Which Storm Is Next?

Tropical Storm Lee came and went in an instant. There’s a Tropical Depression in the Atlantic that will probably be Maria. It’s in a place that doesn’t favor a North American threat.

Next would be Nate.

There is a chunk of moisture with thunderstorms popping up in the Eastern Atlantic. It is very far away. The Hurricane Center has not seen fit to give it a name or track it in any but the most basic way. It’s a possibility for Nate.

Earlier tonight, my friend Bob, the hurricane expert (PhD and teaching position in meteorology at a fine large university), said this blob of cloudiness deserved watching… and so I have joined its observers.

These small clusters of thunderstorms pop up off the west coast of Africa all the time during this part of the hurricane season. Hurricane birth is very much a movable feast. There are different climatologically favored areas, depending on the time of year.

Most of them collapse under their own weight. Only a few grow.

Even when they grow, there’s a good chance they’ll be like Lee – far away from people and not very long lived. There are many more Lees than there are Katrinas.

Hurricanes are difficult to predict. A lot of that has to do with the very light steering winds they encounter. A mile or two per hour or the change of a few degrees in wind direction make a big difference in where a hurricane will move over an extended length of time.

Then there’s the water temperature. Have we accurately observed what it is… or have we been fooled (because satellites, radar and our other tools aren’t quite as good as the general public thinks they are when a system’s very far from ground based instruments)?

Hurricanes are also compact systems. They’re too small to be easily or accurately picked up by the conventional computer models we use. And, we need dates far in the future for something closer to Africa than America. Our errors are multiplied with time.

After all that, knowing we’ll mostly be wrong, we look anyway. We often chatter among ourselves over these left field predictons. I’m not entirely sure why.

I’m attaching part of a computer model which picks up this pre-Nate cluster, allows the storm to engorge itself on warm, tropical, Atlantic water until it reaches hurricane strength, and then curves it up the East Coast.

I don’t believe it is true. I don’t think this forecast will happen. But, it’s all we have right now. It’s what the geeky boys are currently talking about

Will there be a Nate and will he be right off the New England coast Tuesday, September 13, 2005 at 8:00 PM EDT (9/14/2005 0000Z) as this maps shows? Stay tuned.

Stranger things have happened.

Stay Safe… Except Me

Hurricane Alex has just left the East Coast. Within days it will be a memory, absorbed into the normal flow of extra-tropical weather. As hurricanes go, it was small and its impact to the Carolina’s will be discernible, but small.

Since Alex was never thought to be a huge storm, I didn’t get to cringe at the sight of TV reporters, and weather people, standing in the thick of it all – all the while telling others to stay inside where it’s safe.

I think this is right up there with tobacco companies telling me not to smoke. Where’s the credibility.

I know where this came from. Dan Rather got his TV chops covering a hurricane in Texas. It was because of that very gritty series of on-location reports that he was plucked from obscurity. Good for Dan.

The problem is, all the warnings we give on TV are correct. Hurricanes are dangerous storms. Being in the midst of an open area, adjacent to open water, with a hurricane coming on shore, is going to get someone killed.

I have watched live shots as reporters tilted off vertical, into the wind, in order to stand. In the background of those shots I’ve also seen debris and building materials turned into missiles. That they didn’t find a reporter is only luck.

In a larger sense, aren’t we sending the wrong signal to viewers? It’s a ‘do as I say’ mentality that will entice others into harm’s way.

You might be saying, “But Geoff, you’ve flown through the eye of two hurricanes. Isn’t that a little crazier and a lot more dangerous?”

Thanks. I’m glad I asked that.

Flying through a hurricane is totally different. The planes are specifically outfitted to withstand the buffeting they get. The planes are flown at an altitude where there is no solid debris to run into. And the well trained crews have the benefit of radar and other instrumentation to know where, and where not, to go.&#185

I also won’t criticize tornado chasers. As far as I can tell, no one has ever been hurt while chasing a tornado. These are compact systems with reasonably predictable paths. It is quite reasonable to watch a tornado safely from a distance, if you know what you’re doing.

Back when I did PM Magazine/Buffalo I used to joke around about the fact that you can’t get hurt if you’re in front of a camera and tape’s rolling. Of course that’s just not so. Unfortunately, it looks like a lot of the reporters in big storms feel just that way.

I hope this isn’t the year when something tragic happens. That time is coming. It’s not a question of if, but when.

&#185 – Hurricane Hunter planes never fly directly into the eye. They always turn into the wind and cut diagonally to the eye. This makes some of the terrible force near the center nothing more than a ferocious headwind.