When the tide was coming in Monday night, we were counting every inch of storm surge. There came a point when we knew, the hoping holiday was over... the water was going to win.
It was a confluence of every bad meteorological and astronomical thing you can imagine to create Sandy's catastrophic surge scenario, not to mention all of the other problems. The jet stream happened to kink into a most menacing and just perfect way that it could scoop up a hurricane that happened to be in the perfect position to be scooped. Then the combo mega storm just happened to move at just the right speed and track to pass over the Gulf Stream and then angle its winds for maximum storm surge, which just happened to come at high tide, which just happened to be on the night of the full, fall moon. Holy coincidence!
But in spite of that thread-the-needle-while-standing-on-your-head unlikeliness, last Thursday the National Hurricane Center put out their first forecast of a hurricane hitting the New Jersey coast... more than four days before it hit. On this blog, I had been talking about the possibility since the previous weekend.
Then when it came time to issue specific storm surge forecasts on Sunday - the NHC forecast a water rise at high tide of 6 to 11 feet at the Battery in New York - those numbers were perfect too. Nine feet was the final Sandy surge height.
But in spite of the forecasting side of the government house being on target, the communications side of the house was not thinking clearly.
I've been around a lot of scientists over the years, and I've found that they often don't think clearly about communications. Ask them for the bottom line and you get the top line, the middle line, and 10 reasons why you can't get to the bottom line. Bring a good communications person into the room and they get to the nub of the matter in 10 seconds.
The bottom line on Sandy is right there in the perfect forecast I mentioned above. The NHC forecast a real, live, tropical hurricane would be off the coast of Norfolk on Monday morning. The cone was covering the entire Northeast coast. A hurricane was coming and a Hurricane Watch should have been issued.
That's it. That's the bottom line. End of explanation.
NOAA said that the local National Weather Service alerts would be a better substitute. If I printed every locally issued watch, warning, or advisory that I get for just my house every year, I'd kill a redwood. Meanwhile we might, maybe, in a bad year get two Hurricane Watches or Warnings. They stand out. They get people's attention in a way that no local alert can.
How should the rules be adjusted to account for freak events like Sandy? That's for another day.
Today we offer hope and help to our friends who need it, and our thanks to the dedicated people who are working around the clock to restore what Sandy took away Monday night.