Category Archives: Hazards and Threats

Weather Wednesday: Just what the heck is going on with this winter?

first snow 2013 003The wild winter weather continues this week with snow and ice stretching all the way down into the Deep South.  Brutal wind chills have been common in many areas of the north.  Here in Champaign, we’ve had a fresh snow pack and because of that, little wind and clear skies, our overnight temperature fell to 12-below, 10 degrees below the forecast and 10-degrees below the previous record low for this date in late February.  So what’s going on?

Meteorologist Tom Skilling and his staff at WGN-TV in Chicago have been researching the topic and posted a rather extensive article, the link to which is here.

Skilling’s Facebook posts are always informative and, if you are a weather fan, you may want to like him on Facebook even if you’re not from the Chicago area.

Weather Wednesday: Freezing Rain, Ice Storms and Black Ice

precip_types
NOAA graphic

Winter weather certainly has remained in the news this post-Valentine’s Day week. It’s been another major snow event in the Northeast, heavy snow from southern Illinois and Missouri to the south into Kentucky and adjacent states and freezing rain and ice, especially in Georgia, North Carolina and other states in the southeast. Multiple highway fatalities have occurred and over 100,000 people have lost power, mostly due to ice. Bitterly cold temperatures are plunging far into the south on the date this is posted, February 18, 2015.

We’ve written about heavy snow several times and we’ll revisit the topic of how climate change may affect that snowfall, but today we’ll focus on freezing rain, ice storms and “black ice,” all of which are being experienced in parts of the south and southeast this week.

According to the National Weather Service freezing rain and sleet occur when raindrops in a layer of warm air well above the surface fall into a layer of freezing air at and near ground level. Whether the liquid ends up as freezing rain or sleet is determined by the thickness of the layer of freezing air. When that layer is thin, the raindrops don’t have time to freeze so the water freezes on contact with the surface, coating streets, sidewalks, power lines, tree limbs and whatever else is exposed and below freezing. Complicating the situation this week is bitter cold temperatures to follow the snow and ice.

A freezing rain event is escalated to an Ice Storm Warning when ice accumulations of ¼ inch or more are expected. The National Weather Service considers ice storms to be high impact events and if you’ve lived through one or more, you know that to be true. Ice storms can occur across a wide area of the United States and can be very devastating. The single most destructive weather event ever to occur here in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois was the Valentine’s Day ice storm of 1990. The 25th anniversary of the event passed largely unobserved last weekend. Seemingly no one wants to relive that week.

The storm began during a home basketball game at the University of Illinois and ice quickly accumulated. The lights in the Assembly Hall flickered, but stayed on. I was the public address announcer that night and I vividly recall being handed a series of announcements to be read if the main power went off. The final announcement I did read was that game attendees should expect that many traffic signals would be out of commission across town after the game. When I left the Hall I could see the flashes and hear the explosions as electrical transformers failed.

I drove the few blocks to the radio station where I worked at the time. It was operating on generator power. We started to cover the event and things just got worse during the overnight. At one point around 2:00AM I decided to go check on my family and home. I followed a snowplow down a main street as it pushed trees and branches out of the road so emergency vehicles could get through. I turned down my street as limbs were falling behind me and decided to just keep going back to work before the street was completely blocked. Some areas of town were without power for a week. Damage to utility infrastructure, trees, traffic signs and signals and buildings and homes reached into the millions of dollars not counting the loss of productivity and dumpster loads of ruined refrigerated and frozen food.

I relate that account not because it was unusual, but rather because it is typical of major ice events. They can be extremely destructive and expensive.

Finally today I want to mention “black ice.”Black Ice accident Black ice can be every bit as dangerous as a heavy snow or ice storm. It is a very thin layer of ice that is nearly transparent. It frequently forms on bridges and overpasses because that pavement temperature may be colder as the cold air circulates above and below the pavement. Black ice often occurs when snow melts during the day and then the water refreezes at night. Or the temperature drops below freezing after a rainy day. Unlike during an ice storm, black ice is a much greater threat to pedestrians and vehicles than to structures. Multi-vehicle accidents are common when the pavement refreezes and emergency rooms are kept busy treating pedestrians who slip and fall.

Ice storm threats include:

 

WEATHER WEDNESDAY: The Pineapple Express

With apologies to our friends in the Boston area, some of whom have faced snowfall totals of nearly 5-feet in the last two weeks, we turn our attention to the west coast this week. We’re adding the term “Pineapple Express” to our glossary which so far this year includes Arctic Clipper and Blizzard.

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Atmospheric River from NOAA

A Pineapple Express is defined as a river of moisture fueling heavy rainfall and snowfall events in the Pacific Northwest and Northern California. The atmospheric moisture often passes through tropical regions of the Pacific Ocean including Hawaii, hence the name, “Pineapple Express.”

In the past week leading up to this publication date, notable heavy rains have fallen in Northern California repeating a scenario from December of last year. Rainfall totals of in excess of four inches to as much as eleven inches were common in the latest multi-day event. And while some local reservoirs are seeing a positive impact, the snowpack was not significantly affected so the storms are not considered a drought buster by any means.

Technically, a Pineapple Express is related to the Madden-Julian Oscillation, a major weather influencer that scientists are attempting to more thoroughly understand. The “river of moisture” may actually circle the globe in a 30 to 60 day cycle. Scientists are unleashing the power of supercomputers to enhance their knowledge of this and other atmospheric patterns.

Some of the threats and challenges associated with the Pineapple Express as it impacts the west coast of North America include:

  • Heavy rainfall
  • Flooding
  • Landslide
  • High Winds
  • Snowstorms
  • Severe Weather including isolated small tornadoes
  • Travel disruptions

Weather Wednesday: Super Bowl Blizzard Edition

Snowplow clearing highway

Rick Atterberry, EDEN Immediate Past Chair, writes about the weather.

Last week we talked about the definition of a blizzard and the difficulties inherent in forecasting winter storms.  This past weekend provided another concrete example of both in the form of the Super Bowl Blizzard of 2015 here in Illinois and surrounding states.

National Weather Service forecasters started looking at the setup nearly a week out.  But the computer models upon which they depend were all over the place early in the week of January 26th.  A very complicated scenario was developing, but forecasters approached the storm with caution because of relatively low confidence in any one computer model through midweek.

By Thursday, January 29th, it was apparent that there would be fairly heavy snow across parts of Iowa, Illinois and Indiana.  Initially, the thought was that the heaviest snow would be about 6 to 10 inches in an area north of Interstate 74 across the center of Illinois.  However, each ensuing model run moved the heaviest precipitation farther north.  Adding to the uncertainty was the fact that some of the area would see temperatures in the low to mid-30s during much of the event.  How much precipitation would fall as snow and how much as rain?  The forecasters were certain this would be an unusually long event.

Here at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign we had freezing drizzle and sleet followed by a period of snow followed by rain then more wet snow and finally drier snow overnight Sunday.  We ended up with about four inches of snow which quickly compacted to two inches during the rain and then added less than an inch as the event concluded.

The main snow event was located 100 to 130 miles north of us along the Interstate 80 and 88 corridors.   Each forecast from Saturday into Sunday added to the possible snow totals in the Metropolitan Chicago region.  By Sunday noon, the forecast called for 16 to 20 inches of snow in some spots and, indeed, that’s what happened.  In 30 hours between late Saturday night and early Monday morning, the official measurement at O’Hare Airport was 19 inches of snow…the fifth highest single event total in the city’s recorded history.  Thousands of flights were cancelled.  Chicago public schools closed on Monday.  Blizzard conditions…winds of 35 miles per hour or more and visibilities under ¼ mile…developed in the city and rural areas.

Here’s a time lapse video from Judy Hsu at WLS-TV.  Note the clock on the fence.

When the area of heaviest snow moved north to the Chicago area, Lake Michigan came into play.  When winds clocked around to the north-northeast, some snowfall amounts were enhanced by the lake effect.

“Heart attack snow”- Not only was the general snowfall in the region between 14 and 20-inches, the event began with heavy wet snow, the kind we call “heart attack snow” because of the physical demands of shoveling it.  Sadly, in DuPage County in suburban Chicago, three men died of heart attacks associated with shoveling the snow.  Cardiologists recognize the increased risk.

So, while it appears there were no fatalities from car accidents, falling tree limbs, structure fires, carbon monoxide poisoning or other threats often associated with cold and snow, heart attacks did claim lives.  Those of us who are 55 and older or with a history of heart disease need to proceed with caution.

Meet A Delegate Monday: Keith Tidball

Michelle Bufkin, AU Agriculture Communications Student/EDEN Community of Practice Social Media Assistant, recently interviewed EDEN delegate Keith Tidball.

1. How did you first get involved with EDEN? EDEN. Extension Disaster Education preparedness
I was approached in 2011 by the leadership of the extension service in New York. Our state program was in need of “tuning up” and I was asked because of my research and activities in the area of natural resources management in disaster. With my background as a leader in the military and later involvement as a USDA Foreign Agriculture Service international affairs specialist who dealt with disaster in the agriculture and natural resources sector, I jumped at the opportunity to engage with the NY Extension Disaster Education Network. After I attended my first national conference, I was even more excited and focused upon working to make the NY EDEN an example of what a state program can do if they take the ball and run hard with it.

2. What is your role for disaster preparedness within your state?
In New York State, we see the national EDEN as a platform upon which to build a highly effective and visible state program. In that sense, we work with our state agencies closely not only in preparedness, but in all phases of the disaster cycle. Thanks to the national EDEN, we can confidently say that we have the very best science from the best universities in the country, and we are ready to serve the public at all times. This we feel is in keeping with the land grant mission and vision, and is actually a way of reacquainting a whole new generation with the land grant idea and the idea of cooperative extension.

Our role is to work at all times with preparedness. We anticipate needs based on past experiences and future threats, and we either develop our own materials or publicize excellent materials from other land grants via our website, webinars, social media, and through traditional county cooperative extension channels. As a threat, hazard, or vulnerability emerges, we asses it, develop tailored materials to address it, and act upon it, using our cooperative extension networks and the networks of our partners to disseminate preparedness and readiness educational materials. Once a threat or hazard materializes, we then take on additional roles to compliment other state and federal efforts to prepare for and respond to an imminent event.

3. Can you explain your role with dealing with the recent snow and cave ins, in your state?
My role was to serve as the incident commander for the state land grant’s role in the event. As the event became imminent, I worked with the rest of our state EDEN program leadership to strategize for the event – this entails a quick anticipated needs assessment and a social media blitz of warnings and resources to get people ready to navigate the event as resiliently as possible. I make the decision to request activation of our relatively newly instituted Standard Operating Procedures for Disaster /All-Hazards Recovery which is either approved or denied by our state Director of Cooperative Extension. Once he or she approves this request, I implement a very involved set of actions that include experts on campus, liaisons to state agencies, and our regional and county extension personnel. Among many other things, we serve as the eyes and ears for the first hand real time ways in which the disaster is unfolding and having an impact upon the agricultural sector in particular. In this role, we work hand in hand with our state and federal agricultural agency partners to direct immediate assistance as quickly as possible to where it’s needed, and to assist with the longer term process of damage assessment and recovery.

So in the recent snow event in Western New York, we had 90 dead livestock animals,
80 damaged or destroyed green houses, 38 barns down or damaged, with over 65 total farms in 6 Western NY counties affected. Our Agriculture Sentinel capability was used to communicate emerging needs regarding snow loads, collapses, livestock in jeopardy in real time. We are never first responders, however, we are involved in communicating and disseminating information as it becomes available so that first responders can understand and react appropriately to unique ag related issues and emergencies. In one case in particular, I remember helping to direct New York National Guard to a barn threatening to collapse. Farmers often aren’t going to call 911 about these issues, but it is still an emergency, so we are a part of a coordinated state approach to fill this gap. We can help get information to the right people quickly. Meanwhile, our county extension leadership act as the field element in these cases and play a central role in initial situation reporting which is so crucial in these events, and of course later assessment once the actual event is over. I act to coordinate all of this communication, first and foremost to make sure our stakeholders get the service and assistance they need (an applied or engaged research and extension role), and secondly to position extension as a preferred source of evidence-based educational materials. A major extension education outcome of this work is educating policy makers and emergency responders in New York State about the agile, nimble state-wide system of cooperative extension that exists upon a foundation of extensive subject area expertise, all of which is an already existing and is an already paid for public good.

4. What advice would you give to people about disaster preparedness and recovery, after being involved in recovery from the November snow storm, Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and other recent natural disasters?
My advice is to extension folks who either have not embraced the idea of disaster education as a role or niche for extension, or to those who may understand the role of extension in disaster so far as developing and disseminating fact sheets are concerned, but shy away from further involvement.

Think of getting your hands dirty in disaster response and recovery as project learning, an important and accepted component of extension education. Experts believe that what takes project learning to the next level is when it’s real. We pride ourselves in extension on solving real problems we face in our world — problems that make the news and that our stakeholders really care about, giving them the power to turn their knowledge into action. I think that though some project-learning activities regularly miss the opportunity to be real life-changing experiences for learners in the extension system, people who get involved in EDEN in their state, these folks will experience tremendous satisfaction in their work because they will see that the extension educators they touch, the community members, the agency folks, all will be impressed by the resources available and the responsiveness of the extension system. But more important than being impressed, they will learn about what they can and should do in all phases of the disaster cycle and how extension can help.

Weather Wednesday — The Blizzard of ’15

Rick Atterberry, EDEN Immediate Past Chair, writes about the weather.

The east coast blizzard that started Monday evening, January 26 and continued in some places into the early morning hours of Wednesday, January 28 provides us an opportunity to discuss a couple of related items.

145132096What is a blizzard?  Contrary to popular perception, the official definition of a blizzard has more to do with the wind and visibility than an exceptional amount of snow.   According to NOAA, a Blizzard Warning is issued when the following conditions are expected over a minimum three hour period:

  • Sustained winds or frequent gusts of 35 miles an hour or more along with considerable snow or blowing snow.
  • Visibility of ¼ mile or less in snow or blowing snow.

People in many parts of the country are familiar with a concept called a “ground blizzard.”  That occurs after a recent snowfall has ended but when the wind picks up and the snow begins to blow around to the point that visibility is restricted.  This blowing snow often causes as much traffic danger as the original snowfall.  In a ground blizzard you may actually be able to look straight up and see the sun while visibility in front of you is a near white-out.

Why was the specific forecast for New York City so wrong?  Well, it was and it wasn’t.  Veteran forecasters will tell you that winter weather, particularly snowfall amounts, is very difficult to forecast.  Specifically in this week’s scenario, the storm tracked farther east than had been anticipated moving NYC out of the heaviest snow. Although it should be pointed out that snow amounts reported in the boroughs ranged from almost 9 inches to about a foot, not an insignificant snowfall.  Out on Long Island, the weather did play out as forecast as it did to the north through Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine.  Snowfall in excess of two feet was common.

One way to look at the difficulty of forecasting snowfall amounts is to consider a typical summer storm system.  Do you really notice much of a difference between a half-inch and an inch and a half of rainfall?  Unless it falls all at once, probably not.   Now, using the common moisture ratio of 10:1 that would mean a snowfall range of between 5 and 15 inches!   Most of us would find that an important distinction.  So, being able to accurately determine how much moisture is available in a particular location and the actual ratio, which varies widely, are key to nailing a snowfall forecast.  Add in the fact that this storm was pulling moisture from the open ocean waters and other variables such as “banding,” where heavy snow sets up in rather narrow bands, and you can understand the difficulties forecasters face.

This week’s storm had many of the characteristics of a classic Nor’easter.  Heavy snow, high winds and coastal flooding.   In fact, from early news reports, it is probable that most of the damage from this storm is the result flooding of homes, businesses and infrastructure.  Wind gusts of 70+ miles per hour were reported , including a few of hurricane strength.  At times, the monster waves created by this storm hit at high tide, greatly increasing the possibility of damage.

So the “Blizzard of 2015” had dangerous elements beyond just the snowfall…high winds, flooding, falling trees, etc.  Were the warnings overdone?  (I almost said overblown but that would be a very bad pun, indeed.)  I don’t think so.  People prepared.  They stayed off the roads which makes snow removal MUCH easier. Deaths and injuries were few.  In short, the warning system achieved its intended goals, protection of life and property.  I won’t quibble about precise snowfall amounts.  But if you’re interested, check out the New York NWS  and Boston NWS reports of storm totals and maximum wind speeds.

Weather Wednesday: Arctic Clipper

Rick Atterberry, EDEN Immediate Past Chair writes about the weather. 

What’s with Weather Wednesdays?   Well, when my term as chair of the Extension Disaster Education Network came to an end in October of 2014, Virginia White asked me if I’d write an occasional blog post for EDEN and our eXtension Community of Practice.

Ever since I wrote a series of posts during and after the response to tornadoes in November of 2013 that affected Gifford, Illinois, which is in Champaign County where I serve as the volunteer Emergency Management Agency Public Information Officer and Washington, Illinois, where I grew up and have many family and friends, I’d been thinking about writing about the weather more regularly.

I hasten to add I am not a meteorologist.  Indeed we do have an actual meteorologist or two in EDEN, including Tom Priddy at the University of Kentucky who created our terrific Next 48 online dashboard tool.  I do have some formal training, but will, as any Extension employee would, rely on research.  Often, I’ll write about threats and best-practices.  On the other hand, some musings may be weather related, but not all that technical.

If you have topics you’d like to see addressed, let me know at ratterbe@illinois.edu .  In the meantime, I hope you’ll enjoy this post about the dreaded “Alberta Clipper.”

What’s an Alberta Clipper?

Much of the continental United States occasionally shivers through a winter weather system known as an Alberta Clipper.  In fact, the first full week of January this year was a classic example with record and near record low temperatures in many areas east of the Rockies.

An Alberta Clipper is a low pressure area that generally originates on the lee side of the Rockies in Alberta, but can also start in Saskatchewan or even Montana.  The “clipper” part is considered a reference to the speeds of the clipper ships. As the cold air is caught up in the typical winter jet stream pattern, it can be pushed far south in the U.S.

Alberta Clippers are characterized by sometimes dramatically colder temperatures resulting in the temperature dropping 20 degrees or more in a relatively short time.  While there is snow associated with most clipper systems, it is usually light, maybe one to three inches, and often with very low moisture content so it is easily blown about by the high winds that may occur.  It is not unusual for an Alberta Clipper to result in a “ground blizzard” after the snowfall has ended.   A ground blizzard results when snow already on the ground or falling as post-frontal flurries is caught up in the wind making forward visibility difficult and resulting in snow drifts and icy patches on highways as was experienced recently.  During a ground blizzard it is often possible to look up and see the sky much more clearly than one can see forward.

While snowfall is limited in a clipper system, the colder temperatures can plunge far south which is certainly what happened this past week.  Some of the coldest weather experienced each winter is often associated with clippers and wind chills can typically reach 30 to 40 degrees below zero, or lower, in the North Central, Great Lakes and North Atlantic States.

Threats associated with clippers include difficult driving conditions; frostbite; frozen pipes; slips and falls; residential fires resulting from malfunctioning or improperly used furnaces, fireplaces and auxiliary heating appliances; cold weather hazards to pets and livestock; and mechanical difficulties with outdoor machinery.

 

Weather Wednesday

Rick Atterberry, EDEN Immediate Past Chair begins a new series about weather with this post. 

Freezing cold thermometer iconMany northern and central states have Wind Chill Warnings or Advisories this week.  Wind chills tonight may exceed 60-degrees below zero in some areas.  In that range frostbite may occur to exposed flesh within minutes.  In addition, recent snowfall in Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Wisconsin and several other states was of the dry and fluffy variety.  There is a high chance for blowing and drifting snow even though no new snow will be falling.  Visibilities will be reduced and travel may be difficult.

Here’s a link to a very brief summary of best practices from FEMA. The FEMA release includes a further link to more information from NOAA’s National Weather Service.

Several key messages:

  • Check on relatives, friends and neighbors, especially those who are homebound or have special needs.
  • If you have plumbing along exterior walls or in uninsulated spaces leave a trickle of water running and/or open under-sink cabinet doors.
  • Do not attempt to use a blowtorch or other heating device such as a paint stripping gun to thaw frozen pipes.  Get warm air circulating around the pipes or call a plumber.
  • Make sure your Carbon Monoxide detectors are operating properly and have fresh batteries.
  • Do not use a stove, oven or other appliance designed for intermittent use as a heat source.
  • Never fill a kerosene heater indoors.  Allow the unit to cool and fill it outdoors.
  • Avoid using extension cords with electric heaters.  Occasionally feel the attached cord on the heater and the wall outlet into which it is plugged.  If either the cord or the outlet is warm to the touch discontinue use of the heater.
  • Never warm up a vehicle by operating the engine in an enclosed space such as an attached garage.
  • Keep vehicle fuel tanks topped up.
  • If you must travel, make sure you let people know your intended route and anticipated time of arrival.  Leave home with a fully charged cell phone if possible and make sure you have a charger with you.  Keep an emergency kit in your car including a flashlight, high energy food bars, bottled water or a safe means to melt snow for drinking, blanket, first aid kit, fire extinguisher, jumper cables, etc.
  • Stay aware of the official names of the roads on which you are travelling and note mile markers or intersections in case you need to report your location.
  • Stay with your vehicle if it becomes stuck or disabled.   Run the vehicle for about ten minutes each hour to provide heat, but crack a window away from the exhaust pipe when doing so and make sure the exhaust pipe is clear of snow.
  • Do not use cruise control when roads are wet, icy or snow-covered.

Most importantly, give the first responders, tow truck operators and snowplow drivers a break and stay home if at all possible.

Meet a Delegate Monday: Sonja Koukel

Michelle Bufkin, AU Agriculture Communications Student/EDEN Community of Practice Social Media Assistant, recently interviewed EDEN delegate Sonja Koukel

1. How did you first get involved with EDEN?Sonja Koukel
My initial involvement in disaster preparedness and emergency planning occurred when I was employed as a University of Alaska Fairbanks Extension district agent based in Juneau (2005-2010). One of the most important roles I played in that capacity happened when an avalanche took out the hydropower lines affecting 30,000 residents. As the Extension agent, I provided information to the Governor’s office covering topic areas from keeping foods safe to safe use of alternative fuel heat sources. When I relocated to New Mexico, I approached Billy Dictson – then, the Point of Contact (POC) – and asked what I could do to help. I became an EDEN delegate, attended the 2010 Lexington, KY, annual meeting and have attended every annual meeting since. I also became the POC when Mr. Dictson retired.

2. Can you tell us a little about your role in disaster preparedness in your state?
This is another area in which Billy Dictson played a large part. He was a founding member of the Southwest Border Food Safety and Defense Center housed on the New Mexico State University campus. In a nutshell, the Center helps communities plan and exercise food protection planning and incident response, all hazards agriculture response and recovery planning, and risk assessment planning. When I arrived in NM, Mr. Dictson hired me to coordinate the Food Safety Initiative. Upon his retirement, 2012, I stepped into the position of Co-Director for the Center. As an Extension Specialist, and through my connection with the Center, I assist in helping raise awareness of disaster preparedness with Extension county agents and the general public, by providing materials, resources, and exploring the best use of social media in response and recovery.

3. How have you seen disaster preparedness differ from state to state?
While the nature of the potential disaster may differ – avalanches in Alaska / wildfires in New Mexico – I find the act of preparedness very similar no matter where you live. The greatest difficulty is in getting individuals to actively engage in preparedness as most have the “it will never happen to me” mentality. In both Alaska and New Mexico, my work revolves around raising awareness, engaging Extension agents and community members in training and exercises, and then keeping people involved during the absence of disasters.

4. What can EDEN delegates look forward to for the 2015 EDEN Annual meeting?
Bienviendos! The Annual Meeting will be held in Las Cruces, New Mexico – also known as “The City of the Crosses.” Located about 50 miles north of the Mexican border, with a population of just over 100,000, it is the second largest city in the state and is home to New Mexico State University – the land-grant institution of NM.

EDEN delegates have a unique opportunity to visit the Santa Teresa International Export/Import Livestock Crossing located on the U.S.-Mexico border. The border crossing is the busiest in the U.S. averaging over 300,000 animals a year. Visit their website for videos and more in-depth information. We are currently planning: a tour of the Santa Teresa “inland port” Union Pacific rail facility and a visit to Old Mesilla, NM, where Billy the Kid was tried and sentenced to hang. Visit the EDEN homepage for information on the post-meeting trip to Albuquerque – an EDEN excursion to the International Balloon Fiesta!

5. What was your favorite part of the 2014 EDEN Annual meeting?
Attending Annual Meeting is a source of motivation for me. Reconnecting with EDEN professionals who have become friends over the years, meeting new delegates, and attending the informational sessions are my favorite parts. I’m always amazed with the incredible work the EDEN group accomplishes year after year. Muscle Shoals, AL, is a fabulous place and a location I don’t think I would have experienced had it not been for EDEN.

Meet a Delegate Monday: Pat Skinner

Michelle Bufkin, AU Agriculture Communications Student/EDEN Community of Practice Social Media Assistant, recently interviewed EDEN delegate Pat Skinner. 

Pat Skinner photo

1. How did you first get involved with EDEN?

In fall of 1997 the LSU AgCenter disaster mitigation and housing programs convened a conference in New Orleans called “Breaking the Housing Disaster Cycle.” Joe Wysocki, then program leader for CSREES housing education, mentioned that he was working with a North Central Region (NCR) committee called EDEN. EDEN’s three-year NCR committee life was coming to an end and the members wanted to explore taking the concept national. They joined our conference and – at the end – asked if Louisiana would take the leadership and begin expanding the membership. I became the first national chair and webmaster in January 1998.

2. Can you tell us a little about your role in disaster preparedness in your state?
My role in disaster management is primarily about risk appreciation and mitigation. I came to Extension in the early 1990’s for the specific purpose of conducting an education program associated with a river commission project to raise five structures “slab-n-all.” That program was funded by FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) for Hurricane Andrew. I had no Extension experience, but lots of experience with floods and the federal flood programs, primarily the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).

In the late 1990s I led another project in which we developed and coached flood mitigation task forces in fifteen SE Louisiana parishes. The task-force project introduced our Extension agents to parish floodplain administrators (FPAs), and introduced both our agents and FPAs to their emergency managers and occasionally to local voluntary organizations active in disasters. The 1997 conference that brought EDEN to New Orleans was part of this task-force project.

My primary program since the 2005 hurricanes (Katrina and Rita) has been creation of an Internet-based Enterprise GIS system that provides flood- and wind-hazard information for any point in Louisiana; the point is specified by a user placing a pin in a map manually or by address lookup, using road and aerial base maps for reference. At www.LSUAgCenter.com/Floodmaps we host, read and interpret the Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs) of the NFIP for the entire state. We read the Basic Wind Speed (BWS) at a location from another Internet service we built for this application. We give the user ground elevation (consumed from the US Geological Survey), which the user can compare to Base Flood Elevation (BFE) on the FIRM to get an idea of how deep the 100-year flood would be at their point of interest. We even draw them a picture using our BFE Scenarios application. The BWS and BFE information is essential to people making building and restoration decisions because the statewide building code adopted in 2006 requires buildings to be designed and built to resist damage from these hazards.

Currently I have the privilege of managing a comprehensive disaster mitigation program that for the first time engages 4-H youth.

3. What was a highlight from your term as EDEN chair?
The highlight of working in Extension is always getting to work with really good, selfless people on a mission. That would be true for the early EDEN days, and still today. As I see how subsequent chairs have managed and led and hosted meetings I am horrified at what I didn’t know back then. But these are forgiving folk.

Louisiana took the leadership because EDEN asked us to. I took the lead role because my boss said I should. He believed in me, even though – or perhaps because – I knew nothing about Extension. I was unencumbered by notions of what was and was not possible at any level. So I guess the highlight was simply that over those early years we moved forward.

4. Can you tell us about the role you currently hold with EDEN?
My official role in EDEN is Web Manager and PD for the LSU AgCenter subcontract of Purdue’s NIFA funds for support of EDEN work. The LSU AgCenter hosts a number of EDEN Internet and Intranet web presences and provides networking support, working closely with the EDEN Communications group at Purdue. I gave up web-mastering many years ago and now just think up stuff for our very talented webmaster – Andrew Garcia — to do.
I am most active in the EDEN Exec and international committees, and now taking greater interest in the youth activities and disaster activation and communication planning arenas.

5. What was your favorite part of the 2014 EDEN Annual Meeting?
There were several high points, but my hands-down favorite part had to be bringing the 4-H’ers to the meeting and having the group receive them with such enthusiasm.