Anderson Cooper is clueless
With Irma still threatening the southeast, I continue to scan the news coverage and find appalling statements. Anderson Cooper has been especially effective at getting under the nerves of this meteorologist.
Last night, while interviewing the Mayor of Jacksonville, which was hit with severe flooding yesterday, he made the dumbfounding statement that "clearly people were caught off guard." No Anderson, people in mandatory evacuation zones were not caught off guard.
Social media and other communications challenges
It's been clear in the snippets that I've caught of Anderson that he really likes the caught off guard/surprise narrative. This is very common amongst reporters because people love that angle. It makes the story more interesting.
Anderson has frequently brought up the "westward shift" of Irma and how it surprised people. As a meteorologist, I find this to be grating as well, but in contrast to saying people in mandatory evacuation zones were caught off guard, this has some merit, depending on where you get your weather information from.
Official forecasts from the National Hurricane Center were very cautious not to endorse a specific storm track up either the east or west coast of Florida at long lead time. They also issued hurricane and storm surge warnings on both coasts, as well as the south coast and Key West.
However, many people do not see those forecasts. Instead, they see national news, local news, and social media. In that echo chamber, there is a tendency to gravitate toward especially extreme model forecasts and clusters of model ensembles that do not fully account for uncertainty.
Also an issue are misinterpretations of the NHC "cone of uncertainty." That graphic is not intuitive for the general public, and needs improvement, but even some broadcast meteorologists don't understand it.
Let me show and example of how this effects the information that people receive. Below and at left is a summary of the Key Messages for Hurricane Irma issued about 3.5 days prior to the landfall of Irma on Marcos Island. The cone of uncertainty, which encapsulates the entire Florida peninsula and offshore waters. The National Hurricane Center simply says that there's a treat of hurricane impacts over the weekend and early next week, with a likelihood of hurricane watches being issued on Thursday.
Traditional and social media today provides a firehose of content that is unfiltered and often without context. At one time, it was difficult to see the forest through the trees. Today, it is difficult to see the information through the misinformation. Note that not all misinformation is malicious. Sometimes it simply doesn't provide the necessary broader perspective.
This is why, in the case of tropical storms and hurricanes, I strongly urge people to monitor forecasts from the National Hurricane Center and local National Weather Service Offices. While no forecast is perfect, these are the most reliable available. The National Hurricane Center, in particular, has a remarkable team of scientists, with strong ties to the research and emergency management communities. Finally, heed the recommendation of local officials.
HERE IT COMES UTAH!
OK, now that I've warned you about misinformation, let me provide a snippet from the latest forecast. A bonafide midlatitude trough is expected to move over the Great Basin later this week. Oh, it is a thing of beauty.
And here's the summary from the National Weather Service [note to my friends their, you forgot your logo :-)]