National Tropical Weather Conference this week in South Padre Island

National Tropical Weather Conference 2016

National Tropical Weather Conference 2016

Hurricane season is a mere 50 days away and before things get started, a very important conference will take place in south Texas this week.

There are several hurricane related conferences each year, some are local or state and some are national level. All of them are important for their own reasons but the NTWC is special because it is designed to bring together broadcast meteorologists and other experts from the world of hurricanes.

As you can imagine, broadcast media is a critical part of getting the word out when hurricanes and tropical storms loom. Having a clear, consistent message is vital to saving lives and minimizing property damage. Thus, getting as many people “in the business” together in one room makes a great deal of sense.

The 2016 conference will feature speakers covering a variety of topics – ranging from seasonal forecast information to updates to the National Hurricane Center’s suite of watch/warning products.

One key element of the conference that I am impressed with is the inclusion of those who are on the front lines within the media. For example, Bryan Norcross has been a speaker and brings a level of insight to the table that few in the media have (Andrew 1992).

This year will feature John Zarella. Many of you may know from CNN, Miami. His coverage of hurricanes is extensive and includes the very important aspects of knowing an urban market with a huge spread of cultural diversity. In addition, Ed Piotrowski, Rob Fowler, Jim Gandy and Bryan Luhn will represent local media interests from South Carolina where unprecedented flooding took place last year, loosely associated with the deep tropical moisture plume from hurricane Joaquin. Their collective perspectives will help the group to better communicate during times of severe weather and especially hurricanes.

We will also hear from key players from the National Hurricane Center, both past and present, about upcoming changes and what improvements can be made to better communicate risk and impacts from tropical cyclones.

From the private sector, AccuWeather, Baron Services and StormGeo will have speakers who bring their wealth of experience, including dealing with the media, to the group. Lew Fincher will address industrial impacts while the topic “Hurricane Strong” will be presented by Leslie Chapman-Henderson from FLASH. This is so important as it helps to round out the discussion by having all of us on the same page; ultimately benefiting the public.

What will the 2016 season be like? Busy? Not so busy? We will find out from Dr. Phil Klotzbach who will present on Thursday, complete with a full run down on the factors that will help to shape the season ahead.

I will be presenting on Friday about our unmanned camera project and how far it has come over the past decade. I’ll also update the group about our HURRB project and what we hope to learn from launching a payload filled with technology in to the eye of a hurricane at landfall.

Remember hurricane Patricia last October? It was at one point the strongest hurricane ever recorded in either the Atlantic or the east Pacific. Josh Morgerman was in Mexico for the landfall and documented the event using not only a camera but also pressure sensors. His passion and drive for getting in to the teeth of the worst of the worst in the tropics is coupled with an important scientific role: collect data. His report on Patricia will be eagerly anticipated.

All of these speakers and more will pack quite a bit in to the two day conference in a beautiful part of south Texas.

It’s almost hurricane season and this year, things may be different than what we’ve experienced over the past several seasons. The El Nino is fading and the Atlantic, at least the deep tropics, is warmer than average. No matter, we are all on the lookout for that one singular tropical storm or hurricane that comes your way. Luck favors the prepared and the National Tropical Weather Conference is a key element in that effort.

For more information and to follow along later this week, check out the National Tropical Weather Conference

Hurricane immunue system needs a booster shot

Busy seasons with a lot of landfalls like 2005 may actually help us in the long run to be better prepared

Busy seasons with a lot of landfalls like 2005 may actually help us in the long run to be better prepared

I just returned from the 2015 National Tropical Weather Conference in South Padre Island, Texas. The event was fantastic, giving everyone who attended the chance to interact in ways that the larger conferences simply are not capable of fostering. I came away with a renewed sense of hope that the nation is, as a whole, in pretty good shape when it comes to forecasting and tracking hurricanes. However, the preparedness side of things leaves a lot of questions that we may or may not get answers to during the upcoming season.

The single biggest problem that I see, believe it or not, is that we have not had many high-impact hurricanes in a long time. Sandy was an exception in 2012 but that was also in an area that very rarely has to deal with anything like that at all.

I am beginning to see something take shape that worries me. The lack of hurricanes intruding in to our normal, busy lives is leaving us vulnerable and susceptible to disaster later on. Just like being exposed to germs that don’t kill us helps to strengthen our immune system, being exposed to hurricanes on a regular basis teaches (forces) us to take action against future events. We literally build up a resistance for hurricanes and their nasty impacts. We won’t become immune but we can become more disaster resistant.

However, if you isolate yourself in a sterile environment for a number of years, then suddenly go to Chuck-e-Cheese on a busy weekend, I can assure you that the attack to your immune system, what little of it there is, will be swift and severe. The same will likely hold true in the hurricane world. It’s been too long without a major test and thus people simply won’t be prepared to fight.

What is the solution? Simple, we need to have hurricanes to keep our minds focused on being hurricane prepared. Now before you get all tense and full of angst against me for making such bold claims, consider this: in 2005 after Katrina, it became clear that we needed to do something better as a country to prepare for hurricanes. Thus, when Rita and Wilma came along, people really took notice. Sure there were some mistakes, but I am talking about building up resistance to hurricanes. The 2004 and 2005 seasons forced people along the Gulf Coast to become more hurricane resistant. Now, we need a booster shot of sorts.

Again, I go back to my medical analogy. We get regular booster shots to keep our resistance up against deadly diseases. If we falter, we are open for invasion and our immune system is throttled, sometimes with lethal results.

I believe that the lack of hurricanes is actually hurting us in the long term. Out of sight, out of mind, right? We have discussed Florida on numerous occasions: no hurricanes in almost 10 years. NONE. Not a single one. Talk about being vulnerable! Florida is a prime example and when the next hurricane does make landfall, it could overwhelm the system, literally, and lead to a rather unpleasant experience.

If we had hurricanes making landfall along the U.S coast every year, on a regular basis, we would do more to combat their effects. The absence of such malevolent weather leads to apathy and eventually we forget about such monumental events like Andrew or even Wilma. Hurricanes become more about legend and history and less about a real and serious threat.

I cannot blame anyone for not having the urge to prepare for something that seemingly doesn’t happen much anymore. What’s the reason why anyone should? Play the odds and just hope this year isn’t the one when the next “it only takes one” comes knocking.

There really is no solution to this quietly growing problem. Local television stations will continue to run their annual hurricane specials over the next few weeks. Conferences such as the one I just attended will go on as they always have. In the grand scheme, these efforts will reach only a small fraction of the people who would eventually be impacted by a hurricane or tropical storm. The die-hard weather geeks will tune in to the hurricane specials or pick up the latest hurricane guide at the grocery store. Everyone else will go about their various concerns and the complacency will grow beyond our ability to cope when the next great storm is upon our doorstep.

I will say this, the men and women who will forecast such an event are the best in the world. They will stand ready to defend against what is probably going to be a very weakened immune system that we call our coastline. The forecasts will be the best the science can bring us but will it be enough to combat nearly a decade of major hurricane landfall drought? I guess we will find out sooner or later.

M. Sudduth 9:20 AM ET April 14

El Niño not likely to be a factor for 2015 Atlantic hurricane season

Even though it is January, there are clues that we can look for when trying to figure out how busy the upcoming Atlantic hurricane season may be. One of those clues is the state of the El Niño.

As we know, El Niño or the abnormal warming of the tropical Pacific, tends to suppress Atlantic hurricane activity due to a number of factors. For a good deal of 2014, it looked as though a rather substantial El Niño event was going to unfold – it failed to do so. However, the tropical Pacific did warm quite a bit and in fact, most of the warmest water on the globe was found in the Pacific during last year’s hurricane season. This is a big reason why the east Pacific was so very busy and the Atlantic was not.

As of early January, the tropical Pacific was only slightly warmer than usual with a noticeable decline in sea surface temperatures in the east Pacific, just west of Central America. In fact, as far as I can tell, we are not even in an official El Niño right now as the thresholds have not been met. This is not surprising if we look at some other aspects of a traditional El Niño event.

One of those aspects is the SOI or Southern Oscillation Index. Typically the more negative it is, the more likely we are to see El Niño conditions prevail in the atmosphere AND in the oceans. What’s the trend over the past 90 days been? A slow and steady rise in the SOI. As the chart shows, October was -8.2, November was -8.0 and December was -7.6 with the current daily value showing +4.4. What does this mean? In short, it means that the pressure pattern is such that the trade winds are not all that weak across the tropical Pacific and thus the El Niño is being held back if not stopped completely.

Latest SOI chart from the Australian BOM

Latest SOI chart from the Australian BOM (click to view full size)

More evidence of the collapse of the El Niño can be seen via the temperature depth anomaly chart from the Climate Prediction Center. This shows us what the temperature profile is of the tropical Pacific from the surface down several hundred meters. Clearly you can see the loss of the warm pool as the animation progresses over the past several weeks. In fact, cooler anomalies are showing up in the eastern Pacific at a depth of around 110-150 meters. Unless more warm water begins to migrate eastward (from left to right on the chart) then the warming of the tropical Pacific will be very slow if not stopped entirely.

Equatorial Pacific Temperature Depth Anomaly Animation

Equatorial Pacific Temperature Depth Anomaly Animation (click to view full size)

So what does this all mean as far as impact on the 2015 hurricane season? While it’s too early to be confident about the demise of the El Niño, the most recent forecasts indicate that the odds of neutral conditions are beginning to outweigh El Niño as we get in to the Atlantic hurricane season which begins in June. This is very important because a cooler tropical Pacific would likely mean less upward motion in that region compared to what we saw in 2014 and this could lead to a better chance for Atlantic development, even if only a little. Remember, 2014 was not too far off from being an average season and so any increase in activity this year would seem to most people as being quite busy, especially considering how slack things have appeared to be since 2012.

Early January 2015 forecast for ENSO state - notice how the green (neutral) outweighs the red (El Nino) beginning as soon as the Feb/Mar/April time frame

Early January 2015 forecast for ENSO state – notice how the green (neutral) outweighs the red (El Nino) beginning as soon as the Feb/Mar/April time frame (click for full size image)

There are many other factors to consider as we enter the 2015 Atlantic hurricane season but the state of the ENSO is a big one and thus far, it appears that it will not be much of a negative influence. Obviously, the climate models can and do make gross miscalculations and we could end up with a raging warm episode by late summer. However, with other signals leaning in the direction of a non-El Nino event shaping up, I tend to think that the forecast will be pretty accurate and that we will not have an El Nino during the 2015 hurricane season. We shall see…

I will post an update to this information in early April, right before the National Tropical Weather Conference which is being held in South Padre Island again this year. By then, we’ll be within 90 days of the hurricane season getting started. I’ll have other topics posted before April of course but that’s the next logical time to take a look at the ENSO state again. Until next time, stay warm!

M. Sudduth 9:26 AM ET Jan 14