. And truth be told, since all flaws of character are manifest in each of us, from the greatest to the least, all these individual leaders, now numbering in the millions, can and do lose sleep on any given night from the most high-minded concern to the pettiest.

But here’s one concern that’s shared, across the board, that’s common to all – the adequacy and continuity of critical human needs for food, water, and energy.

King, president, prime minister, dictator, governor, mayor, business leader – all want to know that across their jurisdiction:

  • water flows from every tap,
  • food is plentiful at every store and in every home,
  • there’s electricity at every outlet, natural gas in all the right pipelines, and gasoline at every pump, and
  • the whole is drinkable, edible, or otherwise within design parameters, and cheap.

That’s because any interruption in availability or quality of these necessities[1], any spike in price, however local, however momentary, triggers social unrest in corresponding measure. It matters not whether the trigger is a lack of natural resources, prohibitive expense, a natural catastrophe, or inadequate investment in infrastructure, or some combination of all these. Public need for all these cannot be postponed. In consequence, in the face of any such breakdown, the public will accept no excuses from leadership. As the scale and severity of the disruption grows or the condition persists, popular fears and anger multiply. Past a certain point, society breaks down. In the extreme, the end result is a failed state, often accompanied by the rise and migration of refugee populations that impact neighboring nations. Somalia, Yemen, South Sudan, Syria fall into this category. Others, such as Venezuela, are not far behind[2]. Along the way, the leader’s crown is inevitably passed to another.

In the next LOTRW post: what world leaders will pay over the next twenty years to rest a little easier.


[1] And others: waste disposal, communications, and financial services (witness the recent India recall of 500-and 1000-rupee notes). In some areas, e.g., urban China, breathable air gets added to the list.

[2] Armed conflict plays a role in such disruption, and such disruption can trigger armed conflict; there is a complex relationship between the two not treated here.

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Junk Food for Thought

Food for thought: An idea or issue to ponder… This metaphoric phrase, transferring the idea of digestion from the stomach to mulling something over in the mind, dates from the late 1800s, although the idea was also expressed somewhat differently at least three centuries earlier.

Junk food: 1. food, as potato chips or candy, that is high in calories but of little nutritional value. 2.anything that is attractive and diverting but of negligible substance.

 We know all too well the perils of junk food. Imagine a world in which junk food was available for a small monthly fee. Fee paid? You can then eat junk food in unlimited amounts. Imagine further that junk food was freely and openly available everywhere. And that it was perfectly tailored to your preferences.

Everywhere. Imagine walking through urban streets with junk food of every description in open bins at arm level. Take a step, grab some pretzels. Another step or two, CheezIts or Twinkies. Further down, cotton candy. On the opposite corner, Doritos. Oreos. Sliders. Sugary soft drinks. Unlimited amounts, endless variety, as far as the eye could see, block after block. Don’t like jalapeno crackers? They’re nowhere in your field of view. But if your sidewalk companion can’t get enough of them, that’s all he or she sees.

You’d find the same food available in elevators. In parks and at home. In your office or at your factory workplace. It would be at hand in shopping malls, in schools and churches. And even – wait for it – the gym. Of course some food might not be so universally or quickly accessible, or in such variety, depending on your junk food provider. You might find yourself in places where coverage wasn’t available.

Fortunately, you and I don’t live in this alternate universe. Otherwise obesity, and type-2 diabetes, and cardiovascular problems would be even more pervasive than they are today.

But our actual universe does pose a similar, perhaps great threat, in the form of our smartphones.

Smartphones provide us endless junk food for thought. Once upon a time to be walking on city streets was to be focused on the minutes remaining to our destination, or the people we would be meeting there, or the purpose of that meeting. How boring! How limiting! Today we can multitask. We can let our minds roam on thoughts entirely separate from the task almost-but-not-quite-at hand. We don’t even have to notice the crack (or pothole) in the sidewalk that awaits our next step. And (I am not making this up), technology is in the works to cast a red or green light on the sidewalk beneath our feet at intersections, so that soon we won’t even have to look up from our phones to see whether it’s safe to cross the street. Our mind can be half a world away, checking last night’s (or up-to-the-minute) sports scores, the value of our company’s stock, generating adrenalin in response to the latest political tweet, watching today’s top cat video, bonding with the Kardashians, getting updates from friends and family, e-mails from the boss, and more. Fact is, we’re also generating such content.

This junk food for thought intrudes on our conversations with each other. Any break in the conversation for any reason, any ringtone interruption is the trigger for all parties to grab the phone and reconnect with that larger junk-food-for-thought world. This happens when we’re at a party, or happy hour, when we’re at lunch with each other, when we’re in meetings, even when we’re on that all-important first date. (Ouch!)

All these are coming to us in bite-sized thought snippets. And like the chocolate kiss or the potato chip, it’s pretty much impossible to stop at just one. To click on one Internet link is to be drawn to another. None ever contains enough of what we desire to satisfy; but each has just enough of what we crave to get us to take the next “bite.”

When we talk about junk food, we usually draw a contrast to some desired healthy diet balancing the “basic” food groups: breads, cereals, rice, pasta, noodles and other grains; vegetables and legumes; fruit; milk, yoghurt, cheese and/or alternatives; lean meat, fish, poultry, eggs, nuts and legumes.

As junk food has proliferated, it’s raised the level of concern. It inspired the 2004 movie Supersize Me. It famously prompted New York’s Mayor Bloomberg to cap the size of sugary drinks. Social scientists and nutritionists have introduced the concept of food deserts:

Food deserts are defined as parts of the country vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods, usually found in impoverished areas. This is largely due to a lack of grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and healthy food providers.

(In urban settings, this is any area where it’s more than a mile to fresh, nutritious food; a supermarket serves as the proxy for this. In rural areas, the figure is ten miles. We’re told 30 million urbanites live in such areas; 20% of rural residents do. As they learn more, researchers are discovering the consequences are substantial.)

A brief historical digression, important for context. A century before the Internet, William James introduced the term “stream of consciousness,” referring a an individual’s a person’s thoughts and conscious reactions to events, perceived as a continuous flow. The idea even gave birth to a literary style, made famous by James Joyce, Virginia, Woolf, and Marcel Proust, in which a character’s thoughts, feelings, and reactions are depicted in a continuous flow uninterrupted by objective description or conventional dialogue. So you could argue that the Internet introduces little that’s new. But it feels like the Internet-fueled stream of consciousness is more like an angry river at flood stage. We’re being carried along – to where?

A few additional closing questions – mostly individual, not sociological – for you and me:

When I look at my Internet use, to what extent am I consuming junk-food-for-thought? What constitutes nutritious food for thought? Is there such a thing as “basic” food-for-thought groups? What are they? Can and does my intake of that nutritious food for thought need to be balanced in some way (including portions, say, of education in the latest breakthroughs in my profession; emerging ideas in related professions; in self-help; spiritual matters and values; etc.)? There’s no doubt the Internet allows me to respond more rapidly to short-term, urgent needs; how does affect my ability to think strategically versus in the moment? And, expanding to the larger society (while inching closer to home for LOTRW readers) what are the implications of this for a society wrestling with defining, long-term challenges such as sustainable production of food, water, and energy? What are the implications of this for public education?

In sum, how can I master the Internet to serve my own (larger, healthier?) ends versus allowing the Internet to master me?

Confessing the obvious: this feels more like scratchwork to me than the majority of the LOTRW posts. I haven’t just failed to reach any satisfactory conclusions; I’ve not yet been able to formulate the right questions. Yet to pursue this on my own means being carried by that stream of consciousness into a swamp, to be entangled in a thicket of unstructured and useless thought. Therefore putting these unfinished thoughts out there/would really welcome your views.

(Junk?) food for thought for what’s left of your weekend.

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We’ve Got Your “Six”

by Captain Timothy H. Miner
Allied Pilots Association
Member: AMS Aviation, Range and Aerospace Committee

[Read the LOTRW “about” link and you’ll find an invitation to submit guest contributions. But the blog’s going-on-seven-year history has seen only a handful of takers. That’s a shame, because colloquy is better than soliloquy.

Tim Miner has just ended the most-recent drought. His guest post is welcome for other reasons. He connects the advance of meteorological science and science-based services to the resulting societal benefit. He highlights aviation’s interest in the work we do. Perhaps this example will inspire other user communities to form similar links with the AMS. Finally, he reminds us that like John McCarthy, we’re each individually positioned to make the world a better place. If you were at the 2017 AMS Annual Awards Banquet, you might recall the award presentation Tim describes. But you won’t have heard the inspiring backstory he relates here. WHH]

At a time when the work of meteorology and climatology is under scrutiny, it is important for the public to know about the critical successes of the science.  Clearly, it will take all of us communicating these successes to change skeptical hearts.  At the annual banquet of the AMS this past January, something unique happened.  An entire industry stood up to say to the AMS, “Thank you for your science.  It makes a difference.  It saves lives.”  In the century-old language of aviation we also said, “We have your six” which refers to the 6 o’clock position, or now more commonly referred to as “having your back.”

This past year seven aviation associations came together to create an annual award to honor the most significant work of AMS members to provide safety and economic efficiencies in our industry.  We have named this award the “Aviation & Space Operations Weather Prize.”  It has been an honor to lead this effort on behalf of the current chair of the AMS Aviation, Range and Aerospace Committee.  But this was also very personal for me.  You see, my life was saved directly by an AMS member, and that is the untold story

Let me first share my comments from the microphone just prior to dinner being served:

Fellow members of the AMS.  This evening I have the privilege to speak on behalf of an industry as the representative of the Allied Pilots Association.  This week during this conference we focused on observations and we have been observing you.  With me tonight is Mr. Matt Tucker, National Air Traffic Controllers Association; Mr. John Kosak, National Business Aviation Association; and Mr. Mark Phaneuf, Air Line Pilots Association.  Representatives for the Airlines for America; Airline Dispatchers Federation; and the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association were unable to attend.   We represent over a quarter of a million pilots, dispatchers and air traffic controllers; over 11,000 aviation businesses; over 40 commercial airlines and 1.5 trillion dollars of economic activity.  This evening we are here to award the first of a new external honor to be given for the “most conspicuous effort to advance aviation and space operations safety or efficiency through the meteorological or climatological sciences.”  We will give this honor annually to an individual or team affiliated with the AMS for a single act or a lifetime of achievement.  The eighth voting member this year is the current chair of your Aviation, Range and Aerospace Committee, Dr. Cecilia Miner, whose vision to bring more user interface to the committee made all this happen.  Members of the committee will be the sources for future nominations.   Next year we will also be joined by the Range Commander’s Council.

While we will only give one award every year, in creating this program we are honoring all of you, the entire membership of the AMS for your scientific efforts.  Our associations spell WEATHER beginning with the letters W and E.  “WE” consider this society an equal partner in our industry.

Tonight, we present the first Aviation and Space Operations Weather Prize to Dr. John McCarthy.  He was selected for his “lifetime achievements to identify, detect, warn, mitigate and promote industry education on the microburst hazard in commercial and private aviation.”  Dr. McCarthy was the founding Director of the Research Applications Program at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, from 1981-1994 and the principal meteorologist associated with the development of the FAA Wind Shear Training Aid now used in commercial pilot training throughout the world. 

Congratulations, Dr. McCarthy.

During the annual banquet of the American Meteorological Society on January 25, 2017, seven aviation associations came together to present the first “Aviation & Space Operations Weather Prize to John McCarthy for his work on researching the causes and mitigations to the microburst hazard in aviation. Present for the ceremony were: Mr. Mark Phaneuf representing the Air Line Pilots Association; Captain Timothy Miner representing the Allied Pilots Association and consortium lead; McCarthy; Mr. Matt Tucker, air traffic controller representing the National Air Traffic Controllers Association; and, Mr. John Kosak representing the National Business Aviation Association


With only minutes to introduce the concept of the award and make the presentation, that is all I could publicly say.  However, during the dinner that followed I had the chance to share “my story” with John McCarthy and the rest of the representatives.

John McCarthy saved my life as a young pilot.

It was 1988 and I was a young Assistant Professor of Physical Geography/Climatology at the United States Air Force Academy, in Colorado Springs.  As a military pilot I had already had one “close call” with weather when a lightning strike impacted my aircraft.  I knew that the academy didn’t really teach weather courses, which seemed incredible for a school created to educate future aviators, so when it came time for graduate studies I chose as much weather as I could get before my assignment.  While at the academy I was a young, vocal advocate for a meteorology major.

To get visibility for weather sciences I created a series of colloquium presentations.  The first name recommended to me was John McCarthy from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) just “up the road” in Boulder.  He made a very good presentation on his work with the microburst hazard in aviation.  It was filled with illustrations and pictures.  It was very well done.

Ninety-days later that presentation saved my life.  As an instructor pilot with one USAFA student in a small aircraft circumnavigating the Colorado Springs Airport, I saw the developing dust rings of a dry microburst ahead.  Had it not been for John’s work I would not have known what I was looking at.  Fortunately, his instruction gave me the time to coordinate other aircraft behind me to turn around and place several commercial airliners heading into the airport into holding.  I turned around in time to “ride the edge of the wave.”  Had I gone into the microburst I would not have survived in the aircraft I was flying.

That incident gave me the audience with the leadership of the school to make my case for a meteorology major.  I’m convinced that this was an important bit of motivation they needed for change.  By the time I left the faculty to pursue a dual career as a USAF reserve weather officer and a commercial airline pilot, USAFA was well on its way to having a program that thrives to this day.  But regardless of the academic change, the most important thing to me is that the science, the research and the education that John McCarthy shared on that day saved my life.  Very few meteorologists ever get to hear those words.

Ultimately, I am only one of many pilots and passengers on airplanes that have been saved by the work that John McCarthy led.  His efforts are extensive and impressive.  He was THE unanimous choice to be the first to receive the this prize.  It is easy to see why.

John McCarthy was the founding Director of the Research Applications Program (RAP) at National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), Boulder, CO, from 1981-1994. As Director of RAP, he directed research associated with aviation weather hazards including NCAR activities associated with National Science Foundation Joint Aviation Weather Studies (JAWS), which determined that microbursts were commonplace in the Denver area.  A following FAA/RAP effort detected microbursts in real-time and transmitted warnings to pilots arriving and departing Denver with significant success. The success of this effort led the FAA to establish the Terminal Doppler Weather Radar (TDWR) Program, in close conjunction with MIT Lincoln Laboratory and RAP, which ultimately resulted in installing an automatic microburst detection and warning system for microbursts at 72 airports in the US. A major part of the RAP effort was focused on detection algorithm efforts, and determining the best way to fully transfer the hazard information to pilots.  The RAP effort at NCAR focused on basic aviation weather research, and its critical transfer to improve operational safety to the airline industry.  Aviation industry user groups were formed, which the developers and aviation users jointly worked together to carefully match detection results to user needs.

He was the principal meteorologist associated with the development of the FAA and Boeing-led and FAA-financed Wind Shear Training Aid now used in commercial pilot training throughout the world.  McCarthy was a founding member of the FAA Research, Engineering, and Development Advisory Committee, and previously on the NASA Aviation Safety Program Executive Council.

The aviation and space operations associations coming together to recognize important contributions of science are very honored to fete this outstanding leader in aviation safety research.  We will be back to the AMS every year to honor the important work taking place there.

Science really does matter.  We’ve got your “six” now.

The plaque presented to John McCarthy contains the logos of the seven founding associations that came together to create the annual Aviation & Space Operations Weather Prize on January 25, 2017. They are from upper left and clockwise: The Allied Pilots Association, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, the Airline Dispatchers Federation, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, the Air Line Pilots Association, the National Business Aviation Association, and Airlines for America.

[Again, congratulations to John McCarthy, and thanks to Tim Miner. WHH]

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So live, that when thy summons comes to join  

The innumerable caravan, which moves  

To that mysterious realm, where each shall take  

His chamber in the silent halls of death,  

Thou go not, like the quarry-slave at night,  

Scourged to his dungeon, but, sustained and soothed  

By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave,  

Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch  

About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams. – William Cullen Bryant, Thanatopsis.

Timothy A. Cohn, devoted son, husband, and father, U.S. Geological Survey hydrologist, ultra-marathoner, and one-time Congressional Science Fellow for then-Senator Bill Bradley, died this morning. Tim was just a few days short of his 60th birthday.

To be around Tim, whether for moments or hours or days, was for that span of time, to live life on a higher plane. This was true in several respects:

He didn’t merely like science, he loved and honored it. He was meticulous in his own work, diving into arcane statistical analyses (core to much of hydrology) to such depth as to scare off the rest of us, yet always emerging with new insights. At the same time, that experience made him cautious when it came to accepting the work of others. He was skeptical of shortcuts and premature judgments, and found more of this than he liked in climate-change discussions. To dialog with him on these issues was always an education. To leave was to leave with a stronger determination to be more thorough, to do higher-quality work, be more self-critical.

In-depth statistical analysis? He applied that same grit to exercise. Why run one mile when you can run ten? Why run ten miles when you can run one hundred? He loved running long distances. And he’d tell the rest of us, “Ultra-marathons are more fun than marathons. You don’t just run. You talk. You stop for meals. You’re in community…” (Mere mortals struggled to find this line of argument entirely convincing.)

Tim was a closer. He got things done. He finished his races, and he finished his statistical analyses. When we worked together during the late 1990’s with the Institute for Business and Home Safety to put on once-monthly workshops as part of the Public-Private Partnership 2000, Tim was a leading force in marshaling USGS, NOAA, and IBHS colleagues in taking vague workshop ideas and making them actually happen, over a two-year period.

Tim was a gentleman (as in: a civilized, educated, sensitive, or well-mannered man). The word doesn’t get used so much these days – it’s so twentieth-century, or maybe even nineteenth. But it applied to Tim – everything about him, everything he did, and every way he went about life. He was extremely well-educated, but never threw that in anyone’s face. He had a great sense of humor but never employed it at anyone else’s expense. To be around Tim was to experience dignity and respect.

Enthusiasm/positive energy. But time with Tim was never dry, or stuffy, or ordinary. He radiated an extraordinary vitality and passion for all aspects of life and the human experience that was infectious. Remarkably, and most tellingly, it extended to his battle with the lymphoma that finally took him. He was fascinated by the clever medical science and therapies keeping him alive, asked questions of his doctors, read up, and transmitted his keen interest to everyone around him. To be with him during this time was to be built up, not drained. (Truth be told, much of this was also due to his best friend and wife Sarah, who has radiated this same positive force, even as she dedicated months to his care and nurturing. Tim and Sarah didn’t just endure these months; they lived them, filling them with special times and memories shared with the rest of us through CaringBridge, in a way that inspired.)


A closing note: At Wilkinsburg High School in the 1950’s every senior had to memorize 150 lines of poetry. One scrap I selected at the time was this last bit of Bryant’s Thanatopsis. (Wikipedia tells us Bryant may have penned these words when he was only seventeen.) In the years since, I’ve reflected on these sentiments, and always wondered why I chose them.

That is, until today. Thanks, Tim, for embodying the spirit of these lines – and for being the person you are. I know you were a bit of a skeptic about spiritual matters – but I’ll see you in heaven (hydrologists analyze statistics; meteorologists make forecasts). For me, and for countless others, it won’t be heaven without you there. And I’ll bet you’re already finding that your love of science, and exercise, and gentlemanly manner, and enthusiasm and positive energy, are blending right in.

We love and miss you.

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The Oroville Dam… and extrapolation to the national implications.

Two weeks ago, the risks posed by the Oroville dam occupied relatively few minds. But in the days since its near-failure and the evacuation of 200,000 people downstream, it’s become a household word. The news media have devoted much ink and uncountable electrons to the discussion.

The Atlantic provides a particularly well-balanced article, beginning with some background:

In December 1964, three years into the massive barrier’s construction, a huge flood struck the northwest, killing dozens. The dam was nearly overtopped, which could have led to its failure even before it was completed. Instead, the partially completed dam helped prevent a larger disaster by reducing the flow of the Feather River…

The dam, which sits south of Chico and north of Sacramento, was eventually completed in 1968, creating the nation’s tallest dam. It forms the head of California’s massive, byzantine State Water Project (SWP). The SWP moves water from Northern California south toward Los Angeles, an average of 3 million acre-feet per year. A drop of water that starts at Lake Oroville, above the dam, takes 10 days to move all the way to the end of the system, south of Los Angeles

…There’s some bitter irony to the problem of too much water menacing the Golden State. California has suffered through a long and severe drought, at times driving Governor Jerry Brown to institute stringent—critics say draconian—water controls. This winter has seen much more snow and rain, which is good news for the parched state, but bad news for the Oroville Dam, where huge amounts of water are collecting. The lake rose 50 feet in a matter of days. Earlier in February, as operators let water over a concrete spillway to reduce the pressure, a crater appeared in the spillway. Faced with too much water in the lake, they continued to use the spillway anyway, and the damage got worse. On Friday, the crater was 45 feet deep, 300 feet wide, and 500 feet long.

The full article provides more particulars, and explores three contributing causes to the emergency: drought, climate change, and infrastructure maintenance.

Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy, and Environmental Sciences this morning posted a discussion with in-house experts Noah Diffenbaugh and Newsha Ajami on what happened at Oroville Dam and what Californians might see. Some excerpts:

Noah Diffenbaugh is a professor of Earth System Science in the Stanford School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences and the Kimmelman Family Senior Fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. He focused on the climate change aspects. A sample, to whet your appetite for the fuller discussion:

What’s happening now is very much in line with our recent research analyzing the historical climate record and projections of future climate change. It’s really an issue of extremes. Right now, we’re having an extremely wet year, on top of a record-breaking five-year drought. The basin upstream of Oroville Dam is at a record 224 percent of normal precipitation, and we are witnessing what happens when so much precipitation falls in such a short amount of time. Our research has shown that global warming doubles the odds of the warm, dry conditions that intensified and extended our recent drought. At the same time, that warming atmosphere carries more water vapor, so you have the potential for more extreme wet periods like this winter.

Dr. Newsha Ajami is director of urban water policy at Stanford’s Water in the West Program[1]. She focused on the infrastructure:

[The Oroville event] …demonstrates that our aging infrastructure requires better maintenance and upkeep, otherwise it can fail, especially under new climatic realities that are quite different from the historical knowledge used to design and build it. We have to become smarter in the way we manage our water infrastructure system. Using 20th-century tools and governance strategies to manage our existing infrastructure will not meet our 21st-century challenges and needs. We also have to update our water governance tools and strategies at every scale to incorporate today’s climatic realities in our decision-making process and consider innovative solutions that can enable more effective management of our system without any social or economic consequences…

my colleagues in the transportation and energy sectors might not fully agree, [but] people are much more willing to pay for the upkeep and maintenance of roads, bridges or energy transmission lines than our water system. This is partly because water is a hidden system and people are disconnected from our complex and sophisticated water network. Most people hardly know where their water comes from or where it goes after use. To change the public’s attitude toward water, we have to do a better job educating the public and demonstrating that reactive responses to our water challenges will end up being costlier than proactive ones. Authorities need a steady fund to maintain the water system and that may mean a change in water rates.

Well said!

Returning to The Atlantic narrative, we find:

In 2005, a trio of environmental groups filed a complaint with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, saying the emergency spillway was unsafe, The Mercury News reports. Their worry proved prophetic: The groups said in the event of heavy rain and flooding, the hillside would wash out and produce flooding downstream. They asked that the auxiliary spillway be paved with concrete, like the primary one. But the federal government rejected the request after consulting with the state and local agencies involved in the water system, which said they did not believe the upgrades were needed.

 As for the primary spillway, the state did some repair work around the area of the collapse in 2013, CBS Sacramento reports. The last state inspection was in July 2015, but workers did not closely inspect the concrete, the Redding Record Searchlight notes, instead eyeing it from a distance and concluding it was safe. Officials say repairs should cost $100 million to $200 million, once it’s dry enough to begin them.

 For comparison, let’s estimate that the cost of the emergency evacuation and housing for 200,000 people for five days is of the order of $1000/person. That comes the order of $200M. Failure to perform routine maintenance on the dam essentially doubled the cost to the Nation. And that was without actual dam failure, and the resulting property damage that would have raised losses by an order of magnitude.

This calls to mind the periodic assessments by the American Society of Civil Engineers on the need for infrastructure maintenance of all types. Focusing on the dams alone, we learn from their 2013 report that

Dams again earned a grade of D. The average age of the 84,000 dams in the country is 52 years old. The nation’s dams are aging and the number of high-hazard dams is on the rise. Many of these dams were built as low-hazard dams protecting undeveloped agricultural land. However, with an increasing population and greater development below dams, the overall number of high-hazard dams continues to increase, to nearly 14,000 in 2012. The number of deficient dams is currently more than 4,000. The Association of State Dam Safety Officials estimates that it will require an investment of $21 billion to repair these aging, yet critical, high-hazard dams[2].

As of 2012, there are 13,991 dams in the United States that are classified as high-hazard, showing a continued increase in the overall number of dams with that classification. The number has increased from 10,118 high-hazard dams just ten years ago. Another 12,662 dams are currently labeled as significant hazard, meaning a failure would not necessarily cause a loss of life, but could result in significant economic losses.

The average age of our nation’s dams is 52 years. By 2020, 70% of the total dams in the United States will be over 50 years old. Fifty years ago dams were built with the best engineering and construction standards of the time. However, as the scientific and engineering data have improved, many dams are not expected to safely withstand current predictions regarding large floods and earthquakes. In addition, many of these dams were initially constructed using less-stringent design criteria for low-hazard dams due to the lack of development below the dam…

 …Dam failures can not only risk public safety, but they can cost our economy millions of dollars in damages… Since dam failures can cause severe consequences to public safety and the economy, emergency action plans (EAPs) for use in the event of an impending dam failure or other uncontrolled release of water remain vital. While the number of high-hazard dams with an EAP has increased, only 66% of dams have EAPs, far below the national goal of 100%.

The complexity of monitoring the conditions of our nation’s dams is partly because they are owned and operated by many different entities. While some of the nation’s dams are owned and operated by federal, state, and local governments, the majority, 69%, are owned by a private entity. The federal government owns 3,225 dams, or approximately 4% of the nation’s dams. It may be surprising to some that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers owns only 694 dams.

 Other than 2,600 dams regulated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the remaining dams in the nation are not regulated by the federal government, but instead rely on state dam safety programs for inspection. State dam safety programs have primary responsibility and permitting, inspection, and enforcement authority for 80% of the nation’s dams. Therefore, state dam safety programs bear a large responsibility for public safety, but unfortunately, many state programs lack sufficient resources, and in some cases enough regulatory authority, to be effective…

Putting Americans to work to maintain dams and avert catastrophe seems an attractive alternative to paying comparable amounts to evacuate and house those threatened by dam failure.


[1] Full disclosure: Dr. Ajami, when a graduate student at UC Irvine, participated in the 2005 AMS Summer Policy Colloquium (can’t understand how the Stanford News Service failed to catch and highlight this… ).

[2] A small fraction of the $3.6T the ASCE estimates is required to renovate all U.S. infrastructure, including levees and drinking water supply, energy, waste disposal, transportation, etc. For comparison, Americans spend $20B annually on pet food.

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