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Posted at 10:30 AM ET, 04/17/2009

CWG Talks to Hurricane Center Director

By Jamie Jones

Bahamas Weather Conference: Day One Wrap

* Full Forecast | NatCast | UnitedCast | Events for Rain & Shine *

I (Jamie Jones, right) sit down with National Hurricane Center Director Bill Read (left) at the Bahamas Weather Conference in Nassau.

The 13th Annual Bahamas Weather Conference, currently underway on the island of Nassau, started with its first day of presentations and panels yesterday. It was highlighted by sessions reviewing the 2008 hurricane season, a look ahead to the 2009 season, a discussion on storm surge and the work to improve predictions and communications, as well as a discussion on the impact of the financial crisis on catastrophe-related insurance, the media's role in hurricane coverage, and lessons learned from emergency managers.

The Conference, hosted by former National Hurricane Center (NHC) director Max Mayfield, includes meteorologists from throughout the East and Gulf coasts. Some of the bigger-name experts presenting at the conference include Drs. Bill Gray and Phil Klotzbach (researchers from Colorado State University who released their well-known seasonal hurricane prediction last week), hurricane expert Steve Lyons of the Weather Channel, and current NHC director Bill Read.

I had a chance to sit down with Read to discuss the progress of hurricane predictions, what improvements he would like to see, and how the D.C. area should prepare for the upcoming season.

Keep reading for my conversation with Bill Read and find out how to get more information about the conference and how to follow it live!

One of the themes of Read's presentation was the improvement in hurricane track predictions over the last 40 years. In the 1960s, the average 72-hour hurricane landfall forecast was only within 400 miles of being correct; that gap has narrowed to within 150 miles in the last five years. "Science and technology have driven the product improvements," Read said. "The new super computers and the hard work and advancements by the scientists on staff have improved our knowledge."

I asked if the active hurricane seasons of late have aided this improvement by providing a larger storm sample. He thought not. "Every storm is different, so we try to take general lessons from each."

With the advances in track prediction, Read is now targeting improvements in storm surge forecasts. With recent examples of the devastating storm surge impacts from Katrina and Ike, the ability to accurately predict surge penetration and inundation for specific areas could save time and money for emergency management personnel, as well as lives.

And what if Read could snap his fingers and improve one thing now? He answered without a second thought: Predicting the "rapid intensification of hurricanes. [Hurricane] Charley strengthened from a category 1 to a category 4 in just eight hours. And we have no idea why." This sort of rapid intensification would be devastating if it happened in the hours preceding a land-falling hurricane, leaving those in the line of fire with little to no warning.

When asked how the D.C. metro region should prepare for a hurricane, Read commented: "Treat it like a winter storm. You could be without power for a few days with transportation troubles. Be sure you have extra food and water on hand. This is especially important for the aging population, as times without power or access to medical services can be life-threatening."

Read also cautioned: "Be wary of those areas that had flooding issues during Isabel. These locations should be aware of the possibility of flooding again and prepare accordingly."

And advice for inland residents while dealing with an approaching and passing hurricane? "Stay indoors."

Want to find out more about the Bahamas weather conference? The official Web site has videos of many of the presentations and other materials. You can also follow all of Day 2 and look back on Day 1 with the Gang's Twitter Feed(@Capitalweather). We are live tweeting from the conference. Let us know your thoughts, and who knows, we might get them into one of the panel discussions.

Disclaimer: The author is attending this conference as a guest of the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism, which paid some of his expenses.

By Jamie Jones  | April 17, 2009; 10:30 AM ET
Categories:  Tropical Weather  
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Seems I remember a huge controversy a few years back, involving the NHC Director, who got "reassigned" to a rather obscure weather station in inland Texas.

Did this happen just before or just after Katrina? I believe it involved Max Mayfield's predecessor.

Posted by: Bombo47jea | April 17, 2009 2:52 PM | Report abuse

On the subject of rapid intensification: Do we know of a storm that has done this, or is suspected of having intensified rapidly when nearing landfall? What DO we know about rapid intensification - any patterns surrounding age of the storm, temperature of the water...anything at all? Are there any hypotheses that scientists have formed to begin the intensification of this phenomenon?

Posted by: --sg | April 17, 2009 9:43 PM | Report abuse

Jamie, nice post. One technical quibble: Hurricane Charley did intensify rapidly shortly before making landfall, as did Hurricane Opal in 1995 as it approached the Florida panhandle.

~sg: there have been a number of studies on the subject, but none are generalizable yet across all storms, unfortunately. If you do a google scholar search for "hurricane rapid intensification" you'll come up with quite a few. Perhaps Steve Tracton knows more in this area and can comment here soon too.

Posted by: Andrew-CapitalWeatherGang | April 18, 2009 12:54 PM | Report abuse

Bombo47jea - That was Bill Proezna and he returned to his previous job as the NWS Southern Region director. It's not a position that attracts lots of face-time with the media, as a director of NHC requires. He was Max's replacement.

Rapid intensification of hurricanes happens quite frequently. Katrina did it, so did Dean. Charley did it very close to land. Fortunately he was a very small & compact storm, so the surge and wind damage wasn't as bad or widespread as feared. But we've been lucky so far.

The trend in skillful intensity forecasts have remained pretty flat over time. It's a difficult problem.

Posted by: sweetoakhome | April 18, 2009 5:17 PM | Report abuse

Opal did intensify rapidly, but not while coming ashore like Charley was doing. Opal followed the more typical weakening into landfall that many north/northeast turners have in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Regarding characteristics of a storm about to undergo rapid intensification: Besides an ideal outflow environment and richly warm waters, I have heard a good bit about "hot towers".

Posted by: Ian-CapitalWeatherGang | April 19, 2009 9:47 AM | Report abuse

Andrew, very correct. Poor choice of wording I guess, I was more going for a situation where you go to sleep expecting a cat 1, and wake up in the middle of a cat 4 (so maybe even a bit more later with the intensifying than Charley did). I also seem to remember that Katrina?? may have been beginning rapid intensification before it came onshore.

Posted by: JJones-CapitalWeatherGang | April 19, 2009 3:51 PM | Report abuse

Katrina was also weakening while coming ashore. I think it's generally pretty hard for a storm to be very large and still strengthening at landfall in the northern Gulf of Mexico. There is less heat content in the water, often entrainment of continental air, plus the fact that storms are often feeling some hit from westerlies to be that far north.

Posted by: Ian-CapitalWeatherGang | April 20, 2009 10:18 AM | Report abuse

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