(NOTE: This story was updated on Tuesday, Sept. 10 to include additional information.)
Hurricane Dorian came ashore in Cape Hatteras on Friday, Sept. 6 as a potent storm, yet with far less of the ferocity it first displayed over the Bahamas.
Still, North Carolina and Virginia once again felt the disruption wrought by rapid coastal flooding, crashing trees, torrential rains and fleeting tornadoes.
North Carolina landfall
After grazing the North Carolina beaches from the Wilmington area to Cape Lookout, the eye of Dorian officially made landfall over Cape Hatteras at 8:35 a.m. with 90 mph sustained winds, according to the National Hurricane Center.
The last time Cape Hatteras was the site of a head-on hurricane landfall was during Gloria in 1985. Though it’s an interesting technicality, dozens of hurricanes have affected Hatteras Island to some degree since then.
From a historical perspective, Dorian did not rank among the strongest hurricanes to ever hit the Tar Heel State. Coincidentally, it had identical wind and sea level pressure to Hurricane Florence when that storm plodded ashore near Wilmington last September, though Dorian took a more typical forward pace of 14 mph.
Dorian was a named tropical system for 15 days, and maintained hurricane strength for 11 consecutive days. Neither is a record for longevity.
It developed into a tropical storm east of the Lesser Antilles on Aug. 24, blew into the eastern Caribbean region on Aug. 27, then strengthened into a hurricane as it crossed the U.S. Virgin Islands on Aug. 28.
Dorian was likely the most ferocious hurricane known to make landfall in the Bahamas, especially considering that it paused for three days over the northern part of the island chain.
At peak strength over the Abaco Islands in the Bahamas on Sept. 1, Dorian’s sustained winds hit 185 mph, with gusts to 225 mph.
That tied the all-time Atlantic hurricane landfall strength record set by a cataclysmic 1935 storm in the Florida Keys.
According to the tropical meteorology department at Colorado State University, Dorian is in a tie for the second-strongest peak sustained winds for any Atlantic hurricane since 1950. In 1980, Allen set the record at 190 mph, while Gilbert in 1988 and Wilma in 2005 also peaked at 185 mph. Allen, Gilbert and Wilma, however, did not strike land at that full strength.
There’s more uncertainty about the records of ocean-going storms in the distant eras that predate satellites and reconnaissance by the Hurricane Hunters aircraft.
Dorian curved northwest, then northeast along the Southeast U.S. coast, with the core of strongest winds staying offshore until making landfall in the Outer Banks on Sept. 6.
It maintained hurricane strength until Saturday, Sept. 7 as it raced toward eastern Canada. Dorian retained strong wind speeds, but took on non-tropical characteristics as it crossed Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.
On Sept. 8, the National Hurricane Center issued its final advisory on Dorian as it weakened in open waters south of Greenland.
While the damage caused by the winds and waves have yet to be fully assessed along the entire path, these weather observations show the scope of the system as it affected our region.
Preliminary peak gusts by state (including nearby coastal waters), according to the National Weather Service:
Florida: 69 mph at New Smyrna Beach
Georgia: 67 mph buoy at Raccoon Bluff
South Carolina: 98 mph at a buoy southeast of Centenary
North Carolina: 110 mph at Cedar Island Ferry Terminal
Virginia: 83 mph at Chesapeake Light Tower
Delaware: 49 mph at Lewes
New Jersey: 50 mph at Rutgers
Rhode Island: 58 mph at Charlestown
Massachusetts: 76 mph at Nantucket Shoals buoy
Maine: 49 mph southeast of Roque Bluffs
Preliminary peak rainfall by state:
Florida: 5.68 inches near Palm Coast
Georgia: 2.83 inches near Darien
South Carolina: 15.21 inches near Pawleys Island
North Carolina: 13.1 inches near Wilmington
Virginia: 3.66 inches in Virginia Beach
Maryland: 4 inches near Berlin
Delaware: 1.7 inches at Bethany Beach
Massachusetts: 3.15 inches on Nantucket
Maine: 3.37 inches at Eastport
Selected gusts across our region:
Buxton — 101 mph
Oregon Inlet — 101 mph
Cape Lookout — 94 mph
Ocracoke — 89 mph
Duck Pier — 87 mph
Nags Head — 78 mph
Cape Henry — 70 mph
Norfolk — 64 mph
Wallops Island — 46 mph
Richmond International Airport — 38 mph
Selected rain totals across the region:
Nags Head — 7.75 inches
Virginia Beach — 3.66 inches
Chesapeake — 2.83 inches
Norfolk — 1.86 inches
Newport News — 1.19 inches
Chesterfield County Airport — 0.61 inches
Richmond International Airport — 0.38 inches
More than 47,000 customers were without power in southeastern Virginia at 10:45 a.m. Friday, according to Dominion Energy’s online outage map. The figure for that region declined to 23,225 by 4:30 p.m. and 10,317 by 7 p.m.
Outage figures for the Middle Peninsula and Northern Neck hovered between 1,000 and 1,900 throughout the morning but fell to just 7 by 7 p.m.
Outages for the Richmond region were even more isolated, on the order of 500 customers during the midmorning hours.
Mango Maya Milkshake IPA is a mouthful, literally and figuratively, and the craft beer made its debut Friday at Stone Brewing — on both sides of the country.
The man behind the beer is Richmond resident Rusty Burrell, who won the Stone Homebrew Competition and American Homebrewers Association Rally in November. California-based Stone Brewing has been holding the competition on the West Coast for a decade, but November was the first time it was held in Richmond. Stone Brewing opened its Richmond location, at 4300 Williamsburg Ave., in 2016.
Twenty homebrewers participated, and Burrell’s IPA — partly named after his daughter, Maya — brought home top honors. Winning meant that Burrell was given a trip to California in July, where he brewed his beer in large batches at Stone’s Liberty Station brewery in San Diego. Burrell and Stone brewed 20 barrels in total. Mango Maya Milkshake IPA is on tap only in Richmond and California.
There are hints of mango puree, coconut and vanilla, plus lactose, a sugar found in milk, and they give the beer its milkshake mouthfeel. With that complexity, Burrell’s beer “really stood apart from the others,” said Jeremy Moynier, Stone Brewing’s senior manager of brewing and innovation. Its ABV is 8.5%.
“It was intense and pretty awesome,” Moynier said.
Burrell, a software engineer who has been a homebrewer for seven years, said he initially made the beer to serve at his daughter’s first birthday party nearly two years ago.
“It was a big hit” back then with family and friends, he said. “That keg went really fast.”
He continued: “I normally don’t enter a lot of contests, but once I saw the stakes, I thought I better give it a shot at least.” When considering what to enter, “I thought what’s the craziest beer I’ve made — that was the Mango Maya.”
In California, Burrell was paired with Kris Ketcham, Stone Brewing’s senior manager of brewing and innovation at the Liberty Station location.
“He showed me the ropes,” Burrell said. The biggest challenge was learning how to convert his small-batch recipe to something much larger.
“He was asking me questions, but I brew in plastic buckets in my garage. I don’t know how any of this stuff works,” Burrell joked. “But it was cool to bounce ideas off him.”
“They really showed me around well out there,” Burrell said. “I’m definitely grateful to Stone.”
Virginia’s tech talent pipeline is starting long before college.
Schools across the state will be rolling out new computer science Standards of Learning this year as Virginia becomes the first state in the U.S. to have mandatory standards for computer science education. The implementation of the standards — which start in kindergarten — is happening as Amazon comes to Virginia and the state looks to increase the number of college graduates in computer science and related fields.
“It’s a 21st-century language that all students need to know and learn,” said Megan Healy, Virginia’s chief workforce development officer.
So what exactly does having new standards mean?
Students won’t be stationed in front of computers and taught how to code. Instead, it’s an integrated approach — teaching students the basics of computer science within existing content areas, such as math and science.
“Once we’ve gotten a foothold there, we’re going to expand to fine arts and anywhere else that’s appropriate,” said Tim Ellis, a computer science specialist with the Virginia Department of Education, which has been working on the implementation of the new standards since they were unanimously approved by the Virginia Board of Education in November 2017.
The standards that go into effect this school year outline what students should be learning how to do and when.
In third grade, for example, students should be able to identify — with the correct terminology — “simple hardware and software problems that may occur during use, and apply strategies for solving problems.” Think rebooting devices, checking for power, or closing and reopening an app.
In middle and high schools, students will still be held to those standards, but there are computer sciences classes designed as their own electives.
“Our approach is to integrate computer science content and computational thinking skills into instruction in different subjects at each grade level, in addition to expanding the offerings of computer science courses in middle and high school,” Gov. Ralph Northam said in a statement. “Only by integrating highly relevant computer science content knowledge and related skills in all grades for all children, will we ensure that all our students are prepared for a wide variety of computer science-related post-secondary pursuits and job opportunities.”
There are no state Standards of Learning tests associated with the new standards; how students fare when it comes to computer science isn’t part of a school’s accreditation rating.
Teachers, who don’t need any extra license endorsements to teach computer science through eighth grade, are being trained on the standards by CodeVA, a Richmond-based nonprofit that offers free training to public school teachers. The organization has trained more than 2,000 teachers.
“Computer science is an essential literacy,” said Chris Dovi, the executive director of CodeVA. “This is a way to improve the way students read and write because a big thing in reading and writing is being able to problem solve.”
The new standards are part of a statewide push to improve the staffing pipeline for jobs coming to Virginia. The most public of those has been Amazon, which chose Northern Virginia for its second headquarters. The package Virginia offered Amazon included an influx in computer science workers, with promises of at least 25,000 new college graduates in the field by 2039.
“Virginia’s new K-12 computer science standards are a foundational part of our tech talent pipeline,” Northam said.
Northam in July created a commission to craft a plan for science, technology, engineering and math education in Virginia. The state, according to Northam’s executive order establishing the commission, is expected to add about 150,000 STEM jobs in the next five years.
Secretary of Education Atif Qarni said that while the state is implementing the new standards and looking to improve its pipeline, its goal isn’t “to force children to all become computer scientists.”
“The goal is really to give them exposure at an early age,” he said. “It’s something that is growing. It’s out there so it’s good to have a basic understanding of what the discipline is.”
The state Board of Education is scheduled to vote on curriculum framework for computer science at its September meeting. That framework aims to help school districts implement curriculum as the new standards are rolled out.
As Virginia launches its statewide efforts, a school focused on computer science in Richmond is expanding again.
CodeRVA, which opened in 2017 as a collaboration among school systems in the region, has added 19,000 square feet to its space in the Michael & Son Services building near The Diamond. The magnet school uses a weighted lottery to pull students from 14 school systems in the Richmond region, creating a student population that looks — in gender, race and socioeconomic status — like the region’s demographics.
The school is set to open the school year with 260 students, up from 93 in its initial 2017-18 cohort. The number of faculty and staff members is now about 30, compared with six when the school opened.
The expansion, which is larger than the school’s original 15,310-square-foot size, includes a dozen new classrooms, new offices, a cafeteria and kitchen, and a technology lab.
“We’re growing and maturing into the high school of the future,” said CodeRVA Executive Director Michael Bolling.
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Health officials looking for the cause of this summer’s spike in Legionnaires’ disease cases in Chesterfield County were alarmed by the conditions they found at school cooling towers in the northern part of the county.
At Midlothian Middle School, they found grayish mineral buildup scaling on a pair of cooling towers, which are commonly blamed for the spread of the Legionnaires’, a form of pneumonia.
At Greenfield Elementary, greenish moss was growing on the equipment and a large drum to hold chemicals that had apparently been opened back in 2012, Angela Myrick-West, a regional epidemiologist at the Virginia Department of Health, told county and school officials last week.
Tests in July showing the presence of Legionella bacteria at several schools prompted the system to clean all of its cooling towers. Prior to that recent scrubbing, school officials can’t say when they last had the cooling towers at most of their school buildings cleaned. School officials have not been testing for Legionella bacteria despite being repeatedly urged to by the contractor that treats the water in the cooling systems.
The dirty towers reignited tensions between school and county officials over the upkeep of school buildings that are owned by the county but maintained by the school system.
“From a discussion with CDC yesterday, they told school and county and state health officials that our school cooling towers were some of the ‘poorest facilities maintained’ that they’ve seen across the country,” Chesterfield County Administrator Joe Casey said at a Board of Supervisors’ meeting last week.
Five schools were among a dozen sites inspectors visited as they tried to find the source of 11 confirmed cases of the lung disease in Chesterfield over the past three months. Among the other sites inspectors visited were Johnston-Willis Hospital on Midlothian Turnpike, the Ice Zone skating rink near the hospital, and Defense Supply Center Richmond on Jefferson Davis Highway.
State Health Department testing at Greenfield, Falling Creek Middle and Midlothian Middle showed cooling towers at those schools had the strain of the Legionella bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease, as did the hospital, the skating rink, the Department of Defense facility and Reynolds Metals on Reymet Road.
State officials also found Legionella bacteria at a tower at Hopkins Elementary School, but they said it does not appear to be the specific strain that causes Legionnaires’ disease.
County officials conducted their own tests at five schools and found that one of the cooling towers at L.C. Bird High School had the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease. The school cooling tower was cleaned the day after that test was taken, a school official said.
Myrick-West said an official from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found the condition of the school system towers that were inspected to be particularly jarring.
“That same CDC [official] said that it seemed as if the school towers were frozen in time over three years,” Myrick-West said.
School officials have said all of the 49 cooling towers located at three dozen schools have been cleaned in advance of the first day of school on Tuesday, adding that they did so without being prompted by health officials.
“We are aware of the problem. We’ve come up with a plan of action,” said Javaid Siddiqi, the Chesterfield School Board’s vice chairman.
Health officials said they have not drawn any firm conclusions on whether any of the sites they visited was the source of the 11 cases that they documented.
But Casey, the county administrator, noted that no new confirmed cases of Legionnaires’ disease have been reported since the school system cleaned all its cooling towers in recent weeks. Casey added that the situation was a public health concern for the county, adding that the aerosolized vapor rising from an infected outdoor cooling tower can travel more than 2 miles.
John Thumma, the school system’s directors of facilities in maintenance, said the school system had not been testing for Legionella, pointing to a CDC document that says building owners are not required to do so. Following the positive Legionella tests, the school system now plans to start regular testing for the bacteria.
“There will be testing because now we’re better understanding the risk of Legionella, and there will be testing in the future,” Thumma said.
Water Chemistry Inc., the school system’s contractor that does water treatment on the cooling towers, had repeatedly recommended in monthly reports this year that the schools should test for Legionella and clean the towers.
Myrick-West noted those reports documented that the cooling towers at most of the schools were in need of parts and repairs.
Water Chemistry cited numerous concerns about the school system’s cooling towers when it did an initial assessment of that equipment in September 2017.
Those 2017 reports also show that Water Chemistry found that the towers at Cosby High School, Monacan High School and Matoaca Middle School’s western campus were in a condition that indicates they were “at high risk of infectious disease biological growth.”
Matoaca High School’s towers were deemed to be at “higher risk of infectious disease biological growth,” according to the report.
The school system did not immediately respond to questions Friday about what action was taken at those schools around the time it received those findings.
Thumma began his job in December as the school system’s facilities manager, filling a position that had been vacant for about a year. Thumma said that beyond a handful of schools that had their towers cleaned earlier this year, the school system has not been able to locate any records showing when its other towers were last cleaned.
School officials said they had been given guidance by the county that testing for Legionella in its cooling systems wasn’t of any value. Tim Bullis, the school system’s executive director of communications, said that’s based on the county’s emailed response to the principal of Cosby High, who last December asked for Legionella testing at his school after a staff member there was diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease.
“I don’t believe there is value in having the chiller water tested for Legionella, as it is very common, can be found in both potable and non-potable water sources and there are no standards for acceptable Legionella levels,” wrote Alan Lederman, an environmental health and safety manager at the county’s risk management office. “The [employee] could have been exposed to airborne Legionella bacteria at a gym hot tub, decorative water fountain, or even their own tap or shower. With that being said, I will work with Facilities to pull the water treatment records for the chillers at Cosby and send them over to you once I receive them.”
David Johnson, the county’s risk management director, said Lederman’s response only pertained to the specific situation at Cosby, where the county ultimately recommended cleaning the equipment at the high school, work that was done in December. Johnson said county and state health officials also determined that Cosby was not the likely source of the staff member’s disease.
“[Lederman’s] guidance was really specific to this one investigation, this one piece of equipment,” Johnson said. “This was never intended as a guidance document for the rest of the cooling towers in the county or schools.”
School officials said they were given $977,000 for HVAC maintenance work last year despite needing $2.3 million for that purpose. That money was used to do maintenance work on HVAC systems to keep the school temperatures comfortable, but it was not used to do work on the cooling towers, according to Thumma. The facilities director said the school system tried without success to hire and retain several in-house workers to do preventive maintenance on school cooling towers.
County officials have said the school system could have used surplus money that’s left over at the end of the fiscal year for HVAC maintenance. School officials have said that surplus money is earmarked for other purposes, such as balancing future budgets, paying retirement costs and buying buses.
But Meghan Coates, the county’s director of budget and management, said at Wednesday’s board meeting that the school system still has money left over at the end of every fiscal year that’s not dedicated to a particular purpose. The school system had $3.5 million of those type of funds at the end of the 2017 fiscal year, $2.9 million at the end of 2018 and $4 million at the end of the 2019 budget cycle that ended in June, Coates said.
The funding the county provides to schools in recurring and one-time transfers has risen from $227.4 million in 2012 to $306.3 million in 2020, Coates wrote in an email.
Steve Elswick, the vice chairman of the Board of Supervisors, said he was upset by suggestions from Siddiqi, who is seeking the Midlothian seat on the Board of Supervisors, that the county had not provided the schools with enough funding to cover the system’s maintenance needs. Elswick represents the Matoaca District on the board.
“The lack of maintenance on these towers were not a funding issue,” he said. “They’re definitely not the fault of this Board of Supervisors, far from it. Schools made a conscious decision not to do the maintenance and now somehow it’s our fault.”