Let’s talk about water

Storm surge from hurricane Ike

Storm surge from hurricane Ike

When most people hear the word “hurricane” they more than likely think of one thing: wind. Next, they probably ask, “what category is it?” While these aspects of a hurricane are certainly important, I believe a larger issue is being overlooked and put on the back burner until it is too late: the threat from water.

We can see the wind or, more accurately, the effects of wind, as soon as it starts blowing. The harder it blows, the more dramatic the effects are on the things around us such as trees and flags. This registers instantly in our brains and we can understand it because we can see it. Therefore, if the hurricane has 100 mph wind, while you might not necessarily grasp the concept of just how much energy that means, you do generally understand that it could damage your property.

Water, on the other hand, is seemingly tougher to conceptualize. The forecast as a hurricane approaches calls for 10-15 inches of rain. What does that mean? We can all visualize a ruler which is 12 inches but what exactly is 12 inches of rain going to do at your home or business? A lot of that depends on how fast the rain rates add up and what the drainage is like in and around your property.

The real danger comes when too much rain falls too fast and streams and creeks become swollen, flowing over the roadways and inviting disaster. There is no way to predict when and where this will occur with any degree of accuracy. As we saw again with Matthew last October in North Carolina, despite repeat events (Floyd in 1999 and the historic rains in NC/SC in 2015) people continue to drive across flowing water as if they are immune to the laws of physics. Too often, they are dead wrong. I’ll come back to this topic later.

Storm surge is about as dangerous and destructive as it gets yet few people truly understand what it actually is. Historically, storm surge has taken more lives than any other effect and it is the sole reason that evacuations are ordered for coastal areas. That’s right, we do not evacuate for wind – it’s the water. While it is true that you do not want to remain in an unsafe structure during the high winds of a hurricane, modern building codes should protect a vast majority of the people in harm’s way but water is a different story.

Moving water has an enormous amount of force behind it. Waves crashing ashore bring with them enough energy to bulldoze structures along the immediate beachfront. Those crumbled structures now become solid pieces of the surge and waves and act to batter and break up even more man-made structures. The end result is massive damage along the coast and the potential for loss of life.

Instead of yammering on and on about how bad it can get, I want to focus on a solution. There is something that can be done to completely eliminate the loss of life that we are seeing because of hurricanes (tropical storms too) and the effects of water.

The first step is understanding the risk where you live. As I said, evacuations are planned based on potential storm surge flooding and this is done well in advance of any hurricane. You need to take the personal responsibility of asking questions about where you live or work. Do not rely on someone to do it for you. Use social media and the Internet as a whole to your benefit. Go online and ask, “Do I live in an evacuation zone?” Do not stop asking until you find the answer.

Once you know your risk to storm surge, you can then make an appropriate plan. Make the decision now that if your evacuation zone is called to evacuate, you do it, no questions asked. No waiting to see what the hurricane does tomorrow or what Bob and Margaret next door decide to do. This is your one chance to get it right and not regret it later. Do not put first responders at risk during the storm by calling them begging to be saved. That is irresponsible and selfish and should never be an issue if people followed the plan and left when told to do so.

While it is true  that most people who evacuate come home to little or no damage, it is best to err on the side of caution and leave when told to do so. I realize more than you know how stressful it is and that it is not something to be taken lightly. That is why I make the case for planning now and making the choice now that you will in fact go when told to go.  It takes planning and that needs to be done before hurricane season ever begins.

Truck driving on flooded road after hurricane Matthew in eastern North Carolina

Truck driving on flooded road after hurricane Matthew in eastern North Carolina

Fresh water flooding is a killing agent that seems to never get better. Time and again people are seen and captured on video trying to cross flooded roads – often times failing and losing their lives. This is absolutely unacceptable and needs to stop. Again, it puts rescuers at great risk and drains resources that could be used elsewhere.

I am going to make it real simple. Hurricanes and tropical storms mean rain and a lot of it. When it rains, roads flood. I don’t care what kind of vehicle you own or how many times you have been down “that road”, it doesn’t matter if the water is too high or too swift; you will get swept away. Don’t do it. Stay home and avoid driving until things get better.

As the hurricane season nears, I challenge you to do more to learn about the impact of water from tropical storms and hurricanes. Wind is the big headline but often times at the cost of losing sight of how water can be both deadly and destructive. We need it to survive but it can turn against us in nightmarish ways.

Technology can only get us so far. We can see the hurricanes before they even form thanks to incredible advances in computer models. Now it is time to put our common sense to use and realize once and for all that sometimes we have to relent and do the right thing. That means evacuating when told to do so and not driving across flooded roads. It’s 2017 people, let’s act like we’ve been here before and actually learned something from the past. If not, well, you know what happens if not….

M. Sudduth 2:15 PM ET April 12

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Otto small but will bring torrential rain and strong wind to portions of Central America

The biggest hazard from Otto will be the rain which is expected to be more than a foot in some locations.

The biggest hazard from Otto will be the rain which is expected to be more than a foot in some locations. Click to view full size.

It is late in the hurricane season but TS Otto has managed to find a small corner of the Caribbean Sea in which to flourish. Recent reports from the NHC indicate that Otto is nearing hurricane intensity and by looking at satellite images, it won’t be long until that status has been achieved.

Fortunately, Otto is small in size with tropical storm force winds extending only 35 miles out from the center. When it becomes a hurricane, those winds will also be confined to a relatively tiny area near the center thus wind is really not going to be the issue here.

Instead, rain is my big concern. Heavy rain is expected to fall across portions of Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama today and lasting through the remainder of the week. The extremely slow movement of Otto will only add to this hazard and for areas of Nicaragua especially, rainfall could be excessive and lead to substantial flooding with great risk to life and property. Obviously interests in the region should be paying close attention to the progress of Otto and be ready to head to safer locations should flooding commence. I am very worried about the amount of rain that could fall with this system and will continue to emphasize that fact throughout this event.

Otto is expected to move slowly westward over the next few days and eventually make landfall somewhere in southern Nicaragua and possibly straddle the border of Costa Rica. This is very far south for a hurricane to be making landfall no matter what time of the hurricane season it it. As such, people are not used to this which makes it even more important for folks to keep up to date with the latest information as Otto progresses.

There is no risk of the storm turning north in to the Gulf of Mexico and even the NW Caribbean Sea due to mid-level high pressure building in across the region, acting like a block and forcing Otto to remain south and move generally westward underneath the high pressure area. It is possible that the remnants survive the passage over Central America and emerge in to the southeast Pacific – if so, we’ll deal with that when the time comes.

I’ll have more in my video discussion which I will post later this afternoon.

M. Sudduth 8:50 AM ET Nov 22

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Season not over yet

NHC outlook map with hurricane Nicole still churning away in the north Atlantic while we watch an area of disturbed weather near the southeast Bahamas

NHC outlook map with hurricane Nicole still churning away in the north Atlantic while we watch an area of disturbed weather near the southeast Bahamas

Here we are getting close to late October and the Atlantic hurricane season is still going strong. Believe it or not, we still have Nicole on the map and yes, it is still a hurricane. In fact, the surface wind energy is being translated in to the North Atlantic enough so that large swells are radiating out from Nicole are reaching the Caribbean Sea and the East Coast of the U.S. Nicole is likely to remain a hurricane for another day or so before finally encountering water that is cold enough to strip it of its warm-core tropical characteristics.

In the meantime, an area of disturbed weather has developed in the vicinity of the southeast Bahamas and has some potential for further organization over the next few days. Right now, upper level winds are just too strong to allow much to happen but the system will bring periods of showers and occasional gusty winds to portions of the Bahamas as it drifts slowly eastward.

Later in the week, computer models suggest that upper level winds could relax some and allow for slow development of a weak low pressure area somewhere over the southwest Atlantic. Water temps are still warm enough to support development but we’re getting to the time of year when we can expect to see more of a hybrid look to storms like this where the winds are spread out over a larger area instead of the classic tropical storm look. We’ll see what happens but so far, there are no indications that this system would pose a direct threat to the Southeast coast outside of additional swells and rough seas that it may kick up.

Beyond that, the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico are free and clear of any organized disturbances that bear watching for now. However, there are indications that towards the end of the month and in to early November we may see an enhancement of the Madden-Julian Oscillation or MJO. This is a period of favorable upward motion that allows the air in the upper levels of the atmosphere to spread out or diverge, allowing thunderstorms to blossom underneath. With the very warm western Caribbean waters still waiting to be tapped, it is possible that we will see yet another area of interest pop up sometime beyond the next week to ten days. It is not that uncommon to see late season development in the western Caribbean and with a possible favorable MJO pattern, this year may be slightly more active than we’ve seen as of late once we get in to late month and early November.

I will go over everything in more detail during my video discussion which will be posted later this afternoon.

M. Sudduth 8:40 AM ET Oct 17

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Hurricane threat growing for Caribbean as long range outlook very uncertain

Morning model plots showing a general west track for the next several days.

Morning model plots showing a general west track for the next several days.

It has been a strange year for Atlantic hurricane activity. So many sputtering, long-lived but relatively weak systems have formed with minimal impact overall to land areas. Luck has been kind to us for sure but I am not so sure it can hold out for much longer.

We should have a tropical depression or possibly even a tropical storm by later today just east of the Windward Islands. We will know a lot more once the Hurricane Hunters fly out late today for on-site info from the low pressure area. Right now, it certainly looks like it is well on its way to developing but it needs a defined low level center of circulation and the recon crew can confirm whether or not that exists.

Whether or not this becomes a tropical depression or a storm before reaching the Windward Islands will not change the outcome for that region very much. Squally weather will move in beginning later tomorrow with tropical storm conditions likely across a good deal of the Windwards, especially to the north of where the center passes. Expect heavy rain, gusty winds and building seas as the low pressure area moves in.

Once past the islands, what should be Matthew at that point will have an opportunity to strengthen and become a hurricane. The upper ocean heat content in the Caribbean Sea is ample and could support a very intense hurricane if upper level winds allow.

As far as where the system tracks over the next five to seven days? More than likely, we’ll see a westward movement in to the central Caribbean not too far north off the coast of South America. As such, the so-called ABC islands could feel some impacts from this system. We simply need to wait and see to know the depth of those impacts as the week progresses.

Obviously areas such as Hispaniola, Jamaica, Cuba and the Cayman Islands should all be watching the progress of this system very closely. Before any possible impacts along the U.S. coast would happen, the islands along the northern Caribbean could be hit first. There’s no question about it, the next few days will be full of anxious moments as we wait and see how the steering pattern evolves.

A lot of talk has been made of recent runs of the GFS model which takes the storm/hurricane north out of the Caribbean and along or just off the U.S. East Coast. With a huge area of high pressure building over Canada and the Northeast this could be a bad scenario for a large stretch of coastline. But will it happen this way? It is impossible to know right now. Other model guidance shows a slower moving system that tracks farther to the west with potential tracks in to the Gulf of Mexico. Split the difference and Florida becomes a target.

So what do we do? My advice: just keep up to date with the latest info and be ready to react if this comes your way. No one has the answer right now. I sure don’t. It’s just like last year at this same time ironically when Joaquin was a threat to the Mid-Atlantic according to the American generated models. You remember that duel right? The Euro was the outlier it seemed and yet it turned out to be correct and Joaquin missed the United States. Right now we simply don’t have enough to go on in terms of making a forecast of where this ends up in a week to ten days. As I often say, it’s hurricane season and people should be ready for anything no matter what.

M. Sudduth 12:45 PM ET Sept 27

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Tropics look to remain busy as we leave summer behind

Aside from Karl and Lisa which will both turn out to sea, I will be watching this area of energy moving off the coast of Africa. Several of the computer models indicate the chance for this to develop next week as it moves westward.

Aside from Karl and Lisa which will both turn out to sea, I will be watching this area of energy moving off the coast of Africa. Several of the computer models indicate the chance for this to develop next week as it moves westward.

Summer is over. Football season is back. Baseball begins to look ahead to the World Series and soon enough the big box stores will roll out the Christmas displays. Yes, fall 2016 is here but will the hurricanes follow? So far, it’s been fairly benign with the exception of Earl and Hermine – both category one hurricanes with limited overall impacts. As we begin to look ahead to cooler nights, shorter days and eventually frost on the pumpkins, we still have to be wary of potential threats from the tropics.

Right now, we have two tropical storms, both of which have been struggling due to stronger upper level winds than normal across the tropical Atlantic. One of those storms, Karl, should become a hurricane as it turns north and eventually northeast and away from the United States. Karl may pass close enough to Bermuda to warrant a tropical storm warning at some point but the impacts should be minimal since the track will be to the south and east of the region. Hopefully, for the sake of the surfing community along the East Coast, Karl can strengthen over open water and at least send some increased swells back towards the coast. We’ll have to just wait and see about that.

Meanwhile, Lisa is also suffering from adverse environmental conditions which will limit strengthening as the storm moves on a path towards the open Atlantic as we get in to the weekend.

This leaves us with a new pattern setting up as we get in to early next week. There are two distinct areas that I will be watching: the western Gulf of Mexico and the deep tropics between Africa and the Windward Islands.

The first significant cold front of the season will finally drop in to Texas and push off in to the western Gulf of Mexico where we might see a low develop sometime next week. How strong and organized this low might be remains to be seen but dropping a frontal boundary in to the Gulf where water temps are in the upper 80s is just asking for something to pop up. Obviously this needs to be watched closely since it would be close to land already.

The other area I will be watching is the deep tropics as we get in to next week as well. For several days in a row, the general consensus of the global models is to develop a low pressure area at quite a low latitude and send it west towards the Windward Islands. Right now, there is a tropical wave and weak area of energy moving through west Africa that would be the seedling of this potential low pressure system. It’s days away from getting better organized but the remarkable consistency in the models leads me to believe it is at least worth watching. Given the lower latitude that it would be tracking along, the odds of it turning out to sea early are reduced and as such, it could be an issue for the eastern Caribbean later next week.

I will go over all of these areas in greater detail during my daily video discussion which will be posted early this afternoon here, on our YouTube channel and in our app.

M. Sudduth 9:15 AM ET Sept 22

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