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Hurricane help on the way

By: Dr. Jeff Masters, 5:49 PM GMT on May 03, 2006

The National Hurricane Center will be getting some much-needed help this coming hurricane season. The agency has received permission to add four new hurricane forecasters, thanks to a special requisition championed by Senator Bill Nelson (D-Florida). The four new forecasters--Eric Blake, Dan Brown, Michelle Mainelli, and Jamie Rhome--all come from within the NHC's Tropical Analysis and Forecast Branch (which analyzes satellite imagery) and Technical Support Branch. They join the six Senior Hurricane Specialists--Lixion Avila, Jack Beven, James Franklin, Richard Knabb, Richard Pasch, and Stacy Stewart--to make a total of ten forecasters for this season. An eleventh forecaster--Dr. Chris Landsea, NHC's Science and Operations Officer--will also be pitching in as needed. The four new hurricane forecasters all wrote advisory packages last season under the supervision of one of the Senior Hurricane Specialists, which should speed the transition to working independently this year.

With another active hurricane season likely this summer, the NHC certainly can use the help. I talked to Senior Hurricane Specialist James Franklin at the American Meteorological Society's Conference on Hurricanes and Tropical Meteorology in Monterey, California, last week, and he confided that it was looking dicey whether or not he would finish all his work from last season before this season starts. It took until March to finish all the summaries of the 28 storms from 2005, and the task of writing the annual summary article for Monthly Weather Review and Weatherwise magazines has not been completed, nor have the official verifications of the NHC and model forecasts been done. The NHC hurricane forecasters start rotating shift work on May 15th when the Eastern Pacific hurricane season begins, so there is not a lot of time left. Additional shifts begin on June 1st, when Atlantic hurricane season officially begins.

I asked James if the National Weather Service's plan to offer early retirement to up to 1000 of its 4700 employees in order to cut costs would significantly affect the NHC. The plan, called the Voluntary
Early Out Retirement Authority (VERA) Implementation Plan
, is preliminary, and still needs approval from the Office of Personnel Management. Under the plan, 13 of the National Hurricane Center's 42 employees would be offered early retirement, and would potentially be replaced by lower-paid entry level meteorologists. James thought that if the plan was offered, few, if any, of the 13 elgible employees would take the offer, since they all enjoy what they are doing too much to retire now! With many more years of busy hurricane seasons likely to come, this is good news--along with the addition of the new hurricane forecasters.

My next blog will be Friday, when I plan to talk about the fading of La Nina, the slackening of the Atlantic trade winds, and other factors that may affect the upcoming hurricane season.

Jeff Masters

The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.