Great Forecasting and the Bottom Line

By: Bryan Norcross , 4:17 AM GMT on October 31, 2012

Share this Blog
14
+

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.

Reader Comments

Comments will take a few seconds to appear.

Post Your Comments

Please sign in to post comments.

or Join

Not only will you be able to leave comments on this blog, but you'll also have the ability to upload and share your photos in our Wunder Photos section.

Display: 0, 50, 100, 200 Sort: Newest First - Order Posted

Viewing: 15 - 1

Page: 1 — Blog Index

15. Stormchaser062
5:19 PM GMT on November 27, 2012
Quoting Stormchaser062:
I am a professional weather spotter live in New Jersey and would like to go on record of saying; The National Hurricane Center made a "bad judgement call" by not placing hurricane warnings for the Jersey Shore for Sandy which was a "true hurricane" when it made landfall on the evening of Oct. 29th. The damage left behind to the Jersey Shore is the worst ever seen and was all done by the record surge that night which comes with landfalling hurricanes, plus Sandy came in from a bizarre and never-before-seen angle this produced the same affect that a Cat 3 (major hurricane) would leave behind. I always had great respect for the NHC but this time they made a big mistake and there is no other way to put it, I hope there is never a next time to allow the NHC to issue hurricane warnings, the Jersey Shore NEVER wants to see another Sandy-like storm again!!!
Member Since: November 27, 2012 Posts: 0 Comments: 1
14. Stormchaser062
5:17 PM GMT on November 27, 2012
I am a professional weather spotter live in New Jersey and would like to go on record of saying; The National Hurricane Center made a "bad judgement call" by not placing hurricane warnings for the Jersey Shore for Sandy which was a "true hurricane" when it made landfall on the evening of Oct. 29th. The damage left behind to the Jersey Shore is the worst ever seen and was all done by the record surge that night which comes with landfalling hurricanes, plus Sandy came in from a bizarre and never-before-seen angle this produced the same affect that a Cat 3 (major hurricane) would leave behind. I always had great respect for the NHC but this time they made a big mistake and there is no other way to put it, I hope there is never a next time to allow the NHC to issue hurricane warnings, the Jersey Shore NEVER wants to see another Sandy-like storm again!!!
Member Since: November 27, 2012 Posts: 0 Comments: 1
13. WunderAlertBot (Admin)
4:01 AM GMT on November 05, 2012
bnorcross has created a new entry.
12. helmingstay
9:30 AM GMT on November 02, 2012
*10.
Wait.
*11.
Member Since: September 12, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 12
11. Barefootontherocks
2:26 AM GMT on November 02, 2012
The NHC and local NWS offices did a great job forecasting and disseminating information to the public and their partners in the media and emergency management. They also clearly explained the rationale for why the NWS forecast for this rare storm setup was done the way it was.

People who "never expected" what this storm brought are in shock at the devastation. A hurricane warning would not have changed that.

Saw news that TWC website got half a billion hits on Sunday. With that kind of traffic, hope you guys had good links and explanations up on your site that reflected the great forecast put out by NWS local offices and the NHC.

Sometimes I wonder if TWC has an agenda that would be served by discrediting the NWS. But that's for another day.
:)
Member Since: April 29, 2006 Posts: 147 Comments: 17478
10. rgibbs3885
8:39 PM GMT on November 01, 2012
I think you have really hit the nail on the head! As a long-term enthusiast weather guy living on the Nature Coast of West Central Florida, I follow a large number of heavy hitter sources starting with TWC and Wunderground.

I do not remember such specific and advanced conviction, consistency, and accuracy of all the predicted parameters of timing, winds, landfall, surge, river flooding, rain and snowfall, and probable issues millions of folks would endure!!

When I first saw the prediction for Sandy while she was starting to pass thru the Bahamas, my first thought was "wow, how contrived can you get? never gonna happen." Within about a day, all the professional weather scientist and the computer models had convinced me that this prediction had legs.

I started emailing articles, links, survival tips, pleas and warnings to 2 dozen friends and aquaintances from NC to Long Island to Cleveland. I only got 2 of 24 who acknowledged they were taking significant precautions while the rest kept forwarding typical email jokes... To this moment, I have only heard from 1 friend in Cleveland (who took precautions) that it was rough, but all is OK. I can only wish the best for the other 23 and multi-millions more.

I have very vocal and highly critical of the NHC and their computer models this year (Debbie as one example) and the AHPS of the NWS predictions of river stages this Summer in my locale. Sandy's prediction was a monumental huge success, but there were too many failures this year. And yes, I consider the NHC lack of communication to be incompetent, bordering on criminal - and yet another failure.

There were a huge number of media sources available for days with dire and explicit warnings, but few bothered to listen or take action. My singular, tiny, non-scientific experience of only 2 of 24 FRIENDS who paid attention to even ONE of my 4 pleas will never be covered in a scientific journal. But, it begs the question: how much impact would due diligence warnings by the NHC have really had???
Member Since: September 22, 2004 Posts: 0 Comments: 7
9. Barefootontherocks
7:26 PM GMT on November 01, 2012
Below the "..." is a comment from NHC posted on their Facebook page Oct 27, 2012 in response to comments about the

NHC statement concerning the expected transition of Hurricane Sandy to a Post-tropical cyclone and the flow of information from the National Weather Service:
...

NOAA NWS National Hurricane Center Figured this would generate a few comments! Unfortunately, there's no clean way to handle such a very unusual event.

The components of the National Weather Service took a very long hard look at this over the past few days, trying to determine the best way to handle Sandy, given the tools at our disposal. All of the various options had significant downsides, so no matter which approach we chose we knew there'd be criticism. (Easy forecast there, eh?)

We considered continuity of information, where the appropriate expertise for different weather systems existed within the NWS, the essential role of the local NWS Weather Forecast Offices in providing detailed information to the areas they serve, our communications with the emergency management community, previous commitments to our customers and partners, the logistics of the various warning types, the credibility of the NWS, but above all public service. Reasonable people will disagree about the best approach, but this was our judgment.
Member Since: April 29, 2006 Posts: 147 Comments: 17478
8. hurricanetracker1996
6:25 PM GMT on November 01, 2012
I completely agree with Garra and Robsobs that the NHC did a pathetic job of handling what was Hurricane Sandy. Sandy was a tropical hurricane until just a few hours until the center made landfall, however it was still tropical bringing tropical storm conditions to New York/New Jersey hours ahead of becoming post-troical. The NHC should have issued at least a hurricane watch and tropical storm warning from Virginia northwards to New England. Sandy was forecasted to affect millions up and down the east coast, especially in New York and New Jersey, and yet not a single watch or warning was issued from the NHC. They decided on Thursday, 4 days before Sandy made landfall, to dismiss Sandy and give it to the HPC to warn the public and issued high wind warnings. The HPC did a great job with the power that they had, however they couldn't issue any hurricane warnings, which would have certainly got the attention of the public more than the high-wind warning that they only could issue. The NHC decided to issue a tropical storm warning for Bermuda, because they got the easter edge of Sandy's windfield, and for North Carolina. Then they completely ignored states from Virginia northwards, who were expected and did get the worst of what was still Hurricane Sandy. In there Thursday night advisory, they still had Sandy as a strong tropical storm hitting the New York/New Jersey area, however in there discussion, they completely dismissed that and stated that to have a smooth transition, which was nowhere near smooth, to Sandy becoming extra-tropical just prior to the center making landfall, they would let the HPC handle the watches and warnings. I think that this decision was disrespecting the American people (I'm Canadian), since they felt that it wasn't there resposibility to issue watches and warnings because it would become post-tropical. Sandy was forecasted to be the largest and most dangerous storm of the season, and yet the NHC gave up on her, and dsimissing her without having second thoughts of what his would do to the people in the affected areas. I have been a big fan of the NHC, however the way that they handled this storm has given me second thoughts on whether they have the right system of warning the public about major storms, and the next time a superstorm happens, if the NHC doesn't take this into account, this is sure to happen again, and outrage from the public will continue to grow! The NHC needs to change there warning system and also review the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale and refocus impacts not jus on wind speed, but minimum central pressure, and the devestation forecasted!
Member Since: November 1, 2012 Posts: 0 Comments: 0
7. Neapolitan
9:33 PM GMT on October 31, 2012
Yes. kudos to the NHC for their accuracy vis-a-vis Sandy. The below image was from Thursday night, nearly four days before the storm made landfall:

Sandy
Member Since: November 8, 2009 Posts: 4 Comments: 13260
6. robsobs
7:43 PM GMT on October 31, 2012
I think NHC may have been too quick to assess this was going to be a post tropical storm before landfall and handing off warning reponsibilities to the WFOs. Once they made that decision, it was difficult to reverse it. I bet they will reconsider that strategy the next time a similar situation arises, for the exact reasons you point out. That being said, I think the WFOs did an outstanding job warning people of the severity of this approaching storm, and to communicate that this was going to be more than just a strong nor'easter. As far as I can tell, proactive measures were taken as if hurricane warnings were in place. Make no mistake, NWS saved many lives with their timely and accurate forecasts on Sandy... looking at the Jersey shore, the death toll could have been in the hundreds. And yet, I've heard nothing from the media, public or politicians acknowledging this. People are always quick to praise first responders and emergency workers for their work in helping people and restoring infrastructure after a disaster, which is totally justified. But it sure would be nice to see some appreciation for the dedicated professionals of NWS whose work helps to put the public out of harms way in the first place.
Member Since: December 20, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 11
5. vikingsail
5:11 PM GMT on October 31, 2012
As you said the forecasting was right on. I was in Cape Hatteras last week, by Wednesday the locals all were saying that if you did not get out by Friday, you were not getting out. Dare County never issued any evacuation orders nor did they stop people from coming onto the island. Weird. The road washed out Saturday. I left Hatteras on Friday and went up to Lewes De and left there Saturday afternoon. They evacuated Delaware on Sunday. So because of the good forecasting, but not because of warnings, my friends and I escaped getting stuck on Hatteras Island. But like you said leaving communications to lower echelons left everyone a little confused. Probably why Dare Co. did not issue evacuation orders.
Member Since: September 25, 2003 Posts: 0 Comments: 0
4. Gaara
4:26 PM GMT on October 31, 2012
The NHC's reasoning for not issuing hurricane watches and warnings were tremendously flawed, especially considering the storm was still a hurricane, by their account, in the 4PM intermediate advisory prior to landfall. At that time, more than half the storm was already inland.

Furthermore, the definition of a TS/Hurricane watch refers to the "possibility" of TS/Hurricane conditions. Not only was there a possibility of such conditions 48 hours out, such conditions ALREADY EXISTED in some locations as the result of a storm for the NHC was still the primary source of products. Yet neither a watch nor a warning was posted. Absolutely moronic.
Member Since: December 27, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 355
3. theshepherd
1:22 PM GMT on October 31, 2012
"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.
"

Two NOAA scientists invented the IKE Scale.
The gov't owns the patent to the IKE Scale.
So why doesn't the NWS, which is the public arm of NOAA, BTW, use the dang thing?

Is the Weather Channel prohibited from using it for fear of copyright infringements?

Should the gov't own patents?
...that is also a discussion for another day>
Member Since: September 11, 2008 Posts: 9 Comments: 10030
2. Neapolitan
9:49 AM GMT on October 31, 2012
Quoting Bryan Norcross:
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.
Awesome. ;-)

It'll be interesting to see what communication changes, if any, come about in the wake of Sandy. I read the NHC's stated reasons for not posting hurricane watches and warnings far in advance. Some of those seem legit, sure. But if the primary goal is to get people's attention, they probably didn't do as good a job on that as they should have.
Member Since: November 8, 2009 Posts: 4 Comments: 13260
1. surfmet
6:30 AM GMT on October 31, 2012
I see what you are saying. At the same time, who exactly didn't know about this storm or it's potential impacts? Did anyone official give the perception that this was not going to have lots of wind/rain/surge/flooding/snow days to a week in advance?

What would have been done differently (preparation-wise) if a Hurricane Watch or Warning were issued?

I believe if folks are told the potential impacts from a storm and understand them, the rest is semantics and tv drama. Call it Super Duper Pooper Scooper Anticyclone Sandy Watch for all it matters. As long as the question "what does it mean to me?" is answered, watch/warn/advise me all you want.
Member Since: February 18, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 0

Viewing: 15 - 1

Page: 1 — Blog Index

Top of Page

About bnorcross

This is the official blog for Bryan Norcross, Hurricane Specialist at The Weather Channel.

Recommended Links