June 10, 2013
I don’t read Communist publications very often, but when I do, I read about hurricanes.
While putting together last year’s hurricane season forecast compilation, I spent some time hunting for the primary source for the Cuban forecast. While I did not succeed in doing so, I did manage to find a gem of a column in Granma, the daily newspaper of the Communist Party of Cuba. Written by the head forecaster of Cuba’s weather service, Doctor Jose Rubiera, the article reminds its readers of the limitations of hurricane season forecasts. While I’ve seen National Hurricane Center directors and other such officials make some of the same points when they are quoted in articles reporting the release of a new season forecast, I’ve never seen anyone explain the matter in a direct manner as was done in this piece. Because of that, I found it worth the time to translate the column (a copy of which can be found in the original Spanish, here); any awkwardness is the product of my rusty translation skills.
The Hurricane Season Forecast in its Proper Place
When each new hurricane season draws near, and with it a new “Weather Exercise” *, everyone wants to know the forecast of hurricane activity that is expected for the season. In the National Forecasts Center of the Institute of Meteorology of our county, forecasts of hurricane activity in the Atlantic started to come out in 1996, the end product of a research project led by the researcher Doctor Maritza Ballester.
In the United States, the University of Colorado (sic) also puts one out as does the official weather service of that country, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The foreign media promotes these forecasts in a sensationalist manner, especially when the forecast calls for a high level of activity in the Atlantic.
It is precisely the massive disclosure of these seasonal forecasts, very different in essence from daily weather forecasts, along with very little explanation regarding what it’s really meant to say and its practical value, that promotes skepticism and frequent criticism of these forecasts.
It is easy for one to notice in a season that was forecast to be active, not a single hurricane affects land and thus think that the forecast was erroneous, when its actual meaning is different. Thus, with this article I wish to demystify a bit and also put in the place it belongs, the seasonal forecasts of hurricanes, for the purpose of better understanding.
The true value of the studies for the forecast of hurricane season lies in the science contained within, that is, the cognitive value of the study and unlocking the secrets of the oceanic-atmospheric conditions that are favorable or not to the appearance and development of tropical cyclones, and with that, an idea of the probability of hurricane activity.
Nonetheless, the practical value of the seasonal forecasts for the common person, their interests as such, is very limited, as they cannot say so many months beforehand (and nobody on earth can do it), where a storm’s path will be, nor of what force it will strike, how much rain it will bring, etc.
So, in practice, no one should use this type for forecast for themselves. It is only possible to know if there will be more or less tropical cyclones or hurricanes in all of the Atlantic, only this is attempted. Notice that in the large Atlantic basin, which includes the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico, there is a vast area that covers Cuba a thousand times over and a city or a specific point, perhaps millions of times.
In the practical sense, having an active, normal, or inactive season means little while the science cannot say exactly months in advance where, when, and at what force. I am going to give the example of the hurricane season forecast for 2012, put out a few days ago:
“The hurricane season will have normal to below normal activity. The formation of 10 tropical cyclones (tropical storms and hurricanes) is forecast, in all of the North Atlantic., 5 of which will reach hurricane strength. In the Atlantic Ocean region, eight tropical cyclones should develop, one would be in the Caribbean, and another in the Gulf of Mexico. The probability of a hurricane forming or intensifying in the Caribbean is low (15%) while that of a pre-existing one from the Atlantic entering the Caribbean (55%) is moderate.”This assessment is based on the matter of fact that the existence and development of an El Niño in the summer months was forecast and these events produce strong winds at heights of 10-12 kilometers that cuts any incipient cyclone circulation and for this reason, inhibits formation of tropical cyclones in the Atlantic, though some manage to form. **
Moreover, the waters of the eastern Atlantic are colder than normal, another factor that is unfavorable for hurricane activity. Research has shown these links, equal with others, whereas a statistical relationship and analogy with other seasons, produces the numbers released.
Nonetheless, see that just one hurricane, only one, passing through whatever location is enough for its residents to think the season is very active (and for them it is, in reality). examples abound, but I’m going to give only two. The hurricane season of 1930 was very inactive such that there was just one hurricane in the Caribbean… But that was of such great strength that it completely destroyed Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic. Another example. The 1992 season was also inactive, only four hurricanes, but one was Andrew, a category 5 that devastated south Florida, United States.
There can also be the case of very active hurricane seasons, like those of 2010 and 2011 with 18 and 19 tropical cyclones respectively (the average or normal for a season is 10) or even better the very active season of 1995, which equaled the 20th century record with 21 cyclones, but in none of these seasons did Cuba have a hurricane.
To summarize, the Atlantic Hurricane Season Forecast indisputably has scientific value, to study the general conditions for formation and development of tropical cyclones, while supplying a probabilistic tool for certain activity; but it does not have a practical value for the general public as it cannot show with such advance notice the details that appear in the short-term forecasts that we always offer in the Early Alerts and the Tropical Cyclone Advisories.
The recommendation is that if you want to know the season forecast, there’s nothing wrong with that, just always interpret it for what it is, a measure of general hurricane activity, but when there is a tropical storm or hurricane already out there, everyone should be up-to-date on its path, evolution, and development via the radio and television and follow the guidance of our Civil Defense. This is the practical information that is truly valuable for effectively dealing with the threat of a hurricane.
* A annual two day hurricane readiness exercise conducted in Cuba prior to the start of the hurricane season. Spanish speakers can read the government’s description of the “Ejercicio Meteoro” here
** As one can see from reading the ENSO section of the verification of Colorado State’s 2012 hurricane season forecast, or any other season review, the Cubans were far from the only ones to think that an El Niño was going to develop. However, they did seem to put more weight on the probability of its formation than other forecasters did, hence the near 100% under-forecast of storm numbers.
June 5, 2013
With the entire hurricane season up to this point having passed with Tropical Weather Outlooks mentioning the possibility of its appearance, the first tropical cyclone of the season, Tropical Storm Andrea, formed late this afternoon.
While some forecast models hinted at the probability of the storm’s formation, it was never a sure thing due to relatively inhospitable atmospheric conditions; as late as 2 PM this afternoon, the National Hurricane Center gave the disturbance “only” a 60% chance of becoming a tropical cyclone.
Large totals of rainfall is the one thing that was a dead cert. Below is the anticipated rainfall totals for the next 48 hours, as forecast by NOAA’s Weather Prediction Center:
In the course of the past fifteen years in Florida, going back to the memorable summer of 1998, when ash on one’s car was a common sight and the Firecracker 400 was postponed to October due to wildfires, there have been many Junes in which residents have been dreaming of a scenario such as this. Alas, this is not one of them. For once, northeast Florida went into Summer with a normal amount of rainfall for the year, albeit unevenly distributed. Golf fans may recall that a month ago the iconic 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass was flooded. And that was not a particularly unique spot for flooding. Parts of rural Clay County (south-southwest of metropolitan Jacksonville), which thought they had seen the worst possible flooding last year in the wake of Tropical Storm Debby, found themselves facing even worse flooding. (A nice break-down of the heavy rain event can be found here). That event, combined with rain in advance of Andrea, creates a bit of a tricky situation for northern Florida. Fortunately, thanks to the recent experience with that event as well as Debby, people in the threatened areas should not find themselves surprised if/when flooding occurs. As was the case with Debby and (in a surprise) the nor’easter, the possiblityy of isolated tornadoes exists.
Take care of yourselves out there, my fellow folks in Florida, especially tomorrow night. Fortunately, Andrea will be yesterday’s news come Friday.
It appears that the only difference between Andrea and the nor’easter will be that one, Andrea will be immortalized forever, however minorly, in the history books. Such is the life for storms.
June 3, 2013
In addition to the review of storm names for the season, it is also my custom to post a summary of forecasts of activity for the forthcoming hurricane season.
If one reads over my posts from past seasons, there will find some of my misgivings and caveats regarding these forecasts. The purpose of the annual posts isn’t necessarily to highlight the forecasts as an uber-important piece of data. It is merely a convenient one-stop summary of forecasts for the season and those of the recent years past.
The forecasts I track here come from the universities Colorado State, Florida State,North Carolina State as well as NOAA, the United Kingdom’s Meteorological office, and the consortium Tropical Storm Risk. Note that is not the authoritative collection of forecasts; as the years have gone by more and more organizations release forecasts. The forecasts I’ve opted to follow are for reasons of long track record and easily accessible forecast verification (in the cases of CSU, NOAA, and TSR), notable performance (NC State in 2006), and parochialism (FSU, though as we shall see, its performance has justified its presence here). While my compilation of forecasts from past season may give the impression that the UK forecast is quite new, that is not the case; for a number of seasons they issued a July-November forecast that was incompatible for comparison with the other forecasts.
While some forecasts provide more predictions than others (with variance in how the numbers are presented), I’ve reduced the forecasts to core numbers. That is, single numbers for predictions of named storms, hurricanes, major hurricanes, and Accumulated Cyclone Energy. Note that for organizations that issue multiple forecasts over the course of a year, I’ve used the “final” pre-season forecast. As a sort of performance baseline, I’ve also included the trailing average of the previous 5 seasons for the forecast parameters.
Without further rambling, here are the forecasts for 2008-2012, with links to NOAA’s season summary for each year.
|5 season trailing
|5 season trailing avg||160||154||119||102||111|
One misconception that some people have of these forecasts is that “every season is forecast to be above-average”. As one can see from 2009, when the inhibiting effects of the El Niño were correctly anticipated, that is not the case. It is the case, however, that we have been in an ongoing multi-decadal period of increased hurricane activity. As such, forecasts of activity, as well as actual activity, will be above-average. Relatedly, some think that when these forecasts fail, it’s because they consistently over-predict the level of activity and serve to “hype” the storm threat. The forecasts from 2012 show that to not be the case; everyone’s forecast under-predicted the level activity.
Something that one may note when reviewing these numbers is that there isn’t that much spread in the forecast numbers, especially in the case of storm numbers. There is a bit more appreciable differences in the forecasts for Accunulated Cyclone Energy. In its four seasons of existence, the forecast from FSU has had the most accurate ACE forecast three times (though it’s one failure was rather bad; it was the highest forecast in 2011).
Here are the forecasts for 2013:
|5 season trailing
As we can see, the forecasts are in general unanimous in the expectation of an active season; the consenus number of storms forecast matches the average of the past five seasons exactly. Again, one sees a bit of spread in the ACE forecast, Colorado State’s forecast is a fair bit higher than everyone else’s (though if one examines the range of numbers in NOAA’s forecast, it will be found that their “high-end” number is higher, yet). There’s a suggestion in the ACE forecasts that storms on aggregate will be a little more intense and/or longer lived than those of past seasons.
In general, forecasters do not see any obvious inhibiting factors for the season to come. Of the forecasts that have explicit input parameters (vice being based off a wide-scoped computer model), nearly all parameters therein are tilting to the plus side for storm activity.
As I mentioned earlier, there are many other forecasts besides these; the Washington Post’s Capital Weather Blog had a post that linked to many of the ones that I did not include here.
June 1, 2013
Here we are on June 1st, at the start of another hurricane season in the Atlantic. Per my (admittedly not quite reliable) tradition, here is my review of the storm names for the season. Where did these unfamiliar names come from? What happened to some of the familiar ones? The answers come out below.
This year’s list of names is the sixth iteration of the list first used in 1983. This list has had the most changes (total of 12) along with the most names retired from the original group (10). Owing to the low number of storms in 1983, there are only two names that have been used in each iteration . Two of the names have never been used and three are on the list for the first time. The names (with links for years to images of the tracking chart for the storm and links for retired names to the Wikipedia entry):
Andrea – This spot on the list was originally filled by Alicia, which was replaced by Allison in 1989. Allison, of course is the only tropical storm to have its name retired. Andrea debuted in 2007 as a pre-season subtropical storm off the southeastern United States.
Barry – In 1983, a category 1 hurricane that had made landfall (as a tropical depression) at Melbourne, Florida before transversing the Gulf of Mexico to make landfall in northern Mexico. Tropical storm at sea in 1989. Hit Nova Scotia as a tropical storm in 1995. In 2001, made landfall on the Florida panhandle, again as a tropical storm. The 2007 edition also paid a visit to Florida as a tropical storm before traveling up the east coast in a post-tropical life.
Chantal – Category 1 hurricane at sea in 1983. The 1989 version struck Texas and was responsible for 13 fatalities (all due to drowning, the sad details can be read here). Tropical storm at sea in 1995 and in the Caribbean in 2001. The 2007 edition was a short-lived tropical storm that caused flooding in Newfoundland in its post-tropical life.
Dorian – New for 2013. Replaces the monster of the 2007 season, Dean.
Erin – Category 2 hurricane at sea in 1989. Made landfall near Vero Beach, Florida as a category one hurricane , crossed the peninsula and made a second landfall near Fort Walton Beach as a category 2 in 1995. In 2001 it was an “interrupted-track” storm that eventually became a category three hurricane and passed just east of Bermuda and later Cape Race, Newfoundland (in its final hours as a tropical storm). The 2007 edition struck Texas as a tropical storm and the remnant low persisted into Oklahoma and strengthened briefly;the storm report has a paragraph on why the NHC did not consider it to be a tropical cyclone over Oklahoma despite its convective organization and relatively high winds.
Fernand – New for 2013. Replaces the name of the other category 5 hurricane of 2007, Felix.
Gabrielle – Category 4 hurricane at sea in 1989. Small tropical storm into northern Mexico in 1995. The 2001 edition caused a fair bit of flooding in Florida after making landfall on the west coast near Venice before re-intensifying to a category 1 hurricane in the Atlantic. In 2007, the name was attached to a short-lived tropical storm that affected the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
Humberto – Added to the list in 1995, replacing Hugo. The debut edition was a Category 2 hurricane as was the subsequent 2001 storm. In 2007, formed from the remnants of the same front that spawned Gabrielle. It went from tropical depression to hurricane in less than 19 hours and was rapidly strenghening prior to landfall at High Island, Texas.
Nestor – New for 2013. Replaced Noel, a category1 hurricane that was directly responsible for no fewer than 163 deaths at the end of October 2007.
Pablo – Only appearance was in 1995 as a weak tropical storm.
Rebekah – Replaced Roxanne in 1995, but is yet to debut.
Sebastian – Tropical storm in 1995 that hit the island of Anguilla before dissipating in the Caribbean.
Tanya – Was a category 1 hurricane in 1995 before striking the Azores as a tropical storm.
Van – Never used.
Wendy – Never used.
February 20, 2013
In which the author offers some historical perspective on Ms. Patrick’s accomplishment as well as an explanation of some vagaries of The Great American Race
In 1994, an inexperienced driver named Loy Allen Jr. shocked the NASCAR world by becoming the first rookie to win pole position for the Daytona 500. Any race fan who remembers his name remembers it solely for that accomplishment as he never won a race.
In 2002, another rookie driver won the pole for the Daytona 500. His name was Jimmie Johnson and it is likely only fans of his and trivia fans who remember that particular accomplishment. That is because he went on to win six season championships and 60 races.
In 2013, Danica Patrick, in her first full season racing at the highest level of NASCAR, the Sprint Cup Series, became the first woman to win the pole position for the Daytona 500. One expects her career accomplishments in the Sprint Cup will lay somewhere between those of Jimmy Johnson and Loy Allen, but what about this race?
First, let us review what she has accomplished and what lies ahead for her.
As the premier race on the NASCAR schedule, the Daytona 500 is different from every other race with regards to how the field is set. Like any other race, there is a qualifying session. One by one, drivers take their car onto the track and get one chance at completing a lap of the race track as quickly as possible. The driver who is fastest wins the pole position **, the first starting position in the race. In general, the balance of the starting field for the race is filled on the basis of these qualifying laps in order of fastest to slowest. It was in such a qualifying session on Sunday that Danica Patrick earned the pole position for the Daytona 500. If this were any other race on the schedule, the qualifying session would be the sole story for who starts the race and in what order. But the Daytona 500 is unique.
For the Daytona 500, the qualifying session only fixes the first two positions, the pole position earned by Patrick and the position next to her, which was claimed by three-time D-500 winner Jeff Gordon. On Thursday, the qualifiers are divided into two groups (Danica Patrick and all odd-numbered qualifiers in one group, Jeff Gordon and all of the even numbered qualifiers in another) who will race in separate 150 mile events. The finishing order of these two events determines the next 30 drivers in the starting order behind Patrick and Gordon. Once those spots are filled, qualifying times from Sunday are again used to determine the balance of the field. As such, the third fastest driver in Sunday qualifying (Trevor Bayne) can find himself starting the race in 33rd if he has a poor showing on Thursday. Conversely, a driver that was slow in the qualifying session can dramatically improve his starting position with a strong result in his race on Thursday. For Danica Patrick, her finishing position in the race does not matter, but it is still important.
There are two ways Danica Patrick could have a bad day on Thursday. One involves events which erase the benefit of earning the pole position ***. If she is involved in an accident and her car is damaged beyond repair, she will have to race in the Daytona 500 in a backup car, which would force her to relinquish her first place starting position and send her to the back of the field. A major mechanical failure that necessitates an engine change carries the same consequence (.correction: A transmission change would warrant the penalty in any race. For the Daytona 500, an engine change is permitted after the Thursday race.)More subtlely, she could discover that while her car was set up ideally for running alone in the cool weather on Sunday, it is unsuited for racing in a pack of cars in warmer weather. That is, without changes, her car will be uncompetitive in the Daytona 500. As I’ll show shortly, success in qualifying does not necessarily translate to success in the big race.
While Thursday offers the only opportunity to experience race conditions, there are three more opportunities to test the car (or experience heart-breaking misfortune). There are two practice sessions on Friday and one on Saturday in which drivers can take their car onto the track and turn laps at their discretion. These sessions tend to be uneventful as a whole, but it is not unheard of for drivers to crash or have mechanical failures which send them to the back of the field for the start of the race on Sunday.
No driver starting in the pole position has won the Daytona 500 since 2000. Dale Jarret was on the pole that year and like the aforementioned Loy Allen, he was not in the lead when the first lap was completed. Unlike Loy Allen, he was in the lead for the most important lap, the final one, and 88 other ones as well. Since then, the average finishing of the pole-sitters has been 17th (Mildly interesting to note that the average finishing position of the three rookies to win the pole was slightly better, 16th). Some of this is due to the nature of the racing at the Daytona International Speedway. Cars will tend to run in one or two large lines (sometimes referred to as drafts), the lengths and arrangements of which change rapidly. A driver can be leading a line of cars one moment and suddenly find himself a number of positions behind when the draft breaks into a separate line and passes him by ***. The tendency of the cars to race very closely nose to tail in these lines makes the probability of a melee wreck involving a substantial number of cars very high; it is a rare Daytona 500 that does not have an incident referred to as “The Big One”; the largest crash of the race involving 10-20 cars with varying degrees of damage.
These features of Daytona racing can make it quite difficult for the inexperienced driver. Danica Patrick does have a couple of advantages over most rookie drivers of the past. One is that she is in top-tier machinery. She drives for a team that won the season championship in 2011 with her car’s engine coming from a team that won eight of the 16 championships before then. Secondly, the cars being raced this year are of a new design; drivers are still figuring out the particulars of their racing characteristics and how to best apply them to Daytona. Most lLessons learned by veterans in 2001 or 2011 will not apply.
Last year, driving an inferior car, Patrick was 29th in qualifying and finished 16th in her race on Thursday (caught in a crash near the end of the race). She started the 500 in 29th position and was caught in a wreck very early in the race and finished 38th. Depending on the strategy she employs in her race on Thursday, she may improve on last year’s result, but she also could run the race without incident and finish further back. ***** As only 43 cars compete in the 500, she is almost certain to improve on her finishing position in the big race. As history shows, most anything is possible and the pole position is no indicator of a strong finish. Barring her being victimized by a wreck not of her doing, I would expect her to finish in the front of the middle; 13th-25th position. 12th place would equal Janet Guthrie’s mark as the top finish by a female driver; anything higher would be a superlative effort.
** The term pole position comes from horse racing. While all forms of motorsport use it in the same fashion, NASCAR’s roots were closer to the origins of the term; many early stock car races took place on tracks also used for horse racing and the fastest qualifying car was placed first in line, next to “the pole”.
*** Only the first place starting position is forfeited; for the purpose of the record books, the fastest driver in qualifying is the pole-sitter even if he or she doesn’t actually start the race in first position. The only exception would be if the car or its fuel was found to be outside of regulations.
**** What I describe here is the general nature of NASCAR racing at Daytona for the better part of my lifetime. Changes in car aerodynamics as well as a repaving of the racing surface has caused variations over the years. It is not yet clear what sort of racing the newly designed cars will favor; the race on Thursday should bring some clarity.
*****Most veteran drivers starting their Thursday race in first would tend to follow a simple strategy: Run up front as long as possible, but if the lead is lost, fall to the back of the pack to ensure that you’re not caught in a wreck. The need for Danica Patrick to get more experience in race conditions may force her to “mix it up” and put her car more at risk than would sometimes be the norm.
December 12, 2012
One of the surprise highlights of the year in Jacksonville sporting events was a “friendly” soccer match between the mens national teams of the United States and Scotland. Played on a lovely Saturday evening in May, the match drew 44,438 fans, the most ever to attend an international friendly match in the state of Florida. This figure appeared even more impressive two weeks later when a World Cup qualifying match in Tampa attracted a mere 23,971 attendees *.
As one would expect, the success of the event immediately stirred activity to bring more soccer to Jacksonville. Your correspondent was hopeful that perhaps the Gold Medal winning women’s national team could be persuaded pay a visit to the River City for an international friendly. Last week though, Jacksonville mayor Alvin Brown (who had “more major sports in Jacksonville” as part of his campaign platform) hinted that the soccer to come would be of the domestic variety. This was confirmed yesterday when his office announced that the Philadelphia Union of Major League Soccer would play exhibition matches in Jacksonville in February for the next three years. The 2013 edition will serve as part of the Union’s visit to Florida to participate in the Walt Disney World Pro Soccer Classic, an exhibition tournament featuring five other MLS teams as well as ones from Orlando and Tampa.
I attended and enjoyed the US-Scotland match. I am afraid there are a few reason why these matches to come will not be as successful:
- The teams Philadelphia of course is one and the other will be an MLS team as well (presumably one of the others playing in Orlando). Neither will have the allure of the national team or an international professional team. Given that the nearest MLS team is DC United, it is understandable that the teams are not from the region. Still, the average person will find it to be a random selection of teams and will be unlikely to have a cheering interest in either of them.
- The weather Those who were in Jacksonville during the week leading up to the Super Bowl will be quick to tell you that Jacksonville is not south Florida; warm pleasant weather is not a given. A night game will likely start with temperatures in the 50’s; cool weather by Florida standards, certainly cooler conditions than those for the match in May with the possibility existing that it could be cooler yet. Pleasant weather is not out of the question, however. Game day conditions for the aforementioned Super Bowl were fan-friendly.
- The sports calendar Outside of The Player’s Championship golf tournament, May is a somewhat quiet time for sports in Jacksonville. Minor league baseball and arena football are in season, but neither provide an annual “classic” civic event. The area has a bit more going on in February. The forthcoming exhibition match will fall between the Grand-Am Endurance race in Daytona and the Daytona 500 (and is one day before the Daytona Shootout exhibition race). It comes two weeks after a first round Davis Cup tennis match between U.S. and Brazil. Most crushing to me, it falls on the same evening as the second basketball leg of the River City Rumble, the season long athletic competition between Jacksonville and the University of North Florida (I attended the game this year and intend to do so again in 2013). Granted, none of these events are of both large scale and in immediate proximity to the soccer match. It is almost certain though, that they will serve to reduce the number of people interested in attending another sporting fixture.
Taking these factors into consideration, I think an attendance of 30,000 is the best that can be hoped for… and that may be generous. It would be interesting to know how that lines up with what the city and Major League Soccer would consider to be a success.
* The weather was a factor in the reduced attendance in Tampa; it was anything but lovely.
October 28, 2012
In my youth I read any weather book I could get my hands on. One that I particularly treasured was called simply The Weather Book, which was written by the founding editor of the USA Today’s weather page.
Unfortunately, I do not have my copy on hand to quote from or refresh my memory on its contents. But as I recall, it had a page or two on the scenarios that meteorologists were most afraid of. One was a major hurricane hitting New Orleans and the other was a hurricane hitting the New York area.
The damages envisioned in the scenarios were so grave that some in the weather community always felt compelled, either in the name of safety or self-aggrandizement, to treat every storm that neared those locales as being The One.
To some extent, it was these false alarms that brought complacency to the Louisiana and Mississippi. Many people treated the nightmare scenario as a piece of fiction that would never really happen and paid the consequence. Others, who were a bit more in touch with reality, found themselves thinking “Wow,this is actually happening“. It was the former group of people that I was thinking of when, speaking to my father on the afternoon prior to Katrina’s landfall I said, “This is going to be so bad that people won’t believe it until they see it.”
That is not to say that meteorologists did not try to spread the word. A meteorologist at the local National Weather service office put his soul into his work
URGENT — WEATHER MESSAGE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE NEW ORLEANS LA 1011 AM CDT SUN AUG 28, 2005 ...DEVASTATING DAMAGE EXPECTED... .HURRICANE KATRINA...A MOST POWERFUL HURRICANE WITH UNPRECEDENTED STRENGTH...RIVALING THE INTENSITY OF HURRICANE CAMILLE OF 1969. MOST OF THE AREA WILL BE UNINHABITABLE FOR WEEKS...PERHAPS LONGER. AT LEAST ONE HALF OF WELL CONSTRUCTED HOMES WILL HAVE ROOF AND WALL FAILURE. ALL GABLED ROOFS WILL FAIL...LEAVING THOSE HOMES SEVERELY DAMAGED OR DESTROYED.... National Weather Service Bulletin for New Orleans region (Wikipedia)
Just as Ivan was the last false alarm prior to Katrina, I fear that Irene will be seen as the last false alarm for the metro New York nightmare scenario.
As was the case prior to Katrina, some forecasters are putting their soul into their work
To restate what I wrote earlier, there are some who treat storms as their source of personal entertainment and do not hesitate to crank up the hype. There are others who take every unnecessary death in a storm as a personal failing. While the latter group contains cautious people (in the sense that they will advise some precautions that will prove to be unnecessary), they are so cautious that they do not pour their soul into their work when it is not warranted. Robert Ricks, the author of the Katrina bulletin, stopped and re-read his bulletin, to make sure that he didn’t include any statement that was unwarranted. I suspect that Gary Szatkowski exercised the same amount of caution when he drafted his “personal plea”.
Three possible sources of complacency, which I will briefly address:
- “They don’t really know if the storm will hit us”
“Given how many of the New York false alarms happened in the not so recent past, this sense is probably greater among older people than is generally appreciated. Their memories are sharper of the days when hurricanes were totally unpredictable beasts and forecasts weren’t to be trusted beyond a day out. Those days are long past. While it is true that forecasters cannot predict the exact landfall point two days out, the science has progressed such that they will not miss by much. Hence the NWS forecaster’s statement that “The focus of efforts should be on when Sandy hits our region, not if Sandy hits our region.”
- “They said Irene was going to be the horrible one and it wasn’t”
While this storm seems similar to Irene in the headline numbers that the public is most familiar with (maximum winds, Saffir-Simpson category) , it is a very different storm. At the comparable position point in Irene’s life, the extent of hurricane force winds was 85 miles with tropical storm force winds extending 285 miles away from the center. Right now hurricane winds extend up to 175 miles away from the center of Sandy and tropical storm winds reach out a staggering 520 miles. This has tremendous implications for storm surge. The most recent analysis of Sandy’s winds from NOAA’s Hurricane Research Division reveals an extremely high potential for damage from storm surge, higher than any hurricane observed in the 1969-2005 time-frame (See Dr. Masters’ commentary Sandy’s storm surge a huge threat for more on this.) As Dr Masters notes, Irene was a close call. The storm surge from Sandy will be worse.
Allow me to pick a random data point from a location with which I am personally familiar: Bridges in Chesapeake, Virginia have been closed due to flooding caused by Sandy. This happened during Irene as well. Irene, however, passed immediately to the south of Chesapeake. Sandy is over 300 miles away.
- “It just doesn’t seem that bad. It’s a category one hurricane, and a border-line one at that.”
Of the three points listed here, it’s the one I have the most sympathy for. For years now forecasters have known that they needed to either tweak the Saffir-Simpson scale or bring additional measures of a storm’s potential for destruction into the public eye. For various reasons that has not happened. This may very well be that brings in new measures. I fear that due to the public’s unfamiliarity with the Hurricane Research Divsion’s product they think it’s something not quite real that is being used as a tool of the hypesters. That is not the case. It is a very real warning.
Complicating matters is the technical matter of Sandy’s nature when the storm makes landfall. Resulting from that is a “controversy” over whether the National Hurricane Center should be issuing warnings for the northeast. The NHC issued a two page release on the matter. I don’t have anything to say on the matter. This is not the time to be arguing.
It is a time for meteorologists to sound the alarm and for residents in and near the path of Sandy to prepare for the worst. While, by terminology, Sandy will not be the first major hurricane to hit the United States since 2005, it will be major in the conventional sense of the word. As far as the New York City nightmare scenario goes, Sandy is The Big One.