Tag Archives: NHC

DOES MOTHER NATURE KNOW: That hurricane seasons are here?

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:

Tropical depression ONE was active in the eastern east Pacific ocean on 22 May 2014!
Tropical depression ONE was active in the eastern east Pacific ocean on 22 May 2014!
NOAA satellite image showing Tropical Depression ONE off the coast pf Mexico and Central America on 23 May 2014.
NOAA satellite image showing Tropical Depression ONE off the coast pf Mexico and Central America on 23 May 2014.
Most of the Atlantic basin, north of the equator, is shown in this satellite image (NOAA) in the early morning of 23 May 2014
Most of the Atlantic basin, north of the equator, is shown in this satellite image (NOAA) in the early morning of 23 May 2014
NOA satellite image of 23 May 2014 showing tropical waves are starting to generate over equatorial Africa moving west to populate 'hurricane alley'
NOA satellite image of 23 May 2014 showing tropical waves are starting to generate over equatorial Africa moving west to populate ‘hurricane alley’

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,

A large cell of disturbed weather covers most of the Bay of Bengal in this satellite image of 23 May 2014
A large cell of disturbed weather covers most of the Bay of Bengal in this satellite image of 23 May 2014
Satellite image of 23 May 2014 shows a large cell of storms and disturbed weather moving from the Central Pacific toward the Philippines Sea, a region that had its share of damaging impacts in 2013 and in prior years
Satellite image of 23 May 2014 shows a large cell of storms and disturbed weather moving from the Central Pacific toward the Philippines Sea, a region that had its share of damaging impacts in 2013 and in prior years

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!

On the topic of Sea Level Rise and Storm Surge: QUESTIONS IN MY MIND?

It was way back around 1993 – 1994, I don’t remember the exact date, that I attended a floodplain management training workshop while doing work for FEMA (FEMA) related to the impact of hurricane Andrew and two other major-disaster declarations.

After hours of hearing presentations, and participating in discussions about the 100 and 500 year flood plains,  BFE (base flood elevation) , NGVD (national geodetic vertical datum of 1929), FIRMs (flood insurance rate maps) and FISs (Flood insurance studies), and all about the various flood zones shown on the FIRMs, including one known as “flooding with velocity” zone, I took advantage of a Q&A segment to ask: “How can we assess current expected flooding conditions at a given location based on FIRMS showing flood depths based on NGVD, a point of reference set sixty-five years before, in 1929?”

I got an extended answer from one of the workshop instructors, who discussed how and why NGVD had been set, the fact that a new vertical datum known as NAVD was starting to be used for some mapping activities, and ended up by telling me that I could estimate mean sea level had already risen “6 to 8 inches”, and could add this to BFE information for a particular site or area. The instructor never explained what the source of his estimate of sea level rise was, but his advice left me thinking that: (a) The issues of coastal flooding and sea level rise were really ‘moving targets’ that had changed and will continue to change in the future, and (b) That, as a result of this expected change, all existing buildings and facilities along the coastal region were in reality more vulnerable and at higher risk from the impact of storm surge and waves, than what could be deducted from FIRM information!

A couple of years after the event I’ve described above, in 1996 I had an opportunity to put in practice the conclusions I had reached based on the knowledge acquired on that day, while conducting one of my first full-fledged vulnerability assessments for a major tertiary-care hospital located on a barrier island in Southeast Florida. It took me a while to research tide-gauge data, and historical data on the variability of tidal range, and also estimated levels of storm surge from National Hurricane Center (NHC) data, to establish a foundation to assess potential impacts and to identify hazard mitigation measures to reduce the potential for damage to this major health-care facility.

Two groundbreaking and critically  important byproducts resulted from the above study, as follows: (1) I developed and proposed the concept of Sheltering-in-placeas a viable and effective alternative to the mandatory evacuation of major hospital in the coastal region, and (2) Miami-Dade County, through its Office of Emergency Management established clear guidelines and requirements for other major hospitals to seek a ‘waiver from evacuation’ on the basis of actions supported by vulnerability assessment studies, and the implementation of specific hazard mitigation measures.

Fast-forward to 2014, twenty years after that training workshop and eighteen years after I introduced the ‘Sheltering-in-place concept, with the benefit of years of research  and actions related to sea level rise, storm surge, tropical cyclones, vulnerability assessment, characterization of impacts, hazard mitigation and other related topics, and the experience of having actively participated in the first National Assessment (NA) of climate change consequences in the USA, during which I wrote a white paper Climate Change and Extreme Events (WHITEPAPERDraft1 ) to set the stage for discussions at one of the regional workshops that were part of the NA process guided by the USGCRP (U.S. Global Change Research Program) and OSTP (the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy), which I managed for the hosting organization the International Hurricane Center at Florida International University, I find that I know quite a bit more about the topic but I also have so many more questions about sea level rise and storm surge = a most damaging combination!

To illustrate that exponential growth  in the number of questions I would like to help answer, I will now share a list of questions I put together and shared with seven invited panelists while preparing to chair the opening session at the SLR 2013 Summit hosted by the Florida Center for Environmental Studies (CES), at Florida Atlantic University (FAU) in Fort Lauderdale, Florida in October 2013. Please consider this particular list of specific questions as just ‘a taste’ of what is a continuously growing and much longer list that I keep working on in my ‘spare time’ (?).

Partial List of Questions re: SLR + Storm Surge
* Can we sustain existing land use?
* Can we sustain existing land use along the coastal zone?
* Can we sustain the agricultural areas in south Florida? For how long? At what cost?
* Can we close gaps in building codes?
* Can we close gaps in educational system for building design professionals?
* How do you deal with existing stock of buildings and infrastructure?
* Is a building re-certification program needed? Is it feasible?
* What role will the finance and insurance industries play?
* Can we resolve the limestone issue and build protective works offshore?
* If limestone issue is beyond our limits, either because of technical capabilities or
cost effectiveness, can we at least dampen the energy of surge to reduce potential for
damage?
* Are sandy beaches sustainable? For how long? At what cost?
* If the only method for protecting the coastal built- environment is by armoring the
beach, how will that change the character of the region? What will it do to the
tourism industry? How will this affect the economy of the region and of the state?
* How do we resolve the conflict between human-made inlets and longshore sand
transport?
* In the event that protective offshore (Dutch style) works are built, how do we
ensure the continuity of longshore sand transport to maintain sandy beaches?
* Is the current water management infrastructure sustainable? For how long? At what
cost?
* If current water management system is not sustainable beyond a certain number of
years, what is the alternative? A modified system? What does it look like? How much
will it cost? How long will it take to design and built? When do we need to start
working toward its implementation?
* Are some regions of SE Florida clearly not sustainable or at least not so in a cost-effective
way? Which regions are these? How much time do current residents and
users realistically have before they have to relocate and abandon?
* Will we need to prepare for regional migration of displaced populations? Where will
they go? What will this do to prices of property and land?
* Will abandonment of certain regions and relocation of displaced populations open
new opportunities for growth and development elsewhere in Florida or in the country?
Where? How can we manage these changes?
* Can we engage nature to help? Can mangrove forests and wetlands be reintroduced
as dynamic live ecosystems to help protect the coastal region? Can we
create a new dune and sandy beach environment to help protect the coastal region?
* Can we preserve barrier islands that still exist as primarily natural ecosystems? Can
we keep urban development away from such islands?