Bryan Norcross's Hurricane Almanac: a book review

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 1:19 PM GMT on May 24, 2007

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Bryan Norcross, Hurricane Analyst for CBS's national news and Director of Meteorology for WFOR-TV in Miami, has just written his second annual Hurricane Almanac: The Essential Guide to Storms Past, Present, and Future. Bryan is famous for his marathon on-air performance during Hurricane Andrew of 1992, when he talked people through the storm as their homes came apart around them. His book is a great addition to the bookshelf of anyone living in Hurricane Alley. Like any almanac, it has information on a variety of topics, and is not meant to be read straight through. My favorite part was his 5-page description of his Hurricane Andrew experience--and the lessons we should have learned from it, but didn't. Some other highlights:

Ready, Set, Hurricane!
The book's greatest strength is the impressive 134-page section that provides checklists and practical information on how to prepare, ride out, evacuate, and recover from a hurricane. There are so many things to think of that having them available in a handy book one can pick up anytime makes Hurricane Almanac a great book to have. When preparing for a hurricane, you'll find tips on what storm shutters and generator to buy, what to do with your pet, computer, boat, pool and car, and how to make a Family Hurricane Plan. Bryan also boosts a web which I also like, onestorm.org. This is a free hurricane preparedness web site that helps you put together a family hurricane plan.

I like how the book emphasizes the most important things it wants you to know. In the case of the Ready, Set, Hurricane! section, Bryan emphasizes this:

IF YOU DON'T DO ANYTHING ELSE, DO THIS!

-Contact a friend or relative out of town and ask him or her to be your family's emergency contact.

-Before the storm, be sure that every member of the family has a piece of paper on them that says, for example:

EMERGENCY CONTACT
AUNT MILLY IN NJ
201-555-5555

-Call Aunt Milly before the wind starts blowing to tell her exactly where you are and what you are planning to do.

-Be sure everybody knows that they should call Aunt Milly if they get lost or anything bad happens.

It's important that your main contact person is out of town, because local calls are more likely to be disrupted after a storm. Both ends of local connections are subject to problems.

Another interesting fact I learned from Hurricane Almanac: You can send an email message to any cell phone able to receive text messages by emailing to XXX-XXX-XXXX@teleflip.com (replace the X's with the phone number of the person's cell phone). The message will be forwarded to any cell phone provider in the U.S.

Hurricane Almanac also details what to do after the storm--how to deal with FEMA and your insurance company, save water-damaged possessions, and purify your drinking water. Additional chapters include an excellent summary of all the various National Hurricane Center advisories and how to interpret them, the basics of hurricane science, and a summary of some of the famous storms in the past. The opening chapter includes a very passionate critique of our emergency management system, building codes, and the politicians who fail to adequately protect us against hurricanes. A sample quote:

That President Bush, DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff, and the head of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, General Carl Strock were completely misinformed and saying ridiculous things for days and weeks after the Katrina disaster is frightening. These people know when a pin drops in Afghanistan. How can they not know when a levee breaks in New Orleans? The evidence says that the communications and operational infrastructure of the federal government broke down. We should all be very concerned.

Hurricane Almanac (335 pages, softcover) is $10.39 from amazon.com. It's not fancy--all the photos and figures are black and white (if you want a coffee table hurricane book with beautiful color photos and figures, get Dr. Kerry Emanuel's Divine Wind. An added bonus for Hurricane Almanac is a companion web site, hurricanealmanac.com. The web site is not fancy, but does have some useful links and a page that allows you to send Byran emails with suggestions and/or fixes for the 2008 version of his book.

The book also has a provocative chapter titled, "How I'd do it better," that I'll comment on in a future blog.

Jeff Masters

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667. keywestdingding
4:54 PM GMT on May 26, 2007
hey storm junkie-what are the dates of each pic? is one today and one last year and if so which one. thanks. todd
Member Since: March 6, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 91
665. KYhomeboy
4:14 PM GMT on May 26, 2007
did a good job!
664. plywoodstatenative
4:14 PM GMT on May 26, 2007
Tried to make the map as compact as possible, but still make it readable. I know how some react to massive photos, so tried to be reasonable with the width and height of it.
Member Since: November 15, 2005 Posts: 16 Comments: 4189
663. plywoodstatenative
4:10 PM GMT on May 26, 2007
wind shear map
Member Since: November 15, 2005 Posts: 16 Comments: 4189
661. KYhomeboy
4:00 PM GMT on May 26, 2007
SW Carib....those thunderstorms are well removed from the 'circulation' there but if moisture can be pulled from them and placed around the low then something could develop. The visible sat. is over that area is quite interesting.
660. GainesvilleGator
4:00 PM GMT on May 26, 2007
From JustCoasting:

Gainesville not sure what you can do anymore than we do here in charlotte county as far as building codes go have any ideas .I am a building contractor and interested in hearing what you think

For starters, building houses & other properties that cost more per square foot is always a tough sell. Builders don't want to do it & people don't want to pay for it. We are at a point when it will cost more in the long run NOT to build structures better. For example, investing $40,000 more for a 2,000 SQ Ft house might seem unreasonable at first glance. What if doing so will save you $6,000 or more per year in insurance costs? You earn your money back in less than 7 years. The 40K # was just pulled out of thin air as an example of how the current mind set is. I am hoping that this number is much less. The current active cycle may last another 30 years so insurance costs may go up significantly from here.

A good idea would be for Governer Crist to get structural experts together from both private & public sources. There are probably dozens of Engineering Colleges in the SE alone. The minimum standard should be that houses be able to withstand cat 3 hurricanes with minumal damage. In more hurricane prone areas of the state we should up that to at least cat 4. There should be a sense of urgency getting the best intellectual minds together in reaching a consensus on what needs to be done.

It comes down to this: Pay now for better structures or pay out annually with higher propery insurance. I think it will be far more painful for people to pay out for Insurance & the deductibles when actual damage is done.

Here is one idea I have that people like to dump on: do away with shingle roofs. I saw way too much roof damage in Palm Beach & Broward Counties after Wilma. Keep in mind that this was only a category 2 storm. Blue tarps where everywhere. I am thinking that we should make the roofs out of either lightweight concrete or some other solid material & then spray on a rubberized like coating on top of it. I am also thinking to going back to block houses exclusively as opposed to wood frame ones. Hurricane shutters for windows are a must. Here in Gainesville I don't see any hurricane shutters anywhere.

I feel there is no political will to change the current building codes in the state. To use an analogy: the existing housing in the state of Florida is like another 9-11 waiting to happen. Not being an alarmist but a strong cat 4 or 5 hurricane has the potential to cause $100 billion + in damages to the Tampa area or the SE Florida coast. Unfortunately, this may be the only thing that can change the buiding codes in this state.
Member Since: September 11, 2005 Posts: 4 Comments: 745
659. weatherbrat
3:48 PM GMT on May 26, 2007
I second that....."Death to the Trolls"!!
658. MZT
3:48 PM GMT on May 26, 2007
Things are bubbling up pretty well in the EPac this morning.

90E morning of May 26
Member Since: September 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 793
656. PensacolaDoug
3:45 PM GMT on May 26, 2007
Bring on the rain!
Death to the trolls!


My new warcry.....
Member Since: July 25, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 670
655. ryang
3:38 PM GMT on May 26, 2007
Hey All... check my blog... seems like bad weather forming!!
Member Since: August 25, 2006 Posts: 329 Comments: 12454
654. IKE
3:35 PM GMT on May 26, 2007
I see another spin around 19N, 86W...appears to be moving west toward the Yucatan.
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37860
653. IKE
3:32 PM GMT on May 26, 2007
3rd time trying to post this...

Hopefully the entire state will..including up here in the panhandle.

I see a spin...around 12N, 80W...but all of the deep convection is well east of there...around 75W...
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37860
652. plywoodstatenative
3:27 PM GMT on May 26, 2007
heck with the invest, South Florida may finally get some decent rain.
Member Since: November 15, 2005 Posts: 16 Comments: 4189
651. nash28
3:23 PM GMT on May 26, 2007
Looks pretty healthy this morning. We may have an invest from this this weekend.
Member Since: July 11, 2005 Posts: 190 Comments: 16972
650. RL3AO
3:20 PM GMT on May 26, 2007
I still cant believe it didnt get called a TD yesterday.
649. IKE
3:15 PM GMT on May 26, 2007
The 00 UTC CMC spins up a low...has it heading toward Florida...turns it NE over the big bend. Some of the other models try to develop something too.
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37860
647. IKE
3:02 PM GMT on May 26, 2007
Here's the 12 UTC NAM...has a 1000mb low which stays out over the Caribbean waters...could get interesting folks..Link
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37860
645. nash28
2:53 PM GMT on May 26, 2007
Very interesting 23. There is some spin associated with this. They may very well decide to invest this before the weekend is out.
Member Since: July 11, 2005 Posts: 190 Comments: 16972
644. nash28
2:51 PM GMT on May 26, 2007
Stoormfury- I believe this is what the NAM is predicting there. Currently, it is in a favorable shear environment and the SST's are more than warm enough. The shear to its north is still too hostile, but it has been forecast to start relaxing as we approach the end of the month.
Member Since: July 11, 2005 Posts: 190 Comments: 16972
643. hurricane23
2:50 PM GMT on May 26, 2007
Interesting discussion from TPC this morning...

FROM THE SRN PLAINS EWD... A NUMBER OF MODELS SUGGEST THAT SOME
SRN PLAINS ENERGY PERHAPS IN COMBINATION WITH OTHER ENERGY OVER
THE GULF OF MEXICO/NWRN CARIBBEAN MAY SUPPORT SOME TYPE OF SFC
SYSTEM AFFECTING THE GULF/SERN CONUS. LOW PREDICTABILITY OF SUCH
A FEATURE... ESPECIALLY GIVEN SOME DEPENDENCE UPON HOW THE TROF TO
THE N EVOLVES... FAVORS A CONSERVATIVE APPROACH SIMILAR TO THE
00Z/18Z ENSEMBLE MEANS. THIS WILL BE LOOKED AT CLOSER FOR AFTN
FINALS AS GFS/UKMET/CANADIAN AND ECMWF ALL ORIGINATE THIS SYSTEM
FROM A DISTURBANCE N AND NE OF PANAMA WHERE THERE IS AT LEAST SOME
HINT OF CIRCULATION AND CURRENT CONVECTION. EARLY LOOK FAVORS A
UKMET SCENARIO BRINGING A DISTURBANCE ACROSS SRN FL THEN NEWD.
WILL NOT DEPICT THIS UNTIL LATER EVALUATION
.
Member Since: May 14, 2006 Posts: 8 Comments: 13841
642. stoormfury
2:48 PM GMT on May 26, 2007
is something brewing in the sw caribbean. there seems to be a spin at 13.8n 80w. maybe this is what nam is predicting. we will wait and see at the 84 hr mark
Member Since: August 22, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 2722
641. nash28
2:41 PM GMT on May 26, 2007
NAM is still showing a 1004mb low at the 84 hour mark.

Link
Member Since: July 11, 2005 Posts: 190 Comments: 16972
640. plywoodstatenative
2:37 PM GMT on May 26, 2007
whats that mess above the Central american region as well as the mess located near Florida?
Member Since: November 15, 2005 Posts: 16 Comments: 4189
639. nash28
2:35 PM GMT on May 26, 2007
Well, there are always going to be assclowns on these blogs. Aaron has done an outstanding job of trying to police it as best he can, but you're not going to stop people 100%. Besides, we are all adults here and can handle ourselves.
Member Since: July 11, 2005 Posts: 190 Comments: 16972
638. Ermuleto
2:32 PM GMT on May 26, 2007
Hello, friends.

Link
637. weatherblog
2:18 PM GMT on May 26, 2007
Posted By: HURRICANE911 at 4:01 AM GMT on May 26, 2007. (hide)
New here. Seems to me you people don't know shit from Adam. Weather changes every second of every day and all you people talk about is a storm is or is not going to hit U.S. mainland. Are you guys this stupid to say one will or will not. Maybe some of you just need to sit on the sideline and stop giving your stupid predictions because none of your are correct. Nobody can say that a storm will hit or will not 100% so why say so. Just making yourself look a stupid geek. Enjoy the Hurricane season you geeks.



Hmm...just wondering why he's on this blog then??...Also wonering how long it took him to write that "brilliant" speech. lol
Member Since: July 10, 2006 Posts: 27 Comments: 1623
636. TheCaneWhisperer
2:16 PM GMT on May 26, 2007
The weakness in the sub tropical ridge looks like it wants to start a weakening trend towards the end of THIS 500mb-Z ANIMATION.
635. JUSTCOASTING
2:12 PM GMT on May 26, 2007
Gainesville not sure what you can do anymore than we do here in charlotte county as far as building codes go have any ideas .I am a building contractor and interested in hearing what you think
Member Since: August 15, 2006 Posts: 2 Comments: 666
634. nash28
1:56 PM GMT on May 26, 2007
You're welcome Storm. Have you noticed the drop in shear in the GOM? Just a couple of days ago, it was as high as 70-80kts. Now, there are a couple of pockets of 30kt shear. Still too hostile for development, but I believe we may be seeing a shift in the pattern.
Member Since: July 11, 2005 Posts: 190 Comments: 16972
632. nash28
1:42 PM GMT on May 26, 2007
A major hurricane making landfall in Cedar Key would basically be the worst possible landfall for the Tampa Bay area. It would put the SE quadrant right over Tampa Bay and the surge would be a nightmare.
Member Since: July 11, 2005 Posts: 190 Comments: 16972
631. GainesvilleGator
1:39 PM GMT on May 26, 2007
Hurricane23, you are right on the mark with your post. People need to keep in mind that Andrew was a very, very small hurricane. A lot of damage was done in a narrow strip of Dade county.

My brother is in same house in Ft. Lauderdale as when Andrew hit. The winds were not a problem there. Here in Gainesville there was no wind & not a cloud in the sky. You get a large storm like Hugo, Floyd, or Frances category 4 or above & you are looking at $100 billion in damage for a Dade/Broward County landfall.

I think the Cedar Key area is overdue for a hurricane as well. I think that area averages one every 9 years or so but the last hurricane to come near that was Elena in 1985.

I made a post yeasterday about Florida not having any private insurance companies in the near future. This is a real possibility if we keep getting cat 3+ storms causing $25 billion in damage. The building code needs to be upped right away but I think it is going to take a $50 billion hurricane for law makers to make the building code more strict. We all know the big one will eventually come & the current contruction will not hold up.
Member Since: September 11, 2005 Posts: 4 Comments: 745
630. nash28
1:29 PM GMT on May 26, 2007
Morning Pat.
Member Since: July 11, 2005 Posts: 190 Comments: 16972
629. Patrap
1:23 PM GMT on May 26, 2007
An early reminder here that the season is nearing..Link
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 428 Comments: 129903
628. Patrap
1:21 PM GMT on May 26, 2007
Area forecast discussion
National Weather Service New Orleans la
316 am CDT Sat may 26 2007


Discussion...
not much has changed in forecast thinking since yesterday
afternoon's package. High pressure continues to dominate the short
term. The only real concern over the next 48 hours will be the
persistent easterly winds. A coastal Flood Watch remains in effect
from Southwest Pass of the Mississippi River to the Bay of Saint
Louis Mississippi where water levels combined with high tides may
create some coastal flooding issues.
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 428 Comments: 129903
626. WPBHurricane05
1:02 PM GMT on May 26, 2007
Don't forget about New York City which ranks 3rd in most likely to get hit by a hurricane.
Member Since: July 31, 2006 Posts: 56 Comments: 8112
625. WPBHurricane05
12:55 PM GMT on May 26, 2007
"It could happen tomorrow"
NA
Member Since: July 31, 2006 Posts: 56 Comments: 8112
624. hurricane23
12:47 PM GMT on May 26, 2007
Me either but the reality is another andrew somewere in florida is not a matter of if but when.
Member Since: May 14, 2006 Posts: 8 Comments: 13841
623. Hellsniper223
12:44 PM GMT on May 26, 2007
Hurricane23... I don't like your article. lol
Member Since: March 28, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 16
622. hurricane23
12:31 PM GMT on May 26, 2007
Florida long overdue for big storms

Jacksonville: 127 years. Tampa: 86 years. Sarasota: 63 years. Fort Lauderdale: 57 years. Miami: 15 years.

That's how long it has been since those major metropolitan areas of Florida -- the state most vulnerable to hurricanes -- have been hit by a Category 3 or higher storm.

It cannot last. All are historically overdue for an assault by a major hurricane, with sustained winds above 110 mph and even stronger gusts.

''It's just a matter of time,'' said Eric Blake, a hurricane specialist at the National Hurricane Center in West Miami-Dade. ``Whether it's 10 years, 20 years, 50 years or tomorrow, we just don't know.''

The six-month hurricane season begins Friday, but the next deadly hurricane catastrophe is developing right now, forecasters and emergency managers say. And Florida is most at risk.

Enormous numbers of people who have never experienced the colossal, life-threatening power of hurricanes are flocking to coastal cities around the state. More than 17 million Floridians live along the coast.

''Katrina showed us that a large loss of life is still possible in a hurricane,'' Blake said of the 2005 storm that slapped South Florida, then strengthened and wrecked New Orleans and much of the upper Gulf Coast.

''Floridians certainly are not invulnerable,'' he said. ``If people don't heed evacuation orders, there could be a significant loss of life in this state.''

Forty percent of all U.S. hurricanes hit Florida, according to records at the hurricane center. All five of the costliest hurricanes in history hit Florida, in some cases along with other states. Five of the 10 most intense U.S. hurricanes hit Florida.

And even with all of that, most Florida cities -- with ever-rising populations -- are long overdue for a strike by a major Category 3, 4 or 5 hurricane.

Since reliable record-keeping began in 1851, a major hurricane has blasted or approached Miami-Dade County an average of once every nine years, Broward County once every 10 years, Tampa once every 23 years, the Sarasota-Bradenton area once every 19 years and the Jacksonville area once every 28 years.

But Miami-Dade hasn't been pummeled by a major hurricane since Andrew ravaged the southern part of the county in 1992, Broward has avoided that horror since 1950, Tampa since 1921, the Sarasota-Bradenton area since 1944, and Jacksonville since 1880.

GEOGRAPHY TO BLAME

One day, each one of those cities will run out of luck, experts said. The state's geography offers no other possibility.

Florida dangles into the hurricane zone like a giant kick-me sign, and its 1,200 miles of coast produce an inviting target for storm surge, the dome of water that accompanies a hurricane's core ashore and poses the greatest threat to life.

Sooner or later, Blake said, every city -- every spot -- along Florida's coast will get hit by a major hurricane. ''It's inevitable,'' he said.

Blake is the lead author of a recently updated study that examines the nation's history of hurricanes and its current vulnerability. It found that the danger stretches across the entire Gulf and East coasts, from Brownsville, Texas, to the northeastern tip of Maine.

Millions of people have moved to those coasts in the last 50 years, and 85 percent of current coastal residents have never experienced a major hurricane, according to several studies.

''It's quite a demographic challenge,'' said Bill Proenza, the veteran National Weather Service forecaster and manager who replaced Max Mayfield in January as hurricane center director.

Here are some other sobering -- even frightening -- findings of the report co-authored by Blake:

The two deadliest hurricanes struck Galveston, Texas, in 1900 and the Palm Beach-Lake Okeechobee area in 1928, but even now -- after decades of forecast and communications improvements -- massive loss of life can occur.

Just two years ago, Katrina killed more than 1,500 people, mostly in Louisiana and Mississippi.

''It shows we still have a lot of work to do when it comes to educating people about the danger of storm surge, which is still the No. 1 way of people losing their lives in a hurricane,'' Blake said.

The two areas in Florida that most concern him are the densely populated, low-lying Tampa Bay region and the thin, delicate chain of Florida Keys.

''In the Keys, there's just no place to go,'' he said.

Katrina ranks as the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history, inflicting $81 billion of damage. Most of that occured in New Orleans and elsewhere along the upper Gulf Coast, but some occured in South Florida -- Katrina's first point of attack.

FLIP SIDE OF GROWTH

The record 2004 and 2005 seasons produced seven of the nine costliest hurricanes, demonstrating the consequences of frenzied coastal development. Simply stated, hurricanes now have more things to destroy.

Exhibit A: When Andrew struck Miami-Dade and other areas, including Broward, it caused $26.5 billion in damage. If the same storm struck the same places now, just 15 years later, it would produce $58.5 billion in damage -- due to population growth, inflation and new development.

Exhibit B: If the Great Miami Hurricane of 1926, a Category 4 storm that directly struck Miami Beach and downtown Miami and swamped Hollywood and Fort Lauderdale, was repeated today, it would cause $164 billion in damage, twice that of Katrina.

Exhibit C: In October 2005, Hurricane Wilma generated only Category 1 and 2 winds in Broward and Miami-Dade, and it still managed to inflict $20.6 billion in damage and become the third costliest hurricane in U.S. history.

During the last 40 years, the average hurricane season has produced 11 tropical storms that grew into six hurricanes, two of them major. This season, experts predict 13 to 17 named storms that will become seven to 10 hurricanes, three to five of them major.

Since record-keeping began, an average of nearly two hurricanes have hit the U.S. coast every year and one major hurricane has struck the coast every other year. And they really like Florida.

Of the 279 hurricanes that reached the U.S. mainland since 1851, 113 hit Florida. Worse, 37 of the 96 major hurricanes walloped the state. No other state comes close to either mark.

The statistics that show many areas in Florida are on borrowed time, called ''return periods,'' which should be treated with caution because they are long-term averages and reflect not much more than good (or bad) luck.

They do reveal, however, how long some cities have gone without experiencing a hurricane, as development thrived, populations mushroomed and complacency might have set in.

Tampa, for instance, has not been hit by any hurricane since 1946 or by a major storm since 1921.

The long-term averages suggest that a hurricane should strike it or come within 86 miles every six years -- and a major storm every 23 years.

But South Floridians shouldn't point fingers at other areas:

Miami is statistically six years overdue for a Category 3, 4 or 5 storm. Fort Lauderdale? Overdue by 47 years.

Member Since: May 14, 2006 Posts: 8 Comments: 13841
621. Thunderstorm2
12:14 PM GMT on May 26, 2007
I'll be back later.
Member Since: December 22, 2006 Posts: 129 Comments: 7608
620. StormJunkie
12:13 PM GMT on May 26, 2007
IR Sat
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619. kmanislander
12:13 PM GMT on May 26, 2007
I've been checking buoy 42058 for the past two days and there is no read out of obs from it. Does anyone know why that is ?
Member Since: August 19, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 15948

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Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.

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