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News for week of 2023-01-02 (all current event convos go here)

Make a top-level comment for a new story/topic. Discussions about the topic should be in the replies to the top-level comment. That way things stay organized and every main comment as you scroll down is a different piece of news.

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  • Comments (32)

    • 5

      The majority of COVID infections happen in a very small portion of buildings and can be prevented by improving ventilation in those buildings.

      “More than half of the Covid-19 outbreaks in workplaces in Ireland occurred in just 150 buildings… more than 50% of Covid deaths in Ireland were infected in just 0.03% of the country’s more than 2 million buildings… a focus on ventilation in indoor spaces is key to managing cases of the virus, with buildings with poor ventilation having provided a disproportionate number of cases to date.“

      https://www.irishexaminer.com/news/arid-40292534.html

    • 3

      For those in NorCal, the next storm lined up looks like it’s going to be similar to the one we got around NYE— maybe a little more intense in some ways, if also a little less rainfall. See details here: https://www.wrh.noaa.gov/forecasts/display_special_product_versions.php?sid=mtr&pil=afd

      I’m going to set aside some time tomorrow to prepare. Anyone out there have any ideas on what I should be sure to do?

      So far my list includes bringing out the lanterns and making sure they all have full batteries/a full charge and fully charging all devices and backup batteries. If I’m feeling particularly doomy, I might try to find a quick dam or two for the garage doors, though we did carve a nice trench into the top of the driveway ~ three years ago and haven’t had any drainage problems around the doors since (including in the last storm). Our flood risk here is very low (I’d be only slightly worried about the house in an ARkStorm-caliber event, which this is not) our trees are in good shape, and the landscaping is already trashed, so I think what’s left is just prepping to be sure that we won’t be too miserable if we lose power.

      • 3

        I’ve followed you on this forum for a long time and know you are VERY prepared already, pnwsarah!  So how about making it a little fun?  What about laying in a special treat, game or book specifically for enjoyment during the storm – something to bring a spark of specialness to the experience?  

      • 2

        Aw, thank you M.E.! That is so kind of you to say— and a great idea. If the new bookstore near us is open tomorrow, I’ll go and get myself something to read on the couch during the storm. My husband got me one of those Rumpl blankets for Christmas, and it is very cozy. We also have some spicy drinking chocolate. Having that in my favorite mug (the one with the husky!) while wearing the Rumpl and reading a book sounds excellent. 🙂

      • 2

        Oh, and here’s a good article in the San Jose Mercury News:

        Gear up for a brutal Bay Area storm starting Wednesday

      • 3

        @pnwsarah,

        A number of years ago, a good friend of mine lost his really nice F350 truck when a very large tree fell directly across the roof in a fierce rain storm. The truck was a total loss.

        I learned 2 lessons; all his possessions in the truck were ruined – and I need to think about that. Also, he was without a vehicle for a few days and that hurt his work. Thankfully, he and his wife did not have to bug out, but if they did, it would have been in her very small car. That would have really gummed up their escape plans.

        Right now, my garage is full of other family members’ possessions after a few deaths in our family. Parking in my driveway is a risk because I have a huge oak tree next to the drive. My solution is to park in the backyard by the alley were there are no trees to fall on our cars.

      • 4

        So glad you brought this up, because I really worry about this kind of scenario. Since the soil here is already saturated from the heavy rain we just had, and the storm will be windy, it’s fair to guess that we’re going to lose a LOT of trees across the Bay Area in this next storm. Most (maybe all?) of the deaths in Oregon during the most recent winter storm were due to trees falling onto cars, or cars crashing into trees that had just fallen into the road.

        On our property, there is only one tree that is both big enough and positioned in such a way that it could really do damage if it fell. It’s a coast redwood (which are generally very sturdy), it looks healthy, and it is nowhere near the cars. As for the house, my husband is very confident that it would go in a particular direction and miss it and the neighbors’ place if it did fall. I see his logic but want an arborist’s opinion. We are having a very civil and slow-motion disagreement about whether that expense is necessary… when I eventually win, I will also have the arborist evaluate a tree that is too short and squat to fall far or do much harm— except that if it fell in one particular direction it would block 75% of the driveway entrance, trapping our vehicles on the property. Not as worried about that, though, since we have the tools to clear it.

        All this to say: I think evaluating the health of trees and their likely fall directions is an underrated prepper skill, and one I’d really like to build.

        I also feel like maybe people underrate the risk of falling trees when they go out in this kind of weather. When I worked in the forest, we would call off shifts in windy conditions (esp. coupled with very wet soil) because we were specifically concerned about people on the crew getting squashed. That job really affected the way I look at the world around me in a storm. Tree density in parts of the area where I live really isn’t *that* much lower than it was in the woods, especially in the parks and natural areas where I like to run, and along certain major roads. I have a doctor’s appointment late morning Weds— right when things are supposed to start getting wooly— that I really can’t cancel. Fortunately, it’s a short drive away and the trees along the route are mostly small-diameter, thin, and bushy. I’m going to brave the weather for that and then, I hope, stay in for 24-36 hours.

      • 2

        I saw on the news this morning that someone was killed when a falling tree knocked them off a ski lift – talk about a freak accident! 🙁

        Trees are a constant danger to my house and driveway.  There’s not even any guessing about direction of fall, because most of them are perfectly straight, it all depends on wind direction.  By some miracle only two have hit the house in all the years I’ve lived here (and they were small ones that did only minor damage) but finding the driveway blocked or a fence down are such regular occurrences that we heat almost exclusively with wood cleared from the driveway and fences.

        But it’s worth it to live in the woods in my opinion – quality of life matters as much as safety.

        If I were lucky enough to own a coast redwood, I wouldn’t cut it (assuming it was still healthy) even if an arborist did determine it leaned toward the house.  It could probably stand there another thousand years, not falling until long after you and your house are gone.

      • 2

        I don’t think I could handle living deep in the forest, but that’s mainly because of my wildfire concerns. If that weren’t an issue, I might take the treefall risk for the quality of life benefits (and the preparedness benefits— your posts have really demonstrated how numerous those are). I also think build quality/engineering matters and can mitigate risk. Obviously if the tree and the fall are big enough, you’ll have catastrophe for whatever is in the tree’s path, but I do know people who’ve taken a decent-sized tree to the roof with way less damage than you might think. 

        Coast redwoods are quite common around here— we’re in their native range— but I do still think it’s cool to have one. If I had to have a big tree right up beside my house, it’s certainly the species I’d choose. Plus, this one isn’t enormous (the ones surrounding my dad’s house when I was a kid were significantly larger). I appreciate you saying you’d leave it even if the arborist said the fall direction was toward the house— that gives me additional peace of mind. 

      • 2

        If you have a basement, plug/seal the floor drain.

      • 3

        Talk about having a redwood up close to the house…About 40 years ago, I bought a bunch of seedlings from Weyerhauser at their winter nursery sale.  One was a sequoia.  I didn’t have a place to plant it, so I “heeled it in” right next to the house and promptly forgot about it.  Except that it decided to survive!  The house was a single wide mobile home, which we replaced a couple of decades ago in a different location.  But the tree was really looming over that little house! 

        That tree is now a magnificent, robust specimen, with a HUGE diameter at the base!  It’s not all that far from the new house, but I don’t believe it’s a threat.  And an arborist told me that sequoias are fire resistant.

      • 3

        @Forager,

        I had a 50′ tree about 10′ from the corner of my house when I lived in PA. A hurricane remnant came up the coast and gave us tropical winds. The problem was, all the trees were still in leaf. The soil was saturated from a lot of rain and the tree came down. Thankfully, exactly away from the house. It missed our shed, which was 50′ away by about 3′.

        That’s when I started thinking about this risk. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot you can do about it except park your car strategically.

        When my friend lost his F350, 11 other trees came down on the dirt road he lived on. It was the only way in or out so 5 of us spent a long day cutting, bucking and dragging trees out of the way. The electric company thanked us when they eventually came out to restore service.

        This experience is why I would never buy an electric chainsaw; when you really need to charge the batteries you’re probably without power. It takes some thought, and usually a few bad experiences, to think through the circumstances when some of our tools will be needed.

      • 3

        Forager, a man in Portland Or was pinned in his recliner when a tree fell through his roof in the recent wind storm!

      • 2

        We park our truck between the barn and the horse trailer in a windstorm, away from trees!  We’ve lost DOZENS of trees to wind and ice!

      • 4

        I always wondered, when I heard about people or cars getting crushed by trees, why the heck they didn’t get out of the way.

        Until I was home one day when an enormous oak in our backyard came down – BOOM. There wasn’t even any wind or anything, just a cracking sound and zero warning. We were immensely lucky that it fell away from us and not toward, because there would have been nothing to do – not even time to pray.  Gravity is a force, my friends. 

        We had a tree expert come out who said the roots had been damaged when the foundation to our house was poured many many years before, and it had essentially died from the inside out (so sad).  He then identified three or four other trees that were likely to fall down and we very sadly said goodbye to them.  Interestingly our neighbor had a tree that looked fragile, with a giant hole in the middle, but the tree guy assured them it was fine.  Sure enough, well over a decade later, it is standing strong.

        We now pay anywhere between $400 and $800 per year to have our trees inspected and trimmed back from the house. It’s worth it when considering the alternative of having our roof crushed or worse. One of the many costs homeowners don’t take into account (we didn’t) when purchasing a home. 

      • 2

        @M.E. — Totally agree with you on the importance of regular treevaluations. My mom does this, too, and I always figured I would when I was a homeowner, but the first year there were so many repairs and so little money, and then we moved, and then we came back and it was already winter. As soon as the weather mellows out I’m going to start contacting arborists, because I don’t want to go through another winter (or even the rest of this winter, if I can help it) without knowing how these trees are doing. (Of course, arborists will be in huge demand after this system moves through…)

        I know of two people who were killed by sudden treefalls, both in mild weather. (I did not know either of them personally; we just had friends/affiliations in common.) Just makes me feel that, while rare, this is a real hazard and not something one should dismiss!

      • 2

        To support your side of the argument, having an arborist eval in hand if the trees ever do fall will make any home owners insurance claim much simpler.  A friend’s home suffered some serious damage from a large pine tree fall.  That same tree was evaluated and cleared for risk 6 months or a year earlier which the insurance company couldn’t really fight against as neglect or lack of maintenance.  The owners had proof of due diligence.  

      • 1

        @Alicia— thank you. That def. helped me convince my husband that we should get an arborist eval!

      • 2

        There are so many stories this morning about people, including an infant, killed by falling trees during these California storms.

        My first thought was ‘stay off the roads’, but that’s not practical for many people and some deaths were in homes.

        It would be interesting to know how many of these blow downs were sick or compromised trees.

        I used to think ‘what could be worse than the short warning a tornado offers’, but now I know better: falling trees.

      • 3

        Yep. Treefall to the house is what I really worry about. Second biggest worry is being injured or worse while running, walking, or driving in the days following the storm, when soils are still very wet and trees that withstood the initial onslaught can come down suddenly. I think there is at least some expectation in a storm like the one we just had that you don’t go anywhere during it, if you can help it, but it’s basically over now and with another one coming on Saturday and another (forecast to be the biggest) on Monday, you have to get back to your life. (I am really torn about this right now, because I have a half marathon coming up soon and haven’t run since Sunday.)

        Honestly, nothing we heard last night or saw out our windows matched the rhetoric about this storm, and yet there were evacuations taking place a half a mile from our house (that a friend who is a half a mile in the other direction didn’t even know about). I don’t doubt that it was a serious storm, though; we just live in a relative safe spot, stayed put, and got lucky with regard to our big vulnerability (our trees).

        One important takeaway from this is that you can’t necessarily gauge the seriousness of a storm from what you observe in any one location. CA is really diverse topographically and the same “microclimates” we experience in fair weather happen in storms, while the mountain-terrace-arroyo topography mean that severe flooding and landslides are going to be very localized phenomena. And treefalls are always localized.

        In light of this, I do worry about the rhetoric from media and local governments around the storms. My husband told me this morning that he only just learned that “atmospheric rivers” aren’t some new, climate change-driven phenomenon: When we were growing up in the Bay Area, they were just called “storms”. (If they came from Hawaii, they were sometimes called “pineapple express”, which meant warmer systems that could hit the Sierra as rain and melt accumulated snow, posing greater flood risk.) I remember when I first heard the term: I was chatting with one of my professors, who was not from California, and I remember being confused as to whether he was talking about a new term that was being used to characterize how the storms we’d always had worked or some new kind of storm. Well, it is a new(ish) term, not a new type of storm. There is an important climate change dimension, but it’s just that with a warmer atmosphere, there will be more ARs on average each year— and also a higher chance of a catastrophic megastorm where multiple ARs stack up and hit California consecutively, basically turning the Central Valley into a lake (thread). If this was confusing to a bunch of environmental scientists, I know other people are also confused.

        Now we’re also hearing the term “bomb cyclone” get thrown around, which as far as I understand it just means that the low pressure part of the system drops even lower very quickly, which intensifies the storm. (Just guessing here, I’d be willing to be that (1) this has always been a thing, and (2) climate change is expected to make it happen more frequently; that’s just generally how climate change effects extreme weather.)

        I suspect that the uptick in alarming terminology is what happens when the imperatives of research (understand climate better; give things new names) collide with the imperatives of the media (keep people watching/scrolling, which can be accomplished by frightening them). Local governments have every incentive to push the narrative that these storms are really dangerous, since they are the ones who have to send personnel out in them to rescue people who get into trouble.

        The thing I worry about is how regular people react when the local newscaster, the local paper, the city manager, PG&E, the police, the fire department, etc. act like The End of the World Is Coming, so they stay home and their personal experience is similar to what ours was here (i.e., some rain fell, the wind blew a little bit). I suspect a lot of people are going to conclude that this was because the media and the local government were engaged in “hype” and not take the warnings seriously next time, nevermind that the reason they get to feel like it was “hype” was that a lot of people stayed home and took the media and the local government seriously this time. I don’t know how you fix this— and I know it’s a broader (than California storms, i.e.) phenomenon that people in the field of disaster management and response talk about.

        I did see somewhere that they’ve started using a numeric rating scale for these storms, just like with hurricanes, which at first seemed like more rhetorical escalation, but now I wonder if maybe that’s what California needs: The local news can do what it’s going to do, but at least we know if the storm is a category 2 or a category 4. It would be great if local media and local governments also emphasized in their communications that the storm may not seem severe in some parts of the metro area/county, but people should still avoid unnecessary travel because of downed trees and power lines, flooding, and active evacuations in more hard-hit areas.

        Sorry for the long comment… I guess you could call this pnwsarah’s post-event report from CA AR #3 for Water Year 22-23. 

      • 3
      • 3

        TreeS, Shaun! TREES. HELLA TREES. SEVERAL AT THE SAME TIME.

        That’s scary as sh*t.

      • 1

        Yikes!  After seeing that video I’m never driving again.

      • 3

        @pnwsarah,

        Great post, lots to think about. Maybe we need to adjust our understanding of ‘storm scope’ when we consider the possible impact an impending storm may have on our lives.

        We all have experienced significant storms, whether rain or snow, but as years goes by, our memory of any particular storm is colored by the aftermath, not so much the storm itself. This might partly explain why we tend to dismiss the hype of ‘godzilla’ storm forecasts; we initially focus on the risk to us personally at that particular moment or day and our past experience was uneventful, so we think ‘been there, done that, not a big deal’. And as you say, the impact of any big storm can be very localized. You and other neighbors may think ‘I have seen many storms like this’ and that’s true, but other neighbors may say ‘yeah, but that’s the first time I lost my home’.

        I have lived in my current location about 15 years. My small Midwestern town has a park named Riverside Park. But it’s nowhere near the river. The river is 2 miles south and runs east-west. I asked my friend, who grew up here, about that and he smiled. ‘The edge of the park ran along the river for at least 100 years. We used to fish from the riverbank along the park when I was a little kid. But in 1972(?) the upper Midwest had torrential rain and a few weeks later we had river flooding and the river cut a new channel 2 miles south of town’.

        Through-traffic in my town runs East-West. About 40% of my town, on the south side, is in a 100 year flood plain. So is the main road. But the river is 2 miles away so most people don’t give it much thought. That river flood plain runs along the 2 primary roads for almost 100 miles.

        If we saw flooding like that again, we could not get to either major town that are 20 and 30 miles east and west of us without adding at least an hour to the trip. Some of it on gravel roads.

        So the risk of tree hitting my house is very real but a micro-local risk. The greater risk to me is based on geography and flooding from rain or snow melt.

        Readiness and resilience has to take into account the storm aftermath and that’s why I still listen and think about the ‘weather hype’.

      • 4

        “You and other neighbors may think ‘I have seen many storms like this’ and that’s true, but other neighbors may say ‘yeah, but that’s the first time I lost my home’.”

        Extreme example of thinking only about how a storm affected yourself…

        One of my coworkers had moved into town just in time for a CAT 5 hurricane. His neighbors across the street lost their homes. His own home was untouched. His main takeaway was that he’d been through a big storm but it wasn’t that bad.

        Similar response to COVID. I know that someone close to him ended up in ICU with COVID, but he still downplays based on other people who said it was like a cold.

        This is a generally smart guy with a tendency to underestimate risks. I think that’s common.

      • 2

        I can’t speak for those specific areas but where we are a couple hours north of Sacramento the trees are in rough shape.  Drought combined with crazy summer heat haven’t been kind to them.  The lawn watering restrictions have caused a lot of residential trees to die or get weak.  I’m surprised the trees around us are holding up as well as they are.

    • 5

      New COVID treatment VV116 outperforms Paxlovid in phase 3 clinical trial. Advantages include fewer side effects, fewer drug interactions, and faster time to recovery. The authors note the supply shortage of Paxlovid as one of the motivations but do not address whether this new alternative could be produced in larger quantities.

      https://www.medpagetoday.com/infectiousdisease/covid19/102487

    • 3

      Politico (1/1, Gardner) reported, “The lack of specialized Covid-19 treatments for people with weak immune systems has left millions of Americans with limited options if they get sick as the pandemic heads into an uncertain winter.” Monoclonal antibodies are “largely ineffective against current Covid variants,” while “easier-to-administer antiviral drugs, such as” nirmatrelvir/ritonavir (Paxlovid), “have largely taken their place but aren’t safe for all immune-compromised people because they interact with many other drugs.” Furthermore, “the federal government funding that drove drug development in the early days of the pandemic has dried up, and lawmakers have rebuffed the Biden administration’s pleas for more.”

      https://www.politico.com/news/2023/01/01/omicron-covid-antibody-drugs-immunocompromised-00075285

      Omicron offshoot XBB.1.5 could drive new Covid-19 surge in US

      https://www.cnn.com/2023/01/03/health/covid-variant-xbb-explainer/index.html

    • 3

      Strep A has already killed MORE kids this year than it did during last bad surge – as UK’s death toll jumps to 37

      https://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-11603529/UKs-Strep-death-toll-jumps-37.html

    • 3

      Great Salt Lake new story: “The lake’s ecosystem is not only on the edge of collapse. It is collapsing,” Benjamin Abbott, a professor of ecology at Brigham Young University and lead author of the report. “It’s honestly jaw-dropping and totally disarming to see how much of the lake is gone. The lake is mostly lakebed right now.”

      https://www.cnn.com/2023/01/06/us/great-salt-lake-disappearing-drought-climate/index.html

    • 4

      I thought this was an interesting story about our industrial food landscape, describing how three crops now comprise 50% of world’s calories. (Nine plants replace what used to be about 6000 plants– the nine includes the big three: wheat, rice, maize.)

      https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2022-global-diet-homogeneous-food-security-risk/