Hurricane Katia is a Category 3 storm. Big deal. The fish don’t care. Katia looks to be a threat only to surfers and shipping and hopefully they’ll steer clear. The Hurricane Center might call it a “major hurricane,” but that’s only of academic concern.
This is as good a time as any to talk hurricanes, hurricane warnings and hurricane classifications. We are not well served as things currently stand!
We don’t see hurricanes that often, so maybe it’s better to use a snow example. The warning for a one inch snowfall in Birmingham, AL should be very different than for Buffalo with that same inch. Birmingham will be impacted in a very different way.
A tropical storm in the Northeast is different than the same tropical storm bearing down on Tampa.
They have more experience in Florida, but they also have less susceptible infrastructure. Palm trees have much less wind resistance than the deciduous trees we have here in the Northeast. They don’t have their power lines surrounded by branches and leaves.
Florida is also more able to handle lots of water. Many of our Hurricane Irene problems happened inland along rivers swollen with 6-9″ of rain.
The watches and warnings we received for Irene just weren’t appropriate because they dwelled on a wind figure that wasn’t all that important to us. It was easy for the public to dismiss winds they’ve seen do little elsewhere. Much more important was the duration of the easterly winds pushing water into Long Island Sound and the rain.
People who work with me will tell you I believe the on-air narrative is much more imoprtant than the actual numbers I put on the screen. That’s true for tropical weather prediction as well. That’s what I tried to drive home last weekend.
I’m not sure how the warnings should be changed, but I will spend a lot of time over the next few months thinking about it. They’ve got to make the storm’s effect the primary story and play down numbers that are little understood by the public.