Wednesday, December 5, 2012

NWS/NHC "Modifies" Hurricane Warning Requirements in Wake of Sandy...

A spokesman for the National Weather Service's (NWS) National Hurricane Center (NHC) announced today that the requirements for the issuance of a Hurricane Warning will be modified effective next season.  

According to Chris Landsea of the NHC, the definition of a Hurricane Warning will be revised to read as follows:

An announcement that sustained winds of 74 mph or higher are expected somewhere within the specified area in association with a tropical, sub-tropical, or post-tropical cyclone. Because hurricane preparedness activities become difficult once winds reach tropical storm force, the warning is issued 36 hours in advance of the anticipated onset of tropical-storm-force winds. The warning can remain in effect when dangerously high water or a combination of dangerously high water and waves continue, even though winds may be less than hurricane force.

Note that the system in question may now be "sub-tropical or post-tropical" and still qualify for a Hurricane Warning.  You probably recall that the NWS/NHC had forecast Sandy to become a non-tropical system before making landfall, which is the reasoning they cited behind the decision not to issue hurricane warnings ahead of that devastating system.

In the opinion of myself and many others in the meteorological community, Sandy was still a tropical system, and specifically a hurricane, at landfall, but that is neither here nor there for purposes of this particular article.

Landsea went on to say that "Sandy was not ideal, and the way we handled it was not right.  But we're fixing it."

It is highly unusual for the NWS to make such a move so quickly following an event.  I firmly believe this action is a sign of two things:  (1). an immediate response to the heat that they've been under for the last few weeks regarding some aspects of how the situation with Sandy was handled and (2). a fear of what may be revealed and/or presented during the upcoming review by an internal assessment team charged with making "recommendations" as to how better handle such a situation in the future.

Much controversy still surrounds the formation and execution of the assessment team, especially with regard to whether or not the government can be expected to be "independent and objective" when reviewing itself.  I steadfastly maintain that a fair, objective, independent review will not be able to take place as long as the government is in charge of "assessing" itself.

Today's announcement by Landsea was made at the headquarters of AccuWeather, a Vice President of which (Mike Smith) was to have co-chaired the original Hurricane Sandy Assessment Team.

Putting all of the various Sandy controversies aside, this is generally a good move that will allow the appropriate warnings to be issued in the future and should decrease confusion among the general public and those responsible for taking action to keep communities safe in this type of situation.  I still feel that storm surge needs to be addressed more clearly as well, and the NHC has promised that such a review is underway with a formal action plan to be detailed prior to next season.

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