News

Changing weather could delay season, Aggie says

By Ian White

HURRICANE season in Texas could be delayed until late summer if the state’s leading weather analyst has his predictions on target.
State climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon, a Texas A&M University professor, is forecasting mild temperatures during early summer and little danger of hurricane landfall in Texas until later in the season, which runs from June 1 to November 30.Hurricane tracking chart
“For hurricanes, the key will be how quickly La Niña develops in the tropical Pacific,” he said in a statement issued by A&M on Friday.
“The sooner La Niña forms, the more active the Atlantic hurricane season is likely to be. Even so, Texas is a small target, so an active hurricane season across the entire Atlantic would not necessarily mean one or more landfalls in Texas itself.”
Nielsen-Gammon is basing his theories on a change now taking place in the underwater temperatures in the tropical Pacific.
The warm waters of the El Niño weather pattern that has governed America’s climate since last summer are giving way to cooler waters that could produce a La Niña pattern by late summer or fall, with a warm and dry winter following behind, he says.
In his statement, he said the federal climate prediction center rates the chances of a La Niña pattern forming by then at about 75 per cent and that “a tongue of cooler-than-normal” water traveling eastward across the Tropics just below the surface has reached South America.
He added: “Those cooler waters will continue to spread across the surface of the ocean as the warmer water moves westward, back toward New Guinea and Indonesia.”
As well as predicting the next few months’ weather, Nielsen-Gammon also said the winter just passed was one of the warmest on record in Texas and that El Niño was believed to be the culprit responsible for the past year’s above-average rainfall over much of Texas.
But he regards some aspects of the weather during the past six months as atypical of an El Niño period.
His statement said that the seven months beginning in October formed Texas’ wettest October-April period on record since 1895 and that, although there was a “dry stretch” in January and February, the six months starting in November formed the seventh wettest November-April period on record.
During that time, he said, cities statewide experienced one of their 10 warmest cool seasons on record, while “cold weather was mostly a no-show and winter this year was almost non-existent in many parts of Texas”.
That included our locale. Nielsen-Gammon said: “The temperature only got down to 22 degrees in Abilene, 27 degrees in Dallas, 30 in San Antonio, 31 in urban Austin and 40 in Galveston.
“All of these were new records for mildness, with weather records going back for more than a century in most locations.”

Supreme court to await appeal judges’ SB 14 ruling until July

By Ian White

BOTH SIDES claimed temporary victory on Friday after the US supreme court gave the federal fifth-circuit appeals court until July 20 to rule on a dispute about Texas’ 2011 voter identification law.
In its order, the supreme court denied an application to overturn the New Orleans-based appeals court’s October 2014 decision granting the state a stay against a Texas court’s ruling that the law is unconstitutional and should be struck down.Texas Voter law
The stay was granted pending appeal and has not been lifted, even though the fifth circuit ruled in August last year that the law, known as SB 14, violates section two of the 1965 federal Voting Rights act.
The stay also survived an October 2014 appeal to the supreme court, when justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor dissented with the majority opinion, with Ginsburg calling the law’s voter ID requirements “the strictest regime in the country”.
Friday’s supreme-court ruling came after the fifth circuit voted in March that all 15 of its judges will rehear the case but did not immediately set a date for arguments before the “en banc” bench.
A coalition of individuals and organizations fighting to have the law repealed asked the supreme court to intervene as a matter of urgency because of the proximity of November’s general election.
The plaintiffs, led by US representative Marc Veasey of Fort Worth, include Galveston County justice of the peace Penny Pope and organizations such as the League Of United Latin American Citizens.
They were concerned that the fifth circuit was moving too slowly and that its decision would come too late to prevent more than 600,000 voters being denied the right to cast a ballot in this year’s general election whatever the court’s ruling.
In denying their application for a vacation of the 2014 stay, the supreme court said it will allow reconsideration of the matter if by July 20 “the court of appeals has neither issued an opinion on the merits of the case nor issued an order vacating or modifying the current stay order”.
In that case, the court said, “an aggrieved party may seek interim relief from this court by filing an appropriate application”.
On hearing the ruling, both the state and a political action committee that supports the plaintiffs issued statements claiming the supreme court had ruled in their favor.
Texas attorney general Ken Paxton said: “Texas enacted a common-sense law to provide simple protections to the integrity of our elections and the democratic process in our state.
“We appreciate the supreme court allowing the law to remain in effect at this time and look forward to defending the merits of our case in front of the entire fifth circuit next month [May].”
Matt Angle, the founder and director of Democratic Party political action committee Lone Star Project, said: “Despite the denial of the petition to immediately block the Texas voter ID law, the supreme court’s order signals significant concern within the court over the discriminatory Texas law.”
“Clearly, the aggressive move by the Veasey plaintiffs to file their petition has undermined the strategy of Texas Republican leaders to obstruct and delay a final ruling on the case.
He added: “The hostility that Texas leaders hold against Hispanics, African Americans, the very young and very old in Texas is defined by their relentless drive to enforce a discriminatory voter ID law. Congratulations to congressman Veasey for acting smartly and aggressively to make the wheels of justice start turning again.”

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Island medics believe some prescription medicines could stand in for antibiotics

By Ian White

A RESEARCH team at Galveston’s UTMB campus has identified almost 100 approved drugs including an antidepressant that could be reassigned to treat antibiotic-resistant diseases like plague, salmonella and a form of colitis.Title
If further research proves the team’s theories correct, almost two million people who are infected with illnesses caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria every year in America could be treated by “non-antibiotic therapeutic drugs already approved for other purposes”, UTMB said on Monday.
According to mortality rates recorded by CDC, the federal centers for disease control and prevention, that could save the lives of at least 23,000 people a year in this country alone.
The researchers, led by professor Ashok Chopra and graduate student Jourdan Andersson, are now working to establish how the drugs fight the diseases. Because they’re not antibiotics, they do not attack the bacteria that cause the diseases and Chopra believes they could either be reducing the bugs’ virulence or “affecting host proteins or genes so that the bacteria cannot use them to reproduce”.
Chopra’s team made their discovery during a molecular investigation of non-antibiotic therapies to see whether they could kill bugs that have developed a resistance to antibiotics. They were concerned by CDC statistics that show that, “while antibiotics have been highly effective at treating infectious diseases, infectious bacteria have adapted to them and they have become less effective”.
Of 780 drugs already used to treat other types of illness, the researchers discovered that 94 “were significantly effective” in tests against the bug that causes plague and is becoming resistant to antibiotics.
Those were narrowed down to three, an antipsychotic, a breathing stimulant and the anti-depressant, which were found to be effective in treating plague, which is caused by the bacterium yersinia pestis.
The antipsychotic, trifluoperazine, was also used to treat two other conditions caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria, salmonella enterica and clostridium difficile.
Chopra, who believes bacterial drug resistance is increasing because of doctors’ over-prescription of antibiotics, said: “This area of antibiotic resistance is a big problem in global terms. That’s why we started thinking of what different ways we can use drugs already available to combat this problem.
“The solution could lie with drugs originally meant for other uses that, until now, no one knew could also help combat bacterial infections. It is quite possible these drugs are already, unknowingly, treating infections when prescribed for other reasons.”

By Ian White

THE COUNTY’S top judge, Lonnie Cox, called on the state’s supreme court to refuse to consider a petition by county judge Mark Henry’s when he filed his response to the appeal in the so-called Bonnie Quiroga case on Monday.
Cox, who sits in Galveston’s 56th district court, had been given 30 days to file the response after declining the opportunity to do so when Henry and his colleagues on the county commissioners’ court filed their petition in February.TX-Supreme-Court-logo
The petition seeks the supreme court’s review of a decision by a three-judge panel of the state’s first court of appeals that upheld an injunction against the county issued by visiting judge Sharolyn Wood in July last year.
The injunction forbids the county from taking any action to reconstruct its justice administration department, whose director Quiroga served both the legislative and judicial branches of local government before being fired summarily by Henry in July 2014.
In her ruling on the case, which began when Cox issued an order declaring the termination illegal and void, Wood also ordered Henry to face trial on a charge of contempt for refusing to comply with Cox’s declaration.
In his 55-page response, Cox argues through his counsel, Galveston-based Mark Stevens, that Henry has misrepresented both the trial and appellate court’s decisions in the case.
In the latter, all three judges signed their order, although one wrote an accompanying opinion in which he partially dissented, holding that Wood had exceeded her authority when ordering the county to reinstate Quiroga at her former salary.
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Stevens further maintains that to grant a review would be a grave disservice to the principle of the separation of powers between the executive and judicial arms of local government even if it affirmed the trial and appeals court’s decisions.
The supreme court also received an amicus curiae brief on behalf of Texas Conference Of Urban Counties on Monday.
The Austin-based nonprofit organization, which represents 38 counties claimed to house some 80 per cent of the state’s population, calls on the supreme court to grant the county’s petition and reverse the appeal court’s judgment.

State set to raze beach and bay petrochemical hazards

By Ian White

ABANDONED oil wells in Galveston Bay and on Bolivar Peninsula have been earmarked for removal by the state as part of a coastal-cleanup project costing more than $11m.
The wells, pipes and other debris have been placed on a list of more than 200 derelict structures identified for removal from the Texas shoreline by the state’s general land office because of the danger – including possible explosion – they pose to people and watercraft.160424 Bolivar beach hazard 1
The GLO has requested $6.9m from the federal government and will put in $4.4m from its own coffers to undertake the project, which will concentrate on hazards in the Corpus Christi area as well as those on Bolivar in its first phase.
If the structures are not dealt with soon, the state agency says, they could degrade, making it much more costly to the state’s taxpayers for their removal.
The GLO selected the structures requiring urgent removal after conducting an aerial survey of the state’s waters, including the Gulf shoreline and bays, in 2014 and following up with a 16-month program inspecting more than 1,000 known hazardous sites. During the inspections, another 357 came to light, with more expected during the cleanup project.
Among the hazards are wells, production platforms, docks and pilings, some of which are visible while others lurk beneath the sands and waters along the shoreline and could destroy vehicles and boats passing immediately above them.160424 Bolivar beach hazard 2
The land office said the abandoned structures “pose a hazard for recreational and commercial boaters, surfers and others navigating along the Texas coastline and in bays or estuarial areas. Some structures have become partially buried in the sand and could be hazardous to vehicles driving across the beach.”
Some of the structures were created illegally but a GLO spokeswoman said that’s not the case with those on Bolivar Peninsula.
“The wells on Bolivar were properly plugged and cut decades ago but, due to erosion, have washed up on the beach and are a potential hazard,” she told The Post on Thursday.160424 Galveston Bay oil platform hazard
According to the GLO, derelict wells and platforms that are not plugged properly could leak oil or other chemicals and there’s also a risk of explosion should pressure build in an improperly plugged well.
Speaking about the hazards generally, land commissioner George said: “These obstructions pose a navigational hazard for commercial boats, recreational fishing and other maritime activities.
“Efforts to remove these structures now will help ensure that Texas taxpayers will not pay more later. If left untreated, they may endanger the bays, wetlands and estuaries that are critical to the environment and economy of the Texas Coast.”
He also said the project will help restore the coastal wetlands that slow the storm surge caused by hurricanes when they push walls of water before them as they approach from the Gulf.160424 Galveston Bay well stub hazard
• In another coastal safety program, the GLO has also discovered a sunken 75ft commercial shrimp boat off the coast at Sabine Pass and is making plans to remove it in a $200,000 operation using money from a separate fund.

Photos courtesy Texas General Land Office