Humid Pattern Continues

If you live in the Eastern half of the United States, you have certainly noticed by now that this summer has been conspicuously damp. A persistently humid pattern has stayed stubbornly rooted over the region, particularly along the coastal states. The meteorological culprit has been the presence of a blocked pattern in the atmosphere – high pressure out over the Western Atlantic Ocean ( a so-called Bermuda high, given it’s location) and low pressure over the Midwest – has caused a consistent flow of air from the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean over the Southeast, Mid-Atlantic and New England.

As a result of this pattern, the kind of summertime weather conditions usually seen over the Southeast have prevailed over most of the Eastern US. The map below, courtesy of Intellicast (http://www.intellicast.com/National/Precipitation/Weekly.aspx), depicts the amount of rainfall received in just the past week, and shows the kind of “marbling” often seen in just the Southeast, where it is common for pop-up thunderstorms to develop and move slowly. This has happened more commonly this summer and over a larger area.

usa precip 85812

Many areas in the Eastern US have already received 30+ inches of rain for the year (https://www.agweb.com/weather/cumulative-rainfall/).

The persistently high humidity levels can have significant and dangerous effects on people. High levels of moisture in the air make it significantly harder for your body to relieve heat. Because your body has to work harder to sweat, high humidity levels cause tiredness and can lead to dehydration, muscle cramps, heat exhaustion and eventually, heatstroke. Take care in these conditions by spending as much time as possible indoors inside air conditioned rooms.

This pattern generally looks like it will last for at least another 10 days or more, but should begin to subside as we get closer to the end of August.

 

 

 

Connection Between Rainfall and Pain?

“I think rain is on the way… my back is acting up today..” Do you know anyone who has said this? Maybe you think your joints are more accurate that your nightly newscast at telling you tomorrow’s weather?

A five-year study published recently in the British Medical Journal looked into a belief that is taken as fact by many people. Can you tell whether rain is on the way by the amount of pain you are feeling? Many people swear that they can tell when the weather is changing by an increase in joint pain in their body. This study looked at senior citizens in the US over a 5-year period to find an association between rainy weather and pain conditions such as arthritis, disc problems and other similar conditions and could not find a correlation. In fact, the study showed a slight inverse correlation – there were slightly fewer incidents of pain-related doctor visits on rainy days, as opposed to dry days.

The study did include days leading up to, and after, rainfall, to take into consideration the changes in barometric pressure that precede and follow a storm. It took as a “rainy day” any day with at least one-tenth of an inch of rain. The researchers looked for correlations between these days, and outpatient visits for pain-related conditions.

This surprising result does not rule out definitively a link between weather and pain. It is possible that people who live with chronic pain do not necessarily visit a doctor or seek out clinical care simply because their symptoms have increased for a day or two. What’s more, if a person knows that their back or their knee tends to flare up when it rains, they will probably just wait until after the rain ends to see if the pain goes away. If it does, that would confirm their self-diagnosis that “rain equals pain” and they would not seek any further treatment. Additionally, since rainy days tend to depress moods, and pain can be affected by mood, it is entirely possible that there is an undetectable mood-based element to people’s pain for which this study cannot account.

Further study is certainly needed. But at the very least, the assumption that bad weather leads to pain should be looked at with a grain of skepticism.

Changing Seasons and Health

Maybe you love the return of the flowers and leaves in spring. Or maybe you enjoy the changing colors of the trees in autumn. Some people love all the outdoor activities they can do in the summer, while others prefer skiing and skating in winter. Whatever reason you have for your favorite season, people usually do prefer one over the others. What causes the seasons? And what are the effects of the seasons on health? Are there healthier seasons? Does the season of one’s birth affect their later health?

The Earth is tilted as it revolves around the sun. As a result, there are times when the Northern Hemisphere faces the sun more directly, and other times when the Southern Hemisphere is more directly in line with the sun. These differences cause the seasons, and are the reason why July is the hottest month in most of the Northern Hemisphere (when it faces the sun), but is the middle of winter south of the equator (pointed away from the sun).

seasons

On my Facebook page, I recently conducted a very unscientific survey of the seasonal preferences of friends and family. While the results were fairly mixed, overall there was a preference for autumn. However, recent larger surveys of Americans tend to affirm that the temperate seasons of fall and spring are favored, with a YouGov survey in 2013 showing fall as the favorite of more people, and a Gallup survey in 2015 showing spring as the favorite of the most people. Could the month of one’s birth have an impact on seasonal preference? While most report that their preferred season has the weather they enjoy most, this can differ from region to region. If you are from Florida, you might prefer winter, because a Florida winter is more temperate and most like spring or fall in the rest of the country.

Some scientific research shows that the season in which one is born might make a person more likely to be prone to mental illness. A study conducted at Vanderbilt University in 2010 demonstrated the so-called “imprinting effect”, at least in mice, in which the daylight one is exposed to during the early months of life has a lasting impact on the brain. This may help explain the greater levels of schizophrenia, depression and seasonal affective disorder in those born in winter. Conversely, babies born in May through June seem to be somewhat healthier overall.

Illness tends to rise during the autumn and winter months. In many cases, this is due to children returning to school and sharing germs with each other in close quarters, and then bringing those viruses back to home to families, who are spending more time indoors during the colder months. The drier indoor air during this time also makes people more susceptible to cold viruses. Flu tends to peak in winter as well for the same reasons. Regardless of the season, doctors insist that the best way to stay free of viruses is through regular hand washing, a good regimen of diet and exercise, and getting enough restorative sleep every night (usually 7-8 hours for most people).

And perhaps the sun itself plays a role in seasonal preference and health. Many people are deficient in vitamin D. The deficiency can cause a number of health problems, including muscle pain and fatigue, and may even play a role in multiple sclerosis and cancer. The easiest and most common way to increase vitamin D in the blood is through sun exposure. The body converts sunlight to vitamin D, which is then used for healthy muscle and bone. The active spring and summer months expose people to sunlight making these deficiencies decrease in summer and fall.

Whatever your favorite season might be, enjoy it!

US Hurricane Relief

No electrical power for light, air conditioning, refrigeration, and other daily needs. Fresh water is scarce. People are scrounging to find food and fuel. This is not the scene of some apocalyptic movie or a description of a developing country. This is happening in the United States, right now, in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. And there are still areas without power in Florida as well. Additionally, the recovery from flooding in the Houston area is continuing and it will take months or longer to fully rebuild the damaged areas.

Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria have caused incredible devastation. Maria is actually still active and may threaten the US east coast this week. The death toll from these three storms is over 200, and countless others have lost their homes and have had their lives totally disrupted. These hurricanes have created health and humanitarian disasters right within our borders, and the people affected are in need of help.

Although many people need goods that were lost, at this point, money is most in need so that organizations in the areas can operate at full strength. Goods also cost money to ship, an issue that is even more difficult in Puerto Rico due to the Jones Act which requires American ships to deliver supplies.

What are some ways you can help? There are some well known international charities, but I’ve chosen 5 below that are ready to help right now and that you might not know about.

  1. ASPCA: aspca.org: Animals are often forgotten when natural disasters strike, but are often just as in need of assistance.
  2. United for Puerto Rico: unidosporpuertorico.com/en: This charity was recently established by the First Lady of Puerto Rico and already has many established sponsors working on the ground there to provide aid and support.
  3. US Virgin Islands Recovery: usvirecovery.org: Many people are unaware of, or have quickly forgotten, the damage done to the US Virgin Islands by Irma and Maria. This charity is focusing its efforts there.
  4. Direct Relief: directrelief.org: Direct Relief is a non-governmental, non-religious humanitarian aid organization with a mission to improve the health and lives of people affected by poverty or emergencies.
  5. GlobalGiving: https://www.globalgiving.org/projects/hurricane-maria-caribbean-relief-fund: GlobalGiving is a crowdfunding community which helps nonprofits all over the world access the tools, training, and support they need to be more effective and make our world a better place.

I hope you take the time and make the commitment to help fellow citizens in need.

Preparing for a Hurricane

Living as I do in New Jersey, I rarely have found myself in the direct path of a hurricane. But in 2011 and 2012, New Jersey was hit in back-to-back years by landfalling hurricanes. Irene in 2011 was not nearly as disastrous as Sandy was in 2012. And, of course, Sandy was not technically a hurricane when it made landfall, according to the National Weather Service. Thankfully, in both cases, we had enough time to prepare for the storm ahead of time, in order to keep safe. Hurricane prediction has progressed to the point where most areas usually have a few days of preparation time. So, how do you prepare for a hurricane that is on its way in order to keep you and your loved ones safe?

First, be aware. What is the expected track of the storm? What effects are likely for your area, and when are those expected to arrive? There are a number of places to go for this information, and I detailed three sites in my last post for you to visit.

Second, gather needed supplies. Fill your car’s gas tank. If you will be sheltering in your home throughout the storm, be sure to have supplies for at least three days, if not as much as a week. You may be without power or water for a few days, and you will need food, water, medicine and other supplies. A good rule of thumb for water is one gallon per person per day. You may be able to get by with a little less, but not much less, and you will want to be sure it is safe water, preferably bottled. You may want to fill a bathtub with water just in case. You want to have dry foods you can eat without cooking, including some fresh fruit if possible. Have enough medicine for at least a week. You also should have a battery-powered radio, extra batteries, a flashlight, and a basic first aid kit. If you plan to evacuate, be sure to gather your supplies in a safe durable bag.

Third, comply with any evacuation orders if they are given. Once the storm hits, and especially when the effects of the storm are at their most severe, you may not be able to call for and receive help if you need it. And if you do need help, you will put emergency responders in harm’s way coming to help you. Although you may have lived through previous hurricanes, if you are told to leave, leave. And unless you are strictly forbidden from doing so by where you are going, be sure to bring your pets, and food for them.

Fourth, prepare your home. If you have the time to do so before the storm or any evacuation, be sure to remove any loose objects from around your home that could become projectiles during the storm. Lawn furniture, potted plants, garbage cans, and other loose items should be brought into the home. You should probably make an effort to remove any loose or unsafe tree branches that could break or fly during the storm as well. If hurricane force winds are expected in your area, you might want to board up your windows with plywood, and, if you have a generator, be sure you have fuel for it and that it is in proper working order.

While the storm is underway, stay indoors and away from windows. There may be periods where the storms severe rain and wind bands ebb for a while, but it is probably not safe to travel during these times, as they could change quickly. You could also find yourself trapped by downed trees and power lines if you do venture out. Of course if you find yourself in a flooded area, try to get to higher ground as soon as possible.

This is just a partial list of things to do, and there are many places to go online for more information:

Keeping Aware of Hurricanes

We’ve all witnessed the terrible devastation brought on by the flooding rains of Hurricane Harvey. As the remnants of Harvey are about to move off the eastern coast of the United States today, a new threat looms on the horizon with Hurricane Irma. Irma is a major hurricane with winds of 115 mph as of the morning of September 3, and for now, the forecast track pulls the storm towards a possible US landfall. It is too early to say, for now, if this will play out, but if it does there could again be a swath of destruction.

090317_5day_cone_no_line_and_wind

Courtesy of National Hurricane Center: http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/graphics_at1.shtml?cone#contents

While any impact from Irma is likely a week or more away, the National Weather Service has warned that the rest of this year’s hurricane season is likely to be an active one.

 

Hurricanes pose a grave threat to life and property. On average, these monster storms cause 60 injuries and 17 deaths in the United States per year, although with major storms these numbers can be much higher. At least 45 people have died as a result of Hurricane Harvey, and that number may yet increase.

What can you do to keep yourself and your family safe during hurricane season?

The first and possibly most important thing to do is to simply be aware of what is developing. There are many sources of information about what is going on in the tropics, and if there are storms that are currently posing a threat. Your local TV and radio stations can give you important information, but for larger-scale information, check out these sources:

The National Hurricane Center: www.nhc.noaa.gov: The mission of the National Hurricane Center is “To save lives, mitigate property loss, and improve economic efficiency by issuing the best watches, warnings, forecasts and analyses of hazardous tropical weather, and by increasing understanding of these hazards.” You can get reliable data about current storms, forecasts, and safety information from the NHC, and can also follow them on Twitter at @nhc_atlantic or on Facebook at @nwsnhc.

Weather Underground: A partner of The Weather Channel, Weather Underground (found at www.wunderground.com) has been in business since 1993 and presents a ton of information about weather including a page on current tropical systems: https://www.wunderground.com/hurricane. They can also be found on Twitter @wunderground, and on Facebook at @wunderground.

Tropical Tidbits: https://www.tropicaltidbits.com/storminfo: There are obviously many other sites you can go to for tropical storm information, but one I love is Tropical Tidbits, which is run by Levi Cowan, a graduate student at Florida State University. There is so much information available there, including computer model data. A great job by Mr. Cowan, and a great place to go for more information on storms.

As we are entering the height of hurricane season, how can you be ready when storms threaten? Tomorrow I will post information about storm preparedness.

Harvey Flooding

Catastrophic rains continue to plague Texas as the remnants of Hurricane Harvey deluge the area.

This image shows the rainfall in just the past 24 hours. An area the size of New Jersey and Delaware combined has received over 12 inches of rain, with some areas already totally flooded.

usa est precip 082617

Unfortunately, the track of the storm over the next few days remains in the same general area.

AL092017_5day_cone_no_line

Over just the next 24 hours alone many of the areas that already received flooding rains are expected to see much more. The map below shows forecast amounts of 4-8″ in the next day.

nam_namer_024_precip_p24

For more information about how you can help Harvey’s victims, visit http://www.cnn.com/2017/08/25/health/iyw-harvey-how-to-help/index.html, which has links to a number of agencies helping people cope with this disaster.

« Older Entries Recent Entries »