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.

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Disturbing News on the Hurricane Forecasting Front

15 04 2015

Photo-Hurricane KatrinaSo in my last blog entry, I encouraged taking hurricane preparedness activities for those that live in Fort Bend County; it is that time of the year, June 1st is the official start of the 2015 Hurricane Season.  It is important because the last hurricane strike in our region was back in 2008 when Hurricane Ike devastated Galveston County.

People have become apathetic about hurricane preparedness because they don’t really remember Hurricane Ike; and they don’t remember how bad it really was for many living in our region.  How soon we forget.

Then I turned to my latest issue of Disaster Research News published by the University of Colorado at Boulder. From its April 10th edition, Jolie Breeden provides information on some cuts to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration budget that will reduce hurricane forecasting capabilities in the future.  I find these cuts disturbing.

Sure, examples of major hurricanes making landfall in the United States are not readily available from recent years— but the threat still exists—- and will continue to exist. Perhaps no major hurricanes will make landfall in the United States this year or next year; but it is simply a matter of time.  It is a question of “when” and not “if.”  And, when the next major hurricane makes landfall in the United States (and hopefully not in the Houston Urban Area), there will be questions about why the hurricane forecasting budget was slashed in 2015.  Here is Breeden’s article:

The Most Unkindest Cut: Hurricane Forecasting Takes a Hit

Jolie Breeden

It’s sometimes wise to stop while ahead, although probably not in the area of improving hurricane forecasts. Still, it seems the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has chosen to do just that with a nearly $10 million cut to its Hurricane Forecasting Improvement Program.

The cut, which represents nearly two-thirds of the program budget, was announced this month during a presentation at the National Hurricane Conference in Austin, Texas. According to presentation materials, the dearth of funds will likely result in a focus on more immediate forecasts (as opposed to 7-day forecasting goals), elimination of global modeling efforts, a reduction in funding to academic partners, and fewer real-time experimental products.

While the magnitude of the cut and the program elements affected are alarming, the National Weather Service’s Chris Vaccaro told Slate the outlook wasn’t entirely bleak.

“It’s important to emphasize that there is still funding for HFIP, work is still being done and advancements will continue to be made,” Vaccaro said, pointing to additional $4 million for super-computing that isn’t included in the cut.

Even so, scientists are concerned that hobbling the successful program—in five years the HFIP has made impressive advancements in both hurricane tracking and intensity forecasts—will have a chilling effect.

“It would be a shame to radically reduce this effort when gains seem to be in reach,” Bill Read, former director of the National Hurricane Center told the Washington Post. “While some improvements in the science of intensity forecasting may be attributed to HFIP over the past several years, more work is needed.”

Others point to the defunding as a myopic solution that will cost the United States more than it saves in the long run.

“Undeniably hurricane track improvement translates to lives and dollars saved,” Marshall Shepherd told Slate. “It is shortsighted to stunt this progress and hinder potential improvement in intensity forecasts. We can’t continue to be a culture that cuts progress, then panics only after a horrific tragedy.”

Lack of recent tragedy is perhaps one reason making the cut more palatable. It’s been nearly ten years since a Category 3 or stronger storm made landfall in the United States. Without the momentum of a recent disaster driving need, it can be hard to secure funding and prove program effectiveness.

Regardless of the will to continue funding at adequate levels, the NOAA budget (skip to page 758 for a quick access) clearly states the impacts of decreased support for the HFIP—coastal communities could experience unnecessary evacuations, NOAA’s reputation among the research community is at risk, and lagging improvement in HFIP models could affect a number of forecasting products.

But most of all, as University Corporation for Atmospheric Research President Tom Bogdan points out in an editorial that champions forecast funding in general, the biggest risks are those that cascade from not making long-term investments in much-needed science.

“The growing ability to forecast the weather plays a significant role in protecting our homeland, our businesses, our infrastructure and most importantly, our families and communities,” he wrote. “We need to continue to ensure that our society is prepared to meet the challenges and dangers of living inside Earth’s dynamic atmosphere.”





The role of the city manager during disaster discussed in Galveston

6 05 2012

Heber Taylor, Galveston Daily News, wrote the following article, published on May 5, 2012:

The Galveston City Council discussed the possibility of urging the Legislature to change the law and give cities the choice of who makes decisions during a disaster, such as a hurricane.  The Daily News has contended the city manager, rather than the mayor, should have emergency powers. Some council members agree.

It’s the same issue voters are facing with No. 3 on the proposed charter amendments.  The question is whether cities that really believe in the council-manager form of government have the right to stick to that form of government — even after they’ve been hit by a hurricane.

The idea behind the council-manager form of government is to put the city’s policy in the hands of elected officials while putting operational management into the hands of professional managers. Day in, day out, a manager with professional experience runs the day-to-day operations of the city. The manager has the power to hire and fire. The council has the power to hire and fire the manager but is forbidden from interfering with normal operations or from giving directions to any of the employees who report to the manager.

The problem with Galveston’s charter is that it specifies that’s the way things work — except in a disaster. The emergency powers provision does away with all that at the precise moment when professional management is needed most. The emergency powers provision embedded in both Galveston’s existing charter and in state law has been tried and found wanting.

After a disaster, operations of all city departments are strained. It’s when you need professional, rather than political, management the most. The council ought to adopt the proposed resolution. The legislature ought to amend a bad law.





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.”





Senate Passes Bill Allowing Fort Bend County Representation on the Gulf Coast Water Authority Board

6 04 2011

Zen Zheng, Houston Chronicle, wrote the following article.  The item was published on April 4, 2011, and provides an update on the status of Senate Bill 683, which affects Fort Bend County.

The Texas Senate has unanimously passed a bill to allow Fort Bend and Brazoria counties to have voting power for the first time on the Gulf Coast Water Authority Board.  Senate Bill 683, drafted by Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Lake Jackson, and its companion House Bill 3621, authored by Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, would bring the number of voting members from seven to nine.

Local authorities, including Fort Bend County Commissioners Court and Sugar Land Mayor James Thompson, support the legislation.  Fort Bend County Judge Bob Hebert called the two counties’ ability to add voting members to the board “a simple matter of fairness and equity.”

The water authority board opposes both bills and has hired a lobbyist to block Bonnen’s proposed legislation, which the House is expected to consider soon, Sugar Land city officials said.  The Senate bill, which was passed on a 30-0 vote, would grant the power to two non-voting representatives – one from each of the two counties – who participate in discussions during board meetings with the seven regular voting board members, who are all appointed by Galveston County Commissioners Court.

The new legislation would enable Fort Bend and Brazoria county commissioners to appoint new voting members to the board.  The water authority owns and operates rivers, creeks and man-made channels that provide surface water in Galveston, Fort Bend and Brazoria counties.

Since its creation in 1965, the authority, which serves residents, cities and industries, has grown in both capacity and customer base that reach far beyond Galveston County. Nearly 40 percent of the total contracted water volume is provided to Fort Bend and Brazoria counties.