A Winter Storm Warning has been issued for Mon 8pm – Wed 8am (including Providence County).
At Providence, steady rain is expected to change to snow Tue late afternoon before ending Wed 2am. Temperatures well above freezing should prevent accumulation before Tue afternoon, with a low of only 33F overnight Tue 8pm – Wed 8am.
Snow accumulation probabilities: at least 0.1in 81%, 1in 74%, 2in 65%, 4in 46%, 6in 30%, 8in 18%, 12in 4%, and 18in near 0%.
The forecast is highly uncertain and complicated, involving development of storms off the Long Island coast drawing a supply of cold air from the north, and at this time it is hard to predict the intensity of the effects as well as where and when rain changes to snow: anything from all rain to 8in snow is within the realm of realistic possibility for the metropolitan area. To the north and west much greater accumulation is likely, with as much as 2ft in northern and western MA.
Winds exceeding 25MPH sustained with 50MPH gusts Tue and Wed could damage trees and power lines, especially because the snow is expected to be heavy and wet, stressing roofs and buildings.
A Winter Weather Advisory has been issued for Fri 7pm – Sat 7pm.
At Providence, snow began Fri 10pm, expected to change to rain Sat 3am – 4am, and end 4pm possibly changing back to snow briefly before tapering off. Snow accumulation 1 – 3 inches expected with temperatures rising above freezing to a Sat afternoon high 38F. Somewhat greater amounts are possible outside the metropolitan area, mainly to the north.
Snow accumulation probabilities: at least 0.1in 74%, 1in 58%, 2in 36%, 4in 3%, and 6in near 0%.
A Winter Storm Warning has been issued for Mon 7pm – Tue 7pm.
At Providence, snow began Mon 11pm and is expected to end Tue 6pm, with possibly a brief change to rain after Tue 12pm. Snow accumulation 3 – 5 inches expected with temperatures rising above freezing to a Tue afternoon high 37F. Somewhat greater amounts are possible outside the metropolitan area, mainly to the west and south.
Snow accumulation probabilities: at least 0.1in 100%, 1in 98%, 2in 93%, 4in 50%, and 6in near 0%.
Travel will be difficult with heaviest snow and lowest visibility Mon night into Tue morning, especially affecting the Tue morning commuting period, with snowfall rates less by Tue late morning and early afternoon accompanied by rising temperatures.
A number of municipalities have announced parking bans with some beginning as early as Mon 5pm, including Barrington, Bristol, Burrillville, Central Falls, Coventry, Cranston, Cumberland, East Greenwich, East Providence, Glocester, Hopkinton, Johnston, Lincoln, Middletown, Narragansett, Newport,North Providence, Pawtucket, Portsmouth, Richmond, Scituate, Seekonk (MA), Smithfield, Warren, West Greenwich, West Warwick, Woonsocket. (Warwick has announced a parking ban on social media but not on the centralized statewide system.)
Most public and private schools have announced either complete closure or virtual learning for Tue, including Bristol-Warren, Burrillville, Central Falls, Coventry, Cranston, Cumberland, East Providence, Foster-Glocester, Johnston, Northern RI Collaborative, Pawtucket, Providence, RI School for the Deaf, The Met (Providence and East Bay), Warwick, West Bay Collaborative, West Warwick, Wm M Davies Jr Career-Tech HS, Woonsocket.
More rain is likely Wed night into Thu afternoon, followed by another period of mixed rain and snow Fri morning into Sat morning.
Slight Chance of Snow this Weekend: Colder temperatures in high 20s Sat, high 30s Sun
At Providence, a 52% chance of 0.1in snow across the weekend could occur Sat 3 – 7pm or Sun 10am – 4pm, but is not likely. Colder temperatures with afternoon highs 25F on Sat and 38F on Sun will accompany the threat of light snow and overcast skies.
Chance of rain changing to snow Tue and Wed.
Antisemitic “Day of Hate” this Saturday: Police in large cities warn of risks to Jews and Jewish organizations
Chatter using the WhatsApp and Telegram instant-messaging services and other social media prompted police departments in major metropolitan areas, including New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago, to issue warnings about a “Day of Hate” planned for Saturday, Feb 25, by Neo-Nazi antisemitic organizations as an effort to target Jews and Jewish organizations for harassment and potential violence. Because Saturday is the Jewish holy day of Shabbat (Sabbath), Jewish organizations have called for responding in a “Shabbat of Peace.”
Jewish Rhody, the publication of the Jewish Alliance of Rhode Island, quoted its president and CEO, Adam Greenman: “Since first being alerted to the ‘National Day of Hate,’ the Alliance has been working to coordinate efforts with local and state law enforcement. We have also been keeping our community partners up to speed on the latest news from our national security partner, Secure Community Network. While there have been no credible threats made, we urge our communities to remain vigilant this day and every day. It can be infuriating to know a day like this is being planned, but our community is strong, vibrant, and above all, resilient. Together, we will rise above this hate.”
Asked by Motif “Has Providence put out anything on this ‘National Day of Hate’ matter?” the public information officer for the Providence Department of Public Safety answered, “Not at this time that I have been made aware of.”
On Feb 21, 2022, Neo-Nazi protesters disrupted an event at Red Ink Community Library in Providence, making noise and waving flags emblazoned with a swastika, “SS” runes, and a “Totenkopf” (death’s head), but in 2023 there was vandalism and damage, Red Ink posted on Twitter: “Last night an anti-communist message was sent to us in anticipation of our Red Books Day celebration of the publication of the Communist Manifesto. Last year they showed up with flags to intimidate, this year they threw bricks through the window.” The post included photographs of glass shards and a brick on which was written “commie scumbags.”
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) said on Twitter: “We are closely monitoring tomorrow’s anticipated ‘Day of Hate’ campaign and are in touch with local law enforcement agencies. As always, please report any bias or hate incidents to ADL at http://adl.org/incident and please join us in celebrating a #ShabbatOfPeaceNotHate.”
In a leaked law-enforcement bulletin obtained by the Lakewood News Network in New Jersey, the New York City Police Intelligence and Counterterrorism Bureau warns of “Domestic Violent Extremist” planners “of this overtly racist, anti-Semitic event are instructing likeminded individuals to drop banners, place stickers and flyers, or scrawl graffiti as a form of biased so-called activism” who are asking participants to “photograph or record direct actions and submit them online in order to create a compendium of exploits from around the country.” Various sources have identified some of these extremist groups as the Goyim Defense League (GDL), the National Socialist Movement (NSM), Crew 319, and Clockwork Crew.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul issued a statement on Twitter: “I have directed [New York State Police] and [New York State Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Services] to closely monitor the safety of Jewish communities this Shabbat. While there are no credible threats to New Yorkers at this time, we will remain vigilant. My top priority is the safety of New Yorkers.”
The nebulous and decentralized nature of the “Day of Hate” leaves it unclear where on the spectrum of risk it poses, ranging from a bunch of online posts that go no further up to violent terrorist acts and murder. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency, an independent service providing news to the Jewish community since 1917, noted the environment of increasing antisemitism: “The alert came roughly a week after two Jews exiting morning prayer services were shot on consecutive days in Los Angeles, allegedly by a man with antisemitic motives. Last fall, two men were arrested in Penn Station for threatening violence against New York City synagogues, and weeks earlier, police in New Jersey warned synagogues in the state about a ‘credible threat.’”
David Cicilline resigns from Congress: Effective Jun 1, will head RI Foundation
After 12 years representing RI’s first district in the US House of Representatives, David Cicilline will step down effective Jun 1, 2023, according to a statement released by his office late this morning. He will become president and CEO of the RI Foundation, a major philanthropic organization, replacing Neil Steinberg who announced his retirement several months ago.
Cicilline has held the seat since Jan 2011, most recently re-elected in Nov 2022 to a term ending in Jan 2025, defeating Republican challenger Allen Waters, 63.8% – 36.2%. The district is considered a safely Democratic seat, and the margin of victory is comparable to that estimated in the subsequently redrawn district for the most recent presidential election in 2020. As a result, a Democratic primary to fill the vacancy is expected to be fiercely competitive, effectively setting the stage for an easy win in the general election.
The Office of the RI Secretary of State said that the timing of a special election would, by law, be determined by the governor. “A vacant seat in the House of Representatives is filled through a special election. In collaboration with the Board of Elections, the Department of State will begin the special election process once requested by the Governor,” a spokesman told Motif. The law provides that the special election will be held on the first Tuesday after the first Monday of the month.
UPDATE Feb 23: The office of Secretary of State Gregg Amore told Motif, “We are beginning to map out a possible timeline for the special election that would comply with elections law and create enough time to satisfy all of the procedural elements of holding a special election. Once the election is called for, there will need to be a candidate declaration period, a signature collection and verification period, and internal ballot preparation. Then, federal law requires that mail ballots are sent to overseas voters [primarily active duty military] 45 days before both the primary and the general. At this time, we believe that statutorily, the earliest a primary could be held would be August 8. If the primary were to be held on August 8, the general would likely follow on October 3. If the primary were to be held September 5, the general would likely follow on November 7. These are only preliminary, possible dates. Later dates are possible. No dates have been set or confirmed. The Department of State is working collaboratively with the Governor’s Office, the Board of Elections, and the local cities and towns to ascertain the feasibility of different scenarios.”
Cicilline previously served as mayor of Providence from 2003 to 2010 and in the RI House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003. He is an attorney by profession, graduating from law school at Georgetown University in 1986 and receiving a bachelor’s degree from Brown University in 1983.
In a statement, Cicilline said, “The chance to lead the Rhode Island Foundation was unexpected, but it is an extraordinary opportunity to have an even more direct and meaningful impact on the lives of residents and families of our state.” He characterized the RI Foundation as “one of the largest and oldest nonprofit community foundations in the nation.”
Cicilline did not address the issue in his statement, but it is a reasonable inference that a significant factor in his decision to leave Congress was his party’s loss of majority status in the Nov 2022 election, greatly reducing his ability to accomplish anything in the narrowly divided chamber after being relegated to the minority. In his previous term, he served on the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Judiciary Committee, holding the chair of the latter’s Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law Subcommittee.
“I write today to convey my deepest and most sincere gratitude to the residents of the First Congressional District. I am extremely grateful for the support of the people of Rhode Island, my dedicated staff, and the help of the many organizations and individuals that I have had the privilege to partner with over the past twelve years,” Cicilline said in the statement. “I once again extend my genuine and heartfelt appreciation for the honor to have served as your representative in the United States Congress.”
Continuity of office will be preserved, Cicilline said in the statement: “I will remain in office until I officially submit my resignation to the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and Governor McKee on May 31, 2023. Constituents can continue contacting my office for assistance with federal agencies and to share your opinion or request information on pending legislative matters before Congress. After June 1, 2023, members of my staff will continue to operate offices in both Rhode Island and Washington, D.C. under the supervision of the Clerk of the House of Representatives until a new Member of Congress is elected. My office will provide additional information in the weeks ahead regarding this transition period.”
Pop Gun: Is America shooting down alien spacecraft?
The military has shot down four objects in US and Canadian airspace within the last few days, and this has led to reactions ranging from rational concern to irrational panic.
I’m not saying it was aliens, but…
At a Department of Defense press conference on Feb 12 Helene Cooper of The New York Times asked, “Because you still haven’t been able to tell us what these things are that we are shooting out of the sky, that raises the question, have you ruled out aliens or extraterrestrials? And if so, why? Because that is what everyone is asking us right now.” Gen. Glen VanHerck, commander of North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and United States Northern Command (USNORTHCOM), answered, “I’ll let the intel community and the counterintelligence community figure that out. I haven’t ruled out anything.”
This bizarre “I haven’t ruled out anything” response from a four-star general to whether alien spacecraft are being shot down was not exactly helpful. Presidential Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was forced the following day to explicitly deny the alien attack rumors: “I just wanted to make sure we address this from the White House. I know there have been questions and concerns about this, but there is no — again, no indication of aliens or extraterrestrial activity — (laughter) — with these recent takedowns. Again, there is no indication of aliens or [extra]terrestrial activity with these recent takedowns. Wanted to make sure that the American people knew that, all of you knew that. And it was important for us to say that from here because we’ve been hearing a lot about it.” That led to a follow-up question: “Would you tell us if there were, really?” Amid laughter, she answered, “I’m just — you know, I loved ‘E.T.,’ the movie. But I’m just going to leave it there.”
A national Associated Press story quoted Jim Ludes, a former national defense analyst who now leads the Pell Center for International Relations at Salve Regina University in RI: “There will be an investigation and we will learn more, but until then this story has created a playground for people interested in speculating or stirring the pot for their own reasons… In part, because it feeds into so many narratives about government secrecy.”
The alien spacecraft stuff aside, why is anyone upset about this at all?
Nations have flown reconnaissance missions over foreign territory since the invention of aircraft: military balloons were in use as early as the French Revolution in the 1790s and in widespread use by the time of the American Civil War in the 1860s.
Balloons have not usually been perceived as threatening per se. In the final months of World War II between November 1944 and April 1945, Japan launched 9,300 “Fu-Go” balloon bombs with the expectation they would be carried by the atmospheric jet stream and start fires in the Pacific Northwest region of the continental United States. Although about 300 of the balloon bombs were found or observed, only one had any noticeable effect, killing the pastor’s wife and five children on a Sunday school picnic in the Fremont National Forest in Oregon.
From 1947 to 1949, the US Project Mogul flew reconnaissance balloons over the Soviet Union equipped with microphones capable of detecting the sound of nuclear tests; it was an early example that crashed near Roswell, New Mexico, that gave rise to the original alien spacecraft rumor. The US Project Genetrix (WS-119L) was a more advanced photographic surveillance balloon that was regularly flown over Russia and China in the 1950s at altitudes of up to 100,000 feet until it was largely replaced by the U-2 aircraft. In the mid-1950s, the US experimented with the E77 balloon bomb intended to disseminate chemical or biological weapons to destroy crops; it never entered production or deployment. The US Project Flying Cloud (WS-124A) was another balloon delivery system for chemical or biological weapons, but it was dismissed after testing as infeasible and ineffective. The US currently maintains a fleet of “aerostat” balloons as part of the Persistent Threat Detection System used in Afghanistan and Iraq to monitor hostile movements such as planting improvised explosive devices (IEDs) along roadways.
The US has employed the Lockheed U-2 aircraft since 1955 and still maintains a fleet in active service: one was shot down over Russia in 1960 (pilot Francis Gary Powers was captured and repatriated in a prisoner exchange) and another over Cuba in 1962 (pilot Rudolf Anderson Jr. was killed). The 1962 incident came in the context of the Cuban Missile Crisis, which was itself a consequence of the US detecting Soviet nuclear weapons in Cuba from U-2 aerial photos; Maj. Anderson was the only American casualty of the crisis that threatened to set off World War III.
“Freedoms of the Air” is the formal diplomatic term for the post-1944 international standards and agreements that allow free passage of commercial aviation, including refueling and carriage of passengers and cargo, across borders. A comparable rubric for military aviation was proposed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1955, and the Treaty on Open Skies finally came into existence under President George H.W. Bush in 1989, ratified by the US-allied NATO and the Soviet Union-allied Warsaw Pact in 1992; President Donald Trump withdrew the US during his lame-duck period between losing the presidential election in November 2020 and the inauguration of President Joe Biden in January 2021. The Open Skies concept, according to Eisenhower, was to allow each country to verify that other countries were not unilaterally preparing or mobilizing for war or otherwise violating arms control agreements.
Balloons are cheap and easy to deploy. In 2009, MIT students Oliver Yeh and Justin Lee headed a few miles westward to the town of Sturbridge where they launched a $150 helium balloon project carrying a burner phone and digital camera that sent back real-time photos every few seconds, reaching an altitude of 93,000 feet (almost 18 miles) where the curvature of the earth is plainly visible and the sky appears as the blackness of outer space. In 2018, we reported on a Brown University student group building an earth-orbiting satellite: before members were qualified to work on the satellite project, they were introduced by building a balloon project. One of the project leaders said, “A lot of our first-years and sophomores join the high-altitude balloon team. We’ve launched two and they have 360-degree cameras, and they were either the first or the second 360-degree cameras on high-altitude balloons, the highest 360-degree cameras ever, [reaching 80,000 feet]. We put on electronics kind of similar to what we have on the satellite, such as an altimeter – which is not on the satellite – but also gyroscope, magnetometer, accelerometer, temperature. Each balloon tests something that we want to test for the satellite.”
The Chinese spy balloon that started the present frenzy was reported by US defense intelligence agencies as having flown from China to Alaska, then over Canada, and finally into the continental United States. My inference is that it was intended to maintain an altitude of about 100,000 feet but something went wrong and it descended instead to about 60,000 feet, at which point it was visible to the naked eye over Montana. With ordinary private citizens able to see it just by looking up into the sky, or at least with little more than a decent set of binoculars, that put the US government into an awkward position where they had to acknowledge its existence. Despite statements by defense and intelligence professionals who assessed the spy balloon as posing little threat, especially because China has numerous sophisticated surveillance satellites in earth orbit but probably decided to use balloons to save money.
The Biden administration came under heavy political criticism, especially from Republicans in Congress, for not shooting down the balloon as soon as it entered American airspace over Alaska, but we have never done anything like that before. We especially do not want to get into a situation where we shoot at their surveillance systems and they shoot at ours, for exactly the reasons Eisenhower explicitly articulated that some surveillance serves the interest of preserving peace. It was also revealed that this Chinese spy balloon was the fifth known incursion into US airspace since 2017, although as noted the military did not seem to see these as any threat worth responsive action. Of course, the lack of response may have been a mistake emboldening China to grow increasingly aggressive, eventually permitting their balloon to be seen from the ground. (The Chinese claim that the balloon was a meteorological research project is laughable.) It has also been revealed that US intelligence was aware of an extensive Chinese spy balloon project overflying 40 countries on five continents.
NORAD gathers an avalanche of radar and sensor data about everything flying in or above the atmosphere, reportedly as small as a grain of rice, and they have to filter these huge quantities of information in order to discard anything they can dismiss as no threat. They have spent decades looking for things that are big and fast, such as bomber aircraft or intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), so everything small and slow was pretty much ignored. After the Chinese spy balloon fracas, now they seem to be letting balloon-like objects through their filters and this is why we shot down three more objects without even fully understanding what they are.
Why are we shooting down these objects? Maybe the government knows and they’re not telling us. Maybe the government doesn’t know, either. Maybe these are homemade weather balloons constructed by a couple of ambitious college students or hobbyists.
At some point, we’re going to run into a revival of Lawnchair Larry, a man who in 1982 tied 45 helium balloons to an aluminum chair and ascended to an altitude of 16,000 feet, shutting down Long Beach Airport in California. After he landed, an inspector from the Federal Aviation Administration famously said, “We know he broke some part of the Federal Aviation Act, and as soon as we decide which part it is, some type of charge will be filed. If he had a pilot’s license, we’d suspend that, but he doesn’t.” At least he didn’t face a Sidewinder missile.
RI Prepares for Dangerously Cold Extreme Weather: Emergency action by state and local governments
Dangerously extreme cold weather is predicted Fri, Feb 3, through Sat, Feb 4, that will combine ambient temperatures dropping to -6F with sustained winds of 25MPH and gusts of 45MPH to produce wind chills below -20F. (See motifri.com/wx-2023-02-02 for forecast details.) State and local governments are taking emergency actions to keep the public safe and, at the worst case, prevent deaths.
The RI Department of Housing has asked homeless shelters to extend their hours and until Sun 5pm will fund transportation costs to individuals in need to the 24/7 warming station at the Cranston Street Armory, using both RIPTA and, in rural and outlying communities, Uber.
The RI Department of Health (RIDOH) issued advice for coping with extreme cold:
Dress in layers.
Cover exposed skin. Wind chills this low may result in frostbite on exposed skin in as few as 15 minutes.
Limit outdoor time.
Add blankets to your home’s emergency kit.
Eat frequently. Food gives the body energy to produce heat.
Do not drink a lot of alcohol or caffeine. Alcohol and caffeine cause your body to lose heat faster.
Check on older family and friends; infants and older adults are more at risk for health problems related to extreme temperature.
Your baby should wear the same layers adults would comfortably wear plus one additional layer. Avoid using one big, bulky blanket.
Know the signs and symptoms of hypothermia and frostbite.
Keep your gas tank near full to avoid ice in the tank and fuel lines.
Make a winter emergency kit for your car. Add extra blankets and a wind shield.
Make sure your tires have enough air pressure and that your heater works.
Check your car’s antifreeze levels.
Tell your friends and family if you are traveling somewhere. If you can, bring a mobile phone with you.
Limit outdoor time for your pets.
Bring outdoor pets inside.
Extreme cold can cause your water pipes to freeze and sometimes break. Leave your water tap open so they drip. Open the cabinets beneath the kitchen sink to let warm air near the pipes.
Be careful with indoor heaters; keep space heaters three feet away from anything that may catch fire.
Conserve heat. Don’t open doors or windows unless necessary. Close off unneeded rooms.
Do not use generators, grills, or camp stoves inside.
Install a battery-operated carbon monoxide detector to protect yourself from carbon monoxide poisoning. Put a carbon monoxide detector near your bedroom so you can hear it if you are sleeping.
RIDOH warns that the most immediate health risks from extreme cold are frostbite and hypothermia:
When exposed to cold temperatures, your body can lose heat quickly and develop frostbite or hypothermia or both.
Frostbite most often impacts noses, ears, cheeks, chins, fingers, and toes. Signs of frostbite include discolored (red, white, or greyish-yellow) skin and numbness. If you notice signs of frostbite, get into a warm area as soon as possible and call a healthcare provider. Warm the affected area with warm water or with body heat. Frostbitten areas can be easily burned because they are numb. Do not use hot water, heating pads, or the heat of a stove or radiator for warming.
Signs of hypothermia include shivering; exhaustion; confusion, memory loss, slurred speech; bright red, cold skin in infants, and very low energy in infants. If you notice signs of hypothermia, take the person’s temperature. If their temperature is below 95°F, this is an emergency, and the person should get medical attention immediately.
The RI Office of Energy Resources is working with RI Energy (the successor to National Grid) which has “secured incremental electric resources and have additional crews available as needed” and placed “LNG [liquefied natural gas] facilities on standby and staffed to vaporize as needed.”
Life-Threatening Cold Fri – Sat: Wind Chill Advisory as Low as -30F
At Providence, a Wind Chill Advisory is in effect for Fri 10am – Sat 10am with ambient temperature down to -6F and wind chill as low as -30F due to sustained wind of 25MPH with gusts to 45MPH. The worst of the severe cold will be Fri 6pm – Sat 12pm when wind chill consistently below -10F is expected. Suburbs outside the metropolitan area will likely be even colder.
Providence may see a new record low ambient temperature, exceeding -3F set Feb 3, 1955, and -2F set Feb 4, 1918. The normal low for both dates is 22F, and records date back to 1905.
The cold snap will be brief with temperatures recovering to 15F – 20F by Sat afternoon, to 45F by Sun and Mon, and to 50F by Tue and Wed.
Northern New England could see wind chills to -60F and parts of New York could see wind chills to -40F. Heating systems could be stressed to the point of failure and vehicles could fail to start and run reliably.
Snow Wed Changing to Rain Wed Night: High winds, a fraction of an inch before being washed away by heavy rain
At Providence, snow beginning Wed 3pm – 5pm will change to rain 5 – 8pm, but less than 1 inch is expected before being washed away by heavy rain with temperatures rising to 50F before ending Thu 6 – 8am. Wind gusts to 40MPH are likely for several hours during the peak of the storm.
A Winter Weather Advisory is in effect Wed 1pm to Thu 1am covering most of northern RI as well as central and western MA and inland CT. Travel may be difficult especially during the Wed evening commute, and the combination of heavy rain and gusty wind may take down tree limbs and power lines.
Probability of accumulation at least 0.1in is 94% and 1in is near 0%.