Hurricane Conference Dispatch, First Session
Here on Grand Bahama Island, the site of the 12th annual Bahamas Weather Conference, skies are mostly sunny and seas are calm. But meteorologists from across the U.S. have gathered to discuss the prospect of coming storms both here and back home. What follows are some of the major themes to emerge from yesterday's conference sessions.
Seasonal Hurricane Forecasts Have Limited Value
Although Colorado State researchers Dr. Bill Gray and Philip Klotzbach are forecasting net tropical cyclone (storms and hurricanes) activity in the Atlantic to be 60% above average this coming season, leaders in tropical meteorology are downplaying the significance of these forecasts.
The Weather Channel's Tropical Weather Expert Steve Lyons noted that the relationship between the number of storms in the Atlantic ocean in a given year and the number that actually make landfall along the U.S. East and Gulf coasts is very weak. Devastating storms can make landfall in quiet years (e.g., Andrew in 1992) while storm impacts can be minimal in active years when storms miss the coast, are weak and/or hit unpopulated areas. Lyons emphasized that regardless of the seasonal forecast, "everyone needs to be equally prepared every year." National Hurricane Center Director Bill Read suggested vacationers shouldn't change travel plans based on these forecasts since it's impossible to know where storms will hit months in advance and the probability of a storm hitting a given area is low.
Bill Read, Dr. Gray and former NHC Director Max Mayfield discuss the value of seasonal forecasts in the following video.
Disaster Waiting to Happen in the Big Apple
"This is my city and I'm going to destroy it." Those were the words of Dr. Nicholas Coch, a hurricane expert from Queens College, as he began his talk presenting the worst-case scenario for a storm hitting the New York City region.
He described a category three or four storm passing just west of the city creating a 20-30 foot storm surge that would flood significant parts of city, drown the subway system and put John F. Kennedy airport underwater. Hurricane-force winds would be enhanced as they funnel through urban canyons causing projectile debris. And the winds at ground level would be much higher towards the top of skyscrapers potentially taking out windows.
According to another presenter, Mike Wyllie, former meteorologist-in-charge of the NYC National Weather Service, the city's Office of Emergency Management has prepared a 90-page plan for preparing for and responding to major coastal storms, including the big one Dr. Koch described. He indicated OEM will never evacuate the entire city, but have mapped areas vulnerable to flooding and have a plan to move residents in prone areas out of harms way.
Hurricane Intensity Forecasts Need to Improve
In his presentation about the progress in hurricane forecasting (i.e. short-term or days, as opposed to the seasonal forecasting discussed earlier), National Hurricane Center Director Bill Read reported NHC hurricane intensity forecasts show no increased skill since 1990. On the plus side, track forecasts have steadily gotten better and errors have been reduced 50% since 1990. Read stated NHC is devoting considerable new resources towards making progress on the intensity problem.
Disclosure: The author is attending this conference as a guest of the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism, which paid his expenses.
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