Q&A – The National Hurricane Center’s Accuracy

Today’s entry - Wondering if the NHC will issue an apology for the poor job they have done with this one? To all the people whom they scared out of their minds, freaking out and going into panic mode, most likely not, I'd love to have a job where I could be wrong 50% of the time and still get paid. Can't tell you how many people asked me what they should do, told them to quit watching the news, turn off and quit listening to the talking heads and look at the radar. It was obvious what was going to happen to this normal weather event, just my opinion but I'm sure it was just being used for chum to add to the climate change data so they can say, see how many more bad weather issues we’re having because of climate change! 

Bottom Line: This note came in after last week’s depression that passed by us in South Florida. I don’t think the ongoing climate change debate has anything to do with how the National Hurricane Center handled their guidance on that system. It never amounted to more than depression and as a result, doesn’t receive the same longer-term scrutiny that named storms do. But I hear your frustration. Let’s look at the NHC’s performance. 

With last week’s depression, their late guidance of likely development was accurate. A development includes a depression, it doesn’t have to equal a named storm. Your point seems to mostly be about how information is used. As we’re aware, news media is often happy to hype the potential of tropical activity during hurricane season. To your point, as my wife was heading out of town on business last Monday, I told her no matter what she’d hear about the system, it was nothing to worry about. I’ll use hurricane Barry as an example of what I perceive to be great and not-so-much. 

It was remarkable to me, and great use of improved technology, that a system pushing south from the Tennessee Valley was identified as a system likely to develop once it reached the Gulf. I’ve covered hurricanes, and hurricane seasons, since hurricane Floyd in 1999, that's the most impressive pickup by the National Hurricane Center that I've seen. But then leading up to landfall an area of 246 miles was placed under a hurricane warning. This despite the storm topping out at 75 mph with hurricane-force winds only around the immediate eye of the storm. How they could successfully identify a system in the Tennessee Valley as a hurricane threat several days in advance but kept a hurricane warning up for most of the Louisiana coast for the weakest possible hurricane within hours of landfall is hard to explain. Having worked with the Hurricane Center on these systems for 20 years, there seems to be a bias to error on the side of caution rather than playing it straight down the middle.

Warnings used to mean you were about to get hit. Over the years a warning has been used liberally. The current definition and guidance by the NHC says, "Hurricane warnings indicate that hurricane conditions (sustained winds of 74 mph or higher) are expected somewhere within the specified area. Because hurricane preparedness activities become difficult once winds reach tropical storm force (sustained winds of 39 to 73 mph), the hurricane warning is issued 36 hours in advance of the anticipated onset of tropical-storm-force winds to allow for important preparation".

During a hurricane warning, complete storm preparations and immediately leave the threatened area if directed by local officials.

There were communities in Louisiana under a hurricane warning that didn’t see top sustained winds above 25 mph. My concern is that the next time some of those people won’t take future warnings as seriously. In fact, in a similar but different situation in 2016 along our coast when hurricane Matthew went by, I was surprised to learn that many South Floridians new to hurricanes thought they would experience a hurricane with Matthew. Winds never exceeded tropical storm strength in South Florida. That impacted the way many prepared for Hurricane Irma the following year when we did have to deal with hurricane conditions including widespread power outages. 

The National Hurricane Center’s accuracy has never been better. The cone is narrower, and the error rate, a system that lands outside of the cone, three days out is under 15%. My concerns are regarding the liberal application of warnings and how people respond to them in the future. 

Submit your questions using one of these methods. 

Email: brianmudd@iheartmedia.com

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Photo by: Getty Images North America

 

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