Variety Of Important Topics Tackled At National Hurricane Conference

As I mentioned in my previous post on the massive storm moving through the Eastern United States, there have been a number of important topics being discussed at the National Hurricane Conference in Orlando, Florida. Besides the fact that the idea of seasonal forecasts have been debated at the conference as I mentioned earlier in the week, attendees at the week long event have taken on such issues as insurance rates in Florida, global warming and hurricanes, and the National Hurricane Center has introduced an initiative of lengthening the forecast track from five to seven days.

In this era of increased activity, and with the recent devastation of past seasons such as 2004 and 2005 still fresh in everyone’s minds, the discussion of these topics are becoming more and more passionate. Take for instance, the issue of insurance, particularly in the Sunshine State, which receives the most in the way of impacts from tropical storms and hurricanes. For background, it has been two full seasons since a major hurricane, one of Category Three strength on the Saffir-Simpson Scale, has made landfall anywhere in Florida. While it is true that Florida survived the 2006 and 2007 seasons unscathed, it still has lingering memories from storms such as Charley, Frances, Ivan, Jeanne, Dennis, Katrina, Rita, and Wilma. However, insurance companies situated in that state have either discontinued policies of some residents, or raised premiums on those policies, which have frustrated a great many people.

The insurance companies contend that those, who choose to live along the coastline in Florida, have made the decision to live with great risk, and they must recognize and deal with the consequences of that fact. On the other hand, the Florida State Government determines these rates, and ensures that they are made affordable to the residents. However, the fear of a major hurricane such as an Andrew, Katrina, Rita, or Wilma has made many fear that it could devastate the economy with huge losses that far outweigh those of Andrew or Katrina. According to the article posted on Orlando station WESH’s web site, the tension exists on how to equally distribute the burden without heavily taxing those not affected by the storm while not singling out those living in coastal areas, and taking the greatest risk. The key to an improved policy will be how much stricter the building codes in Florida become. Recall that after Andrew, it was revealed that these codes had slackened due to complacency brought about by the fact that the Atlantic tropics had gone into a dormant state from 1970 to 1991.

Hurricaneville believes that this is a vital issue for those not only living in Florida, but throughout the Eastern United States coastline from Maine to Texas. With the revelation this week that the Florida Catastrophe Fund is encountering financial trouble due to the credit crisis that has gripped the nation’s economy, this issue becomes even more paramount. Many states such as New Jersey have attempted to follow in the path of Florida with a fund of their own thanks to the support and encouragement of organizations such as Protecting America. Take a look at what happened after Katrina in Louisiana and Mississippi. Many in those affected states are still fighting insurance companies for what they feel is rightfully theirs. On top of that, residents in New England states such as Maine and Masschusetts have had policies modified by their insurance companies over the last two years in reaction to the heavy toll in losses brought about by Katrina, Rita, and Wilma.

Moving on with the other news from the conference, the subject of global warming raised its head again. Experts at the conference such as NOAA’s Chris Landsea and Colorado State’s Dr. William Gray continued to deny any link between global warming, and increased hurricane activity. As a matter of fact, they contend that it has actually caused it to go down. There are those, however, such as Greg Holland, a researcher at the National Center for Atmospheric Research that beg to differ citing that the rise in sea surface temperatures, which is a key component in increased hurricane activity and strength since these tropical systems are so dependent on warm water for fuel, and global warming are closely related.

Hurricaneville encourages everyone to keep in mind several things here: First, that there are probably a great deal of storms from over the years that have been left out from current records since there was no history of them. Second, the recent uptick in activity can also be attributed to the shift in the multi-decade cycle of tropical development in the Atlantic. Third, that while we have been contending with global warming, there have been two seasons of below average hurricane activity in the Atlantic. And, finally, both Landsea and Gray have been proponents of the idea that there has been no link between global warming and increased tropical activity, and their views should have been neutralized more in the article written in the Miami Herald.

The last major topic brought up by the conference was introduced by a team at the NHC led by Ahsha Tribble. An aggressive federal plan called the Hurricane Forecast Improvement Project calls for the extension of the current five day forecast track to seven days by the end of the present decade. Starting with the 2001 Atlantic Hurricane Season, the NHC has been issuing five day forecasts as an improvement over the three day forecast, which had been the standard bearer for decades. The then expansion of the forecast was attributed to the steady improvement of forecast tracks since 1990 according to an article posted on the South Florida Sun-Sentinel web site. Over the past 17 seasons, the hurricane center has improved its forecast paths of storms by 50 percent.

This giant step forward began to take shape with the great success of the forecast tracks issued during the course of the 2007 season. The forecasters at the NHC have all but mastered the 24 hour prognostication by being able to predict highly accurately the position of a particular storm within 60 nautical miles of landfall. More significantly though, the hurricane center was able to accurately predict the final landfall position of a storm, or hurricane to within 290 nautical miles of actual impact. Furthermore, there is great urgency to have the forecast track time span expanded since many in emergency management and state and local governments are trying very hard to get as much lead time as possible to properly inform the public, and have them ready to evacuate when called upon to do so. Hurricaneville applauds this effort and advancement, but cautions that this many open up a whole new variety of problems as scenarios with Hurricane Elena in 1985, Felix in 1996, and Dennis in 1998.