Saturday, May 28, 2011

Our Rome Adventure Begins

Over a year ago, we planned a 12-Night Mediterranean Cruise (Rome to Venice) on Star Princess.  When taveling to Europe, it is a good idea to arrive at least 2 days early so that you can adjust to the time difference and also take advantage of the extra time to see more of the departure port before the cruise.

In this case, that meant scheduling 2 nights in a hotel in Rome, Italy.  We selected Hotel Sonya based on Rick Steeve's recommendation and due to its location to the Rome Termini train station. You'll see why that was important in a couple posts.

Arriving in Rome

Flights "over the pond" typically leave late in the afternoon for early morning arrivals. Our fight wasn't an exception. We departed on time from Washington Dulles International Airport and arrived in Rome before 8 AM the next morning, slightly ahead of schedule.  After deplaning, the first stop is passport control where we were waved ahead at the checkpoint.   Next stop was baggage claim where we had a short wait for our bags.  One of our bags was the second bag off the plane and the other followed shortly afterwards.
The next stop was customs where we had nothing to declare which meant we were able to leave right away.   This was by far the easiest entry we've ever experienced.

There were several options for getting to our hotel, but we decided the easiest would be to take a metered taxi. With the four of us splitting the cost the price per person was about the same as other options and we had door to door service this way.  The driver unloaded our bags, we paid him, and went inside to checkin.

As expected, our rooms would not be ready until after 2 PM, so we checked our bags, got a map from the hotel and set out to explore ancient Rome.  Our first stop was for coffee and a light snack at one of the cafes down the street from the hotel.   While having out refreshments, we plotted out our path to the Colosseum which was first on our list for day 1.

We've posted a few pictures on our FB page, so be sure to sign up so that you'll be notified as we add more.   Rome - Colosseum Album.

Come back for the continuing story of our Mediterranean adventure.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Hurricane Preparedness 2011 - Call to Action

National Hurricane Preparedness Week

History teaches that a lack of hurricane awareness and preparation are common threads among all major hurricane disasters. By knowing your vulnerability and what actions you should take, you can reduce the effects of a hurricane disaster. Hurricane Preparedness Week during 2011 runs from May 22nd through May 28th. See the 2011 Presidential Proclamation.

Now that we have covered many of the hazards, it's time for you to make your plans.

Hurricane Safety at Sea

Hurricanes have been the cause of many maritime disasters and unfortunately, there is no single rule of thumb that can be used by mariners to ensure safe separation from a hurricane at sea. Instead, constant monitoring of hurricane potential & continual risk analysis when used with some fundamental guidelines become the basic tools to minimize a hurricane's impact to vessels at sea or in port. Read More about Marine Safety

This concludes our coverage of Hurricane Preparedness Week 2011.   We will monitor tropical weather conditions and report important information to assist you in staying safe and preparing for travel during hurricane season.

Not the storm you are looking for?  Click Image or Here

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Hurricane Preparedness 2011 - Forecast Process

Hurricane Forecast Process
Fifth In the 2011 Series

Forecast Process
We continue our coverage of the 2011 Hurricane Preparedness Week by looking at the tropical weather forecasting process.

6 Hour
Forecast Cycle
When a storm threatens the following occurs
A new hurricane forecast cycle begins.
Receive the location of the center of the hurricane.
Initialize or start thehurricane models with the storm's location and intensity
Receive model guidance and prepare a new hurricane forecast.
Coordinate with National Weather Service and Dept. of Defense.
5am EDT (4 CDT)
11am EDT (10 CDT)
5pm EDT (4 CDT)
11pm EDT (10 CDT)
Participate in the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) conference call with the affected states.
A new hurricane forecast cycle begins.
When a Watch or a Warning is issued, intermediate advisories are initiated.

Source:  NHC: Forecast Process (Learn More)

Part of the mission of the National Weather Service (NWS) Tropical Prediction Center (TPC) is to save lives and protect property by issuing watches, warnings, forecasts, and analyses of hazardous weather conditions in the tropics. This section provides information about the roles of those responsible for providing hurricane information to emergency managers and decision makers.

The TPC is comprised of the National Hurricane Center (NHC), the Tropical Analysis and Forecast Branch (TAFB), and the Technical Support Branch (TSB). During hurricane season, the latter two provide support to the NHC.

The local NWS Weather Forecast Offices (WFOs) in hurricane-prone areas are also important participants in the forecast process.

Observations including satellites, buoys, reconnaissance aircraft, and radar are the basis for all forecast and warning products issued by the NHC. Quality, quantity, and timeliness of remote sensing observations are critical for accurate and timely forecasts and warnings.

The various observations are checked for quality, analyzed, and put into a suite of computer models. 

The computer models take in the observations and perform millions of calculations to generate predictions of hurricane behavior and the general conditions of the atmosphere in which the hurricane is embedded. The model results are packaged as guidance for the appropriate national centers and local offices and for evaluation and use in the NWS's forecast and warning process.

Forecasts and warnings are coordinated between the national centers and local forecast offices to provide consistency, which is critical during severe weather episodes.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Hurricane Preparedness 2011 - Inland Flooding

Looking for current storms?  Click Image or Here

Hurricane Inland Flooding
Fourth In the 2011 Series

Inland Flooding
We continue our coverage of the 2011 Hurricane Preparedness Week by looking at another of the hurricane hazards.  In particular, we'll look at Inland Flooding.

Stop and think about that for a minute and you'll agree that the force of rushing, rising, water can do extensive damage in a very short period of time.    For those that ignore evacuation suggestions, they could quickly be cut off from safety.  Inland flooding can be a major threat to communities hundreds of miles from the coast as intense rain falls from these huge tropical air masses. 

Most of these fatalities occur because people underestimate the power of moving water. It isn't necessarily the strongest storm that has the greatest potential for flooding.  Often the weaker, slow moving storm can cause more damage due to flooding than a fast moving severe tropical storm.

Tropical Storms and Hurricanes: Hurricanes pack a triple punch: high winds, soaking rain, and flying debris. They can cause storm surges to coastal areas, as well as create heavy rainfall which in turn causes flooding hundreds of miles inland. While all coastal areas are at risk, certain cities are particularly vulnerable and could have losses similar to or even greater than those caused by the 2005 hurricane, Katrina, in New Orleans and Mississippi.
When hurricanes weaken into tropical storms, they generate rainfall and flooding that can be especially damaging since the rain collects in one place. In 2001, Tropical Storm Allison produced more than 30 inches of rainfall in Houston in just a few days, flooding over 70,000 houses and destroying 2,744 homes.

Federal And National Resources 

Find additional information on how to plan and prepare for floods, what to do during and after a flood and learn about available resources by visiting the following:

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Grímsvötn Volcano Causes Travel Woes

Grímsvötn eruption
Widespread Flight Cancellations 
Possible as Ash Continues

UPDATE:  25 May -- Bremen & Hamburg (no flights) - Could Impact Berlin & Poland

According to the Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre(VAAC) in London, areas of ash concentration are over the north of Germany. Currently no flights are being accepted into Bremen and Hamburg. On a normal day, these airports would expect around 120 and 480 flights respectively.  
The ash cloud is expected to move during the day and could affect Berlin and also parts of Poland. Airports in Germany south of Bremen are not expected to be affected.
There are no restrictions on flights in any other part of Europe. According to the VAAC forecasts, it is expected that ash cloud coverage will dissipate during the day.

Related Blog Post ... Iceland Volcanic Ash Grounds Flights

Reminiscent of a year ago, airlines and air traffic controllers across Europe continue to watch and monitor as a cloud of volcanic ash spreads west from Iceland, threatening to disrupt flights on a wide scale.

The ash cloud was expected to reach London's Heathrow airport -- the world's busiest international air travel hub -- this afternoon, Europe's air traffic control organization Eurocontrol said.

Concentration of ash there is expected to be low and it's not yet clear if Heathrow flights will be canceled.

The ash cloud is forecast to cover all of British airspace by 1 a.m. Wednesday morning.

It will be densest over Scotland, Northern Ireland and northern England, the Met Office said. Heathrow is in the south.

United Kingdom  
  • Some flights have been cancelled to and from Leeds Bradford and Humberside Airports today 
  • Some flights have been cancelled to Scotland and Northern Ireland at Leeds Bradford Airport
  • Eastern Airways has cancelled Aberdeen flights to and from Humberside Airport.
  • Disruptions at Newcastle and Durham Tees Valley airports
  • Some flight cancellations at both Newcastle and Durham Tees Valley airports, although the airports themselves remain open
  • Morning flights to Aberdeen from Durham Tees Valley as well as later departures to Southampton were cancelled
  • At Newcastle Airport, flights to and from Amsterdam, Paris, Brussels, Faro and Malta were cancelled.

  • Edinburgh airport is open but passengers are advised to contact their airlines before travelling to the airport. Forecasters say that high density ash is likely from 1pm to 6pm today although disruption may spread into the night. 
  • Glasgow airport is also open and is not expecting any disruption today. 
  • Inverness airport remains closed. 
  • Aberdeen airport is hoping to resume operations from 1pm onwards although there will still be considerable delays and cancellations throughout the day.

  • Flights have been cancelled to and from Svalbard. It is unknown when flights will resume.

  • Danish authorities have closed the airspace below 4 miles in the northwest of the country. 
  • This does not directly affect airports but Copenhagen airport is experiencing some delays and cancellations, primarily to Scotland and Greenland destinations, although these are expected to clear by 8.00pm today. 

Northern Ireland 
  • Flights are halted into and out of Scotland and the north-east of England. 
  • Easyjet flights from Belfast International Airport to Glasgow and Edinburgh have been cancelled. 
  • Two flights between Belfast and Newcastle and Newcastle and Belfast have also been cancelled. 
  • Two Loganair flights between Belfast City Airport and Dundee will also remain grounded.

  • Both Stavanger and Karmoey airports have been affected with flights being cancelled as the cloud is expected to spread to the south of the country later today. 

Contact your airline if you are flying in the impacted areas.  

Met Office forecasts for the end of this week indicate mainly low levels of ash affecting parts of UK and Europe. This forecast does depend on the status of the Volcano since the wind direction and strength will remain variable. You should stay up to date with the latest advice from the Met Office. How this affects flight routing decisions would be determined by CAA and NATS together with the individual airlines.

 Eruption in Iceland: News | Update | Vatnajökull monitoring | Volcanic ash advisory |

Current Volcanic Ash Advisories (VAA) from London and Toulouse 
London VAA: Issued advisories | Issued graphics     Toulouse VAA: Issued advisories

Latest Ash Impact on Flights

Icelandic volcano pictures, blogs, and other links

Hurricane Preparedness 2011 - High Winds & Tornadoes

Hurricane High Winds & Tornadoes
Third In the 2011 Series

High Winds from Hurricanes

We continue our coverage of the 2011 Hurricane Preparedness Week by looking at two more of the hurricane hazards.  In particular, we'll look at High Wind and Tornadoes.

Cat. Speed (mph)
1 74-95
2 96-110
3 111-130
4 131-155
5 >155
The intensity of a landfalling hurricane is expressed in terms of categories that relate wind speeds and potential damage. According to the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale, a Category 1 hurricane has lighter winds compared to storms in higher categories. A Category 4 hurricane would have winds between 131 and 155 mph and, on the average, would usually be expected to cause 100 times the damage of the Category 1 storm.
Depending on circumstances, less intense storms may still be strong enough to produce damage, particularly in areas that have not prepared in advance.  A summary chart is shown here. More details were covered in Hurricane Preparedness 2011 - Basics & History.



A tornado is a dark funnel-shaped cloud made up of violently rotating winds that can reach speeds of up to 300 m.p.h. The diameter of a tornado can vary between a few feet and a mile, and its track can extend from less than a mile to several hundred miles. Tornadoes can occur any time, with many occurring in spring or early summer.
Hurricanes can also produce tornadoes that add to the storm's destructive power. Tornadoes are most likely to occur in the right-front quadrant of the hurricane. However, they are also often found elsewhere embedded in the rainbands, well away from the center of the hurricane.

Tornado Facts
  • When associated with hurricanes, tornadoes are not usually accompanied by hail or a lot of lightning, clues that citizens in other parts of the country watch for.
  • Tornado production can occur for days after landfall when the tropical cyclone remnants maintain an identifiable low pressure circulation.
  • They can also develop at any time of the day or night during landfall. However, by 12 hours after landfall, tornadoes tend to occur mainly during daytime hours.

The Fujita Scale

F-Scale NumberIntensity PhraseWind SpeedType of Damage Done
F0Gale tornado40-72 mphSome damage to chimneys; breaks branches off trees; pushes over shallow-rooted trees; damages sign boards.
F1Moderate tornado73-112 mphThe lower limit is the beginning of hurricane wind speed; peels surface off roofs; mobile homes pushed off foundations or overturned; moving autos pushed off the roads; attached garages may be destroyed.
F2Significant tornado113-157 mphConsiderable damage. Roofs torn off frame houses; mobile homes demolished; boxcars pushed over; large trees snapped or uprooted; light object missiles generated.
F3Severe tornado158-206 mphRoof and some walls torn off well constructed houses; trains overturned; most trees in fores uprooted
F4Devastating tornado207-260 mphWell-constructed houses leveled; structures with weak foundations blown off some distance; cars thrown and large missiles generated.
F5Incredible tornado261-318 mphStrong frame houses lifted off foundations and carried considerable distances to disintegrate; automobile sized missiles fly through the air in excess of 100 meters; trees debarked; steel re-inforced concrete structures badly damaged.
F6Inconceivable tornado319-379 mphThese winds are very unlikely. The small area of damage they might produce would probably not be recognizable along with the mess produced by F4 and F5 wind that would surround the F6 winds. Missiles, such as cars and refrigerators would do serious secondary damage that could not be directly identified as F6 damage. If this level is ever achieved, evidence for it might only be found in some manner of ground swirl pattern, for it may never be identifiable through engineering studies

Monday, May 23, 2011

Hurricane Preparedness 2011 - Storm Surge & Marine Safety

NOAA Storm Surge Products
Hurricane Storm Surge & Marine Safety
Second In the 2011 Series

Storm Surge Hazard

We continue our coverage of the 2011 Hurricane Preparedness Week by looking at some of the hurricane hazards.  In particular, we'll start by examining the greatest potential for loss of life related to a hurricane, the storm surge.

Simply put, it is a dome of water that is pushed toward the shore by the force of the winds swirling around the storm.  The advancing water, combined with the normal tides, can increase the mean water level by 15 feet or more.  The threat is increased if it combines with high tide.  Along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the United States, the mean sea level is around 10 feet, so a storm surge above that level could cause catastrophic damage.


Hurricane track forecasting continues to improve, but the the average track error 48 hours prior to landfall for the Atlantic basin is still considerable.  The 24-hour to 48-hour window is often critical for decision-making. It is important not to focus solely on one storm surge product within this window. Storm specific uncertainties are accounted for in the probabilistic storm surge (p-surge) product, while the *MOMs and *MEOWs provide a worst case storm surge estimate at a regional level.  More

Marine Safety

Hurricanes have been the cause of many maritime disasters and unfortunately, there is no single rule of thumb that can be used by mariners to ensure safe separation from a hurricane at sea. Instead, constant monitoring of hurricane potential & continual risk analysis when used with some fundamental guidelines become the basic tools to minimize a hurricane's impact to vessels at sea or in port.

Marine safety isn't just for the small private boater,  the "big boys" need to pay attention here too. Cruise lines constantly monitor sea conditions as well as weather conditions, such as approaching tropical storms, both on the ship and in their headquarters offices.   The decisions they make are also coordinated with local and federal agencies such as NOAA's NHC and the local NWS office.

Ship Versus Hurricane Track Analysis
In the dynamic state of moving ships & hurricanes, recurring comparison of hurricane forecast track versus planned ship movement is mandatory. The continual monitoring of the latest official NHC forecasts compared to current or planned evasion options can greatly increase a mariner's confidence regarding vessel safety.  
Read More about Marine Safety.



We will continue coverage of Hurricane Preparedness Week by looking at high winds and tornado hazards tomorrow. Additional Hurricane information can be found in our static Weather tab.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Iceland Volcanic Ash Grounds Flights

Grímsvötn eruption
Credit: Institute of Earth Sciences

Iceland: Grímsvötn eruption 
Begins 21 May 2011
Grounds Flights 
Europe remembers the Eyjafjallajökull volcanic eruption which led to the closure of a large section of European airspace last year. Once again, ash is spewing from a volcano in Iceland, but so far the disruption of air traffic is restricted to Iceland itself.

Grímsvötn volcano, Iceland, began erupting on 21 May 2011, around 18-19 GMT.  Intensive earthquake activity, lasting for about an hour, was observed prior to the eruption.

Disruption of air traffic at Keflavik International Airport  due to the Grímsvötn volcanic eruption More

 Eruption in Iceland: News | Update | Vatnajökull monitoring | Volcanic ash advisory |

Current Volcanic Ash Advisories (VAA) from London and Toulouse 
London VAA: Issued advisories | Issued graphics     Toulouse VAA: Issued advisories

Use the following links to browse for additional news and official information about the Grímsvötn volcanic eruption.

Latest Ash Impact on Flights

Icelandic volcano pictures, blogs, and other links

Hopefully this volcanic eruption won't be as devastating to Europe travel as the one which began last April.  We will continue to monitor this story and provide significant updates.

Hurricane Preparedness 2011 - Basics & History

Hurricane Basics & History
First In the 2011 Series
Hurricane Preparedness Week playlist on YouTube

Looking for past or current hurricanes?  Click Image or Here
President Obama declared May 22-28 “National Hurricane Preparedness Week." FEMA, along with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), is helping to raise awareness of steps that can be taken to help protect citizens, and their communities and property. 

What is a Hurricane?
A hurricane is a type of tropical cyclone, which is a generic term for a low pressure system that generally forms in the tropics. The cyclone is accompanied by thunderstorms and, in the Northern Hemisphere, a counterclockwise circulation of winds near the earth's surface. Tropical cyclones are classified as follows:

* Sustained winds
A 1-minute average wind measured at about 33 ft (10 meters) above the surface.

** 1 knot = 1 nautical mile per hour or 1.15 statute miles per hour. Abbreviated as "kt".
Tropical Depression
An organized system of clouds and thunderstorms with a defined surface circulation and maximum sustained winds* of 38 mph (33 kt**) or less

Tropical Storm
An organized system of strong thunderstorms with a defined surface circulation and maximum sustained winds of 39-73 mph (34-63 kt)

An intense tropical weather system of strong thunderstorms with a well-defined surface circulation and maximum sustained winds of 74 mph (64 kt) or higher

Familiarize yourself with the terms that are used to identify a hurricane.
  • A hurricane watch means a hurricane is possible in your area. Be prepared to evacuate. Monitor local radio and television news outlets or listen to NOAA Weather Radio for the latest developments.
  • A hurricane warning is when a hurricane is expected in your area. If local authorities advise you to evacuate, leave immediately.
Hurricanes are classified into five categories based on their wind speed, central pressure, and damage potential. Category Three and higher hurricanes are considered major hurricanes, though Categories One and Two are still extremely dangerous and warrant your full attention.The following chart details the categories and the damage that can result from a storm with that strength.
Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale

Scale Number (Category) Sustained Winds (MPH) Damage Storm Surge

74-95 Minimal: Unanchored mobile homes, vegetation and signs. 4-5 feet

96-110 Moderate: All mobile homes, roofs, small crafts, flooding. 6-8 feet

111-130 Extensive: Small buildings, low-lying roads cut off. 9-12 feet

131-155 Extreme: Roofs destroyed, trees down, roads cut off, mobile homes destroyed. Beach homes flooded. 13-18 feet

More than 155 Catastrophic: Most buildings destroyed. Vegetation destroyed. Major roads cut off. Homes flooded. Greater than 18 feet

Hurricane History

2010 Atlantic Season Hurricane Tracking Map
2010 Atlantic Hurricane Season Track Map (click to enlarge)

In the following article, we look at the 2010 Hurricane season in review, comparing the forecast to actual results.   We also look at NOAA and Colorado State University forecasts for the 2011 Season.

Hurricane Assessments
Billion Dollar Storms
Other events since 1980

(Compiled by the Central Pacific Hurricane Center, Honolulu).

We will continue coverage of Hurricane Preparedness Week by looking at some of the hazards starting tomorrow.  Additional Hurricane information can be found in our static Weather tab.