On April 23, 2004, the Rutgers Meteorology Club hosted a special program that featured Dr. Steve Lyons of the Weather Channel. Dr. Lyons gave a presentation on the current problems with hurricane forecasting, and ways in which he conveys the threat a tropical storm or hurricane poses to the television audience. Afterwards, Dr. Lyons took a few minutes to answer questions from the audience. Questions included one about the recent storm in Brazil, which appeared to be a hurricane by most accounts.
Dr. Lyons began his career at the Weather Channel in 1998 after being manager for the Tropical Analysis and Forecast Branch of the Tropical Prediction Center for NOAA. Lyons, who studied at the University of Hawaii on a track scholarship, also spent time as a researcher for the NOAA Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory in Princeton, where he met, Dr. Anthony Broccoli, who is currently teaching at the Cook College Campus of Rutgers University.
Broccoli, who taught Atmospheric Dynamics in the Spring of 2004, was instrumental in getting Lyons to visit and give his presentation. One of the members of Broccoli's Dynamics class was Greg Machos, who is the President and owner of this web site. Introducing the guest speaker, Broccoli gave a brief presentation, which included photos of a race that he and the GFDL staff put together, where Lyons and some members of the staff ran an 800 meter race.
The staff had a group of people run the race with each person in the group running a leg of the 800 meters against Dr. Lyons, who ran the entire race by himself. It certainly brought back some fine memories. Lyons, who earned a Ph. D. in Meteorology in 1981, then presented his presentation, which centered around the problems of forecasting hurricanes in terms of both intensity and track, and how to properly convey the impacts of such storms to the average viewer.
A person with vast experience and knowledge in the field of Tropical Meteorology, Dr. Lyons has written 20 papers for scientific journals, and 40 reports for the National Weather Service as well as participated at over 50 national and international forums and conferences. He uses his vast experience as a means to reflect a new way of going about dissecting the hurricane problem. Lyons believes that many forecasters fail to convey the potential impact of a tropical storm or hurricane on the average person.
Since joining the Weather Channel back in 1998, Lyons has gradually implemented his own methodology of how to articulate the threat of a tropical storm or hurricane to the Weather Channel viewing audience. He does it by showing a chart of potential impact via rain, wind, waves and surge. Rain, wind, waves, and surge represent the four major effects from a tropical storm or hurricane.
This method of visualization in terms the viewer can understand assists him or her to better quantify the potential problem, and in turn, make better judgments on how to prepare for such a storm. He also discussed how there are still difficulties in accurately prognosticating not only the intensity of a hurricane at landfall, but also where exactly it will strike. Pointing to research of storms over the last 25 years, Lyons indicated that while there have been improvements in the overall forecast track, a large percentage of the forecasts still have errors when it comes to predicting where a hurricane will make landfall.
Nevertheless, the crux of his message during the presentation was that the mistake that many tropical, if not all meteorologists make is that they tend to speak about things such as hurricanes or tropical storms in terms of just the numbers, which the average person on the street cannot visualize. They want to know how this storm is going to effect their homes, property, and personal belongings. Ordinary people want to know such things as will he or she have to evacuate, or can their boat be left in the harbor.
Upon finishing his presentation, Dr. Lyons opened the floor for some questions, which included a discussion on the recent storm that affected Brazil. Many observers in North America believed that the storm may have been a rare hurricane while those in Brazil tended to think that it wasn't. Lyons believe that it probably was a minimal hurricane that was part of a much larger weather pattern in that part of the world.
Lyons also went on to indicate that despite the fact that conditions are generally unfavorable in the South Atlantic for tropical development, that it is still quite likely that a couple tropical storms or hurricanes form every few decades or so. Upon the conclusion of the Question and Answer session, people spent some time talking with Dr. Lyons one on one.
The Rutgers Meteorology Club has developed quite a reputation in the Meteorology Community. It is a distinguished chapter of the American Meteorological Society, and in January, 2004, the Rutgers-Cook College Chapter of the American Meteorological Society has been chosen as the 2002-2003 Student Chapter of the Year. In the past, the Rutgers Meteorology Club has had such guest speakers as Paul Kocin and Greg Forbes of the Weather Channel, and have had trips to places such as the National Weather Service Station in Mount Holly, and Mount Washington in New Hampshire.
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