It is the season of ‘season predictions’; it started in April and it’s been ongoing all this time by way of several venues. From the National Hurricane Conference, to the Governor’s Hurricane Conference in Florida, and in the media, we have heard from the folks at Colorado State University’s Tropical Meteorology Project, and from the Weather Channel, and also from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) – National Hurricane Center (NHC) make their predictions for the 2014 Atlantic Hurricane Season.
The media is characterizing these predictions as calling for a ‘slow’, a ‘below-average’, a ‘less active season than in previous years’ while also emphasizing what one spokesperson after another, representing NOAA, the NHC , FEMA as well as state and local offices of Emergency Management, have gone to great lengths in clarifying: “…it only takes one impact to cause extreme damage and human suffering..”
What is different this year, especially in NOAA/NHC’s forecast, echoed by FEMA, is the emphasis on storm surge as the most damaging component of hurricanes, and the fact that the intensity of storm surge and its capacity for causing severe damage results from the interaction of several factors beyond the category of tropical cyclone that generates it or its maximum sustained winds.
In conjunction with this emphasis on storm surge the NHC also announced it will begin using new storm surge mapswhen issuing hurricane warnings. These storm surge maps will show depth of water above ground, making it easier for the public to visualize and understand the risk they face from this hazard. These maps are the result of several years of study and analysis of the most effective method for conveying the potential impact and risk associated with expected storm surge generated by an incoming or bypassing tropical cyclone. NOAA actually developed and tested several products for these purposes, including engaging social scientist to research the effectiveness of the various products in communicating the correct message to the public. All these efforts have paid off, judging by storm surge maps that have been recently previewed by the agencies. A job well done indeed….so far, now we’ll need to wait and see how these new maps meet the test of a real storm.
Music to my ears! I have been preaching the dangers of storm surge (ccANDstormsurge22) for the longest time through the teaching of two master’s program classes, Vulnerability Assessment andHazard Mitigation , at Florida International University but through several other venues available to me, from meetings of the Miami-Dade County Local Mitigation Strategy Working Group meetings, to numerous conferences on natural hazards, hurricanes, climate change, sea level rise, risk and resilience, sustainability, and also via postings on this site, comments made during interviews by the media, and published writings (There is a Link between Climate Change and Hurricanes Published in Natural Hazard Observer, May 2009 ).
Against this background of a flurry of predictions, characterizations by the media, and emphasis on storm surge, what is Mother Nature doing? Does Mother Nature know there was an official date of May 15 marking the start of the 2014 East Pacific Hurricane Season and that in just a few more days, on 1 June 2014, the 2014 Atlantic Hurricane Season will ‘punch the clock’?
A look at today’s satellite imagery gives us an idea of what the tropics are doing around various basins that are known as cradles of cyclogenesis. Take a look:
From the satellite imagery above we see that the eastern Pacific basin near Mexico and Central America is already showing the storminess and cells of disturbed weather that have been the pattern for that region, over the past several years. The Atlantic basin appears mostly quiet in these views, but the ‘tropical wave assembly lane’ appears already active with several large tropical waves already marching westward toward hurricane alley, or at least its southern region. Something to monitor and watch as the Atlantic waters to the north continue to get warmer.
Elsewhere in the world we already see a large cell of disturbed weather, with potential for cyclonic development, in the Bay of Bengal. Farther to the east over the central Pacific ocean we see a large cell of disturbed weather apparently aiming for the Philippines, which last year suffered a couple of damaging impacts,
Let’s keep watching. Mother Nature is beginning to agitate the tropics in the northern hemisphere. The forecasters and predictors do their thing issuing their best ‘guesses’ in an activity that is really of little value, for practical purposes. Although, I admit these predictions provide a platform from which to educate the public about the need to be prepared , to pay attention! and to practice mitigation! This year, thanks to the new products unvailed by NOAA/NHC the message also is: beware of storm surge!IT ONLY TAKES ONE HIT, AND IT DOES NOT HAVE TO BE A LAND-FALLING HURRICANE OR A DIRECT HIT, STORM SURGE CAN STILL INFLICT MAJOR DAMAGE!