Monday, September 11, 2017

Not So Deep Thoughts on Irma

Hurricane Irma made two landfalls in Florida yesterday, one in the Keys, the other near Marcos Island on the southwest coast.  The low center subsequently tracked through west Florida and as of 8 AM EDT (6 AM MDT) was near the Florida coast west of Gainesville. 

Source: National Hurricane Center
Impacts cover the entire Florida Peninsula and Keys.  Although "worst case" scenarios did not play out for some, others are suffering severely.  Do not fixate on the news coverage, which shows a small microcosm of storm damage.  Everglades City, for example, wasn't even mentioned in the coverage I viewed yesterday, but reports heavy damage this morning.  Jacksonville is currently experiencing river and storm surge flooding.  News reports suggest almost 6 million people are without power.  Florida took a serious blow along nearly its entirely coastline and interior and it will take some time until we know the scope of it.  Recovery will take much longer.  

News Coverage

If you want to see a race to the bottom, just follow the news coverage of Irma, which has been like a David Letterman stupid human tricks skit.  How many people do we need to see attempting to report in eyewall rain and winds who just a couple of days previously chastised locals who elected not to evacuate and ride out the storm?  I know the first rule in news is "if it bleeds, it ledes," but imagine instead coverage that provides detailed information concerning storm details, winds, surge, and the like.  Something people could actually use.  Even The Weather Channel spent far to much time showing their people in the field and far too little providing information that might be of value to people.  Such a shame.

Official Forecasts

In my view, computer model and official forecasts of Irma's track and intensity from the National Hurricane Center were impressive.  @WxBDM tweeted this marvelous map yesterday showing the National Hurricane Center forecast uncertainty cones from Irma's inception to Florida landfall.  That cone represents the area in which there is a 2/3 chance that Irma will track.  Irma has always been inside that cone, and I believe that includes it's track through its current position in northern Florida.  

Intensity forecasts were also quite good, although perhaps made easier by the fact that Irma had the peddle to the metal for much of it's lifetime.  I read a majority of the discussions and forecast advisories issued by the National Hurricane Center with great interest and detail given my Mom's residence in central Florida and I didn't see anything in Irma's subsequent behavior that was not anticipated by the forecasters.  

This is not to say that the forecasts were perfect.  Track uncertainty was even larger north of Florida.  Specificity on wind, surge, and other impacts had shortcomings, although those in part reflect the state of the science.  We now we need to continue to advance the science and improve future forecasts to improve better decision making, but in the context of historical forecasts, Irma's represent a significant achievement. 

Traditional and Social Media

What one "sees" and the impressions one gets today are strongly shaped by both traditional and social media and represents a blessing and a curse.  I can't emphasize enough the importance of tuning out all that chatter and focusing on National Weather Service forecasts and the recommendations of local officials during hazardous weather.  While not perfect, those forecasts and recommendations are the most reliable, don't cherry pick one possible outcome or track unless justified, and offer you the opportunity of taking the best action possible.  

Thoughts on Today, 9/11

Sixteen years ago today, terrorists inflicted a horrific attack on our nation.  In the wake of that attack, first responders and many other heroes answered the call to duty, in some cases giving their lives or sacrificing their long-term health to help others.  Let us remember their sacrifices, and that the call to duty is being answered by many in Florida and the broader southeast US during Irma.  

1 comment:

  1. I've pretty much given up on watching mainstream weather forecasts. They're all about personality and not reporting the weather. A few web links on the phone to authority of sources and I can get my weather fix for the day. Kurt

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