Another Evening With Frances

There is one thing that has been established beyond the shadow of a doubt this week. Everyone has a connection to Florida. Whether it’s a friend or relative, someone living there or just visiting, we all have an equity stake in Florida.

Wherever I go people ask me about Hurricane Frances. We’ve all seen what happened on the West Coast of Florida, and this storm promises to be stronger. It’s no surprise that it scares the daylights out of normally unflappable people

Today, for the first time, the computer guidance is beginning to agree. I’ve been pointing to Jupiter/Hobe Sound and the official pronouncements aren’t far off that mark. Of course the hurricane actually has to perform as forecast… to ‘verify’ in the vernacular of meteorologists, which is never guaranteed.

A few things struck me this evening.

On-the-air, we played an ABC report which included an interview with, what I suspect, a government official in the Bahamas. He complained that maybe they had underestimated the storm.

What planet is he on? The predictions for the Bahamas couldn’t have been more dire if we had said a fiery meteor was plunging their way! The Hurricane Center, which cooperates with the government of the Bahamas in hurricane prediction, went out of its way to scare the crap out of Bahamians – and for good reason.

Unfortunately, areas with a lot of tourism often underplay warnings and later downplay damage. It’s not good for business. Not many people are going to want to go to San Salvador Island after today’s report of 120 mph sustained winds. Nassau might get a close scare. Freeport could get a direct hit.

I really miss having radar that sees Frances at this stage. Tonight the satellite imagery started showing some ‘weakness’ on the hurricane’s western flank. I commented to my friend Bob that I thought the storm would be downgraded… and it was at 11:00 PM&#185. Now Frances is Category 3.

It’s funny, but when satellite imagery begins to show a change, it doesn’t strike me as soon as the image actually comes in. It usually takes a while, staring at the satellite loop, before the trend takes hold. This is most frustrating, especially during winter storms, when I go on the air then look at the same data after my weathercast and begin to question impending changes.

The fact that Frances is weaker tonight doesn’t mean too much of anything. Storms naturally get weaker and stronger in response to their immediate environment. There are guesses why it happened, but no one knows. Hurricane experts are baffled by unknown forces all the time. And, for some unknown reason, hurricanes only have a finite amount of time they can spend as major storms. Again, no one knows why nature works this way.

Since all of weather is guided by the laws of physics, we should understand all the forces at work. We do not.

The official forecast is for Hurricane Frances to regain strength in its final march over open water to Florida. The Hurricane Center’s number for Saturday at 8:00 AM EDT is 140 mph, equaling Hurricane Frances strongest point.

It really doesn’t matter. The difference between 125 mph and 140 mph isn’t all that much in the general scheme of things. Even a minimal hurricane will cause significant damage.

More than the wind, I am worried about Frances losing her steering currents and wandering aimlessly, or at a very slow speed, in the warm Atlantic waters between the Bahamas and Florida. An extended period adjacent to land might be worse than a quick, but direct, hit. There will be that much more time for flooding and tornadoes and wind. The forecast will become exponentially more difficult (and less accurate). There will be that much more terror.

&#185 – I have no idea how this happened, but the Hurricane Center issued its 11:00 PM bulletin with the wrong wind speed! Frances was called Category 4, though it had been downgraded to Category 3. You would think something like this would be vetted.

Frances As A Spectator Sport

The names used for hurricanes are on a rotation. Every seven years the names repeat. There is, however, one exception. When a storm becomes ‘notorious,’ it is retired. That’s where Frances is headed.

As of this evening it was about twice the size and significantly stronger than Hurricane Andrew was at this stage of the game. That’s not to say Frances will be another Andrew – but there is that potential.







A few weeks ago while watching Hurricane Charley, I remarked about the steady stream of data available. There is less from Frances because of its track. As far as I know there are no weather radars available on the Internet from Haiti, Dominican Republic, Turks and Caicos or The Bahamas. There are also few, or no, surface observations nearby.

The information is a little more abstract. It needs to be analyzed more carefully and digested. It is not self evident, like looking at Charley on the Key West radar.

There are weather buoys, drifting in Frances’ vicinity. There are also sporadic readings from hurricane hunter planes. And, of course, there is satellite imagery (though the highest resolution images are only available during daylight hours). These are good, but more would be better.

Hour by hour, computer run by computer run, Frances’ destination seems to be locking in on the Florida East Coast. If I had to venture a guess today, I’d say what I said yesterday – somewhere around Jupiter or Hobe Sound.

That’s no guarantee. No place from Homestead to Savannah would surprise me.

If I were anywhere in Florida tonight, I’d be making sure I was prepared. Even with Frances’ strength, most people inland will be forced to weather the storm in their homes. On the coast it will be a totally different story.

Wherever Frances lands, communication will stop. TV and telephone will be limited. Power will be spotty. In some communities, power will be shut off before the storm as a safety precaution.

Most people who live in South Florida have never felt the impact of any direct hurricane hit – much less a category 4 storm. It will be a sobering experience.

My parents live down there, in Palm Beach County. Of course, I worry for them. Their condo has storm shutters and is reasonably well built. The thing it has most going for it is its inland location. I won’t give them specific advice until we get closer.

My friend Wendie lives in the Miami area. Her office and home are close to the Intracoastal Waterway. That is more worrisome.

In a few of the later computer models, Hurricane Frances slows down while approaching the Florida coast. That could mean an extended period of torrential rain and very strong, damaging wind (possibly not hurricane strength if the storm is far enough off shore).

The are really no good scenarios left.

Where Do I Go To Get A Life?

As I begin to type this, it is 2:26 AM. I am sitting in front of the computer, as I have for the past few hours. Earlier, I was playing poker. Now I am just killing time, waiting for the 00z run of the gfdl to come in so I can see the latest on Hurricane Frances&#185.

This run should be somewhat telling, because there are signs the track of the storm might be changing… or at least the forecast signs are changing. Some earlier models tonight, models that aren’t especially good with hurricanes, brought Frances farther up the coast before landfall.

It’s in.

Yes, the guidance points further up the coast for landfall – maybe the border between the Carolinas.

My friend Bob, who I’ve been talking to much of the night on Instant Messenger, pointed out what a nightmare this could be for FEMA. With landfall anywhere along the East Coast, hundreds of miles and millions of people will need to be warned. Hopefully the track will become more well defined with time.

Hurricane forecasting is incredibly imprecise. These are tiny storms compared to the typical low and high pressure systems we track. And they spend much of their lives in an area with little in the way of steering currents.

Still, for me, they are fascinating to watch as they develop.

They are beautiful to see on satellite images (Frances is still too far from land to be seen on radar). The laws of physics define their shape. Though nothing but clouds and water vapor, they are real objects with mass and momentum. When you stop and think of it, the energy necessary to move that much ‘stuff’ around that quickly is immense.

By the time I get up the computers will have crunched the numbers again with another imprecise solution. I will be drawn to it like a moth to flame.

&#185 – Weather wouldn’t make sense unless everything was synchronized. You’d like all readings to be taken at the same time. Of course, there are better than two dozen different time zones! So, to keep everyone on the same page, we use Universal Coordinated Time and abbreviate it “Z”. 00Z is midnight Universal Coordinated Time, or 8:00 PM EDT, on the preceding day.

Gfdl refers to the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, where this model was born.

Hurricane Questions

After the loss of life, and confusion, following Hurricane Charley, an interesting op-ed piece was written by Bryan Norcross, Chief Meteorologist from WFOR in Miami. You can read it here now, or click the ‘continue’ link at the end of this posting.

Norcross makes some interesting points, many of which I agree with.

Though we make our own forecasts at the TV station, we respect the Weather Service’s watches and warnings (though there are times I mention them, followed by what I think will actually happen).

The bigger problem occurs when watches and warnings are contradictory. Uncoordinated watches, warnings and statements for hurricanes, severe storms… even winter weather, is a continuing weakness of The Weather Service. All hurricane watches, warnings and statements should come from one place – period.

This certainly led to the disservice done to the people for Florida.

When local offices speak, they address problems from their own perspective, which is not necessarily the public’s. And, the public and media are probably concentrating their attention on the Storm Prediction Center (Whose idea was it to change this from the much more meaningful Hurricane Center?), which is where most people would expect to find hurricane info.

I work in Connecticut, a small state served by three NWS offices. Their statements often mislead the public because each only refers to the region for which they forecast.

Here’s an example. If Boston says a watch has been canceled for Connecticut, they mean their counties. No one in Connecticut could read a statement like that and understand that half the state is still under a watch.

During the winter, Litchfield County, our ‘snowbelt,’ might be under a lesser category of alert because the Albany office uses somewhat different criteria than the New York or Boston offices. When I post a map which shows a Winter Weather Advisory for Litchfield while there’s a Winter Storm Warning for our other counties (even though Litchfield has the more wintry forecast) it does nothing but confuse.

I have been to NWS ‘customer’ conferences in Washington, and have tried to sensitize them to this confusion. As you see – no change.

Continue reading “Hurricane Questions”

More Charley

It must have been a shock for people on the West Coast of Florida to wake up this morning and find that Charley was going to hit the coast a little farther south than expected. Instead of Tampa Bay, the storm headed to Port Charlotte, Punta Gorda and Fort Myers.

As soon as I woke up this morning I switched on the computer and started to look at the radar, then surface observations, then the computer models.

I bet this kind of weather ‘spikes’ the ratings at The Weather Channel. Personally, I can’t watch. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because I like a lot more detail. This is not to take away what they’ve accomplished as far as making a name for themselves. I’m just not their target.

As was the case last night, the Weather Service NEXRADs did an fantastic job in displaying this storm. The eye was tight and circular – the sign of a strong hurricane.

As I’m typing this, I’m looking at the Tampa radar, still seeing the eye of the storm as it approaches Orlando. That it still has a discernible eye this late in the game surprises me.

Now it heads this way. Even though it won’t be a hurricane there might be enough storm left to worry about for Sunday. You know what – even if there isn’t, I’ll worry anyway. That’s what I do.

Watching Charley

Tonight, at the end of the news, Ann kidded that I’d be up all night watching Hurricane Charley. That really isn’t far from the truth. I’ve already taken a few peeks.

I’m just in awe of this storm. And Charley is different than most in that it will be very watchable with high resolution precision from the comfort of home.

The Internet has taken nearly all the information I use and made it available to anyone for free. It’s pretty spectacular. I don’t think there’s any other discipline that has so much of its raw data available, and most of it in real time. It wasn’t that many years ago that radar and other data were only available by subscription.

The best view of Charley has been from the Key West NEXRAD. NEXRAD stands for ‘next generation radar,’ but it’s commonly referred to as WSR88D (a reference to its contract designation) – probably because that’s nerdier.

With its incredible electronics and computer assistance, the radar sees precipitation nearly 300 miles out. I was able to look at Charley while he was on the far side of Cuba. Even at that distance the eye was easily seen. By animating a series of images, the counterclockwise rotation was also visible.

Now that Charley is north of Cuba, and back in the open water, I’m looking for signs that he might have weakened over land. At this moment the eye is slightly elongated. It’s not enough to signal disintegration or even significant weakening. Actually, at this point, conditions are perfect for re-intensification.

At the Dry Tortugas weather buoy, in the Florida Keys, the barometer is falling and the wind picking up. It’s only sustained at 20 knots now, but that will rise. The water temperature is about 87&#187.

If you had been clinging to the buoy for the past few hours you would have noticed the sea coming up with more wave action. Strong thunderstorms accompanied by gusty winds would move through sporadically. You would have seen rapidly moving clouds, but it would have been difficult, if not impossible, to realize they were part of a rotating pattern.

As far as I can tell, hurricane hunter aircraft have been flying through the storm tonight, even as it was very close to Cuba.











When you consider the elevation of Key West, you realize a 2-4 foot forecast for storm surge is a big deal. The elevation of the airport is only 15 feet above sea level. A lot of the Key West coastline and other keys and islets will be under water.

A storm surge of 10-13 feet in the Tampa Bay area would be a natural disaster of huge proportions. There’s a large population near the coast who have never experienced a storm like this before. Many of the residents are older and evacuation will be difficult. Hurricane experts consider the area from Tampa Bay south to be our second most susceptible area after New Orleans.

Storm surge can be the big killer in hurricanes. In the Hurricane of 1900 all of Galveston was under water for a time!

For locals, any reference to “the storm” is obvious. If someone says a house survived the storm, there is no doubt it predates Sept. 8, 1900.

If people say they had family who died or survived the storm, there is no doubt that they are referring to a family history that goes back more than 100 years.

For in Galveston, “the storm” always refers to the hurricane that tore across Galveston on Sept. 8, 1900, and left the city in ruins.

Those who managed, either by sheer luck or the grace of God, to survive the storm faced the challenge of moving forward. – Heidi Lutz, Galveston County Daily News

I’m waiting for the next run of the GFDL computer model to come out and then I’m off to bed. Even with the heavy iron of computing thrown at these models, we’re already 7 hours 30 minutes past the initialization data, and it’s not available. I’m told there’s so much traffic trying to download the numbers that they’re just dibbling out. I hope the Hurricane Center has a more direct pipe.

Blogger’s note – I have links on the right side of this page which lead to updated hurricane information from the Tropical Prediction Center.

Looking to the Future

Much of my work time is spent looking into the future. I’m pretty good at it. Of course the farther into the future I predict, the less accuracy I have. On top of that, the more events that have to happen in a distinct order, at a distinct time, the less accuracy I have.

It is easy to look at the computer generated maps I get, with weather features neatly placed in exact spots, and assume that’s exactly where they’ll be. It doesn’t always work that way – though sometimes it does.

I’m giving you all these “CYA” statements before I tell you about some projections I saw earlier today. If what I saw comes true, this will be a terrible week here in Connecticut… actually, that’s an understatement. What I saw if it comes out exactly as I saw it would be the precursor for some pretty significant flooding.

The setup of two tropical systems in rapid succession is just what happened prior to the Connecticut floods of 1955. Since then flood control dams have been built in Litchfield County. It is doubtful the same thing would happen in the same place today. Still, there is just so much rain that can be dealt with before some significant flooding takes place.

Right now it’s Tuesday with the first tropical system scheduled to be here Friday. I’m not sure it will get us. I’m less certain of Sunday’s run in with the second storm. But the maps certainly have my attention right now and I will be on the edge of my seat as each new run of the models come in.

I seldom want to be wrong. I’ll make an exception here.

Sitting, Waiting for Thunderstorms

Even a few days ago, today looked like it would be a thunderstorm day. Lots of heat and humidity, a cold front approaching from the northwest, negative lifted index numbers (a very telling severe weather parameter). Movement from the northwest is the ‘favored’ direction for severe weather here in Connecticut.

As I type this, there’s a Severe Thunderstorm Watch in effect for Litchfield County (far Northwestern Connecticut) and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it expanded later. Even without the watch there will be more thunderstorms late tonight throughout the state.

I’ve got one eye on the radar and the other scanning the watches and warnings popping up from the Weather Service. I’ll have to be more thoughtful than usual tonight in making decisions to break into programming, since we’d be breaking into ceremonies for President Reagan, not a sitcom or reality show. I understand the solemnity in this event.

I hate severe weather, which isolates me from many of my peers. There’s a weather oriented bulletin board I read from time-to-time. I constantly see meteorologists begging for storms (not that we can affect the outcome!

I wish I was in Lincoln…or St. Joseph, or a number of places besides southern MO. MCI forecast sounding for 00z tonight is impressive:

LI of -12, Sweat 681, SREH 319…enough for some nastiness. Normally I’d like to see the LCL a bit lower, but given the instability any negatives should be overcome. FSU…have fun!

Have fun!

Let me translate a little. MCI is Kansas City (in the same way LAX is Los Angeles and JFK is New York). LI is the previously mentioned lifted index. Sweat and SREH are two more severe weather forecast parameters. Most importantly, this guy wants to be there. And, he along with others, root for stronger storms! FSU is a forecaster who graduated from Florida State University.

Am I missing something? Won’t this stuff injure or even kill people? Property and business will be lost. People near the severe weather will be frightened.

News anchors don’t hope for a murder or fire so they can have a more compelling lead (at least I don’t think they do). Why are weather people so different?

No matter how long I work in this field I’ll never understand why some of my contemporaries are hoping for the worst. It’s just weird.

What Are They Thinking In Brazil?

The only hurricane ever seen in the South Atlantic continues to move toward the East Coast. The National Weather Service Hurricane Center, here in the states, says it is a minimal hurricane with top winds over 75 mph. That poses a threat for Brazil’s coast.

On the other hand, the Brazilian meteorological experts say, “no it’s not.”

Here’s what the AP reported late Saturday, starting with a quote from Meteorologist Dr. Gustavo Escobar of the Brazilian Center for Weather Prediction and Climatic Studies:

“Winds and rains will not be significant, so we don’t need to alarm the population,” Escobar said by telephone.

Winds in nearby Florianopolis, a city of 700,000, were only about 12 mph, rainfall was mild, and no damage was reported, said meteorologist Kelen Andrade.

Jack Beven, a hurricane specialist at the National Hurricane Center in Miami, said the eye of the storm was near 29 degrees south latitude and 48 degrees west longitude by Saturday evening. That would place it about 50 miles east of the city of Laguna.

“To us, it has all the satellite appearance and intensity of a hurricane,” Beven said. “I don’t know what data they’re looking at. They may have data services locally that don’t go out on the national data service.”

He said no agency is sending out regular hurricane advisories on the storm.

“Down there, this is such a rare and unique event. The whole situation is strange,” Beven said. “We’re trying to help out, but because of the uniqueness of this event, it may be out of their expertise to some degree.”

Normally, here in the states, a storm this size causes little or no damage. But, we’re building to a higher standard, especially in hurricane prone areas, than Brazil. Brazil is a country with absolutely no experience in this regard.

I’m hoping Dr. Escobar is right. I’m afraid Jack Beven knows better.

I’m Not That Nice

A few months ago, Elizabeth McGuire (no Lizzie McGuire jokes, please) asked if she could interview me for Hartford Magazine. Never the shy one, I said yes.

I have just read the article, and can now guarantee, I’m not anywhere as nice as she portrayed me. I am grateful, however, she lied on my behalf.

Only part of the article was on the magazine’s website, so I retyped it to place here on my site. Other than changing the spelling of my daughter’s name, and my length of service at WTNH, I’ve left it as is.

Hartford Magazine / February 2004

WTNH weatherman Geoff Fox doesn’t mind being call a weather geek. In fact, he finds it flattering. Fox loves the scientific process of predicting and forecasting the weather. “I’m the kind of guy who does like to look at lists of numbers, charts and gr4aphs. It’s a different math puzzle every single day, and no matter what you do, you’re presented with another math puzzle the next day,” Fox says.

Day after day for the past 19 years at WTNH-TV, Fox has pored over the maps, graphs and charts; analyzed the data; and then translated the information into “plain English” for his viewers. Fox gets two to three minutes during evening newscasts to tell viewers how the weather on any given day is likely to affect them. Without being asked, he answers dozens of questions such as, “Should I wear a raincoat, start that outdoor project or cancel that backyard picnic?” Fox says many viewers listen critically to his forecasts, and they hold him accountable when he’s wrong. “Believe me, people can be tough if you are wrong – and they should be, because other than the Psychic Friends Network, there aren’t too many people who come on television and predict the future for a living,” Fox explains.

As we sit at the kitchen table in Fox’s spacious Hamden home one recent afternoon, Fox explains to me that advances in computer technology have increased weather forecasters’ ability to develop more accurate forecasts. Suddenly, Fox excuses himself and leaves the room. Moments later he’s back with his laptop computer. There begins my tutorial on weather patterns. A map with curvy lines shows barometric pressure, one with splotches of color shows precipitation, and a pretty blue graph shows, well I’m not sure what that one showed, but it sure is colorful! Though much of what Fox explains is lost on my unscientific mind, his main point isn’t: The mathematical calculations and other technical information computers offer weather forecasters are essential tools of the trade. Like blueprints to contractors, or EKG printouts to doctors, computers make it easier for weather forecasters to be correct more often. “We can get more detailed information about what the atmosphere is doing… why it’s doing it… how it’s doing it…”

But once Fox comes out from behind the computer, he is able to deliver important information in an easy-to-understand, conversational manner. And he just about always throws some humor into his forecasts, often catching his co-anchors off guard. “I’ve always been the guy who told the jokes and made funny little remarks. And I think I have good timing,” says Fox.

Fox honed his timing during his 11 years as a morning-radio personality in Cleveland, Philadelphia and Buffalo. In 1980, Fox became the host of a Buffalo TV magazine show at WGRZ-TV. That’s where he became interested in weather forecasting, applied for a weekend weather position, and got the job. Fox realized meteorology was an area in which he could use his math and science skills. Fox says he was always good in those subjects and was even on the school math team as a kid growing up in Flushing, Queens, NY.

Even though Fox says he scored higher than 700 on the math portion of the SATs, he tells me he was not a very good student, especially in college. “I was in the accelerated dismissal program at Emerson.” he jokes. In fact, he flunked out the first time he attended the Boston college that specializes in communications.

He is now, however, getting straight A’s in his course work to become a certified meteorologist. He’s enrolled in a distance learning program at Mississippi State University. But most of what Fox needs to know to get a degree in meteorology he already knows.

After years of on-the-job training and watching New England weather patterns, Fox has a pretty good track record of predicting the weather. A classic example of getting it right was his forecast for the so-called “Storm of the Century” (as some television promotion departments dubbed it) that took aim at Connecticut the first weekend of March 2001. Most of the computer weather models were indicating the strong possibility of at least three feet of snow with blizzard conditions. But Fox didn’t think they were correct. He had been using a different computer model (maintained by a major university) during the 200-2001 winter season, and it had been extremely accurate. So, Fox was pretty certain the site’s calculations on heights, temperatures and pressures in the atmosphere were reliable. He stuck with his prediction that the storm would bring mostly rain, sleet and perhaps a few inches of snow. “If you’re confident in your abilities, you have to give what you think is best, in spite of the pack,” he says. Fox’s news director at the time questioned the accuracy of his forecast but then decided to trust it. Gov. Rowland, however, put his faith in the blizzard forecasts and practically shut down the state. The “Storm of the Century” never materialized. Fox would later write an Op-Ed piece for the New Haven Register that he was “hurt” by an article in that paper, which led readers to believe that all area forecasters got it wrong.

That’s not to say, however, that Fox gets it right all the time. Even after 20 years in the television business Fox says he is still “incredibly bothered” when his forecasts don’t bear out. “there will be times when I wake up on a Saturday morning and I will be upset that it’s sunny. If I said it’s gonna rain, than a rainy day is much nicer than a sunny day.” Fox has been know to apologize to his viewers on the air when one of his forecasts has proven incorrect.

In the family room of Fox’s house, the fireplace mantel is crowded with pictures of his 16-year-old daughter Stefanie, in various stages of childhood and Fox’s wedding pictures. Fox and his wife Helaine recently celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary. Next to the mantel, behind the glass door of his entertainment center, Fox displays his seven shiny gold Emmy awards – meticulously lined up in a row. He earned those awards for weather and science reporting. Along with his work at WTNH-TV, Fox has hosted a show called “Inside Space” on the SciFi Channel and has been a fill-in weathercaster on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” Fox says he would like to do more work for ABC because the experience was “cool.” He’d also like to host a game show but says those jobs would be in addition to his work at WTNH-TV.

When Fox isn’t working, he spends his time with his family, maintains his Web site( with his daily postings and plays Internet Poker. Fox also does charity work, and his favorite charities include the March of Dimes and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. Fox sums up his feelings about the charity work and accurate forecasts this way” “Look, I’m not living in a hovel. I’m not driving a ’65 Pinto, and the reason I have whatever success and nice things I have is because of the people of Connecticut, so I feel there’s an obligation to give something back.”

Going to Sleep Worried

I have been looking at the computer models as they come and, and watching the radar in between. I’m wondering if this storm is losing some of its potential to produce snow?

A bad forecast will keep me housebound for a while. There is no upside to being wrong.

My friend John Matthews forecasts in West Palm Beach, FL. At this moment, I am incredibly jealous.

Hurricane Coverage – Enough Already

There’s a TV news oriented daily newsletter called ShopTalk which is published at the website. It’s been around forever… even before there was an Internet. It’s the place to vent, if you want to be read by most everyone. And, today it was my turn to vent!

From: Geoff Fox

RE: Isabel

I have watched today in stunned disbelief as Hurricane Isabel has turned TV news into some sort of weird reality show.

It’s been live shot after live shot, featuring soggy, windblown reporters in harm’s way. Since 1961, when local TV reporter Dan Rather found his way to CBS based on his performance in Hurricane Carla, hurricane coverage has been looked upon as the perfect inclusion in an audition tape. Over the past few years, with increasingly good live capabilities, we’ve just gone nuts.

Gritty hurricane coverage means more eyeballs watching. It is compelling television. No one will deny that. But, hold on. What the hell are we doing and showing our viewers?

Even with the moderate (for a hurricane) wind that Isabel is now producing, projectiles of all types become airborne. How long will it be before we see a reporter or photographer killed or injured live? And, how can we report on evacuation orders when the example we show on the air is of us disregarding them. We are promoting disrespect for public safety.

Some folks covering the storm might say, “I have experience and know what to do.” This is somewhat like dodging a few bullets and then declaring yourself bulletproof.

The sad truth is, at this moment, this story is being covered by people who have gone beyond any margin of safety, where one unforeseen circumstance could mean a life. Maybe they don’t know that even solidly built concrete structures, like the Richelieu Apartments in Pass Christian, MS, can be wiped clean to the foundation by a hurricane.

Is this worth it?

One last thing… After looking this posting over, I found one misspelled word “airborne” and one improperly punctuated word “harm’s.” How embarrassing.

Hurricane Isabel

Unfortunately, when this website crashed and took over a week’s worth of entries, much of the back story on Hurricane Isabel disappeared too. It has been squarely in my sights for over a week now, and as I type it is about 200 miles from the North Carolina Coast.

A little hurricane background might be helpful here. Though hurricane season begins in June, the ‘real’ season doesn’t get going until the end of August and September. Take a look how long it takes to get to the third named system, and how little time it takes to get three more.

Table 1. Progress of the average Atlantic season

(1944-1996). Date upon which the following number of events

would normally have occurred.

Number Named systems Hurricanes Category 3 or greater
1 July 11 Aug 14 Sep 4
2 Aug 8 Aug 30 Sep 28
3 Aug 21 Sep 10
4 Aug 30 Sep 24
5 Sep 7 Oct 15
6 Sep 14
7 Sep 23
8 Oct 5
9 Oct 21

Throughout the season, as conditions change, the favored locations for storms changes. So, it’s no surprise that Hurricane Isabel is going to hit the coast 2/3 of the way through September, or that The Hurricane of ’38 did too. It’s climatology.

With climatology in mind, and with this system in the far Atlantic about a week ago, I started talking it up on the air. There is a fine balance you must walk with these storms. There are two possible outcomes of a busted forecast and neither are pretty.

If you say a storm is coming, and make a big deal of it, people take their time forgetting. On the other hand, if you don’t predict a storm and it comes, someone will get hurt… maybe killed.

Then, Isabel blossomed. All of a sudden, the storm was classically shaped and drawing in winds of 160 mph with gusts to 195, a true Category 5 hurricane.

People come up to me all the time and say, “You must love hurricanes (or tornadoes, or snowstorms, or anything strong weatherwise).” No! I don’t. First, I always see the potential for damage and injury. Then, I see the potential for a blown forecast. I don’t want to be wrong.

As late as last weekend, the forecast models, and climatology, said Connecticut could be a target. By early this week, it looked less likely. I started lessening the potential on the air. Still, it stayed in the back of my mind that it could be tragic to have the wrong forecast.

Now the national media started to kick in. Isabel was the big story on the cable and broadcast networks. And, some others in Connecticut continued to hang with the ‘what if’ scenario. My forecast became more confident, but not without qualms. I began to reinforce my belief that it would be windy and rainy… dreadful… but not a hurricane.

It was something we could handle with little inconvenience. There might be power outages and minor coastal flooding and little else.

Now, we wait. Within the next 24 hours I’ll know how I did. There’s no doubt, the satellite images show Isabel a shadow of her former self. The Hurricane Center is officially saying 105 mph, but their technical discussions say they think it’s less.

I’m sure at some point someone will accuse me of hyping the storm, though I’ve done everything possible to keep it in perspective. That comes with the territory.

Last thing before I go. In the past, I have been critical of The National Hurricane Center. Not so with this storm. As far as I can tell, I give them an “A” on forecast track and a “B” on intensity forecast.

Bad Forecasting 101

Whatever the reason, the forecast through the Great Lakes tonight has been atrocious. A strong line of thunderstorms stretched from the Quebec/Ontario border southwestward into the United States.

At least two tornadoes touched down in Michigan. There was NO Severe Thunderstorm or Tornado Watch in effect.

There might have been a Tornado Warning or Severe Thunderstorm Warning for the counties affected, but since those don’t get issued until a storm is sighted, they afford little in the way preparation time.

I’m not at the Storm Prediction Center and certainly don’t know what goes on in their mind(s), but over time, it has seemed to me like they are reticent to issue a watch box once a storm has already gotten going.

I’ve seen it in Connecticut, and tonight in Michigan. It’s wrong.

Certainly issuing a watch while the storm is already in progress signals a blown forecast, but it allows all sorts of secondary actions to take place which will sensitize residents to what is taking place.

I will read, with interest, the Michigan newspaper websites over the next few days.