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Story Tools

Date of Issue: December 15, 2005

Sandscript

Tell your tale, please, before next storm season

As the 2005 Atlantic Ocean tropical storm season echoes its last gasp with the demise of Hurricane Epsilon, forecasters are already looking ahead to 2006.

And it's not a very pretty picture.

Phil Klotzbach and Dr. William Gray of Colorado State University have provided a glimpse of what to look for next June-November as far as storms are concerns. Gray, by the way, is taking "second chair" in the predictions to Klotzbach as he devotes time "to the global warming issue and in synthesizing my projects' and many years of hurricane and typhoon studies," including 22 years of forecasts.

According to the team's Dec. 1 forecast, "the 2006 Atlantic hurricane season will be much more active than the average 1950-2000 season. We estimate that 2006 will have about nine hurricanes (average is 5.9), 17 named storms (average is 9.6), 85 named storm days (average is 49.1), 45 hurricane days (average is 24.5), five intense Category 3-to-5 hurricanes (average is 2.3) and 13 intense hurricane days (average is five).

"The probability of U.S. major hurricane landfall is estimated to be about 55 percent above the long-period average," the researchers continued.

Great. Just what we wanted to hear.

Klotzbach and Gray are using some different parameters to predict storms this year, lending greater weight to what they call "hindcasting," or finding what actually happened during a year when weather conditions mimic what is going on now. It's basically a history lesson, where a whole slew of weather conditions are analyzed and then compared to storm activity in past years.

"These forecasts are based on a statistical methodology derived from 52 years of past data and a separate study of analog years which have similar precursor circulation features to the current season," the pair stated. "These evolving forecast techniques are based on a variety of climate-related global and regional predictors previously shown to be related to the forthcoming seasonal Atlantic basin tropical cyclone activity and landfall probability. It is only through hindcast skill that one can demonstrate that seasonal forecast skill is possible."

None of that hindcast data works in the short term, of course, and doesn't help much in predicting if a storm will make landfall on Anna Maria Island versus Cedar Key, but it does help provide a broad-based advance approach to the season.

And the team readily admits that forecasting is just that - forecasting. "No one can completely understand the full complexity of the atmosphere-ocean system or develop a reliable scheme for forecasting the myriad non-linear interactions in the full-ocean atmosphere system," they - rather bluntly, at least for scientists it seems blunt - state. And they admit they bungled the forecasts from 1995-2001 due in part to giving greater weight to some traditionally reliable indicators rather than looking more closely at others.

As they put it, "Our initial 6-11 month early December seasonal hurricane forecast scheme demonstrated hindcast skill for the period of 1950-1990 but did not give skillful results when utilized on a real-time basis for forecasts between 1995-2001. This was due to the discontinuation of the strong relationships we had earlier found between West African rainfall and the stratospheric quasi-biennial oscillation with Atlantic basin major hurricane activity 6-11 months in the future. We did not expect these relationships that had worked so well for 41 years to stop working from 1995 onward. We do not yet have a good explanation as to why these relationships have failed."

However, they've come up with a new scheme this year which they hope will work better.

Let's hope that the new data are very, very wrong and we have no hurricanes for 2006.

Very, very rare

On to a lighter note: There appears to be a new carnivore found in the wilds of Borneo.

According to the journal "Nature," researchers have discovered a big-eyed, bushy-tailed critter in the heart of Borneo's jungle that has never been seen before.

Still unnamed, although fancifully dubbed the "Borneo beast," it looks like some kind of fox-lemur mix. Its tail is about as long as its body, but the pictures taken of it don't show much of its head. As one researcher put it, "There are not many creatures [in Borneo] in this size range, and this doesn't look like them, so the chances are it's something new. It's in the right size range for something like a secretive carnivore."

If the beast is indeed a new species, it will be the first new carnivore found in Borneo since the discovery of a ferret-badger in 1895.

Pretty neat that there is new stuff being discovered with all our technology, isn't it?

Speaking of technology, they're spotting the rare beasts using what amounts to surveillance cameras in the jungle, setting out food and cameras in "camera traps" that are left for days at a time. The cameras just roll and roll, and eventually record all kinds of interesting stuff.

Since the scientists think the critters use the trees to travel, and since they don't set up cameras too often, the images of the beast are few. Tree-climbing is scheduled next for the researchers in an effort to get a "heads up" on the Borneo beast.

Once was blind, now I see …

There's the old adage that one weakness brings to the forefront other strengths. It would appear that recent studies indicate that an inability in detecting distinctions in some color spectrums has spurred an ability to differentiate other, usually undetectable color shades.

It's kinda like finding a lighter shade of pale.

According to scientists published in the journal "Current Biology," gleaned from another journal "Nature," there's some weird findings coming out of those who were or are classed as "color blind."

Red-green color blindness is the most common, wherein about 6 percent of all men can't differentiate those colors. Women are for the most part exempt from the condition, it seems.

But scientists studying the visual challenges, called deuteranomaly, have found that there's a whole world of new "colors" available to the red-green challenged.

Something like 15 different shades of khaki, of all things.

Using a kind of flash card, researchers tested red-green challenged with those who were not. "It proved to be almost impossible for people with normal vision to tell the [khaki colors] apart," according to the study and, and as one scientist put it, "It made me realize what it's like for people with color blindness when they do the normal tests. It's immensely frustrating to be asked to look for colors that are to you invisible."

And here's a nice boost to the ego for those who have been "challenged" by the red-green "blindness": At least one researcher has hypothesized that the gene responsible for the condition may well have been an "evolutionary benefit. For example, it may have helped them spot potential food items in complicated environments such as grass or foliage."

Or maybe the ripe versus non-ripe, elusive potato chip? Or that perfect french fry?

Calling all 'real' Islanders

Here's a real deal for long-time Islanders, or actually anybody who's got a story to tell.

StoryCorps, a national program which is documenting what it calls "everyday history and the unique stories of Americans," is coming to St. Armands Circle in Sarasota Jan. 5-25 "to collect the stories of Florida residents as part of the program's cross-country tour. This remarkable project is sponsored by National Public Radio, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the automobile company, Saturn."

There will be a facilitator to handle the interview, take care of all the technical stuff and, at the end of the 40-minute session, you get a CD of the proceedings. If you want, a copy goes to the archives - the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, where "it will become part of a high-quality digital archive. This collection will eventually grow into an oral history of America." Tampa-Sarasota-based WUSF 89.7 will air a selection of the local stuff, and NPR will pick up selected stories Friday mornings on NPR's Morning Edition.

People interested in participating can sign up on the NPR Web site at www.npr.org beginning Dec. 19, or call Diane Egner at (813) 905-6903.

So here we go, guys and gals: Billie, Snooks, Jim, Blue, Alcee, Karen, Chuck, Carolyne, John, Andy, Don, Carol, Wyre, SueLynn, Pierrette, Rhea, Joe, Helen and all the other folks who've made a difference on and off the Island. Please tell your tale.

Sandscript factoid

According to NPR, StoryCorps is the largest history project ever undertaken, with more than 2,000 stories already collected in the project's first year and plans to collect more than 250,000 interviews over the next decade.

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