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Newsroom/World View

NEWSROOM for August 25, 2000

Aired August 25, 2000 - 4:30 a.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANNOUNCER: Seen in classrooms the world over, this is CNN NEWSROOM.

ANDY JORDAN, CO-HOST: NEWSROOM takes a turn into Friday. Glad you're with us. I'm Andy Jordan.

RUDI BAKHTIAR, CO-HOST: And I'm Rudi Bakhtiar. Let's get right to it. Here's the rundown.

JORDAN: In "Today's News," Debby dissipates into a tropical wave after causing some concern in Florida. We'll look at hurricanes and why they're so feared.

BAKHTIAR: Then, in our "Editor's Desk":

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED CLINTON IMPRESSIONIST: I did work up a little something that ought to cheer these guys on.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAKHTIAR: Why political impressionists aren't making much of an impression anymore.

JORDAN: From political climates to arctic environments, "Worldview" weighs in on melting ice at the North Pole.

BAKHTIAR: Then, in "Chronicle," how crash test dummies are helping engineers build safer vehicles.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JACK JENSEN, GENERAL MOTORS: This is one area where everybody has a common goal and the goal is safer highways.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAKHTIAR: In today's top story, what was Hurricane Debby is losing steam. Debby essentially has disintegrated into a mass of bad thunderstorms and has been downgraded to a tropical wave. An evacuation order was lifted yesterday morning on the Florida Keys, as the storm system lost its punch. However, forecasters say residents should remain prepared and not let their guard down in case Debby regains its strength.

It was eight years ago yesterday that Hurricane Andrew --the costliest storm ever in the United States -- ravaged South Florida, then headed west to Louisiana.

For a history on the most potent hurricanes in the United States and the damage they've done, here's CNN meteorologist Orelon Sidney.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ORELON SIDNEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Hurricane Andrew ripped into South Florida with 145-mile-an-hour winds. A category- four storm, it wasn't the strongest, but it was the most costly in history: more than $26 billion in property destroyed and buildings lost in Florida and Louisiana.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Only god saved my life.

SIDNEY: The next most expensive: Hurricane Hugo in 1989, also a category four -- defined by sustained winds of at least 135 miles an hour -- it caused $7 billion in damage to the South Carolina Coast.

But the most deadly hurricane was another category four that struck Galveston, Texas in 1900. More than 8,000 people were killed. Back then, before satellite imagery, people hoping to forecast the path of a hurricane relied on barometric pressure, cloud movement and looking at ocean swells from the shore: lots of guesswork, no early- warning system.

DR. CHRIS LANDSEA, RESEARCH METEOROLOGIST, NOAA HURRICANE RESEARCH DIVISION: Back in 1900, the thought was if you have shallow water offshore, like you do along most of the Gulf Coast, that protects you from storm surge. And now we realize it is quite the opposite. If you have a very shallow offshore waters, that tends to make the storm surge problem worse.

SIDNEY: A wall of water swept into Galveston, a city of more than 25,000 people. The storm surge flooded the island, destroyed one-third of the city's buildings, and wiped out entire families. Many people remain unaccounted for; not only the deadliest hurricane, but considered the deadliest natural disaster in U.S. history.

The next deadliest hurricane: 1928, another category four this time in the Lake Okeechobee area of Florida; more than 1,800 dead and as many injured.

Nine years earlier, the third deadliest hurricane in U.S. history, another category 4, hit Key West and the Texas Gulf Coast; more than 600 people killed, including 500 lost at sea.

But the deadliest hurricanes have not been the most intense.

LANDSEA: In the United States, we've only seen two category fives hit the United States in the 20th century. One was Hurricane Camille in 1969, and one was the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935. Both, we were fortunate, hit relatively unpopulated areas. SIDNEY: A category five has sustained winds higher than 155 miles an hour. The Labor Day hurricane of 1935, considered to be the most intense hurricane to hit the United States, slammed into the Florida Keys, with winds up to 200 miles an hour and tides of 20 feet; 408 people were killed.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Camille, a small, but extremely dangerous storm is now shifting westward.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SIDNEY: Hurricane Camille, 31 years ago, came ashore in Mississippi with sustained winds over 170 miles per hour, and did damage in Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama. Two-hundred and fifty- six people died. The sparse population in those areas kept the death tolls low for both storms.

Last year saw another kind of hurricane record. In the densely- populated Atlantic coast from Florida to the Carolinas, officials undertook the largest peacetime evacuation in U.S. History, as Hurricane Floyd approached. A massive storm, measuring 580 miles across, it diminished in strength as it approached, hitting land as a category-three storm, with sustained winds of 130 miles an hour. Floyd's legacy: not high winds, but the rainfall that followed.

(on camera): While forecasters have much better techniques than 100 years ago, the big challenge now is to issue more precise forecasts. That's so the proper communities are evacuated ahead of the next big storm.

Orelon Sidney, CNN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JORDAN: Well, behind every major hurricane, there are hurricane heroes, who go above and beyond the clouds and the wind to get the numbers. Hurricane hunters gather necessary information to help give warning and prevent damage and death. That data also help forecasters understand hurricanes and predict their behavior.

The National Hurricane Center expects there will be 11 named storms in this Atlantic hurricane season, seven of which will become hurricanes; three of those will likely become major hurricanes.

While the center says this year, we're likely to see stronger, longer lasting storms, this season will not be as brutal as last year.

John Zarrella takes a closer look at hurricane hunters and their mission.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Hurricane research scientist Peter Black lived to tell about it. PETER BLACK, HURRICANE RESEARCHER: That was one where we kissed the ground when we got off the airplane from that flight.

ZARRELLA: The year was 1989; the storm: Hugo. On satellite, this is what the hurricane looked like as it approached the Caribbean islands. The research scientists flying that day didn't know how bad it was until they hit intense turbulence.

BLACK: We were flying at 1,500 feet at the time, and we lost an engine. It caught fire. We put the fire out, and then found ourselves in the center of the storm with only three engines working.

ZARRELLA: For 90 minutes, the crippled NOAA hurricane research plane circled inside the eye of Hugo. Finally, the crew made a dash for their lives through a soft spot in the eye wall.

BLACK: It was a combination of a mechanical failure and a really intense storm. We clocked winds up over 200 miles per hour as we were going through the eye wall. So that was pretty scary.

ZARRELLA: Every year, hurricane hunter crews log thousands of hours, flying into the teeth of nature's wrath. Flights can last 10 to 12 hours with half a dozen passes through the eye of the hurricane.

But until someone comes up with a better way, flying hurricanes is the only way to gather precise data on wind speed, barometric pressure and exactly the direction the tropical cyclone is heading. Within minutes, the information on the ever-changing profile of the storm is relayed back to the hurricane center.

ROBERT BLACK, HURRICANE RESEARCHER: It gives you better quality data than a satellite does.

ZARRELLA: In 1987, hurricane researcher Robert Black was on a flight into Hurricane Emily as it was going through a phase of rapid intensification.

So, in one instance, you would hit a downdraft, everything would float up in front of your face. Then you'd hit the updraft, and it would slam down to the floor.

ZARRELLA: Air Force and NOAA hurricane teams will tell you no two storms are alike. In 1988, a NOAA hurricane research team flew into what might have been the most perfect storm in recorded history. Gilbert was a monster. The flight crew plowed through the turbulence of the eye wall and then entered the calm of the center -- above: blue sky; below: waves 50 feet high and 100 yards long.

R. BLACK: The most spectacular is when you fly into a storm and you have a clear eye, and you go from blackness and bouncing all over the place and lightning and turbulence, to total calm conditions with blue sky and the sun in just a matter of seconds, and that kind of thing is pretty spectacular.

ZARRELLA: As Gilbert moved past the Cayman Islands and toward the Gulf of Mexico, its sustained winds reached 200 miles an hour. It became so intense that Gilbert remains the most powerful hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic basin. Remarkably, in half a century of flying hurricanes, only two reconnaissance planes have been lost. Many others came close.

P. BLACK: I figure there's been two strikes in my career. I don't hope to see a third.

ZARRELLA: But those who fly understand the risk of venturing into the eye of the storm.

John Zarrella, CNN, Miami.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BAKHTIAR: In our "Editor's Desk," we turn to politics and humor and the people who work to combine the two. They're political impressionists. In this case, an impression is an amusing impersonation or mimicking, an imitation in caricature of a noted personality as a form of theatrical entertainment.

Political candidates and politicians are the subjects for this kind of humor. I'd give it a try myself, but that could leave a very bad impression.

And it seems even impressionists aren't making the impressions they once did, as Cynthia Tornquist explains.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JIM MORRIS, POLITICAL IMPRESSIONIST: God created the heaven and the Earth, and I supported him on this, I did.

CYNTHIA TORNQUIST, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Jim Morris is one of only a handful of comedians doing political impressions.

MORRIS: He's my dad. He was a good president, smart man.

Yes, but I have to say, your dad picked a moron for vice president.

Oh, yes, well so did Bill Clinton.

TORNQUIST: With perhaps the exception of "Saturday Night Live," political impressionists seem to have all but disappeared. Where is this generation's Lenny Bruce, Rich Little, and David Fry?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How's everybody doing tonight?

CARY HOFFMAN, OWNER, STAND-UP NEW YORK: First of all, comics are obsessed with becoming Jerry Seinfeld.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "JERRY SEINFELD ON BROADWAY")

JERRY SEINFELD, COMEDIAN: I am so sick of working these crummy little comedy clubs.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TORNQUIST: Also, the networks have pulled the plug on variety shows that once launched an impressionist's career and kept it going.

MORRIS: Now, with all of these cable networks and Generation Xers playing their video games and the Internet, it's rather dispersed. There's no focus.

TORNQUIST: Regardless of who gets in, one thing's for sure: Whoever takes over the Oval Office will be fair game for political impressionists. Even those leaving office don't get a break.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm going to remain neutral, but I did work up a little something that ought to cheer these guys on.

(MUSIC)

TORNQUIST: Cynthia Tornquist, CNN Entertainment News, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JORDAN: In "Worldview," lava and ice. We'll take you to the top of the world to examine an environmental threat. And we'll head back in time to shed some light on an invention that still has a glowing future.

BAKHTIAR: For much of the world, it's back to school time. You may be shopping for school supplies or you may be sending a family member off to college. Students who go off to school have to pack up all kinds of things.

And one item that's been popular over the years got it's start back in the early 1960s. It had its beginnings in Great Britain, but it soon spread around the world. Today, you'll find it in dorm rooms and living rooms all over the place. Consider it a cultural icon of days gone by. What is it?

We'll take a look at a bright idea and its inventor, who died earlier this month. His creation lives on, as Rym Brahimi reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RYM BRAHIMI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Edward Craven Walker once said, "If you're by my lamp, you won't need drugs." He was talking about the hypnotic lamp with the blobs in it, the British invention known in the United States as the "lava lamp."

Walker invented it in 1963 and initially called it the "astro lamp." In the '70's, it was the one must-have piece of furniture of fashion-conscious couples. In the '80's, when the lamp's success faded, walker sold the rights to Cressida Granger for her firm Mathmos.

CRESSIDA GRANGER, MATHMOS: A lot of quite sophisticated people in the design world, they buy them, ironically. And sometimes they buy them not ironically, they buy them because they like them.

BRAHIMI: Walker believed his lamps would always be popular and he was proved right when the blob took European shops by storm last Christmas. A business success, indeed, for its inventor who died at the age of 82.

Rym Brahimi, CNN, London.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JORDAN: Next stop the North Pole, the northern end of the Earth's axis. An axis is an imaginary line through the earth around which it rotates. From this point, the only direction is south. The North Pole is in the Arctic Ocean, the smallest ocean on Earth. The region surrounding the North Pole is known as the Arctic and is a region covered in snow and ice.

The Arctic is the shortest route between the United States and Russia, so it holds strategic importance. Robert E. Peary led the first expedition generally credited with reaching the North Pole. He traveled with Inuits, once known as Eskimos, and made the trip by dog team back in 1909. Nearly 100 years later, virtually all of the Arctic has now been mapped. And with modern technology, it's much more accessible.

Scientists keep a watchful eye on the region because the Arctic ice pack is shrinking. The potential loss of that ice pack is a real problem with implications for global climate that could make it the environmental story of the next few decades. Earlier this year, the Worldwatch Institute said the icecap is melting at the fastest rate ever since measurements started. And earlier this week, a German scientist called for swift action against global warming, which he blames for the melting ice. He urged industrial nations, including the U.S., Germany, Japan and others, to put the brakes on wasteful use of resources.

His warnings come on the heels of a tourist trip to the North Pole, when an ice-free patch a mile wide was discovered at the top of the world. The open water has scientists concerned.

Jack Hamann has more on the frigid environs around the North Pole.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JACK HAMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Imagine trying to take the temperature of the North Pole. There are no roads, no towns. The summer's abiding sun is erased by winter's long blackness, and some of the neighbors might view you and your thermometers as lunch.

But the pole isn't as lonely as you might think.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stationary dive, stationary dive.

HAMANN: For the past 40 years, thousands of people have been spending big chunks of their lives probing the Arctic ice from just beneath the surface.

One of the coldest assignments during the Cold War was duty aboard nuclear-powered submarines. The American and Soviet navies circled each other endlessly, all the while becoming experts on the temperature, thickness and composition of Arctic ice.

DREW ROTHROCK, UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON: Because they need to know where they can surface and what kind of ice they would be likely to have. So there's just environmental reasons for them to want these kind of data.

HAMANN: That environmental data stayed locked away throughout the Cold War. But in the early 1990s, the U.S. Navy began to open up. Dr. Drew Rothrock of the University of Washington's Polar Science Center was allowed to study measurements taken between 1993 and '97. His measurements were sketchy, but they seemed to show that Arctic ice was changing.

ROTHROCK: We plotted them up and looked at them and they seemed thin. The ice cover seemed thin.

HAMANN: But with so few measurements, he couldn't be sure. There was too much room for error.

Then one day, the Navy unlocked a few of its former top-secret ice measurements from the 1950s. Eager to compare the 1990s data with the earlier numbers, Dr. Rothrock guessed that Arctic ice had probably shrunk about 18 to 20 inches over 40 years. That's about a half meter.

ROTHROCK: But when we found that the change was over a meter, we were convinced that this was a considerably bigger signal than any possible error in the data.

HAMANN (on camera): You were astonished?

ROTHROCK: I think I would use the word "astonished," yes. We were very surprised.

HAMANN (voice-over): The Arctic icecap spans an area roughly the same size as the United States, although it shrinks and grows annually. A University of Maryland report concluded that sea ice in the Northern Hemisphere has decreased by 7 percent over the past 46 years.

(on camera): If all of that melting had come from ice sitting on land, then cities like Seattle would have reason to worry. That's because when land-based ice melts, all of the oceans rise. But when sea ice melts, it simply displaces ocean water, sort of like an ice cube in a glass of drinking water. When the ice melts, the water line stays the same.

(voice-over): But that doesn't necessarily mean the world won't notice if the North Pole continues to thaw. For one thing, white snow and ice reflect incoming solar heat. As the ice cover shrinks, more heat is absorbed by darker ocean water, increasing the sun's impact. For another, the Arctic can play an important role in worldwide weather. It's most noticeable in the North Atlantic, where every year, cold, salty Arctic water flows south and sinks. The sinking allows water warmed in the tropics to flow northward, protecting northwestern Europe and the East Coast of United States and Canada from plunging into bitterly cold winters.

Scientists now wonder whether an influx of fresh water from melting polar ice might shift the position of natural sinking. If so, it could dramatically alter the ocean's warm water conveyor belt, affecting water in a way not unlike the famous El Nino phenomenon.

ROTHROCK: It is, in the end, the ocean that determines climate, because the climate is driven -- climate change is driven by changes in sea-surface temperature.

HAMANN: And just why is polar ice thinning? Many scientists and most environmentalists will tell you it's because humans continue to pour heat-trapping greenhouse gasses into the Earth's atmosphere.

Drew Rothrock isn't so sure. He guesses that the ice has grown thinner because of a dramatic shift in the winds that whip around the North Pole. But he can't yet say whether the shift in those winds is part of a long-term natural cycle or a result of human pollution. That's where the Cold War data from those U.S. Navy submarines might help.

(on camera): There are still mountains of data available from the last 50 years, but the military is a bit shy about what it reveals. U.S. and Russian submarines still eyeball each other from underneath the North Pole, and there are those who worry that opening the vault of information to scientists might unwittingly reveal information to the Russians.

(voice-over): If the submarine data proves helpful, there may be pressure to release other secret data from spy satellites and high- altitude reconnaissance missions.

If the Arctic cap continues to melt and if it does, in fact, affect weather around the globe, those tidbits from the Cold War could become an important weapon in the battle to understand global warming.

Jack Hamann, CNN, Seattle.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BAKHTIAR: "Chronicle" takes issue with automobile safety today. As streets and highways around the world become more crowded, driving becomes potentially more dangerous.

So what's being done to make it safer? In this next report, you'll meet a family of sorts who may provide you with the answer to that question.

Here's Ed Garsten.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ED GARSTEN, CNN DETROIT BUREAU CHIEF (voice-over): Meet the dummy family: mom, dad, the kids and the oafish uncle.

JACK JENSEN, GENERAL MOTORS: The smallest one is a 6-month-old infant. And then moving up, we have a small adult female. The 50th percentile male is, of course, has been the workhorse in the industry for a long, long time. He represents an average adult male.

GARSTEN: They sit around a lot in silence, but when it's their turn, the dummies dutifully endure crashes from the front, from the side to offer valuable information that could help automakers design safer vehicles.

JENSEN: Obviously, the restraint system, the seat belts and the air bags are designed using the information collected from the crash dummies. It helps identify a better-performing restraint system. We can also change the structure of the vehicle so we protect the passenger compartment better during a crash.

GARSTEN: Each dummy is packed with sensors that can offer at least 50 channels of information. Their skin is vinyl, their ribs of steel. Even so, engineers say the dummies' bodies faithfully mirror the punishment a human body suffers in crashes.

JENSEN: If the knees are impacted and the femur goes into compression, we can actually measure that during a crash, and that helps us design our restraint systems.

GARSTEN: Dummies weren't always this smart, nor were they originally used for crash-testing cars.

JENSEN: In fact, they were developed during and right after World War II, when they were used primarily for parachute testing and also early ejection seat testing in an aircraft.

GARSTEN: The first dummy built in 1946 looked like a cross between G.I. Joe and the mummy.

JENSEN: They were nothing more than a mannequin that had the appropriate weight of a person.

GARSTEN: Today's dummies cost about $100,000. About 200 new ones are built each year. GM keeps about 125 on hand. The designs are the result of unusual cooperation between otherwise fiercely competitive automakers.

JENSEN: This is one area where everybody has a common goal, and the goal is safer highways.

GARSTEN: The dummies are not maintenance free. The highly sophisticated and sensitive dummies must be carefully calibrated with devices such as this 51-pound pendulum before being used.

JENSEN: If it compresses too much, the ribs are too soft and they need to be replaced. GARSTEN: What's not sophisticated is the dummy family's wardrobe. Each has the same pink shirt and sensible shoes.

JENSEN: The friction of the dummy's vinyl skin to the seat would be unrealistic if we didn't have clothes on the dummy, and also the friction of the dummy's vinyl chest, relative to the seat belt, would also be unrealistic.

And the shoes are also important, primarily because of their profile and the interaction of the driver dummy's feet with the accelerator pedal and the brake pedal.

GARSTEN: The dummy family will soon grow by one. Designers are conjuring up the equivalent of a 10-year-old child; just one more way, they hope, the dummy family will help engineers make smarter decisions about how to building safe cars.

Ed Garsten, CNN, Milford, Michigan.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BAKHTIAR: God, that looked painful.

JORDAN: Yes, it did.

BAKHTIAR: I don't envy those dummies.

JORDAN: I wonder if they have disability insurance.

(LAUGHTER)

That'll do it for us today. Have a great weekend.

BAKHTIAR: Bye.

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