When disaster looms, you want to hear from the experts, not politicians

If you have the unfortunate circumstance to suspect that you have cancer and you go to your doctor to have a battery of tests run to determine what the problem is, who do you want to have talk to you about the results? I am going to go out on a limb here and assume it’s not the hospital’s CEO. They very well may be an MD, sure, but they run the hospital. You want to hear from the specialist who has studied cancer, what ever form it may be, for their entire career. What good is the CEO going to do? Probably very little.

So why is it that during a hurricane threat to a large city that we are hearing from the mayors of those cities? When did this become accepted practice? What on earth are the emergency management agencies there for if the mayor is going to be running the disaster? At least that is how the public perceives it, right?

Think back to Katrina. Mayor Ray Nagin of New Orleans was a household name. Why? He is a politician, not a hurricane expert. He has a role, certainly, but I felt like it should have been to introduce the people of New Orleans to his highly trained team of hurricane planning experts who would be in charge of dealing with Katrina.

Even big Hollywood movies get it right most of the time. When some extinction level event is just over the horizon, yeah, we hear from the President who tells us all to remain calm, treat each other with kindness etc, but then we meet the hero, the scientist who has all the answers as to how to stop the menace that could wipe out mankind. Not once has it been the mayor.

Let’s fast forward from 2005 to 2012 and hurricane Sandy. There have been numerous documentaries made about the fate of New York City should a major hurricane come calling. We’ve all seen it: Lower Manhattan will flood. The New York Bight will jam up the water, spilling it over the Battery, flooding the World Trade Center site. It would be utter chaos and lead to the shutdown of the subway systems, paralyzing parts of the Big Apple for days if not weeks. Maybe that was the problem. These shows were all based on a major hurricane, usually a category three or higher. Sandy was definitely not a major hurricane in the Atlantic. Is this why it was not taken seriously by the mayor of New York City? Were there not experts available to tell him that the size of Sandy meant that an unimaginable amount of water was going to be pushed towards the coast?

Once again where were the city’s emergency management staff? Why was the mayor in charge of Sandy and thus the fate of millions of New Yorkers? Knowing what we know now, wouldn’t it have been better for a hurricane or storm surge expert be introduced during those press conferences to explain what was about to happen and why? Don’t people inherently want to hear from their fellow humans who have more knowledge about a phenomenon than they? I just don’t get it.

The mayor is not the expert here. It is my opinion that his role is to introduce the public to the people who are in charge of the event. Let them come out and explain the how’s and why’s. I just think that the public would be better served hearing from the people whose job it is to plan and manage something like a hurricane or superstorm or Godzilla.

My advice to the general public is simple. Look for the expert information from those who are trained and educated to provide such. In the case of Sandy and every other hurricane event since the Internet has been so prevalent, I have preached over and over again the use of weather.gov. You want to know what to expect and approximately when to expect it? Read the watch/warning info, the hazardous weather bulletins, the hurricane local statements, etc, etc. It’s all there – you paid for it with your taxes. I cannot even begin to imagine how many times I have read those very statements aloud to hundreds of people at a time watching our live stream during a field mission.

I have never, not one single time, suggested to anyone listening to the sound of my voice or reading my blogs, Tweets or Facebook posts that they call the mayor of their city to find out what to expect from hurricane X. We’ll see if we’ve learned anything from all of this in due time. I hope, for the sake of the people who live in harm’s way, that emergency management gets the attention that it deserves and was set up to accomplish.

Strong coastal storm now in progress but after this, a nicer pattern

Coastal storm off shore of the Northeast United States

Coastal storm off shore of the Northeast United States

The much-talked about Nor’easter is now raging off the coast of New Jersey and New York with strong winds, cold, snow, sleet, rain and coastal flooding all on the list of issues that people in the region will face today and tonight.

There is not much to add in terms of what people can expect. I think the heightened awareness of this storm because of Sandy’s aftermath situation means that as many people know about this as can be expected.

I do think that this afternoon’s high tide, coming in now, and then the one late tonight, will have the biggest impacts on the area with minor to moderate flooding possible. Luckily, the storm is not coming inland, pushing all of that water with it as Sandy did. Instead, we have a fairly long fetch of wind blowing across the open Atlantic for a few hundred miles and that piles up the water along the coast, not allowing the high tides to recede much.

Once past the high tide cycle late tonight/early tomorrow morning, the danger of coastal flooding will diminish. The issue will then become snow, cold and wind. For areas where power has not been restored in the wake of Sandy, the cold air will be a problem and people need to be prepared with extra sources of warmth.

By later tomorrow, the storm will be moving away and the region can finally begin to really dig in and put their energy in to recovery – from both storms.

The weather pattern next week changes to one of less storms in the East coupled with a nice warm-up. This should bring plenty of hope for the area since people will have a respite from having to look over their shoulder for the next menacing coastal storm. Perhaps it will be a while before we have to worry about that again.

As far the tropics go, there is really nothing to discuss of any significance anywhere in the Atlantic Basin. This time of year we see activity wane considerably and while it is possible that we’ll see one more named storm, I think it is more likely that we’re done until 2013. We’ll see, nothing is showing up in the long range models and that is the best news of all.

Storm surge and high wind real concerns for Northeast

Ocean Prediction Center's Extra-tropical Storm Surge Model

Ocean Prediction Center's Extra-tropical Storm Surge Model

You can’t see it yet but a new coastal storm, a typical Nor’easter, is going to form off the Carolina coast tomorrow and track roughly parallel to the Eastern Seaboard and bring with it an increase in wind, rain, inland snows and a coastal storm surge.

All of the regional NWS offices are talking about the storm in their forecast discussions and it looks as though the areas hit hardest by Sandy will again be lashed by this system.

So far, the rain fall looks to be minimal enough to preclude any concerns about inland flooding. The heaviest rains will likely be near the coast which makes sense considering that this is a coastal storm and is not forecast to cross the coast or make a landfall. However, with many homes and businesses sustaining roof damage during Sandy, this rain is a serious issue and could cause further damage. If there is any chance to tarp open roof damage areas, now is the time to get it done.

Wind speeds will also be highest along the coast with gale force winds almost a certainty. From what I have seen, some of the strongest winds will be felt along the New Jersey and New York coasts with winds approaching 60 mph in gusts. This will be more than enough to knock the power back out for people who have recently had it restored. Here too, make sure any preparations to keep warm in case of power loss needs to be done now. Ask local relief agencies for battery powered lights and extra blankets today. The infrastructure is more vulnerable right now and it won’t take much to bring down additional trees and plunge large areas, especially near the coast, in to darkness once again.

Storm surge from extra-tropical storms such as this one can cause moderate tidal flooding which can extend in to back bays along the coast. Sadly, hurricane Sandy removed much of the protective dune system which will allow for more over wash and surge to reach in to some coastal towns. We could be looking at anywhere from two to four feet of flooding but a lot will depend on the track of the low and the duration of the long fetch of wind across the western Atlantic. A faster moving storm would be better, obviously. Again, from what I have gathered by reading the various NWS discussions, it looks as though the Wednesday night high tide will be the one of most concern – especially along northern New Jersey and some areas of Long Island.

As I have mentioned numerous times, utilize your local NWS info by going to weather.gov and inputting your ZIP Code. Read the content of the “Hazardous Weather Conditions” if the local office has put one up for the current storm. Here you will find more detailed information about timing and expected impacts to your local area. Keep in mind this is written by people in your region, not by a computer or from a cable TV news source. I highly encourage the use of the NWS local products, especially when it is important to understand the local impacts of a storm like the pending Nor’easter.

Luckily, the tropics are quiet with absolutely no areas to be concerned with in the coming days. We are nearing the end of a very busy hurricane season that will be remembered for generations to come because of Sandy and its legacy. For the people who are going through the painful and slow recovery process, hang in there. A lot of people are working to provide assistance for what is an overwhelming disaster. This current storm will be a set back for some, but it will not be nearly as intense or widespread as Sandy. That being said, it needs to be taken seriously and precautions taken to prevent further loss of life and even more damage to property.

I’ll post more here tomorrow morning with more specifics about what to expect as the storm begins to develop off the North Carolina coast.


Salt in the wounds of those affected by Sandy

GFS and other global models indicating the development of a coastal storm next week for the Mid-Atlantic

GFS and other global models indicating the development of a coastal storm next week for the Mid-Atlantic

It looks like people who are struggling to recover from Sandy will have to deal with an obstacle: a Nor’easter. the global models are forecasting the development of a coastal storm within the next 4 to 5 days off the coast of North Carolina. While not particularly intense in any other year, this storm will be a problem due to the extremely vulnerable, and battered, coastline.

Dunes are eroded, beaches are flattened and the people who live in the region are not in any mood for more weather nonsense. Unfortunately, it looks like there will be no choice but to deal with what’s coming.

From the looks of things now, the storm will organize off of North Carolina and bring heavy rain and strong winds to the immediate coastal area. A persistent northeast wind is likely for areas north of the circulation center. This means that coastal New York and New Jersey may see another flooding event, especially considering the current conditions there.

I highly recommend that people from North Carolina up through New England stay on top of the National Weather Service local information. We may see watches and warnings for high winds, coastal flooding and rainfall go up. This is not what the region needs but there is no avoiding it. Knowing that it is coming several days in advance may help to mitigate issues that could otherwise slow down recovery efforts.

I’ll post a special video blog about the coastal storm to our app and our YouTube channel later this afternoon with a link posted here in a separate blog.

Elsewhere, the tropics are not an issue.

Day Two

Hurricane Sandy has earned its place in hurricane history and will be remembered, talked about and debated over for many years to come.

It is now day two of the post-Sandy world that many people from North Carolina to New England now live in. Their lives will be different from now on. A new normal will set in and Sandy will be a benchmark for the millions of people affected; most of all, for the immediate coast of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast.

Now comes the part where money is unleashed like a raging river. The states affected will do what they can but will inevitably have to lean on the Federal Government for assistance. This is especially so when it comes to infrastructure.

For homeowners who did not have flood insurance and were impacted by surge, they are 100% out of luck from their homeowner’s insurance. They will have a long battle ahead. Just ask people who were affected by Katrina’s surge. I feel for these folks as I think about the agonizing amount of work that it will take to find out they are not covered.

Local governments will soon learn how difficult it is to deal with contracts for debris removal, clean up, temporary housing and more. A large scale disaster like this takes time to gain momentum when it comes to the recovery aspect. However, what’s amazing is that once it gets started, it accelerates. While probably not as fast as people would like, the wheel gets moving and it picks up speed. Each day will get a littler better. Sure there will be set backs and lost battles. Some people will have to bury their loved ones. It is a tough, tough thing to go through and I have seen it over and over in my career studying the effects of hurricanes on society. But it does get better.

When I had the honor the meet New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in Belmar, I told him and the crowd that the best thing they can do is work together. Use this calamity to pull together and help each other out. Utilize local resources and talents. This is what makes a community like Belmar stronger after a disaster such as Sandy. I have seen it with my own two eyes, I know it works.

I am working on a documentary about hurricanes and how they have left their mark on America in ways that few people truly understand. I never thought that I would be adding coastal New Jersey to the list of places along the so-called Hurricane Highway, the title of the project.

I will be back to Belmar and Long Branch, where I worked much of the Sandy field mission. Time will pass and progress will be made. The roads will be cleared and new construction will begin to take shape. Spirits will be lifted as signs of Sandy are gradually removed truck-load by truck-load. Then, the people and the places will commence in the healing process and will talk about Sandy very much in the past tense; even though Sandy will always be a part of them. Tomorrow begins day three, one day closer to a new normal. I wish you all the best of luck, I’ll be pulling for you!