By: OKXskywarnspotter , 2:15 AM GMT on April 05, 2013
The National Hurricane Center has recently changed their definitions of Tropical Storm and Hurricane Warnings to allow for situations similar to what happened with Sandy, where a cyclone transitions to an extratropical system prior to landfall, but is still capable of producing hurricane force winds and life-threatening surge.
I agree that a change was needed. It was not acceptable to have only High Wind Warnings and Coastal Flood Warnings for the impacts that were felt with Sandy. I also think that the current system of allowing Hurricane Warnings for non-hurricanes will encourage better preparedness actions for situations like these. But I think there is an easy solution that would be even better.
Currently, the type of wind alerts that are issued by the National Weather Service are dependent on the situation producing the wind. This does makes sense, but only when the situation is relevant to the duration of the event. For example, it would be strange to address a line of severe thunderstorms producing 70 mph winds with a high wind warning. I can even understand why blizzard warnings cover high winds – heavy snowfall combined with the wind makes an even more dangerous situation for travelers.
But hurricanes verses nor’easters? Other types of coastal storms? A sunny day with a fierce pressure gradient? In these situations – wind is wind, and it blows for hours. I propose that the alerts for long-fused wind events should only depend on the magnitude of the wind expected, and be the same for all types of systems. Here are the levels and names I propose:
- Wind Advisory (gusts 45 mph +)
- High Wind Watch/Warning (gusts 60 mph +)
- Hurricane Force Wind Watch/Warning (gusts 75 mph +)
- Extreme Wind Watch/Warning (gusts 110 mph +)
We already have these warnings, but Hurricane Force Wind Warnings currently can only be issued for non-tropical systems over water. Replacing all “Hurricane Warnings” with “Hurricane Force Wind Warnings”, we don’t have to worry about misleading names (hurricane warnings for non-hurricanes), an unalarmed public (since the word “hurricane” is retained), AND, we can INCREASE the disaster preparedness of the public for the rare nor’easter that produces hurricane-force winds!
One of the criticisms I received is that this system would have us issuing High Wind Warnings for landfalling tropical storms (instead of Tropical Storm Warnings). In response, I would ask, what would be the difference between a tropical storm producing 60 mph winds and a coastal storm producing 60 mph winds? Why do tropical storms need a different warning to address the wind hazard? I think High Wind Warnings do just fine in alerting the public to these situations.
In fact, one of the problems with the current system is that if a tropical disturbance forms near the coast and is expected to quickly intensify into a tropical storm before landfall, the NHC has no way of issuing a tropical storm watch (let alone warning) until the system is classified as a tropical depression. There are numerous cases where tropical storm warnings are issued on the first advisory of a tropical depression, where watches would have been issued sooner if they didn't require a pre-existing classified cyclone. At the very least, coastal watches/warnings should be independent of the NHC advisory system.
Still, NHC tropical storm and hurricane watches and warnings really make little sense because they are 1-dimensional, only highlighting coastlines despite the fact that wind hazards are also present inland. Perhaps they were created more for storm surge purposes, but then why not specifically address that issue?
Again, I think that coastal flood hazards are best addressed with distinct levels based solely on magnitude:
- Coastal Flood Advisory
- Coastal Flood Watch/Warning
- Destructive Surge Watch/Warning
I am adding a third level to address extremely life-threatening surge typically associated with hurricanes, and require evacuation for safety. I am using a word choice that portrays the urgency, yet, can be used without hesitation for any type of storm system (last I checked, something like this is in the making).
So, by making just a couple tweaks in the wording, we can increase public awareness and make our jobs easier. It’s a win-win, as far as I can see.
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