The Fish Story

Cyclones Taking It Way Too Slow; Zinc Oxide Takes on a New Face

By JAY MANN | Jun 13, 2018

We’ve all sat there, pinned to TVs, following the track of approaching hurricanes. Many nail-biters are playing the stay-or-not-stay game of chance, with the answer blowing in the wind.

When poised to make an evacuation call, it always comes down to the latest projected courses for perpetually finicky cyclones, as they all too often seem to half-ass it around in a cruel keep-’em-guessing fashion. Thinking back to Sandy’s arrival, the worst part was the stinkin’ waiting, waiting, waiting. Well, the waiting and worrying are apparently getting worse, worse and worse.

Thanks to research done by NOAA’s James Kossin, it’s clear that modern-day hurricanes are getting crawlier. Crunching forward-speed numbers of hurricanes, going back 70 years, Kossin has proven that Atlantic cyclones have been steadily losing their forward momentum.

Last week, in an article headlined “Move It Along, Please – Hurricanes are moving more slowly than they used to,” reporter Scott Johnson writes of Kossin’s study. “While there are year-to-year wiggles in that record, it also showed a significant 10-percent drop in speed. While tropical cyclones once chugged along at around 19 kilometers per hour (11.80 mph), the average in recent years was about 17.5 kilometers per hour (10.8 mph),” said Johnson.

Anyone of a coastal ilk will fully and worrisomely understand the magnitude of that seemingly modest slowdown. Again, flash back to TV hurricane-watch vigils, which already play out in slo-mo. Now, draw out the tense waiting even further.

It’s not just Kossin seeing this slowdown. A tad more technical in nature is a study published last month by the American Meteorological Society titled “No Access Changes in Hurricanes from a 13-Yr Convection-Permitting Pseudo-Global Warming Simulation.” Title gibberish aside, the simulation-based study’s abstract sounded off in simple language. “In the current climate, 22 (cyclone) tracks were well simulated … these simulations produced tropical cyclones with faster maximum winds, slower storm translation speeds, lower central pressures, and higher precipitation rates.”

To break the tension a bit, I’ll dub the forward speed of a hurricane as the Giddyup Factor. The declining of the GF is huge when it comes to storm intensification. While Kossin chooses not to explore any trickle-down effects from slowed cyclones, it’s a no-brainer that the longer a system lingers over power-giving ocean waters, the more it will bulk up. Now, add in the well-documented warming of ocean surface temps, which can act as a veritable steroid during the muscling-up phase of cyclonic development. That in mind, warmer waters are a likely player in the slowing of cyclones, as storms literally linger, luxuriating in the sucking up of easy energy. Obviously, supersized storms also slow down by their very nature.

Now to a possible beatdown effect from slower-moving storms. I’ll call it the linger-atop effect. Once over a land mass, a lollygagging hurricane will take even longer to spill its rainy guts, as winds perform their perfidious deeds that much longer. It’s not overly dramatic to say that mere minutes become a lifetime at the height of a killer cyclone. As best I can compute, Kossin’s cyclonic slowdown can translate into as much as an added hour of full impact conditions over places like Caribbean islands.

While on this slow-moving train into cyclonic confusion, it must also be mentioned that slower storms become much harder to forecast, as natural influences along their paths have more time to do their influencing.

All of this is not-so-simply my way to say, “Stay smart!” with hurricane season now underway.

DON’T FALL FOR FORECASTER-MANIA: It is an incontrovertible right of all humans on this stormy planet – regardless of race, creed, social standing or service provider – to take a pot shot at predicting the weather. It might be the most universal of freedoms, found flowing freely in even the most freeness-free countries.

With the onset of social media’s world dominance, the look of folks outwardly demonstrating the inalienable right to freely forecast the weather can range from comical to catastrophic, especially when doomsdayers take the Facebook helm, promptly screaming that the sky is falling on the boy who cried wolf. While I have no idea what that means, there are certainly a slew of amateur insta-forecasters who love going “We’re all gonna die!” at the drop of a hurricane hat.

Then, there are the laidback prognostication muddlers, amidst whom I might very well lurk. They/we dangerously overwait and understate storms, circumventing timely warnings until the writing is being power-rinsed off the sky wall by 90-mph winds and rain. We are sure to someday learn our lumbering-about lesson, or so I’ve constantly been told for over 50 years … and no fewer than 10 hurricane hits and innumerable nor’easters.

That brings us to a life-and-death-or-in-between matter: What forecasts you should roll with, when sensibly deciding yea or nay about rolling out of Dodge, evacuation-style. Hint: Facebook is the absolute last place to turn for guidance, unless you have the National Weather Service, Accuweather, WeatherBug or the professional like as friends – or, better still, have them as full-blown internet apps.

If you go with the hoi polloi forecasting flow on Facebook, you’ll most likely end up zigging and zagging when you should be evacuating – or, maybe, only staying put. This is not to say it isn’t more fun than a barrel of monkeys to check in on assorted pot shots taken at the weather, per that inalienable right. Just make sure to turn exclusively to the pros when life and limb are on the line.

FACING THE SUNSCREEN FACTS: With many sunscreens now under the gun for containing coral-killing chemicals, it’s time to look into what we can slather on to stave off rays … while still shining, enviro-ecologically.

Ponder point: What a poetic turnabout. As a child we saw them as golden, dancing sunbeams, now they’ve become cancer-causing, skin-aging UV rays. Try using that in a poem for kids.

Returning to those ugly beams, while there’s a sky-high likelihood that the washed-off sunscreen residue from our bodies won’t do squat to harm our tough N.J. environs, many of us still prefer to remain as green as the day is long, supporting the coral cause from a distance. Ergo, I offer the most noninvasive line of sunscreen products under the sun, made from something sure to squeeze nostalgic smiles from the faces of many one-time lifeguards. Hey, Spanky, open the first aid kit and pass me the tube of zinc oxide.

Yep, nose-whitening ZnO is back in business, big time. But it’s not your father’s tube of goop. Gone are the days when zinc oxide sat thick and proud upon lifeguard noses. Enter the new-age version, with all signs of whiteness magically gone.

So, how in blue blazes can something wholly white in nature be made clearish? It comes down to high-tech methods of molecule crushing. I can’t get into the complexities of how it’s done, since even the scientists preforming the crushing are most often all “What the hell is going on here?” But, in simplest terms, zinc oxide is ground so small that even its mother wouldn’t recognize it. It’s mashed into nanoparticles – nanoparticalization being a concept that will rock your world in years to come. It is loosely based on the mind-bending way that the smallest parts, when recombobulated, can come out cooler and stronger. For instance, nanoparticles of copper, an otherwise very malleable metal, become rock-hard and unbendable when reconstituted. Go figure.

For the sunscreen nanoparticle moment, the concept has grabbed the sunglassed eyes of Coppertone and such. As puts it, “Nanoparticles often have unexpected visible properties because they are small enough to confine their electrons and produce quantum effects.” In there somewhere is what’s behind ground-up ZnO becoming clear – better make that relatively clear – and light years more translucent than it once was.

Admittedly, the concept of applying any type of nanoparticles to the skin has some folks jittery, rightfully wondering if particles so microscopically small might nose their ways into our pores and begin wildly nanoparticle-ing around within us.

Per healthy-living watchdog group Environmental Working Group, “Nanoparticles in sunscreen don’t penetrate the skin. Some studies indicate that nanoparticles can harm living cells and organs when administered in large doses. But a large number of studies have produced no evidence that zinc oxide nanoparticles can cross the skin in significant amounts.”

I’ve already checked out a couple “clear” zinc oxide products. They’re kinda clear – but, then, not so much. In fact, they instantly offer a touch of pale-rider to one’s countenance. Some savvy sunscreen companies are adding a squirt or two of tan-colored foundation to the nano-mix, bringing skin closer to the look of the living, so to speak.

Hmmm. Seems I’m not making the greatest case for the latest, greatest zinc oxide sunblocks. That’s because I’ve yet to hype its nearly remarkable effectiveness in keeping those friendly little cancer-causing sunbeams at bay – even on the ocean. Get it? “At bay … on the ocean.” Forgeddaboutit. With an SPF up to 50 and a staying power to the nth degree, it is the greenest possible way to go this beating-down-sun summer.

SIDE BAR: Thinking way back, zinc oxide had even nosed its way into the surfing realm, though it was pretty much shunned since it presented a not-totally-cool surfer dude look. Being totally dude-cool, I didn’t touch the stuff when waveriding … until that fateful summer back in the mid-1970s, when zinc oxide destroyed my social life – and my face. It all began – and went monstrously wrong – with the arrival of an extremely new-look zinc oxide, prepared by the Zinka company.

Some of you might recall the arrival of Zinka’s multicolor zinc oxides. ZnO’s mountain-top whiteness had instantly turned technicolor, while losing none of its sun-blocking ability. It was so good at blocking burning rays that it blotted out an entire summer of partying for me.

Back then, it was always a battle for waves when surfing crowded sites, like Bergen or Holyoke. Jay, meet Zinka. One look and I envisioned a form of wave domination. Grabbing tubes of assorted Zinka ZnO colors, I went gonzo on my face. I finger-warpainted lines across my forehead, down my cheeks, over my chin, onto my neck. I even slathered on a Zuni eye mask, the height of warpaint appointment. Oh, did I ever make a grand entrance into Coffee Shop (Harvey Cedars) waters that savagely sunny day in early July. Other surfers were platter-eyed. What’s more, I got tons of waves to myself – mainly because other surfers, paddling for the same waves as me, would look over and crack up laughing so hard they couldn’t possibly take off. My shouting “Unga-bunga!” added to the overall effect. Tecumseh would have been proud.

With my warpaint holding firm and the surf cranking nonstop, I made an entire day of it. Big frickin’ mistake.

Removing the zinc oxide late in the day, I was mortified to see the perfectly unburned skin where all my warpaint had been. The pale markings somehow stood out more than when I had the Zinka on. I looked like a shoo-in for first place for Guinness World Records as the world’s most freakishly birthmarked soul. Yes, I had used a sunblock on the rest of my face that day! By all appearances, sunblocks had yet to be overly perfected.

Oh, but there’s more. In yet another burst of Zinka-based ingeniousness, I efforted to get things evened out the very next day. It seemed so absolutely logical to meticulously apply Zinka over the burnt portion of my face, thusly leaving the freaky pale-skin markings open to the sun. Sure, it’s easy for you to sit there now and foresee the folly in that move, but I was blinded by the sun.

Well, when I washed up after another entire day in the sun, a human face couldn’t look any weirder. The two suffering skin areas were not only completely unmatched, but fought each other. A life in the circus suddenly seemed a viable option.

Needless to say, I tried everything under the sun to even things out. Overall tanning became the surest way of erasing my war face look. No go. I went so far as assuming as pale-skinned a look as summer would allow. For whatever dermatological reason, I remained facially multi-toned for weeks on end.

Aftermath: Showing my freakish face in public taught me that everyday people, be it on the street or in stores, are not averse to rudely staring, head on, at people who are, let’s say, of a different appearance.  “Mommy, that man looks like Chief Bumbles from summer camp.” I’ll bumble you, you little … So, just maybe, somewhere in there, life lessons were staring me in the face – not the least of which was “Think before you zinc!”

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