Early Forecast Says Below-Average Hurricane Season

8 04 2016

The 2016 Hurricane Season will soon be here.  Everybody should begin preparing for the annual season which begins on June 1st.  Fort Bend County’s Office of Emergency Management completes approximately 40 preparedness tasks during the Spring to get adequately prepared for the Hurricane Season.  Updating the County’s Traffic Management Plan is a priority.  The Traffic Management Plan guides evacuations through Fort Bend County when our neighbors in Galveston County and Brazoria County need to evacuate.  Even though Fort Bend County citizens do not generally need to evacuate because of a hurricane, but it is critical that our jurisdictions and law enforcement agencies have a plan to keep our evacuation routes open and clear during a large-scale exodus from counties near the coast.

I have copied a recent article from Emergency Management magazine (March 22, 2016).  The article was written by Kimberly Miller from The Palm Beach Post in Florida.  The crux of the article is that a well-known hurricane prediction expert is indicating that hurricane activity in the Atlantic Ocean may be lessened in 2016 because of cold water.  This is an early prediction; more predictions will be coming out from experts in the coming weeks.  But, don’t let the hint of a “timid” forecast make you procrastinate about taking preparedness actions.  In 1992, there were only seven named storms, but one of them was Hurricane Andrew which, at the time, was the most destructive hurricane to hit the United States.  Even a much smaller hurricane will severely disrupt the lives of our community; so please use this Spring to prepare for the 2016 Hurricane Season.

hurricane

Article from Kimberly Miller:

A below-average hurricane season this year? Floridians will take that, even if it is just an early prediction.

Phil Klotzbach, a leading hurricane expert, made that prediction Monday, based partly on the fact that frigid waters flowing out of the North Atlantic Ocean may limit activity as warm seas that feed energy to storms cool.

“The far north Atlantic is one of the few really cold areas on the globe right now, and those cold anomalies are bleeding down toward the west coast of Africa,” said Klotzbach, a researcher with Colorado State University’s Department of Atmospheric Science. “From there, they alter pressure patterns, winds and churn up the sea surface making the Atlantic not as conducive for a super active season.”

Klotzbach, who made his prediction Monday at the week-long National Hurricane Conference in Orlando, won’t deliver his official storm forecast until April.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is also weeks away from releasing its official 2016 hurricane forecast, but meteorologists have been buzzing about whether the end of El Nino will leave the U.S. more vulnerable to storms.

El Nino, a global weather phenomenon that begins with a periodic warming of the Pacific Ocean, is characterized by strong westerly winds that cut down Atlantic storms.

The 2015-2016 El Nino, one of the strongest on record, is expected to weaken by summer.

But like a pendulum, the mighty trade winds that take a backseat during El Nino, can roar back, awakening La Nina – a more accommodating hurricane host.

The most recent forecast by the Climate Prediction Center says there is a 50 percent chance La Nina will arrive by September. Hurricane season runs June through November.

“The higher the chances of La Nina, the higher the chances for a bigger than usual hurricane season,” said Bob Henson, a meteorologist and blogger for Weather Underground, in an interview earlier this month. “You have less wind shear and more favorable conditions for showers and thunderstorms to develop into hurricanes.”

But Klotzbach stressed Monday that the atmosphere doesn’t always react immediately to change, meaning an El Nino hangover may linger to help thwart storms. Also, other factors, such as an area of low pressure he says has been a predominant factor over the East Coast have acted against storms. Low pressure turns in a counter-clockwise direction, pushing hurricanes away from the U.S. coast and to the north.

“I think the best example of this was 2010 when there were 12 hurricanes in the Atlantic and not one hit the U.S.,” Klotzbach said. “We were extraordinarily lucky that year.”

In fact, while Klotzbach looks at decades worth of data to see what patterns produce weak or active hurricane seasons, he said sometimes a hurricane miss is just providence.

The U.S. has not been hit by a major hurricane – Category 3 or higher – in 10 years. Florida’s last hurricane was 2005’s Wilma.

“There has been a significant luck component,” he said. “There have been 27 major hurricanes in a row with none hitting the U.S. The odds of that are one in several thousand.”

Klotzbach is lead author on the annual hurricane forecasts by Colorado State University’s Tropical Meteorology Project. He took over the task in 2006 from noted hurricane researcher William Gray.

Last year, the duo’s April hurricane forecast said there would be seven named storms, three hurricanes and one major hurricane. The season ended in November with 11 named storms, four hurricanes and two major hurricanes.

“2016 will be a good test since we won’t have El Nino,” said Klotzbach, who believes the Atlantic may have entered a climatic pattern of fewer hurricanes. “It would definitely increase confidence that we are moving out of an active time for storms.”

Klotzbach is among dozens of weather and emergency management experts speaking at this year’s National Hurricane Conference. About 1,500 people are registered for the week-long event.

Advertisements




This Day in Texas Disaster History – September 24th

24 09 2015

Ten years ago, Hurricane Rita crashed ashore in Southeast Texas.  Hitting Texas just three weeks after Hurricane Katrina, many do not remember this storm.  However, it was a big storm which caused immense damage and about 150 deaths.  Here is an article that was published yesterday in the USA Today.  The article was written by Alan Gomez.  As the article notes, many lessons were learned from the disaster.  And the lessons were learned.  The State of Texas and its jurisdictions did indeed learn from Hurricane Rita.  The response to citizens in Texas was much improved three years later when Hurricane Ike hit near Galveston.  Here is the article:

Many who live along the Gulf of Mexico refer to Rita as the “forgotten hurricane.”

Hitting the U.S. just three weeks after Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans, most Americans paid little attention to Rita, which made landfall Sept. 24, 2005, in a far less populated area along the Texas-Louisiana border. Where Katrina left more than 1,800 dead, Rita killed fewer than 150.

But for emergency managers, Rita was almost more important in terms of the lessons learned following the disaster. In the 10 years since Rita struck as a Category 3 hurricane, Texas emergency management officials have redesigned their evacuation plans, local leaders have started building new shelters and Louisiana legislators have updated their antiquated building codes.

“A major lesson? I would say so,” said Ryan Bourriaque, a lifelong resident of Cameron Parish in southwestern Louisiana who now serves as the parish administrator.

The biggest change came in the way large cities evacuate.

As it approached the coast, Rita’s forecast changed daily. The storm was first expected to strike southern Texas, then the massive Houston metropolitan area before actually making landfall close to the Louisiana border. That meant cities from Brownsville to Corpus Christi to Houston were sending their residents fleeing to points further inland, with 3 million people hitting the road at nearly the same time.

That led to agonizing traffic jams where people waited more than a dozen hours to travel just a few miles. Cars that ran out of gas were stranded by the dozens, several died from heat stroke and a van carrying nursing home evacuees exploded, killing 23 patients.

Madhu Beriwal, founder and president of the disaster management consulting firm IEM, said Texas officials were simply not ready for the size of the evacuation. As the storm approached, they ordered phased evacuations to get people out in manageable groups, and they implemented “contra-flow” traffic on highways, meaning all lanes are used to evacuate people in one direction. The problem, Beriwal said, is the state started those plans far too late, leaving a mess on the roads.

“You have to commend them for trying, but there were some problems with trying to do that in the midst of an evacuation,” she said. “It wasn’t successful because that’s a very complicated thing.”

The state responded by preparing plans for future evacuations and, in 2007, creating the Texas Statewide Mutual Aid System to allow local governments to help each other more easily. Now, all cities have evacuation plans and timelines for when to order them. The state has improved its communication with local officials to coordinate the entire system.

Greg Fountain, the emergency management coordinator for Jefferson County, Texas, said that plan includes contracts with fuel distributors and gas stations to ensure that there’s gas available along evacuation routes. He said those new plans were put to the test when Hurricane Ike tore through the same region in 2008. That time, Fountain said traffic moved through the evacuation routes more smoothly and there was plenty of fuel for evacuees.

“Three years later comes Ike and the plans were fantastic,” Fountain said.

Photo: Paul Sancya, AP

Photo: Paul Sancya, AP

Rita also led to other changes throughout the region. Cameron County, Texas, is the southernmost county in the state, but it was in the storm’s path at one point. Given that experience, Tom Hushen, the county emergency management coordinator, said the county began building new, domed shelters to withstand hurricane-force winds.

The county also has contracts with construction firms that can bring heavy equipment, debris-removal operations, companies that provide emergency food and water and others that provide portable bathrooms.

In Louisiana, Rita helped usher in a new era of building codes. Most of the homes in Cameron County, La., a coastal community with just 6,700 people, had been around for generations when the storm tore through. Bourriaque said many of the residents who lost their homes were upset that the Louisiana legislature implemented new building codes that included requirements to elevate homes built in flood zones.

“The feeling was, ‘We’re trying to survive and you’re telling me I can’t build my house back that’s been in the family for six generations?'” he said. “That’s $275,000 for a house that could be built on the ground for $75,000.”

But Bourriaque said Hurricane Ike showed how valuable those new codes were. During Rita, 50% of the county’s homes were destroyed or so badly damaged that they couldn’t be salvaged.

“The homes that were built post-Rita to the elevation standards survived Ike and were minimally impacted,” he said. “Not even losing siding or shingles.”

Despite all the work to improve responses to hurricanes following Rita, Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate said not enough localities have taken heed.

Fugate said FEMA, the National Hurricane Center and the Army Corps of Engineers work together to constantly update risk assessments for every coastal city from Texas to Maine. They run models to show local officials how to organize their evacuations and provide different strategies to conduct them effectively. He said some communities, like those around Norfolk, Va., have worked hard in recent years to update their plans. The rest?

“Some have done more than others,” he said.





The Value of Travelers’ Information Radio Stations

9 01 2013

Travelers’ Information Stations are operated by governmental entities for the purpose of broadcasting information by low-wattage AM radio to the traveling public.  Fort Bend County operates 1670 AM, and other jurisdictions in Fort Bend County also operate such stations (Missouri City, Stafford, Sugar Land); sometimes referred to simply as “TIS.”  Agencies operating a TIS must be licensed, operate in the AM Broadcast Band; are limited to a 10 watt transmitter output tower; and may not transmit commercial information.

Fort Bend County belongs to the American Association of Information Radio Operators (AAIRO).  AAIRO is comprised of 346 members, consisting of government agencies and associated individuals in the public safety community in the United States.  For several years, AAIRO has advocated for changes in the regulations governing TIS;  the organization is requesting specific changes to FCC regulations so that such stations are authorized to broadcast critical weather and safety information to the traveling public in advance of, during, and following disasters and emergencies.  By doing so, TIS can assist in mitigating the loss of life and property.

It is hoped that the FCC will take into account the experiences of coastal communities in New Jersey that experienced severe weather during the landfall of Hurricane Sandy last year.  As you will see below, these AM radio stations became the primary source of information for citizens during and after the storm due to the failures of other means of communication.  As reported in The Source newsletter, October 2012, here is the story of what occurred in Manasquan, New Jersey:

Withstanding Sandy

Hurricane Sandy slammed ashore south of this New Jersey coastal community on October 29. Ninety MPH winds pushed a wall of water into flood-prone Manasquan, causing massive flooding. Emergency Manager Chris Tucker tapped his Information Radio Station on AM 1620 to be the solitary source to keep residents apprised, with the anticipation that “data and internet connections might be compromised.” They were. Additionally, his station’s antenna system encountered enormous winds and was engulfed by 3 feet of storm surge. It kept working. The station’s battery backup – occasionally charged via generator – powered the station continuously through the storm.

Manasquan operates an Alert AM Information Radio Station with a hurricane wind rated antenna system, designed to withstand gusts of up to 150mph. Several flashing alert signs are positioned on local roads to alert motorists.
Manasquan001
Eighty miles downshore near Sandy’s landfall, Police Chief Robert Matteucci of North Wildwood, NJ, utilized his 1640 signal to protect life and property. The signal remained on the air throughout the storm. The broadcast
, which was simulcast to the Internet, advised residents how to find assistance and provided emergency numbers for electric and gas companies. The internet stream was monitored by more than 1000 people in nine states, some as far away as California. Internet listeners to North Wildwood’s stream logged more than 14,400 minutes the day Sandy made landfall.
Manasquan002
Manasquan’s and North Wildwood’s Information Radio Stations comprise but 2 of more than 40 stations installed in NJ in the past 10 years to protect citizens’ lives/property in a disaster.

At North Plainfield, NJ, operator Rich Phoenix comments, “Only radio stations and battery or crank-powered receivers will survive [during a disaster]. Local information is king; and the TIS stations are top of the heap.”

AAIRO’s Petition Docket 09-19 for rulemaking as been under consideration by the FCC for a very long time with no action being taken by the FCC.  Many communities across the nation, including many along the coast in New Jersey, have written letters to the FCC supporting the AAIRO position.  Now is the time, that the FCC revise TIS content rules to specifically state that weather forecasts (e.g. NOAA radio rebroadcasts), warnings, and emergency preparedness information can be broadcast at any time— before, during, and after a disaster—as a means of mitigating loss of life and damage to property.





USAF Decision Puts Gulf Coast Lives in Danger

12 05 2012

Governor Rick Perry of the State of Texas and Governor Phil Bryant of the State of Mississippi are making it known that they are none too happy about a pending plan to move C-130 airplanes based in Fort Worth to a base in Montana.  The governors are upset because the C-130 planes have been used to move patients to safety when the Gulf Coast has been threatened by hurricanes, such as Hurricane Ike and Hurricane Gustav.  An opinion column, co-written by the Governors, was published by The Washington Times, on Wednesday May 9, 2012.  The primary point of the article is that redeploying these aircraft is a needless waste of money and puts residents of Texas, Mississippi, and other Gulf Coast residents at risk.  The article is below:

As Hurricane Ike neared the Texas coast in 2008, hundreds of hospital patients and nursing home residents were in harm’s way, facing a difficult escape from the storm’s path. That’s when the C-130s of the 136th Air- lift Wing, based in Fort Worth, Texas, went into action. That year, for the first time in U.S. history, C-130s were used to help move patients to safety ahead of a storm’s arrival. In all, between Hurricanes Ike and Gustav, also in 2008, 800 people were airlifted to safety.

The same planes were among the first to arrive following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, bringing much-needed supplies and National Guard troops to areas devastated by the storm. If a plan being put in place by the U.S. Air Force is allowed to go into effect, that sort of mutual assistance among our Gulf Coast states could be a thing of the past.

Under the USAFForceStructureChanges, issued in February, eight National Guard C-130s currently based in Fort Worth would be relocated to Montana, far from a Gulf Coast – and its population of millions – extremely vulnerable to hurricanes, tornadoes and floods. We don’t have any opposition to basing Air National Guard assets in Montana, but that shouldn’t come at the expense of the safety of the residents of the Gulf states.

As long as these assets are based in Texas, they are available with a simple phone call between governors, ready to fly across the state or into other states under Emergency Management Assistance Compacts.

Put simply, the sort of assistance the Air National Guard C-130s currently can provide within hours would take days, or longer, to arrive at a time when every minute could mean the difference between life and death.

Just a quick look at the numbers tells the tale of the value of these assets to Gulf Coast states. Since 2005, the 136th Airlift Wing’s C-130s have:

*Flown 423 storm response sorties in coastal states.

*Logged 567 hours of flight time.

*Transported 3,143 passengers.

*Delivered 939 tons of emergency supplies.

What can’t be qualified so easily is the suffering eased by a warm blanket, the comfort given by a hot meal and the unparalleled joy of a family reunited. That’s what this airlift wing has meant to the residents of the Gulf states, and to relocate these assets 1,000 miles inland – to an area that faces few of the types of threats we do – makes little practical sense and even less financial sense.

Estimates of the costs of the move, including new training for ground personnel and the construction of new facilities, have been set as high as $75 million or more. That’s a huge waste of taxpayer money at a time of historic national debt. What’s worse, for a two-year transitional period while people are trained and facilities are built, these valuable assets essentially will be deleted from our national inventory. As Gulf Coast governors, we know firsthand how much damage can be done in two years.

We also have to give consideration to our first responders, who will be losing a valuable and important link in their supply chain, making their job of saving lives that much harder and more hazardous.

Since the Air Force plan was introduced in February, governors and their adjutant generals have attempted tirelessly to negotiate a compromise with senior leadership at the Defense Department to mitigate the drastic and unjustified cuts to the Air National Guard. In fact, in a letter dated March 5, we raised this issue with President Obama directly, hoping he would personally instruct the Air Force to alter its course. Unfortunately, the needs of the Gulf Coast states have fallen on deaf ears, as we still have received no response.

Last month, the Defense Department offered what it considered a compromise, with vague promises of reduced staff cuts and the nonspecific deployment of 24 C-130s currently slated for decommission because of age and safety concerns. We’ve rejected this offer, and the Air Force has conceded that its proposal fell far short of what our states need.

We are continuing to call upon Congress to reverse this decision and keep these indispensable assets where they’re needed most – manned and supported by experienced personnel and operated by people who know and understand the specific challenges of dealing with emergencies along the Gulf Coast.

Anything less than that is a horrible mistake that needlessly places many lives in danger.





Dan Rather honored for ground-breaking hurricane coverage

29 04 2012

Here is the story reported by Doug Miller on KHOU 11 News Houston on April 27, 2012:

In a neighborhood park on Galveston’s east end, a small crowd gathered Friday morning to plant a tree for Arbor Day.

A few dignitaries and volunteers spoke about restoring the island’s tree canopy, much of which was lost in Hurricane Ike. Galveston’s always affable Mayor Joe Jaworski offered a few remarks. Then he introduced an 80 year-old man standing in the crowd, a squinting fellow with gray hair and a hearing aid and a weathered face that looked familiar, especially to people of a certain age.

“Dan Rather, you are a legend in America,” the mayor said, as he read a proclamation declaring this Arbor Day also Dan Rather Day in Galveston.

The old reporter had returned to the scene of one of his biggest stories. A half-century ago, his riveting reports from inside the Weather Bureau office in Galveston warned Texans about a monstrous storm called Hurricane Carla. He literally changed the way the world sees hurricanes, convincing Weather Bureau officials to allow the first broadcast of live radar images showing the massive storm system churning toward the Texas coastline.

“What I remember was how huge it was,” Rather recalled. “That’s number one. And number two, I remember the moment when I saw for the first time the radar picture of the hurricane. It literally took my breath away.”

Ghostly black-and-while television pictures preserved from that week in September 1961 show Rather, who was then news director of KHOU Channel 11, reading weather bulletins about the approaching storm.

“Evacuation should be hastened before it is too late,” he said, as Galveston forecasters bustled around him. The technology was so primitive, a Weather Bureau official resorted to scrawling on a piece of paper in an attempt to teach the television audience about the now familiar pattern of rain bands swirling around a hurricane.

“I wonder if you could explain this business about the eye of the hurricane,” Rather asked, knowing that people watching on television had never before seen such a thing. (He pronounced it not “HER-uh-cane” but “HER-uh-cun.”)

Government officials were wary of showing radar pictures on television, especially superimposed over a map of the coastline that emphasized the mammoth storm’s size. But Rather helped persuade them it would save lives. 

“I among others told them, listen, Texans have a lot of flaws and failures, they have their problems, but Texans don’t panic,” he said. “Texas are hard to herd, impossible to stampede.”

The ominous radar images of the hurricane churning toward the coastline played a huge role in persuading—maybe scaring—an estimated 350,000 people to evacuate their homes. At the time, it was considered the biggest weather-related evacuation in American history. 

Carla may well have been the most intense Atlantic storm ever to strike the United States when it slammed into the Galveston seawall. Forecasters believe it was even more intense than the 1900 storm that killed an estimated 6,000 people in Galveston, which remains the deadliest natural disaster in American history.

And yet, only 46 people died during Carla. A government report on the storm later credited KHOU’s telecasts with saving countless lives.

It also propelled Rather into the national eye, catching the attention of Walter Cronkite, who’s reputed to recommend CBS News hire his fellow Houston reporter who was “up to his ass in water moccasins.” 

Today, after his contentious parting with CBS, Rather continues producing award-winning documentaries for HDNet, whose fledgling news operation he compares to the days when he pioneered television news at KHOU.

“I don’t quit,” he says. “I teach my children and grandchildren Rathers don’t quit.”