Jan 10, 2010

Prognostication: A Hurricane and the Flu

Still haunted by Mark Fishetti's article, "Drowning New Orleans" published in October, 2001 in Scientific American. Someone had placed a photocopy of the article, replete with graphic maps of drench and ruin, on our work bulletin board the day before Katrina in August of 2005.
Computer models by researchers at Louisiana State university predict that the counter-clockwise winds of a slow moving, Category 4 hurricane (characterized by winds of up to 155 miles per hour with storm surges) crossing the Gulf of Mexico from the southwest would drive a sea surge 30 miles inland, right to New Orlean’s back door. Surging water would also fill Lake Pontchartrain, which would then overflow its western bank and pour into the city. At the height of the flood, the downtown would be under more than 20 feet of water only about 33 hours after the first storm winds touched the southern barrier islands.
Then in 2005, "Preparing for the Worst" was penned by the editors of Scientific American. Using predictions of devastation on the Gulf Coast, the editors warn that the flu virus could reach pandemic proportions if vaccines are not amply supplied by pharmaceutical companies - the death toll could rise ten times more than Hurricane Katrina.

Flu season comes every year as reliably as hurricane season, if we shore up our defenses against both, we will be in a much stronger position when the "big ones" hit.


I am not a doomsday sayer, but it seems to me, that scientist notice disasters long before politicians are willing to act. Maybe we should listen to the hard science prognosticators - we will listen to the dead ringing predictions an ancient Mayan calendar, but find death ears on hard, empirical facts. Surprising. America has left the Enlightenment a long time ago.

Now, granted, both predictions above were worse than the actual chain of events - but still, the worse case scenario was presented - and the real scenario was not that far from what transpired. New Orleans is still vulnerable to flood waters; The flu did strike a terrible scourge this past September. I am sure 2012 is just a metaphor for incompetency more than Nostradamus's prophecy. Come on, let's give more credibility to science and let them help us a little, huh?

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