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Philip Duncan: Week in Review

Starting today – and continuing each Saturday morning – Philip Duncan writes a weekly column reviewing the week of weather, environment, space and politics. 

For those of you who already follow me on Twitter you’ll know I’m no stranger to commenting on…well…just about everything.  From the benign to the controversial.  But my main areas of interest are weather (clearly!), the media industry – as I’ve been working in it since the mid 90s – aircraft and politics.  

I wanted to write a weekly column here at which isn’t confined to length or topic – and gives me a chance to discuss things that have popped up over the past week or so – and unlike Twitter, I can use more than 140 characters.

Potential Tropical Cyclone

Ah the joys of computer models to track a storm.  As you’ve seen all week forecasters have been tracking the computer models which have all been picking a nasty tropical storm for next week. When you look at just how narrow Northland is it really is like balancing an egg on a roof – it has a high chance of rolling down either side.

Here in New Zealand advanced discussion of storms is still in its early days.  This comes from years of a government forecaster that has been limited to discussing systems within NZ waters only – and not future predictions or threats that exist outside NZ.

In the US and Canada it’s not uncommon to talk about future storms as far as two weeks in advance.  It’s not designed to boost ratings – it’s designed to simply discuss the models that many of you already look at online and ask us about.  Pretending the models aren’t predicting a cyclone, to me, is not an option.  We need to be open about it and discuss the risks – but also be honest about early confidence levels, which are usually low.

But we have to be balanced – and you’ll note the language we use in press releases is designed to show you the various possibilities – and not to say “watch out, we will definitely be hit”.  

When we first started doing these advanced discussions a few years ago we were accused of hype – these days people realise we actually are quite conservative in our approach to storms (just ask those who love thunderstorms, many of whom have told us they prefer how we don’t jump onto every thunderstorm risk and turn it into a story).

US Election and “cleaner and greener’ energy

The US election is upon us in November and it does have consequences for all of us. Afterall it was the US housing market which collapsed and lead to a worldwide recession in 2008.  

I’m an independent voter here in NZ – in other words, I don’t align to a party, I have certain values and beliefs, some left, some right and I vote based on leader and policy before party.   So watching the Republican debates in the US unfold has been incredible.  There are a couple of scary options in the republican base – but some say the same about President Obama, especially when it comes to gas (petrol) prices and cleaner energy.

The mantra from two of the Republican candidates (Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum) sounds as though it was drafted in the 1950s.   They want to drill for more oil while Santorum wants to remove gays and women from front-line military operations.  But more to my interest is the argument about oil prices – which have peaked at record prices despite a mild winter which used less oil.

President Obama says drilling for more oil will make no difference to local prices.  He is right.  This is because oil is bought and sold in a global market.  If they “drill baby drill” for more oil, it will simply be sold to China at the global rate and will have no impact on “Joe six pack” down the road.

The Obama White House has sunk many millions of dollars into solar, algae and wind energy ideas – some of which have failed, like Solyndra – and this is throwing, well, fuel on the fire for the Republicans who say this is irresponsible spending.

The Republicans do raise a valid point though – the nation is currently broke and they are still investing in clean and green technology.  That’s a bit like losing your job but still wanting to buy better insulation for your house.

The issue is, yet again, dividing Americans.

Daily Facts

I have a huge fascination with outer space – I love watching any documentary that shows how our galaxy was formed and how the earth began.   I read most things “NASA” and I also have a huge interest in how earth was formed and our own geography. .

Through my Twitter account I now post a Daily Fact.  Here are my three favourites from this week:

  1. 90% of the world’s ice is in Antarctica
  2. Our Milky Way galaxy is approaching the Andromeda Galaxy at 400,000km/h – but don’t worry, impact time is still 5 to 6 billion years away.  (Best to mark it in your diary now though)
  3. The moon is gradually moving away from earth at 3.81cms a year – or over 3.3 metres by the year 2100. 

Follow me on Twitter by clicking here

Have a comment or question?  Please post below



sw on 31/03/2012 2:17am

Its like the Earthweek article in the herald once a week which we used to have and interesting that disappeared which covered the cyclones,earthquakes,warmest temp coolest etc.

SimonB on 31/03/2012 12:54am

Interesting comments. However, worth noting that a government is NOT like a household, especially when it can borrow in its own currency as the US can. With the US currently able to borrow at historically low long-term interest rates, now is as good a time as any to invest in new technologies and infrastructure, so long as they deliver value for money (which can be argued about in specific cases).

See eg, this: or anything by Paul Krugman on the topic.

Glenda on 30/03/2012 10:53pm

As a long time Far North resident (Kerikeri) I alway appreciate having good info about what is coming down from the tropics.

I do visit the same offshore websites weatherwatch uses for long term forcasts, which at least give me an idea of what might be brewing.

Always good to have your interpretation of what is likely to happen and the sooner the better.

Not really looking forward to another bout of heavy rain have already had quite enough thanks.

RW on 30/03/2012 9:38pm

Anyone enthused about Republican policies on climate, energy, etc. would be well advised to look at commentary like this:

Guest on 30/03/2012 9:20pm

Hi an update about the poor people in fiji would be great! with the bad flooding over there at this time, have you heard anything new? thanks guys

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