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 2011 Hurricane Season in Less Than Five Minutes

4 01 2012

The 2011 Atlantic hurricane season officially ended on November 30th and produced a total of 19 tropical storms of which seven became hurricanes, including three major hurricanes. This level of activity matched NOAA’s predictions and continues the trend of active hurricane seasons that began in 1995.

Surprisingly, none of the first eight tropical storms reached hurricane status, a record since reliable reports started in 1851. Hurricane Irene’s effects in the Caribbean and the United States led to 43 deaths and accounted for the bulk of this season’s damage at $7.3 billion. Irene was the first landfalling hurricane in New Jersey in 108 years. Hurricane Katia had far-reaching effects causing severe weather in Northern Ireland and Scotland and power blackouts as far east as Saint Petersburg in Russia. Tropical Storm Lee caused major flooding in Pennsylvania, New York and into the Canadian provinces of Quebec and Ontario. The strongest storm of the season was Ophelia, which reached category four strength in the Atlantic Ocean east of Bermuda.

An integral part of NOAA’s ability to monitor and predict hurricane formation and movement is the data that is provided by the GOES satellite, with its visible imagery, infrared sensors, and sounding capabilities. This animation merges both the visible and infrared imagery taken by the GOES East (GOES-13) satellite every 30 minutes over the Northern Hemisphere from June 1 — November 28, 2011.





Update – 2011 Hurricane Season

10 08 2011

I know a lot of you are wishing for a Tropical Storm or a Hurricane.  The thought is that will provide us much needed rain and cool the temperatures.  That might be the case, but wishing for a tropical system to make a direct hit on the Houston-Galveston area sounds a bit dicey to me.  We are now about halfway through the 2011 Hurricane Season, and except for some excitement caused by Tropical Storm Don, not much has developed out in the Atlantic so far. 

However, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), through its Climate Prediction Center, has recently published its 2011 Updated Atlantic Hurricane Season Outlook.   As issued on August 4th, a summary of the Outlook is found below:

NOAA’s updated 2011 Atlantic Hurricane Season Outlook calls for an 85% chance of an above-normal season, and a 15% chance of a near-normal season. There is no expectation for a below-normal season. Therefore, 2011 is expected to become the twelfth above-normal season since 1995. This updated outlook reflects a higher likelihood of an above-normal season compared to the pre-season outlook issued in May, which indicated a 65% chance of an above-normal season. See NOAA definitions of above-, near-, and below-normal seasons. The Atlantic hurricane region includes the North Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea, and the Gulf of Mexico.

The higher confidence of an above-normal season is based on several factors. First, as predicted in May, conducive atmospheric and oceanic conditions are now in place over the tropical Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea (called the Main Development Region- MDR). Second, these conditions are expected to persist throughout the peak months (August-October) of the hurricane season in association with the tropical multi-decadal signal, which has contributed to the high activity era that began in 1995. Third sea-surface temperatures in the MDR are the third warmest on record, and models predict a continuation of very warm SSTs through the hurricane season. Fourth, there is a possibility of La Niña re-developing.

Historically, this combination of conditions produces an active Atlantic hurricane season. In addition, several dynamical model forecasts of the number and strength of tropical cyclones indicate that an above normal season is likely.

The 2011 season is expected to be comparable to a number of active seasons since 1995. We estimate a 70% probability for each of the following ranges of activity during 2011:

  • 14-19 Named Storms
  • 7-10 Hurricanes
  • 3-5 Major Hurricanes

The official NHC seasonal averages are 11 named storms, 6 hurricanes, and 2 major hurricanes. To date, five tropical storms (Tropical Storms Arlene, Bret, Cindy, Don, and Emily) have formed in the Atlantic basin. Significant activity is expected for the remainder of the season, with an additional 9-14 named storms likely, of which 7-10 are expected to become hurricanes with 3-5 reaching major hurricane status.





NOAA hurricane outlook indicates an above-normal Atlantic season

30 05 2011

Hurricane Season begins on June 1st!  On May 19th, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) distributed its projections for the 2011 Hurricane Season.  The NOAA outlook is  provided below:

The Atlantic basin is expected to see an above-normal hurricane season this year, according to the seasonal outlook issued by NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center – a division of the National Weather Service.

Across the entire Atlantic Basin for the six-month season, which begins June 1, NOAA is predicting the following ranges this year:

  • 12 to 18 named storms (winds of 39 mph or higher), of which:
  • 6 to 10 could become hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher), including:
  • 3 to 6 major hurricanes (Category 3, 4 or 5; winds of 111 mph or higher)

Each of these ranges has a 70 percent likelihood, and indicate that activity will exceed the seasonal average of 11 named storms, six hurricanes and two major hurricanes.

“The United States was fortunate last year. Winds steered most of the season’s tropical storms and all hurricanes away from our coastlines,” said Jane Lubchenco, Ph.D., under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. “However we can’t count on luck to get us through this season. We need to be prepared, especially with this above-normal outlook.”

Climate factors considered for this outlook are:

  • The continuing high activity era. Since 1995, the tropical multi-decadal signal has brought ocean and atmospheric conditions conducive for development in sync, leading to more active Atlantic hurricane seasons.
  • Warm Atlantic Ocean water. Sea surface temperatures where storms often develop and move across the Atlantic are up to two degrees Fahrenheit warmer-than-average.
  • La Niña, which continues to weaken in the equatorial Pacific Ocean, is expected to dissipate later this month or in June, but its impacts such as reduced wind shear are expected to continue into the hurricane season.

“In addition to multiple climate factors, seasonal climate models also indicate an above-normal season is likely, and even suggest we could see activity comparable to some of the active seasons since 1995,” said Gerry Bell, Ph.D., lead seasonal hurricane forecaster at NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.

NOAA’s seasonal hurricane outlook does not predict where and when any of these storms may hit. Landfall is dictated by weather patterns in place at the time the storm approaches. For each storm, NOAA’s National Hurricane Center forecasts how these weather patterns affect the storm track, intensity and landfall potential.

“The tornadoes that devastated the South and the large amount of flooding we’ve seen this spring should serve as a reminder that disasters can happen anytime and anywhere. As we move into this hurricane season it’s important to remember that FEMA is just part of an emergency management team that includes the entire federal family, state, local and tribal governments, the private sector and most importantly the public,” said FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate.

“Now is the time, if you haven’t already, to get your plan together for what you and your family would do if disaster strikes. Visit www.ready.gov to learn more. And if you’re a small business owner, visit www.ready.gov/business to ensure that your business is prepared for a disaster,” added Fugate.

Hurricane impacts are not limited to the coastline; strong winds and flooding rainfall often pose a threat across inland areas along with the risk for tornadoes.

To help prepare residents of hurricane-prone areas, NOAA is unveiling a new set of video and audio public service announcements featuring NOAA hurricane experts and the FEMA administrator that are available in both English and Spanish. These are available at http://www.hurricanes.gov/prepare.

The National Weather Service is the primary source of weather data, forecasts and warnings for the United States and its territories. It operates the most advanced weather and flood warning and forecast system in the world, helping to protect lives and property and enhance the national economy. Visit NOAA online at weather.gov.