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Bad Moon Rising

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Some wonder if the moon is causing trouble for Earth

By MITCH TRAPHAGEN

On January 10, 2005, the world experienced what astrologer Richard Nolle has termed a “SuperMoon.”  Just two weeks before that event, a  9.0 earthquake that spawned an enormous tsunami devastated Indonesia, killing more than 200,000 people.

Nolle has forecasted that on March 19, 2011, it won’t be just a SuperMoon, it will be an extreme SuperMoon.  In the weeks leading up to this event, some people have predicted everything from extreme weather to extreme earthquakes. Outside of conspiracy theorists, few in the scientific community took notice. Few did, until an 8.9 earthquake and subsequent tsunami on March 11 devastated Japan, a mere eight days before the extreme SuperMoon.

SuperMoons have also occurred in 1955, 1974 and 1992. In 1955, three hurricanes struck North Carolina, causing millions of dollars in damages. Hurricane Janet struck Belize as one of the most intense hurricanes ever recorded.

In 1974, Hurricane Carmen caused more than $150 million in damage as it struck the Yucatan Peninsula and Louisiana. Hurricane Fifi was responsible for more than 8,000 deaths in Honduras and Cyclone Tracy, the most powerful and compact storm on record at the time, smashed into Australia.

Few people in the Sunshine State would need a reminder that 1992 was the year Hurricane Andrew pounded South Florida. It was the costliest hurricane ever to hit the United States until 2005, when Hurricane Katrina struck Florida and the Gulf Coast.

On March 19, the moon will pass roughly 222,000 miles from earth, closer than the 239,000-mile average. It will be closer to Earth than at any other time since 1992, thus earning the moniker extreme SuperMoon; a full moon at perigee unusually close to Earth.

I see a bad moon rising. I see troubles on the way. — Creedence Clearwater Revival, Bad Moon Rising.

Last week’s earthquake off the coast of Japan was one of the largest earthquakes in recorded history. It will be weeks, if not longer, before the tallies of death and destruction are fully known. Worse are the predictions that another equally large earthquake is possible. Is it more than a coincidence that the last devastating earthquake and tsunami occurred in proximity to a SuperMoon? Did the moon cause the earthquake?  In Florida, hurricane season begins in just over two months. What does the SuperMoon portend for the sunshine state?

No, the moon did not cause the earthquake, says scientific information website EarthSky.org. Nor does it cause hurricanes. And apparently, the 18,000 miles of diminished distance from earth does not make it easier for cows to jump over it.

According to EarthSky, the March 11 earthquake actually proves the SuperMoon had nothing to do with it. On that day, not only was the moon not full, it was at a right angle to the Earth/sun line. In other words, it was further away from earth and thus, its impact should have been at its lowest on that day.

Same, too, for the December 26, 2004 earthquake and tsunami that remains the deadliest natural event in recorded history. On the day of the earthquake, the moon was nearly at its furthest point from Earth. The SuperMoon occurred two weeks later, on January 10, 2005.

The bottom line for the present, according to EarthSky, is that despite the March 19 extreme SuperMoon, there was nothing exceptional about the moon during the earthquake in Japan. “On March 11, 2011, the moon [was] not particularly close to Earth, nor [was] it aligned with the Earth and sun,” the website said.

The website goes on to suggest that years for SuperMoons tied to extreme weather and geological events may be somewhat cherry-picked in popular literature. According to the website, the full moon and perigee are more closely aligned than a casual reading would suggest, happening in periods of roughly every 413 days. March 19, however, is about as close as it can get — there will only be a one-hour difference between perigee and the full moon.

I fear rivers overflowing. I hear the voice of rage and ruin. — Creedence Clearwater Revival, Bad Moon Rising.

Neither the National Weather Service nor NOAA have anything on their websites about a SuperMoon, but their tide predictions certainly do take into account the state of the moon, its perigee and proximity.

And when it comes to tides, even EarthSky does not discount the impact of the extreme SuperMoon. The close full moon will likely cause a maximum tidal range, thus increasing the potential for flooding in tidal areas. On the Gulf Coast, however, the strength and direction of the wind could easily play as big a role. EarthSky goes on to say, “If you live along a coast, and a storm is heading your way on or around March 19 … expect possible flooding and take precautions.”

Now, in terms of lunacy, the “voices of rage and ruin” ask, “Will the extreme SuperMoon cause even more bizarre behavior than normal among our fellow humans?”  After all, a mere two centuries ago in Europe, the full moon could be used as a defense for any number of crimes. Humans are nearly 80 percent water. If the moon can affect the oceans, what can it do to a mere biped?  The full moon is believed to bring out the strange in people, so will an extreme SuperMoon magnify that effect? It will probably not, if Florida International University psychologist James Rotton is to be believed.

According to a 2009 article by Scott O. Lilienfeld and Hal Arkowitz in Scientific American, Rotton, along with Colorado State University astronomer Roger Culver and University of Saskatchewan psychologist Ivan W. Kelly, came up empty in searching history for a consistent human behavioral effect of a full moon. Certainly they had plenty of data to work with — a full moon happens every month of the year, after all.

Psychology Today magazine also discounts the notion that a full moon tends to make people act in unusually strange ways, adding that there is little empirical evidence to support the popular notion. The magazine quotes psychologist Kelly saying, “Some beliefs are just exciting to hold, whatever the evidence.”

Scientists also say the moon’s gravitational effect is far too minuscule to have an impact on our water-centric life form — or even on molecular brain activity. Perhaps the truth is that some people are just plain strange regardless of the state of the moon.

As of press time, the Japan Meteorological Agency is saying there is a 70 percent chance of 7.0 or greater magnitude aftershock hitting the area by Wednesday, the day before the extreme SuperMoon. The Japanese people, along with the entire world, hope and pray that it doesn’t occur but if it does, the blame probably doesn’t lie with Earth’s natural satellite but rather with the fault lines upon which the island nation sits. Japan lies within the ring of fire—a broad swath of the Pacific Ocean known for earthquakes and volcanoes.

Hope you got your things together. Looks like we’re in for nasty weather
— Creedence Clearwater Revival, Bad Moon Rising.

In Florida, the impact of the upcoming hurricane season will likely have less to do with an extreme SuperMoon and much more to do with the Pacific La Nina, wind shear in the Gulf of Mexico, and the strength and location of the Bermuda High, a high pressure system that can influence the steering of Atlantic hurricanes. Some meteorologists are forecasting an active season this year.

For now, however, barring a surprise thunderstorm, the biggest impact of the extreme SuperMoon on Thursday should be among photography buffs and moonstruck lovers hoping to steal a kiss under what could be the closest moon we will see until November of 2016. Yes, that’s right, 2016. Apparently the Mayans didn’t know about extreme SuperMoons. After all, didn’t they predict the world would end on December 21, 2012?  Well, no, they didn’t. But they did predict their calendar would turn over on the next day, extreme SuperMoon or not.

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