National Tropical Weather Conference kicks off next week in Texas

National Tropical Weather Conference

National Tropical Weather Conference

It’s getting closer to hurricane season. Yes, despite the harsh winter that the Lower 48 endured, hurricane season still begins on June 1 for the Atlantic Basin. Therefore, it is time to start planning and preparing for what may lie ahead. One effort to do just that begins next week in south Texas: the National Tropical Weather Conference.

This particular conference focuses on the broadcast meteorology field, an important ally in relaying hurricane information to the public.

The conference director, Alex Garcia, told me in a recent email interview that the conference officially began last year as a continuation of what was the Bahamas Hurricane Conference – put on by the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism. Here is that interview:

MARK: When did the National Tropical Weather Conference begin and why?

ALEX GARCIA: In years past The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism would sponsor a three day conference focused on Tropical Meteorology for Broadcast Meteorologists.  It was a great way to get a complete update for the upcoming hurricane season.  Topics included, storm surge modeling, forecasting, watches/warnings dissemination, mitigation programs, forecasting and much more.  Additionally, it provided an opportunity to meet and interview the top names in tropical meteorology, mitigation and preparedness.  In, 2010, the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism announced they would not have the 2011 conference.  Tim Smith and I felt we had to find a way to bring it back and the National Tropical Weather Conference was born.

MARK: Who benefits from the conference?

ALEX GARCIA: The primary group that benefits from this conference are the broadcast meteorologists that attend.  They gain important knowledge about the upcoming hurricane season that they can take back and share with their viewers. The knowledge includes the latest forecasting techniques, disaster preparedness, social media communications, hurricane special production, mitigation elements, and much more. They also have the opportunity to interview conference speakers for their hurricane specials and to go “live” in their hometown weathercasts from the conference to raise awareness about hurricane safety.  A secondary group to benefit is the South Padre Island Convention and Tourist Bureau.  The coverage and live shots from the conference provide an excellent venue for highlighting the island.

MARK: Tell me about this year’s highlights? Who will be speaking?

ALEX GARCIA: The highlight this year is the announcement of the Hurricane Seasonal Forecast made by Dr. Bill Gray and Dr. Phil Klotzbach “live” at the first session of the conference.  Dr. Gray will also be honored and presented the first Robert and Joanne Simpson Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Field of Tropical Meteorology.

Other highlights include a Director’s Panel featuring Directors of the National Hurricane Center that will include Dr. Richard Knabb, Neil Frank, Max Mayfield, and Bill Read.  The National Tropical Weather Conference is the only conference that features a number of former directors in its program.  Additionally, Dr. Frank will make a special presentation on the Bolivar Peninsula.  Other highlights include presentations from Tim Marshall, wind engineer and wind damage specialist, Trenise Lyons from the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes, and special luncheon address from Jack Williams, author of the USA Today’s Weather Book and John Coleman, founder of the Weather Channel.

MARK: How do you see the conference growing in the years to come?

ALEX GARCIA: We envision a healthy rate of growth in the coming years.  The 2014 conference will be our second conference with twenty-nine broadcast meteorologists attending.  This represents a 140% increase from our first year.  Our conference is focused on the needs of the broadcast meteorologist and we plan to refine the topics keep a sharp focus on the items and information they need.  We also plan to reach out to meteorologists in countries like the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, Mexico and others that have hurricane impacts.  Our goal is to get 100 broadcast meteorologists at the conference.

END OF INTERVIEW

The conference will also feature several speakers, such as Jim Edds of extremestorms.com, Jason Dunion from the University of Miami, Lew Fincher of Hurricane Consulting, Inc, Nate Johnson from WRAL-TV in Raleigh, Derek Ortt from Impact Weather, storm chasers Skip Talbot and Jennifer Brindley Ubl, Lucas Macdonald from Walmart’s Emergency Operations Center. I will be co-presenting with colleague Mike Watkins on our work intercepting hurricanes and the data that we have collected over the past decade. For a full list of the speakers, click here.

I would also like to note that Mike and I will be unveiling a brand new project at the conference. It is something that we feel will be a major step forward in understanding storm surge effects from an entirely different perspective. Our presentation will end with the announcement of this new project. I will have a special blog post about the project that will go live during our presentation. I am very excited about this and cannot wait to share it with not only the conference attendees but our followers as well.
Hurricane season will be upon us in less than 60 days. Whether or not it is an active year with a lot of overall activity matters little. What does matter is the impact to YOU. This conference, along with several others around the country that will take place over the coming weeks, is an excellent example of team work, leadership and proactive steps being taken before a storm comes knocking. I will post updates and interviews from the conference here and in our app – Hurricane Impact. Remember, it has a convenient video section where you can catch the latest video blogs or updates, anytime, anywhere.
A special thank you goes to Alex Garcia for taking the time to answer my email interview questions. Mike and I both look forward to attending this important forum and are honored to be among the featured speakers.
I will have more here late next week from South Padre Island, Texas.
Visit the official site of the National Tropical Weather Conference
M. Sudduth 9:10 AM EDT April 2
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Polar Vortex out, El Niño in?

Cross section of subsurface water in the tropical Pacific over the past few months. Clearly, a warm pool of water has developed deep beneath the Pacific and is expanding east.

Cross section of subsurface water in the tropical Pacific over the past few months. Clearly, a warm pool of water has developed deep beneath the Pacific and is expanding east.

The much maligned term “Polar Vortex” that was used quite often this winter within the weather blogosphere is about to be replaced….maybe. By what? El Niño. Yep. The Great El Niño could be making a comeback. Remember the Saturday Night Live sketch with Chris Farley about this phenomenon? It was a classic and just another example of how weather mixing with pop culture can be fun but sometimes quite wrong.

El Niño is not a single event like a storm or a hurricane. Instead, it is just a name that us humans have assigned to a change in the tropical Pacific that results in sea surface temperatures being warmer than the long-term average. Once a certain threshold has been met, we call it El Niño. Make no mistake, it will get a lot of play in the media, especially where Global Warming is concerned. The reason? The oceans act like giant cooling or heating agents. When the Pacific, the largest water basin on the planet, is warmer than it should be, then we typically see global temperatures spike – as if someone turned up the thermostat for the earth. My bet is that the pro-global warming crowd will be salivating at the potential El Niño event as it will help to boost their notion that man is screwing things up in a big way. I have no dog in that fight as it does not matter to me. What I mean is, so what? If man is making Earth warmer, who is going to go first to completely stop living in modern times? Anyone? That’s what I thought. My take is: adapt and mitigate. If not, we perish. No debate there, just ask the dinosaurs.

Back to the topic at hand.

The reason El Niño is important, other than acting like a massive thermostat for the planet, is that it seems to wreak havoc on the Atlantic hurricane season. The simple reason seems to point to higher than normal wind shear and sinking air across the tropical Atlantic due to the presence of the warmer than normal water in the tropical Pacific. In other words, El Niño would be perceived as a positive for those who would rather not deal with hurricanes; except for times when something like Andrew comes along. You can add to that list: Audrey, Camille, Alicia and even all of the landfalls of 2004. Those were all El Niño years. The point is, generally speaking, El Niño has a negative impact on Atlantic hurricane activity but this is not a guarantee. Kind of like how the 2013 hurricane season turned out. You just never know even in the face of what seems like a near certainty.

The reason behind the talk of an impending El Niño is due to several things that we can see going on across the tropical Pacific right now and within the past few weeks.

Pressure differences in the west Pacific have resulted in stronger winds blowing from the west. This causes a change in the way the ocean behaves and helps to generate what is called an oceanic Kelvin wave. I call it a Monkey Wrench in the ocean state. Normally, the trade winds in the Northern Hemisphere blow from east to west and thus the west Pacific is almost always warmer than the east Pacific. When the pressure pattern is altered, for reasons yet unknown, then the wind reverses course and that warm water is pushed eastward. This happens more so at the subsurface believe it or not in what is called downwelling. Warm water is literally pushed downward and then begins a very slow trek eastward where it upwells in to the eastern Pacific. The result: the birth of El Niño. It’s much more complicated but that’s the general idea. No one knows precisely what triggers these events to begin the chain reaction but it appears, at least for now, that forces are being set in to motion that could have huge global impacts as we move through 2014.

As for predictions, computer models are very unreliable for predicting long term weather patterns. They just cannot resolve the complex atmosphere coupled with the ocean several months in advance. In fact, the ECMWF, considered to be the very best global model in the world, called for an El Niño event last summer. It did not happen. So we shall see. While there is mounting evidence to support an El Niño event taking shape this year, it’s not clear at all how strong the El Niño would be. Obviously, the warmer the anomalies (departures from normal or average) then the more dramatic the impacts would likely be. We just don’t know yet.

As for how this potential El Niño will affect the 2014 Atlantic hurricane season – well, let’s just make sure we remember Andrew in 1992 as a case study in “it only takes one”. Sure, the overall numbers may be way down compared to the past 15 years or so. All it takes is for one, and it doesn’t even have to be a hurricane, to spoil the summer fun.

Stay tuned. El Niño is about to show Polar Vortex the door…maybe. I’ll have an update on this in mid-April.

M. Sudduth 9:15 AM ET FEb 25

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Latest forecast suggests no El Nino in sight

Latest CPC/IRI ENSO forecast chart

Latest CPC/IRI ENSO forecast chart

It’s approaching mid-June and the latest info from the Climate Prediction Center and International Research Institute (CPC/IRI) suggests that El Nino is not going to happen this hurricane season.

First, what is El Nino and why is it an issue? Well, basically, it is the abnormal warming of the tropical Pacific along and near the Equator. This warming tends to throw off the typical weather pattens and usually equates to a below-average Atlantic hurricane season. This is due to stronger upper level winds, or shear, that streaks across the tropical Atlantic and Caribbean, cutting off the tops of developing hurricanes. In the absence of El Nino, we often experience a busy Atlantic hurricane season, especially if the tropical Atlantic sea surface temps are themselves running above average – as is the case this season.

For reasons not well understood, El Nino comes and goes every few years. In between we have neutral periods where the water temps are more or less average. Then we have La Nina or an abnormal cooling of the tropical Pacific. That phenomenon also has its own set of interesting side-effects which are better explained another time. For this season, we are looking at a neutral pattern setting up and remaining in place.

The latest data and forecast from the CPC/IRI suggests less than a 10% chance of seeing El Nino develop during the August/September/October peak time of the Atlantic hurricane season. This should act to allow for prolofic development once we reach mid-August and beyond, especially considering the warmer than average SSTs in the Atlantic.

This chart gets updated a couple of times per month and I’ll post another write up on the state of the ENSO or El Nino Southern Oscillation towards the end of the month. In the meantime, the tropics are nice and quiet with no areas of concern noted in either the east Pacific or the the Atlantic.

M. Sudduth

 

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Storm surge is major threat from hurricanes

Storm Surge From Hurricane Isaac in 2012

Storm Surge From Hurricane Isaac in 2012 as captured from one of our older generation Surge Cams. Top image is before Isaac on August 28 while the bottom image is during the height of the surge along the Mississippi coast. The water rose several feet at this location along Gulfport Harbor.

This week is Hurricane Preparedness Week and as such, each day has a topic related to hurricanes and being prepared.

Today’s topic is storm surge – one of the most devastating effects from a tropical cyclone. Historically, storm surge kills more people than any other tropical cyclone hazard. We saw a period of time from 1970 through 2004 when few people lost their lives due to surge. Then, in 2005, Katrina changed all of that with scores of lives lost due to surge from the Missisisppi Sound as well as the catastrophic flooding from storm surge coupled with the failure of New Orleans’ levee system.

Sadly, the trend continued, though not to the same scale fortunately, with Sandy last October as storm surge swept in to areas along the New York and New Jersey coasts. A vast majority of the damage from Sandy was the result of storm surge and battering waves.

Most people do not understand storm surge and how it can affect them. Almost all evacauations in a hurricane are because of the threat of storm surge flooding. Studies are done to predict traffic flow, behavior patterns and response to evacuation orders. In most cases, people will wait as long as possible to determine whether or not the threat to their immediate location is substantial enough to warrant the trouble of leaving. While this is an understandble trait of human nature, it could lead to deadly consequences.

Let’s take hurricane Ike from 2008 as an example. It was an especially large hurricane that generated an enormous surge of water that was quite literally pushed towards the northwest Gulf of Mexico coastline. The NHC had forecast Ike to become an intense category three hurricane for several days before its landfall near Galveston on September 13. Yet, thousands of people remained on Galveston Island despite A) the city’s infamous history with hurricanes and B) the warning that people would face “certain death” if they remained behind.

If someone told you that if you remained in your car on a hot July day with the power off and the windows rolled up that you would face certain death, what would you do? I am guessing that 100% of you would not remain in your car under those conditions. Why? Because you know what will happen. You have felt the car get really hot before and have the A/C to fire up in order to make it tolerable. The point is, you’ve experienced the conditions that could kill you before yet you have the tool (A/C) to mitigate the worst from happening. It is that experience with a very hot car that has taught you not to remain inside of it for any length of time during warm to hot days.

The same cannot be said of storm surge. Most people who live along the coast have never experienced a storm surge from a tropical storm or hurricane. Thus, they have no idea what they’re dealing with. They have not seen it with their own eyes and do not grasp the concept of how much energy moving water has. They are shown maps on TV and the Internet and are told to evacuate. Often times, most people do not unless they sense danger.

I suppose that as Ike approached, some people did not sense any danger and chose to remain behind. The resulting storm surge as at least 20 feet high in some locations with thousands of homes either destroyed or seriously damaged by the flood waters. Lives were lost because people did not evacuate though scores of lives were indeed saved because of adequte warnings and people heeding them.

I guess since seeing is believing that we have to do something to further convince people of how bad storm surge can be.

As I announced in a blog post a few months ago, we are going to provide a publicly accessible, brand new, completely redesigned “Surge Cam” that will stream live video from the teeth of the next hurricane and its storm surge. We have been using an older technology for the past seven seasons that ended with Sandy last October. Now, we have new and more effecient technology that will allow us to place un-manned cameras anywhere we wish with almost no risk to either ourselves or to the equipment. We’ve made a decision to make one of these units available through our public Ustream channel at no cost to those who watch. The idea is to show people the effects of storm surge and convince them through live video that storm surge is a lethal, destructive force. We hope to place the Surge Cam in an area where a significant impact from storm surge is expected. The new camera systems last for at least 30 hours now, allowing us more time to place them in locations that no humans have any business being in as the hurricane and its surge sweep in. Perhaps this will help to motivate people to evacuate and take the appropriate measures to mitigate loss to property as well.

We will have three other Surge Cams dedicated to our Client Services members – after all, it’s their funding that supports this effort in the first place. We just thought it would serve the public and local officials, as well as the media, to provide one Surge Cam feed free of charge. Thanks to advances in technology, we can do that starting this season. Once we have a threat of a landfall, I’ll post the URL of the Surge Cam in a blog post and on our Twitter and Facebook pages. People are encouraged to share and embed the player as much as they wish. Anyone in the media may use the feed on-air and on their websites as they see fit. Just credit HurricaneTrack.com please – that’s all we ask.

It looks like a very busy season ahead. I hope that folks along the coast, especially newcomers, do their part to better understand the risk from tropical storms and hurricanes. For more info, including excellent video resources, check out the NHC’s preparedness page here: NHC Hurricane Preparedness

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Ernesto on its way to becoming a hurricane as it heads towards Belize

TS Ernesto over the Caribbean Sea

TS Ernesto over the Caribbean Sea

Conditions around Ernesto have improved and now the storm is really starting to ramp up. The main issue was dry mid-level air and the storm’s fast forward motion. It simply could not line itself up vertically and allow for the convective process that drives its heat engine to work efficiently.

Water temps are plenty warm and it is obvious by looking at satellite imagery that the outflow is well established now. Ernesto should become a hurricane before the day is out.

The threat to the U.S. is all but gone now and so the focus will be on Central America, specifically Belize.

As it looks now, Ernesto will be intensifying as it makes landfall. This is never good news. As I have written about before, it has been our experience in dealing with hurricanes in the field that when they hit while intensifying, their effects are amplified. This is due to the convection or upward motion of the clouds that act to bring the strong winds down to the surface. We noticed this most notably during hurricane Charley in 2004 and never forgot what it was like. While Ernesto is not expected to become as strong as Charley, I hope that folks in Belize realize that this is not going to be a weak, sheared and dried out tropical storm when it hits- not anymore. Wind damage could be a real issue with Ernesto along with the other hazards of coastal storm surge and torrential rains.

Farther up the Yucatan where Cancun and Cozumel are, the impacts will be far less. Since Ernesto is not an especially large storm, its effects will be confined to the areas south of the northeast tip of the Yucatan. There may very well be some passing squalls from the outer rain bands but I do not see any reason to believe that Ernesto will post any big problems for Cancun and vicinity. In fact, that area is only under a tropical storm watch at this time. If you have plans to visit the area, do not cancel as Ernesto is only a problem farther south.

Once the soon-to-be hurricane crosses the Yucatan, it could get buried over Central America and rain itself out. This will obviously have negative impacts on the region with excessive rainfall a possibility. The official track does take the storm back out over the extreme southern Bay of Campeche with a final landfall in Mexico near the end of the week. How much time Ernesto spends over land will likely determine how strong it can get once it reaches the water again, if it does not simply die out over land.

The rest of the tropical Atlantic is quiet for now. Florence has dissipated and will likely not be able to make any appreciable comeback. We’ll see, you never know in August.

In the east Pacific, the NHC is keeping tabs on invest area 92E which is forecast to become a tropical depression and eventually a hurricane by many of the intensity models .However, the steering pattern continues to favor a general westward track away from Mexico. This is not typical of an El Nino year and lends more evidence to the fact that the atmosphere is not behaving as if we were in El Nino conditions. With a fairly strong high pressure area over the eastern Pacific it is no wonder that recent hurricanes in the east-Pac have moved westward. It is also keeping the progress of the developing El Nino at a slow pace which could have implications on the Atlantic season from here on out. I’ll discuss that in more detail in tomorrow’s blog post.

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