Hurricane Conference Dispatch, Day 2
Day two of the Bahamas Weather Conference at the Lucaya Westin Resort on Grand Bahamas Island just wrapped up, and it was every bit as informative as day one. Just as Jason recapped the presentations and themes from Day One, I'll attempt to highlight some of the discussions that took place on day two.
Emergency Preparedness and Response to Hurricanes
During the summer of 2007, Hurricane Humberto came plowing onshore the Texas coast as a strong category one hurricane. What made Humberto so unique was its rapid intensification from a loosely organized tropical depression to a strengthening hurricane as it blew onshore, all of this taking just over 19 hours. However, what this rapid intensification did was to provide emergency managers little time to work. Instead of having weeks of notice as a storm slowly trudged from Africa to the East Coast, they had less than a full day to prepare.
John Simsen, Emergency Management Coordinator for Galveston County, Texas described some of the techniques his office used and problems they faced as they tried to quickly ramp up and run their Emergency Operations Center (EOC) for the storm.
For an area that had little advanced warning, they had to quickly spin into high gear to manage the myriad of issues normally associated with such a storm, including utility service (over 120,000 customers awoke Sept 13 without power), public safety, and government coordination. Simsen's experience should serve as a lesson and warning to all Emergency Management Officials who have may have become complacent with the days of lead time afforded to them by most hurricanes that a hurricane really can strike at anytime, anywhere.
Later, Bryan Norcross, of CBS News fame (Miami, Fl.), discussed a new company that attempts to provide a better emergency and warning network to those in the path of trouble (whether it is a hurricane or any natural disaster). "America's Emergency Network", which is set to begin operation later this year with a trial program with the Florida government, will integrate many existing assets into a newly created network of sensors and warning devices. By using new satellites soon to be in orbit, they will be able to provide watches, warnings and video to residents via mobile technology based on their current GPS determined position, not where they signed up to receive them from (like most current systems). The advantage is that you get more personalized, more accurate information out to the people quicker, many of who may be tourists and would never know without the network's notifications. It also promises to be an invaluable for emergency managers. See the following video, in which Norcross describes some of the technology's features.
Climate Change and Hurricanes
The other major theme (and an underlying current for the whole conference) was global warming and its possible impact on hurricanes. Day two brought a wealth of knowledge on the subject, as we heard from Tom Karl (National Climate Data Center), Rick Knabb (NHC), Tom Knutson (NOAA's Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Lab), and Stu Ostro (The Weather Channel). It was a great program, covering everything from "Weather and Climate Extremes in a Changing Climate" to "Potential Global Warming Impacts on the Bahamas" to "Have Humans Affected Atlantic Hurricane Climate?" Following the individual presentations was a panel discussion that included very heated discussions between NOAA's Knutson -- who argues human caused warming will likely strengthen hurricanes and Dr. Bill Gray, a prominent global warming skeptic.
First, the basics. Sea surface temperatures (of SST) have been identified as one of the main driving forces behind hurricanes and their development. This is seen year after year as storms rise and fall in the Atlantic basin. Observational research generally indicate as SSTs go, so do hurricanes. In years where the average SSTs have been warmer, we tend to get more intense hurricanes, and vice-versa.
This has led to the hypothesis that a warming climate may increase hurricane intensity. Tom Knutson presented model results that generally support this premise. The model ensembles (a collection of multiple model runs and data) suggest we may see somewhat stronger hurricane by the end of the century, with average wind speed increasing almost 5% and rainfall increasing 13%. On average, the models indicated the frequency of hurricanes will remain much the same although there was great variability among the different models.
Watch highlights from Tom Knutson's talk at the Bahamas Weather Conference
Want more from the conference? Keep watching the Capital Weather Gang over the next few weeks as we will continue to provide information, content, and interviews from the conference.
Disclosure: The author is attending this conference as a guest of the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism, which paid his expenses.
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