Tag Archives: NOAA

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!

The 2013 Atlantic Hurricane Season is here

Five days into the ‘official’ 2013 Atlantic hurricane season Mother Nature has decided to comply by generating the first tropical cyclone, a named storm, of the still very young season. Tropical storm ANDREA generated from a tropical wave that had meandered over the north central Caribbean and then the southern gulf of Mexico over the past 3 -4 days.

Tropiacl storm ANDREA, the first named tropical cyclone of the 2013 Atlantic Hurricane season was located near 25.3 N 86.5W in the Guilf of Mexico at 1800 EDT on June 5, 2013. The storm was tracking northward at a slow 3 mph.
Tropical storm ANDREA, the first named tropical cyclone of the 2013 Atlantic Hurricane season was located near 25.3 N 86.5W in the Gulf of Mexico at 1800 EDT on June 5, 2013. The storm was tracking northward at a slow 3 mph.

Tropical storm Andrea is expected to continue moving toward the north and then north by northeast toward a possible landfall in the Bind Bend area of Florida’s Gulf coast. The system is forecast to traverse the peninsula and then emerge over the southeastern USA coastal region. The most damaging components from Andrea are expected to be storm surge and wave action along Florida’s Gulf coast, extreme rain, and potentially some tornadoes. The  wind analysis image below illustrate the steering currents that will help drive tropical storm Andrea on its projected track.

Wind analysis showing steering winds and other atmospheric features interacting with tropical storm Andrea on June 5, 2013 as of 1700 EDT.
Wind analysis showing steering winds and other atmospheric features interacting with tropical storm Andrea on June 5, 2013 as of 1700 EDT.

Earlier this year, a couple of months ago, forecasters at Colorado State University, NOAA and the Weather Channel, issued their advanced forecasts for the 2013 Atlantic hurricane season. Colorado State called for 18 named storms including 9 hurricanes, of which 4 will be major hurricanes (category 3 or higher in the Saffir-Simpson scale), the Weather Channel is calling for 16 named storms including 9 hurricanes, of which 5 will be category 3 or higher. NOAA, in typical scientific fashion, issued a forecast based on ranges of storms rather than an exact number, calling for 13 to 20 named storms to include from 7 to 11 hurricanes, of which 3 to 6 will be major hurricanes. In addition NOAA gives its forecast a 70% likelihood that it will happen.

While NOAA, Colorado State University and the Weather Channel play their numbers game pretty much in agreement in terms of overall numbers, the bottom line is that the 2013 Atlantic Hurricane Season is forecast to be more active than the average season, which over the past 63 years (1950m – 2012) has averaged 12 named storms, including 7 hurricanes, 3 of them major hurricanes, annually.

Ominous and scary as these numbers appear, and that is all they are: just numbers, there is no need for anyone losing sleep over these forecasts. What really should get our undivided attention is that in only takes one hit to cause a lot of pain, human suffering, structural damage and economic loss. The extensive media coverage of what New Jersey and New York, and other neighboring states, are going through as a result of Hurricane Sandy is evidence enough of how true this axiom really is.

In this regard, I submit that NOAA, the Weather Channel and Colorado State University, would provide a vastly superior public service by striving to communicate how damaging wind and storm surge generated by a hurricane can really be, and by finding ways to characterize the impacts of these damaging components of hurricanes on given communities, rather than playing the annual numbers game that is really meaningless  to an individual residing in a hurricane vulnerable community. After all, what really makes a difference is not how many named storms or major hurricanes may actually happen in a given year, but whether that individual is prepared or not in terms of how protected his house is and how effective his emergency plan really is.

In this regard I believe it is a good thing that Tropical Storm Andrea is happening so early into the 2013 Atlantic hurricane season, if only because it might shake some individuals out of complacency and into mitigation actions. Along these lines, the fact that the Eastern Pacific 2013 Hurricane season that officially started on May 15 has already generated two named storms, tropical storm ALVIN which generated right on cue on May 15 off the Pacific coast of Mexico and hurricane Barbara, which also generated off the coast of Mexico making landfall in southern Mexico to then traverse the isthmus of Tehuantepec as it degraded, to eventually emerge as a depression over the Bay of Campeche in the southwestern Gulf of Mexico.

We will all have to wait and see how accurate the forecast numbers may be, but in the mean time we will all do well to pay attention to the tropics, to be prepared, and above all to seriously and actively engage in the practice of mitigation. Hurricane mitigation consists of all those practices and actions that will effectively reduce the potential for damage to our homes and communities from the impacts of future hurricanes.