Should Seasonal Hurricane Forecasters Be Held Accountable?

Posted in Commentary, General, GWC News at 9:04 pm by gmachos

Toward the end of the 2007 Atlantic Hurricane Season, a Florida Hotel magnate, threatened to sue Dr. William Gray, Philip Klotzenbach, and the rest of the hurricane forecast team at Colorado State University for its 2007 season forecast that called for above average activity. The action suggested by Harris Rosen, raised debate amongst many in coastal areas throughout the United States on whether or not, seasonal hurricane forecasters should be held accountable for their forecasts. To give you an idea of how contentious this issue is. Take a look at the poll results from a survey given by a local Orlando TV station.

Rosen, a well known hotel owner in the Central Florida region, believes that the Sunshine State lost billions of dollars in tourist revenue due to these forecasts, which were deemed incorrect by those in the media although there were a total of 17 depressions, 15 named storms, 6 hurricanes, 2 major hurricanes (both Category Five Storms), which against the 50-year averages were at or about average to above average levels. Most importantly though, none of these storms really affected Florida, particuarly the two major hurricanes: Dean and Felix. The argument raised by Rosen brings up the ongoing debate that has existed for decades of whether or not forecasters are crying wolf. This not only concerns the seasonal forecasts, but also when watches and warnings are issued for particular areas of the U.S. coastline.

Let’s face facts everyone. The seasonal forecasts have not performed well in terms of the numbers the past couple of seasons. Particularly, two years ago when a weak instance of the El Nino dampened down the numbers of tropical storms and hurricanes in 2006. Even in 2005, the numbers were way off since that season was by historic levels, off the charts. However, whether you like it or not, the numbers of named storms were above the 50-year averages in both 2005 and 2007, and that is what really matters here. Now, when I say that, I also want to further point out that with an above average number of named storms, there should be an awareness that the possibility of such storms not only developing into a hurricane or major hurricane, but also making landfall anywhere along the United States coastline. Bottom line, there is increased potential for the possibility of a hurricane developing and making landfall with the phrase increased potential being very important. Whether that potential becomes reality is another story. It is the same thing that happens here in the Northeast when forecasters call for a major snowstorm that doesn’t pan out.

There are many in the world including some that I’ve talked to in my travels, who resent forecasters since people believe that forecasters can get it right only about 25 percent of the time (an arbitrary number), and still be able to keep their job. The man on the street doesn’t have that luxury. The art of forecasting is still far from perfect. You can also say the same thing for those, who analyze the economy, or the stock market for a living. Sports analysts, especially those who made prognostications on the recent edition of March Madness, never get it right either. It is a game of chance, but that game can play with people’s lives, especially if you are living along the shoreline from Maine to Texas every summer. But, this not only affects people’s vacation plans, but also their insurance rates, and coverage. The moral of the story is though, that people need to be prepared each year no matter what the prediction. The chance of a storm coming every summer does exist regardless of who forecasts what.

For example, look what happened in 1992, there were only seven named storms that year, which was significantly below the 50-year average. However, that season produced the most destructive hurricane prior to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 with Andrew that plowed through South Florida in August of that year. It only takes one storm everyone. The forecast for increased activity only increases the risk. People need to be aware of that risk. If the conditions are ripe for above average storms in a particular year, people should know about it. Now, my feeling is that perhaps that forecast shouldn’t be quantified since the average person on the street seems to be more focused on just the numbers rather than the reasons or factors that led to such a forecast. This past season was a classic example. Now is true that the numbers were below the figures that were originally expected, but if you compared them to the ten year average, they were either on the money, or above the average, which meant that the forecast was close to being on the mark.

If the forecasts are to be quantified, then perhaps it should be given in a range, or in some way so that at season’s end, people don’t jump to conclusions and think the forecast is completely off the mark. Now, NOAA already does this, and this may be so that it differentiates itself from Dr. Gray and his staff’s prognostication. There is always going to be a fine line here. Money and lives are at stake, and can be greatly affected by a forecast whether it is a long range seasonal forecast, or a forecast for landfall. For example, those living along the Gulf Coast remember Hurricane Elena back in 1985? A lot of Labor Day Business was lost as well as costs to local and state governments for Emergency Management, and other storm related expenses. Despite all the technological and forecasting advancements, and major strides made from just the past 60 years or so alone, forecasting is still a mystery.

As a result, people need to be prepared and made aware of the risks. Many times I get e-mails from people looking to get advice on the upcoming season so that they can make plans for taking a trip. I usually don’t like telling people to go ahead and take that trip, but I advise them of when the season is at its peak, and what the seasonal forecasts are indicating. In addition, I also try to tell them that they need to watch and listen to their local media outlets in the event that a tropical storm or hurricane does develop in the region. The problem that some people have is that they are often not aware of the risks, don’t understand them, or if they are aware of the risks, ignore them and think it won’t happen to them. Coastal residents and vacationers need to be vigilant, alert, and properly informed on a storm that is out there. Having those three characteristics makes them well armed to make the right decisions about a trip, or to evacuate or not regardless of a seasonal forecast.

2008 National Hurricane Conference Gets Underway

Posted in General, Storm Preparation at 7:51 pm by gmachos

As March goes out like a lion instead of a lamb throughout a good deal of the United States, some other parts of the country are thinking ahead. Take for instance what is happening this week in Orlando, Florida. During the course of the week, the National Hurricane Conference will be taking place in the heart of Central Florida like it does almost every year. The schedule has the conference running from today, March 31 through Friday, April 4th. View the conference program for the complete schedule of events, amenities, exhibits, and sponors.

Believe it or not everyone, the 2008 Atlantic Hurricane Season is slated to begin on June 1st, which as of tomorrow (April 1st), will be only two months away. Forecasters are already indicating that this season will be another above average one, but the actual forecast numbers have been tempered a bit. Max Mayfield, former director of the National Hurricane Center, and now a tropical analyst for WPLG (ABC 10), an ABC affiliate , is the Chair of the Conference this year. Mayfield recently made news along with famed South Florida and Hurricane forecaster, Bryan Norcross from KFOR (CBS4), a CBS affiliate, by developing a emergency warning system that was sold not to long ago to a private firm. The Opening General Session is scheduled for Wednesday, April 2nd. The festivities that day will begin with new NHC director, Bill Read, giving an overview of this past season (2007).

FEMA will then follow with a presentation by director, Dave Paulison, who will discuss Building Stronger Hurricane Emergency Management through Engaged Partnerships: the FEMA Perspective. More speakers and presentations will be made before the session is wrapped up by NHC forecaster and analyst, Lixion Avila, who will discuss the impacts of the two most powerful Atlantic storms of 2007: Hurricane Dean and Hurricane Felix. Both of these storms reached Category Five Intensity before making landfall in the Yucatan and Central America respectively back during August and September 2007. Throughout the week, there will be seminar’s, workshops, and training sessions for those attending the conference.

Most importantly though, it is a chance for the experts in the fields of weather forecasting, government, emergency management, and the media to all get together, and discuss issues that still concern many affected by tropical storms and hurricanes every year. In addition, it is also an opportunity for individuals in these disciplines to establish new relationships and connections as well as renew long standing ones. With the very active cycle still going strong after the above average numbers from last season, conferences like these are definitely a great way to get the word out to the public that it is time to get prepared for the upcoming season.

Thunderstorms Possible In Central Jersey On Tuesday

Posted in General, GWC News at 7:09 pm by gmachos

Good afternoon. The past several days have seen its share of changeable skies with clouds building in on Friday (March 28th), and then persisting into Saturday (March 29th). The sun returned on Sunday (March 30th) with a chilly early Spring day, but there was yet another change on the way. Looking at the various area forecasts given by several of the local media outlets, there was an indication that Tuesday was going to be significantly warmer. Temperatures are forecasted to be between 64 and 66 degrees with a possibility of the mercury scaling even higher toward 70 degrees.

It’s definitely March. A more autumnal or spring like pattern has been emerging. The flow has become more zonal with storms whisking their way rapidly across the United States mainland. That is the reason for the day to day changes that we’ve been seeing in the weather. Most of the time, these storms lack the energy to be really severe storms like their winter breathen, which are more powerful since they travel meridional, and tap into the energy that results from the cold air that dives in from Canada and the warm, moist air that flows in from the Gulf of Mexico. The winter storms also move much more slowly due to their north to south motion. However, the emergence of Spring also means the growing possibility of severe weather, especially as the days get longer, and the sun’s perpendicular ray gets closer to the Tropic of Cancer that signifies the start of Summer on, or about June 21st.

There will be a taste of things to come on Tuesday afternoon when the much warmer temperatures will do battle with a change from the Midwest. This turn in the weather was represented by a double-barrel low pressure system that is producing some severe weather in the Great Plains and the Missouri Valley. Looking at the Weather Channel’s webcast, showers and storms ranged from Oklahoma to Indiana and Ohio. The strongest and most turbulent thunderstorms were, at the moment, stretching Southwest to Northeast from Northeastern Oklahoma to Central Missouri. Now, there also some showers in the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic, but they aren’t as significant as those in the center of the United States.

The storms in the Midwest and Great Plains will consist of hail, strong winds, and tornadoes. Rainfall amounts will range between 2 to 4 inches. In addition, as the day progresses, these storms will also impact Eastern Texas, and parts of Arkansas. Behind the front, there will be snow in areas ranging from Eastern South Dakota and the UP of Michigan. There will also be windy conditions in these areas as well. The Midwestern and Great Plains storms on this Monday (March 31st) will be pushing eastward, and into a warm sector of air that will emerge during the day on Tuesday in the Northeast. One thing will be for sure, the Northeast and the Great Lakes, according to the TWC’s National Forecast, will have windy conditions.

As the storm in the Midwest winds into the Southeastern portion of Canada, it will spin off a cold front into the Northeastern portion of the United States including the Central Jersey area. There will be the showers, and the possibility for thunderstorms, especially the farther south you go. Some forecasts including the one I get from WeatherBug indicates that the possibility does exist here in Middlesex County for such storms. Winds are expected to range between 35 and 45 miles per hour with gusts approaching 55 miles per hour. Then on Wednesday, the second day of April, temperatures are predicted to be in the low 50s for highs and the low 30s for lows.

GWC Webcam–Clouds, But No Rain Or Snow–March 28, 2008

Posted in YouTube Videos at 4:04 pm by gmachos

Good afternoon everyone. I have continued to work on getting ready for the upcoming hurricane season. Part of my preparation has been to make more timelapse video of the weather. On Friday, March 28th, there was some unsettled weather in the Central Jersey area as a low pressure system moved across the Northeastern United States with the brunt hitting upstate New York and New England. Here in Middlesex County, there was nothing but clouds, clouds, and more clouds. Well anyway, here is the timelapse photography from that day. Enjoy!


Early March Severe Weather In New Jersey

Posted in Commentary, General, GWC News at 4:13 am by gmachos

Good evening everyone. I continue to make the transition from basketball season to hurricane season with a posting that offers some thoughts on the very severe weather that struck the Garden State back on March 8th. The Nor’easter that brought the torrential rains, and the squall lines that accompanied the approaching cold front that trailed the storm were definitely memorable as captured on the GWC Webcam that day. Just as I write this commentary on the storm, I checked the data from Greg’s Weather Center for that day. The storm brought a bit more than an inch to my hometown. The wind speeds gradually picked up over the four day period of March 7-10, but they were obviously much higher than shown in the records kept.

Well, there are two reasons for the vast discrepancy in the wind speeds. One, the weather station is very close to the house, and has trees in the vicinity, which provides friction that slows down the wind. Two, the weather station is very close to the ground, where the winds are much lower than at a hundred feet or more up in the air. Anyway, the storm had its share of gusty winds for much of the day on Saturday, but after things had somewhat died down in the middle of the afternoon, they roared back with a vengeance as the day turned into night. At about 6:00 PM, the squall lines approached the Central Jersey area, and I was able to follow them on radar courtesy of the Weather Channel’s Weatherscan station on my cable television. As I worked on the GMC Hoops web site, the winds really began to pick up, and it brought the attention of my brother, who became quite alarmed at the situation.

As my brother began to notice the winds picking up, I could hear the rattle of the windows in the dining room, where I was doing my work. I turned to look outside, and I could see that the sky had grown dark. The wind was roaring at this point, and disappointingly, I froze as if I didn’t know what to do. I guess that I was quite startled by the ferocity of the winds since I didn’t expect them to get this strong. Many times I get reports of severe weather, and anticipate them with great earnest. Then, when the storm comes and goes without much fanfare, I’m often left disappointed. Not to say that I want something bad to happen, but you get very excited, and you prepare yourself for something big, and end up going away empty handed. Well, anyway, as I stood there, contemplating what to do, my brother and I looked at each other in disbelief at what was transpiring. After a little while, I finally got myself to turn off the computer, and get out of the dining room, and away from the windows. I then went to my room, and watched the Weatherscan for any new developments.

At that point, I noticed that there was a bulletin from the National Weather Service stating that a line of severe thunderstorms were moving through the area, and stretched from near Allentown, Pennsylvania to Trenton. Now, while there was no indication that tornadoes were associated with these storms, they did have a history of very strong winds associated with them. My mother then entered the house, and swore that it was a tornado that was coming through since she heard the sound of a freight train, which is often a characteristic of a twister coming through. My brother didn’t hear any such sound, but felt that the winds might be associated with a tornado. The wicked weather continued for the next several hours, and then eventually wound down except for the winds, which remained quite gusty into the next day. The storm also brought a dramatic drop in temperatures after it had been quite warm for such an early day in March.

March is often known as a month that comes in like a lion, but goes out like a lamb. Just two weeks earlier, New Jersey had its most significant snowstorm of the winter of 2007-08. In just 14 days, it went from pure winter to more like spring. The physics that occurs constantly during the course of the 365 days that this planet rotates around the sun were in motion, and moving toward the first day of Spring, which was to occur on March 19th. Ironically, that first day of the Vernal Equinox was greeted with a Nor’easter that didn’t have quite the punch in terms of rain and wind, but still had its share of rough weather with rainy conditions and strong winds. Following a peaceful Easter weekend, another storm threatened the Northeast, and brought about the possibility of snow for Tuesday. However, much to the relief of many in the region including the Central Jersey area, the storm took a more easterly route, and spared the area.

Compared to last winter, this year was much colder. If you recall, the month of January was quite balmy last year. This season brought its share of storms, but most of them were either rain or mixed bag situations. As a matter of fact, the snowfall that occurred on February 22nd actually equaled the amount to that point in the year, and doubled the season’s total. The weather last year actually became more wintry around this time, and especially took shape during the month of April with the development of a nasty Nor’easter that brought torrential rains to the Central Jersey area as well as the rest of the Garden State resulting in terrible floods to nearby communities such as Bound Brook and Manville. We’ll have to see whether or not the same holds for the Spring of 2008.


Getting Ready For Hurricane Season 2008

Posted in General, GWC News, Storm Preparation at 12:48 am by gmachos

SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ–Over the past two weeks, Hurricaneville and Greg’s Weather Center has been slowly getting ready for the upcoming hurricane season. One of the obvious things that you will see is all of the timelapse photography video that we’ve posted to the web site. In our YouTube videos section, you can check out 12 videos that include the biggest snowstorm of the 2007-08 winter season here in Central Jersey, and a severe weather event that affected the area on March 8th. We hope that you enjoy them.

In addition, Hurricaneville has been firing up the mailing list with numerous articles that we’ve dug up since the final month or so of the 2007 Hurricane Season up and through the present. We do this to provide you with news stories that you might not be aware of about hurricanes, tropical storms, and severe weather in addition to the latest happenings on the web site. There have been some interesting stories as of late such as the new online tool being introduced by Google that provides storm surge levels to residents affected by storms, and advises them whether or not to evacuate their area. In addition, Bryan Norcross and Max Mayfield have introduced a weather disaster model that has been sold to private company.

Finally, Greg Machos made another trip to his local Emergency Management Office in South Plainfield to obtain some more storm preparedness and safety material. Included in that material is a CD-ROM with a number of brochures covering all kinds of subjects. These brochures as well as some others will be posted to the Hurricaneville Downloads page in the near future. So, we’re getting ourselves into the swing of things. Sorry that there hasn’t been much going on over the past few months, but the basketball season was quite busy for me, and my job situation was changing as well.

GWC Webcam–Full Moon On Easter–March 23, 2008

Posted in YouTube Videos at 12:22 am by gmachos

Good evening everyone. Sorry that it has been a while since I last updated the blog, or anything on the Hurricaneville web site. Over the past four months or so, I had been very busy with my other web site that focuses on high school boys basketball in Middlesex County, New Jersey called GMC Hoops. However, during that time, I’ve been compiling timelapse video photography from my webcam, which is stationed in my backyard. You will see in the YouTube video section of this blog that there are 12 new timelapse videos. Among the videos are footage of the biggest snowstorm of the season on February 22nd, and severe weather on March 8th. Enjoy.

GWC Webcam–Then Came The Wind–Nor’easter–March 20, 2008

Posted in YouTube Videos at 12:16 am by gmachos

Here is the second part to the timelapse photography video from the Nor’easter that affected the Central Jersey area as well as much of the Northeast last week. This part focuses on the high winds that blew through the region on March 20th following heavy rains the day before. Enjoy.

GWC Webcam–First Came The Rain–Nor’easter–March 19, 2008

Posted in YouTube Videos at 12:12 am by gmachos

Good evening again. Here is timelapse photography video from the two day Nor’easter that affected the Central Jersey area during the middle of last week. The first part here is from the heavy rains that came in on March 19th. The second part, which will be uploaded momentarily, is from the winds that wrapped up the storm’s appearance on March 20th. Enjoy.

GWC Webcam–Sunny Mid-March Day–March 13, 2008

Posted in YouTube Videos at 12:07 am by gmachos

Here is a break from the wild weather that has been experienced in the Central Jersey region over the past several months. This is timelapse photography video from the middle of this month of a sunny day. Spring was coming early this year (March 19th), and this day was an indication of the fact that the physics controlling the seasons, and our weather were in motion, and that the light was shining at the end of the tunnel. Enjoy.

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