Updated Storm Surge Forecast From The National Hurricane Center

The top wind speed is the sensational number that gains most of the attention but water is what does most of the damage. Historically, 90% of all death and destruction from tropical storms and hurricanes is due to water through a combination of rainfall and storm surge. Specific to those of us in South Florida, storm surge and flooding is also the prominent reason for mandatory evacuations in coastal communities. Having better information for predicting storm surge not only leads to safer behavior but also leads to more informed evacuation orders being issued. 

The news that the National Hurricane Center has improved its storm surge tracker is welcomed. But what’s changed? Well, they improved the forecast modeling and the ability to forecast storm surge 12 hours earlier.

For anyone who’s participated in a mandatory evacuation order but later regretted it, that could be huge. Also, one of my biggest concerns is the “boy who cried wolf effect”. If you evacuated unnecessarily for Dorian, Irma and Matthew are you less likely to heed the call in the future? In fact, just yesterday AAA reported that 29% of Floridians say they won’t evacuate for any storm. Evacuations are a big and often traumatic deal. The information behind the orders needs to be as solid as possible. 

When it comes to the improved forecast modeling, we’ll have to take their word for it, but we can think of it in the context of the cone in recent years. Just as the cone of uncertainty has steadily been shrinking in recent years as forecast modeling has become more accurate, the improvement in storm surge forecasting would appear to be a different version of a similar thing. The 12-hour improvement in forecasting needs no explanation.

Jami Rhome, who leads the National Hurricane Center’s storm surge unit said that not only will the extra 12 hours provide residents and public officials with an additional window of time to make evacuation decisions but that it will cut down on unnecessary evacuations. Rhome said, "If you don’t have to evacuate, you’re probably exposing yourself to greater risk by evacuating". Amen. Not to mention the unnecessary stress and expense of it all. Hopefully, we don’t have an opportunity to need to worry about the improvements anytime soon but when the time comes the improvements will be welcomed. 

Photo by ERIKA SANTELICES/afp/AFP via Getty Images

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