Grading the forecasts for Irene; Katia organizing; threat of a Gulf of Mexico storm

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 4:38 PM GMT on August 31, 2011

Recovery from the destruction left behind by Hurricane Irene continues in the mid-Atlantic and New England states today. Irene's storm surge, winds, and record rains likely did $3 - $6 billion in insured damage to the U.S., according to AIR-Worldwide. Since actual damages are typically double insured losses, Irene's total price tag will likely be $6 - $12 billion, making it one of the top 20 most expensive hurricanes to hit the U.S. Irene will be one of the most expensive Category 1 hurricanes ever; the record is held by 1972's Hurricane Agnes, which did $11.8 billion in damage (2010 dollars.) As AIR Worldwide notes in their press release, part of this damage is due to the costs of evacuation for the 2 million people that were evacuated. It costs approximately $1 million to evacuate each mile of U.S. coast warned (Aberson et al., 2006). This number will be higher for more densely populated areas of the coast, such as Miami, and may be a factor of six lower for the North Carolina coast (Whitehead, 2003). So were we over-warned during Irene? Could the costs of the storm been lower due to better forecasts and fewer evacuations?


Figure 1. The National Hurricane Center forecast for Hurricane Irene issued five days before it hit Long Island, NY, compared with the actual track of Irene. The landfall locations along the coasts of North Carolina, New Jersey, and New York were pretty much spot-on, though the time of arrival was off by a few hours. The NOAA Environmental Visualization Laboratory has a nice satellite animation of the storm's track superimposed on the NHC's cone of uncertainty forecast.

Well, the official NHC track forecast for Irene was remarkably good; the 5-day forecast was pretty much spot-on for landfall locations, though the timing of when the storm would arrive at the coast was off by a few hours (Figure 1.) This remarkably accurate forecast undoubtedly reduced the costs of unnecessary preparations, and probably saved many lives. NHC track forecasts have improved by over 50% since 1990. The average error in a 24-hour forecast was about 105 miles in 1990, and has averaged near 50 miles the past few years. NHC director Bill Read stated in a interview this week that had Hurricane Irene come along before the recent improvements in track forecasting, hurricane warnings would have been issued for the entire Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina coasts. At an average cost of $1 million per mile of coast over-warned, this would have cost over $700 million. We can credit the investments made in hurricane research, improved satellites, and better computer models for the majority of this improvement. When we consider that government funding for hurricane research has averaged $20 million per year during much of the past two decades, the roughly $200 million spent on hurricane research over the past 20 years was paid back by over a factor of three during just one storm. According to a 2007 presentation at the 61st Interdepartmental Hurricane Conference, the improved hurricane forecasts between 2000 - 2006 resulted in savings of $3 billion compared to what the forecasts of the 1990s would have cost.

What about intensity forecasting?
Progress in making better intensity forecasts of hurricanes, though, has lagged. Over the past twenty years, there has been virtually no improvement in forecasting how strong or weak a hurricane will grow. NHC predicted Irene would hit North Carolina as a Category 3 storm, but it hit at Category 1 strength. Had the intensity forecast been better, many evacuations that were done for Irene could have been avoided. The failure of the intensity forecast led to many accusations that the storm was over-hyped, and an unnecessary amount of expensive preparations and evacuations were done. While I did see some over-hype by the media, I did not think it was more excessive than what has been the case for previous hurricanes. Nate Silver of the New York Times makes some interesting comparisons of the media attention given to Irene versus previous storms, and finds that Irene had about the same amount of media attention as hurricanes Ike and Gustav of 2008. Given in inexperience of the mid-Atlantic and New England coasts with hurricanes, our lack of skill in making intensity forecasts, and the potential for high storm surge damage due to the size of Irene and its landfall during the highest tides of the month, I thought that the overly-cautious approach to evacuations along the coast was warranted.

Better intensity forecasts threatened by budget cuts
Better intensity forecasts of hurricane are possible, but it will take a large investment in hurricane research over an extended time to do that. Such an effort is underway; we are currently in year three of a ten-year program called the Hurricane Forecast Improvement Project (HFIP), funded at just over $1 million per year. The goals of the HFIP are to reduce the average errors of hurricane track and intensity forecasts by 20% within five years and 50% in ten years with a forecast period out to 7 days. In an interview I did last fall with the leader of the project, Dr. Frank Marks of NOAA's Hurricane Research Division, he expressed to me optimism that the program could meet its objectives, provided it remains fully funded. Some of the experimental computer models developed by HFIP have done very well so far during the 2011 hurricane season, so I see reason for optimism, too. However, this project is in serious danger of failure, due to the current budget-cutting emphasis in Washington D.C. A key tool we need to make better intensity forecasts is to have detailed measurements inside the core of the hurricane from instrumented aircraft. Without detailed observations, there is no hope of making a good intensity forecast, no matter how good your model is. During Hurricane Irene, the two P-3 hurricane hunter aircraft and G-IV jet operated by NOAA's Aircraft Operations Center flew continuously into the storm, taking detailed measurements via dropsonde and Doppler radar that were fed in real time to the experimental HFIP computer models. In theory, these measurements by the Hurricane Hunters should be able to significantly improve our intensity forecasts over the coming years. However, the current proposed budget from the House of Representatives mandates a $400 million cut for NOAA, and the NOAA Hurricane Hunters are slated to have their budget cut by 40%, from $29 million to $17 million per year. If these cuts materialize, the ability of the NOAA Hurricane Hunters to continue to aid improvements in hurricane forecasting will be seriously impacted. Many of the critical technologies used operationally now by the Air Force Hurricane Hunters and NOAA jet to improve hurricane forecasts--dropsondes, real-time high-density observations, and the SFMR surface wind measuring instrument--were developed on the NOAA P-3s as research projects, then were migrated to operational use once they proved their worth. The cost of hurricane damages in the U.S. has been doubling every ten years since the 1960s, and is expected to continue to double every ten years, even without the likely coming increase in storm surge damages due to accelerating sea level rise. A Category 1 hurricane doing $10 billion in damage should be a wake-up call that we need to continue our investments in hurricane research to reduce the costs of the inevitable coming storms. Slashing funding by 40% for a research group that was instrumental in saving $700 million in costs from just one storm makes no sense, and I hope Congress will reconsider the proposed cuts for NOAA's Aircraft Operations Center.

References
Whitehead, J.C., 2003: "One million dollars per mile? The opportunity costs of Hurricane evacuation", Ocean and Coastal Management 46, 1069.

Tropical Storm Katia
Tropical Storm Katia continues its long trek across the Atlantic Ocean today, and is expected to arrive at a position several hundred miles north of the Northern Lesser Antilles Islands by Monday. At this time, it appears unlikely that the islands will receive tropical storm-force winds from Katia. Satellite images show that Katia is a well-organized storm with plenty of heavy thunderstorms. The storm has good upper-level outflow channels to the north and south, is under light wind shear, and is traversing warm waters, so it should be able to overcome any dry air problems by Thursday and intensify into a hurricane. It is looking less likely that Katia will affect land. Dr. Bob Hart's Historical Tropical Cyclone Probability web page suggests shows that tropical storms in Katia's current position have an 11% chance of hitting North Carolina, a 12% chance of hitting Canada, a 5% chance of hitting Florida, and a 62% chance of never hitting land. It will be two more days before our computer models will be able to assess the threat to land, though, as Katia is currently still very far out at sea.


Figure 2. The morning run of the GFS Ensemble prediction. The ensemble prediction was done by taking a lower-resolution version of the GFS model and changing the initial distributions of temperature, pressure, and humidity randomly by a few percent to generate an ensemble of 20 different computer projections of where Katia might go. The operational (highest-resolution) version of the GFS model (white line) is usually more accurate, but the ensemble runs give one an idea of the uncertainty in the forecast. Very few of the ensemble members are currently showing a threat to the U.S. Canada is more at risk than the U.S., according to this model.

Gulf of Mexico disturbance a threat to develop
Surface winds over the Gulf of Mexico are rising today in advance of the approach of a tropical wave currently over the Western Caribbean, western tip of Cuba, and Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. This wave is headed west-northwest at 10 - 15 mph, and is under a high 20 - 30 knots of wind shear. The wave is slowly beginning to build an increased amount of heavy thunderstorms, and this process will accelerate on Thursday when the wave enters the Gulf of Mexico. By Friday, when the wave will be near the Louisiana or Texas coast, wind shear is expected to drop to low to moderate levels, and the wave may be able to organize into a tropical depression. This process will likely take several days, and formation of a tropical depression is more likely Saturday or Sunday. NHC is giving the wave just a 10% chance of developing into a tropical depression by Friday morning. Regardless, this system will spread heavy rains to portions of the Gulf Coast by Friday, with the Upper Texas coast and the coast of Louisiana the most likely recipients of heavy rain. Strong onshore winds raising tides to 1 - 2 feet above normal are likely over Louisiana beginning on Friday, and coastal flood statements have been issued for the region. Three of our four top models for predicting tropical cyclone development forecast that a tropical depression will form this weekend or early next week, and I think it is at least 50% likely we will have Tropical Depression 13 on our hands by Monday. However, steering currents will be weak in the Gulf, and it is difficult to predict where the storm might go.The GFS model has a possible tropical depression forming by Sunday off the coast of Mississippi, then moving east-northeast over the Florida Panhandle on Monday. The ECMWF model forms the storm on Monday off the coast of Texas, and leaves the storm stalled out there through Wednesday. The UKMET model forms the storm Saturday off the coast of Louisiana, and leaves it stalled out there through Monday. If the storm did remain in the Gulf of Mexico for three days as some of the recent model runs have been predicting, it would be a threat to intensify into a hurricane.

Related posts:
Big money for hurricane research? My October 27, 2006 post.

Jason Samenow at the Washington Post has an excellent post, Hurricane Irene hype: over the top media coverage or justified?

Andrew Freedman at the Washington Post talked earlier this month how lack of funding to replace an aging weather satellite may degrade weather forecasts beginning in 2016. Michael Conathan at climateprogress.org had a more detailed analysis of the issue in a February blog post.

Andy Revkin at the New York Times discussed in his Dot Earth blog yesterday how cuts in the USGS stream gauge network will hamper flood forecasting.

Jeff Masters

Lincoln Road (31337)
Lincoln Road
Lincoln Road (31337)
Lincoln Road

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Good afternoon weather/wunderblog people...

Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting tiggeriffic:
ok...im out...way to political in here...2 things to never mix in ANY forum unless it is specified to it... religeon and politics...later tater


God bless you...
Member Since: August 13, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 10556
Quoting nofailsafe:


The pernicious and possible peril is patiently pondering its passively perverse path: suitably, a substantially soggy start to September.

Ah ha!




Nice!
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Quoting Patrap:
Hiya dakster,,took some days off for the Big GOM Rodeo dis weekend.



Hope you had a good time. I know you earned it!
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The SHIPS shows moderate shear over 93L throughout its forecast track, which is based off of the GFS.

TIME  (HR) 0 6 12 18 24 36 48 60 72 84 96 108 120
SHEAR (KT) 19 23 29 24 20 25 17 29 21 23 14 18 14
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New here, love to pop in and watch the banter. That said, if you don't like the current situation, be you a Dem., Rep., or an Ind. get out and vote, be heard that way or shut up. IF your opinion isn't backed up by participating by voting, you DESERVE what you get. There will never be agreement between most parties, but as a voter, I did NOT vote for our current president, always vote and will continue to vote. Our country is in a mess that was somewhat in place prior to Obama, but has steadily worsened and if WE the People don't stand up and be heard, we deserve what we get.
To those that give us so much great information here on the weather, THANK YOU! I read the blog several times a day and love learning from you!!!!
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@24HR 18Z NAM:



500MB:



Steering starting so slack.
Member Since: August 14, 2008 Posts: 4 Comments: 5217
580. ackee
Quoting WxLogic:


NAM

GFS
thanks
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Katia please go away quickly! You take all the moisture for you and leave us too dry, and our weather very boring. I hate when every waves develop and head north away from the caribbean.
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Quoting GTcooliebai:
Ships Intensity brings this up to a Cat. 1 Hurricane in 5 days.
starting to come together right now
Member Since: September 11, 2010 Posts: 3 Comments: 6500
Quoting interstatelover7165:
Could Eight-E be the next "Hermine" considering the latest advisory says,"...Tropical Depression Moves Inland Over Southwestern Mexico..."? I just guess that we may have "LEE" AND "MARIA".


I don't think it's possible because Lee will likely still be sitting around in the GoM by the time Eight-E get's across, I don't really think there's enough space for two cyclones.
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Wow, the ECMWF develops 93L into a major hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico. THAT is a true statement to how hot the SST's in the GOMEX are. The GFS brings it near hurricane status, if not a Category 1 hurricane, same with the CMC. NOGAPS also makes 93L a hurricane. Even the UKMET, which is often highly conservative, thinks that 93L will become a hurricane in the Gulf.
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574. ackee
THE track for 93L seem like it will be a hard one to call
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Anybody think that Eight-E could be another "Hermine" considering that the latest forecast says it will move inland over SW Mexico? Maybe we will have "Lee" AND "Maria"?
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Quoting Jax82:
Here is a zoomed visible animation of 93L today, it takes a few minutes to load but you can see the spin forming, and you can see the wind shear its dealing with.

GOES Visible close-up


Thanks, very nice. Looks like the circulation is drifting off to the west-north-west, sheared just a BIT at the moment.
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Quoting CarolinaHurricanes87:


So why did republicans have no problem letting Bush run up the debt on wars and unneccessary tax cuts for the richest of the rich? Why does it only matter now that Obama is president? And why should we trust republicans when the last guy they put in office was AWFUL?


Half of the wrongful things Obama has committed, the media and everybody simply ignored it, but if it was Bush, they'd freak out!
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Quoting ackee:
can I get a link to the NAM and GFS


NAM

GFS
Member Since: August 14, 2008 Posts: 4 Comments: 5217
Plan of the Day


000
NOUS42 KNHC 311730 AMD
WEATHER RECONNAISSANCE FLIGHTS
CARCAH, NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER, MIAMI, FL.
0130 PM EDT WED 31 AUGUST 2011
SUBJECT: TROPICAL CYCLONE PLAN OF THE DAY (TCPOD)
VALID 01/1100Z AUGUST TO 02/1100Z SEPTEMBER 2011
TCPOD NUMBER.....11-092 AMENDMENT

I. ATLANTIC REQUIREMENTS -- ADDED
1. FLIGHT ONE --TEAL 70--SUSPECT AREA IN CNTRL GULF
A. 01/1800Z
B. AFXXX 01HHA INVEST
C. 01/1630Z
D. 25.0N AND 90.0W
E. 01/1730Z TO 01/ 2300Z
F. SFC TO 10,000FT

FLIGHT TWO --TEAL 71
A. 02/0600Z ,1200Z
B. AFXXX 0213A CYCLONE
C. 02/0430Z
D. 25.5N AND 95.5W
E. 02/0530Z TO 02/1200Z
F. SFC TO 15,000FT

2. OUTLOOK FOR SUCCEEDING DAY: CONTINUE 6 HRLY FIXES IF
SYSTEM DEVELOPS AT 02/1800Z.
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Quoting IKE:

Ships Intensity brings this up to a Cat. 1 Hurricane in 5 days.
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Some would like to see a Single Cessna with a wunderblogger flying with a Blackberry and his wet finger out the window..for RECON.



pfffth.
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ok...im out...way to political in here...2 things to never mix in ANY forum unless it is specified to it... religeon and politics...later tater
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Quoting NavarreMark:


I guess my point is that there are congressional elections in 2012. Don't have to wait for 2014. LOL


I think it's a post by someone who isn't old enough to vote in 2012, hence also having to wait until 2016 for presidential election voting.
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Hiya dakster,,took some days off for the Big GOM Rodeo dis weekend.

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Quoting jpsb:
I not going to put you on my ignore list, maybe when you calm down we can talk about what to do about our 1.5 trillion dollar budget deficit. I'd be happy to hear your ideas on that. Were I king, the NHC and NOAA would be one of the last things I would cut deeply into. Since the ROI with NHC and NOAA is probably saving the country $$$$.


Thanks. I am now calm (but will leave the political theatre for another board). My main point was cutting things like NOAA= VERY BAD for the future of this country (and im pretty sure everyone here regardless of party would agree with that)
I never said anything about a balanced budget or budget deficit.......... and neither did republicans until Obama took office.

I just feel like science and education are what helped to make this country great, and agree with Dr Masters that hopefully the republican controlled House decides not to cut NOAA as they proposed.

NOAA is good. NHC is good. :)

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Quoting IKE:

LOL
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Dat green un goes right near ya IKE.
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558. ackee
Quoting WxLogic:
@12HR 18Z NAM:



Let's see what NAM wants to do with it now.

@06HR 18Z NAM Parallel:

can I get a link to the NAM and GFS
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ahh,,note to self,,Pepto for the Emg Kit
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555. IKE

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Quoting keisa90:
I am praying for rain, but not a stalled hurricane 75 miles off the coast of Galveston!


The pernicious and possible peril is patiently pondering its passively perverse path: suitably, a substantially soggy start to September.

Ah ha!
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Quoting AtHomeInTX:


Lol. Hey Tex. Yeah, um long night. I may not sleep for days now. Lol. You got any hair left? :)


LOL...yeah. :)

Going to be a crazy ride until Lee develops and we get a better idea of tracking.
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Quoting CarolinaHurricanes87:


Well, I have a little hurricane fatigue from Irene to be honest with you. I am hoping Katia makes the turn early as expected, I really do not want to deal with another one here in east NC!

On that note, I work at Wrightsville Beach... literally right on the beach, and the erosion done by Irene is tremendous. The ocean is a solid 10-20 feet closer than it was before the storm. The possibility of another hurricane this season is a pretty scary thought... it would be devastating


Even if Katia doesn't hit you but goes by as a strong storm you still could get more beach erosion sad to say. I'm sure there's a few more storms that will make a close passing too, going to be a rough year for the Eastern Seaboard I'm thinking.
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telleconnect the w pac to atl kinda of scary but i agree its not katia
Member Since: September 11, 2010 Posts: 3 Comments: 6500
Quoting Levi32:


Joe taught him that...

There are teleconnections that transfer downstream from the western Pacific and end up over eastern North America 7-10 days later. I've talked about them from time to time myself. They are far from a hard rule though.

And look at Talas. He's forecasted to go straight north into Japan, but look where he formed - down directly south of Japan. That's the equivalent of a storm developing in the northern Caribbean and moving north into the Carolinas, suggesting a strong weakness over the eastern seaboard. You can't teleconnect Talas' track to Katia's because she's coming out of the ESE, which means the trough would turn her track out farther east than a track like Talas'.







That makes alot of sense, Thanks so much for your explanation. I do see Katia recurving west of Bermuda, but east of the USA. Lee will be interesting..
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Quoting nofailsafe:


So the red track the consensus of that set? seems kind of off to me for that.


Red is the operational GFS
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NOGAPS has 93L sitting offshore of SE TX for quite a while and strenghtening to 40 - 50 kts.

https://www.fnmoc.navy.mil/wxmap_cgi/cgi-bin/wxma p_all.cgi?type=prod&area=ngp_atlantic&prod=sfc10m& dtg=2011083112&set=Tropical
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Quoting nofailsafe:


So the red track the consensus of that set? seems kind of off to me for that.


The red track should be the operational run, not the ensemble mean.
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Quoting CarolinaHurricanes87:


Well, I have a little hurricane fatigue from Irene to be honest with you. I am hoping Katia makes the turn early as expected, I really do not want to deal with another one here in east NC!

On that note, I work at Wrightsville Beach... literally right on the beach, and the erosion done by Irene is tremendous. The ocean is a solid 10-20 feet closer than it was before the storm. The possibility of another hurricane this season is a pretty scary thought... it would be devastating


i think this is the season that will keep pepto, prilosec, zantac, etc very rich pharmacuticals...
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Quoting TexasHurricane:


I was wondering when you would get here. :)

Lol. Hey Tex. Yeah, um long night. I may not sleep for days now. Lol. You got any hair left? :)
Member Since: August 24, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 549
@12HR 18Z NAM:



Let's see what NAM wants to do with it now.

@06HR 18Z NAM Parallel:

Member Since: August 14, 2008 Posts: 4 Comments: 5217
SHIPS brings it up to a hurricane.


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Hmmm....maybe I don't set out the soaker hose tomorrow. (Tues & Thurs are legal yard watering/ rationing days here in Galveston)

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Dr. Masters co-founded wunderground in 1995. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters 1986-1990. Co-blogging with him: Bob Henson, @bhensonweather

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