TD5, But You’ll Probably Call Her Dolly

There’s concern, but it’s likely this storm won’t grow strong enough to produce major damage. Though water temperatures in the southern Gulf are bathtub warm, wind shear will limit intensification.

National Weather Service   Graphical ForecastThe Hurricane Center just gave a cluster of clouds in the Gulf of Mexico the once over. Those clouds are now Tropical Depression 5. Sustained winds are under 30 mph, but some strengthening is expected. TD5 will likely become Tropical Storm Dolly.

The midpoint of the Hurricane Center’s storm track is Tampico, on the Mexican Gulf Coast. Metro Tampico has nearly a million people.

There’s concern, but it’s likely this storm won’t grow strong enough to produce major damage. Though water temperatures in the southern Gulf are bathtub warm, wind shear will limit intensification.

rgb0-laloIn an average year we’re on the “E” storm on September 1. So far 2014 has only produced A, B and C.

In early August the Hurricane Center revised their pre-season “below average” forecast to point even more strongly in that direction. Being a few letters behind remains the expectation.

There’s still danger this hurricane season, but less than usual.

The Gulf Disaster Engineered To Fail

I’ve been in the workforce for forty years. It’s not like shortcuts are a surprise to me. However, none of my jobs involved pumping dangerous/poisonous fluids up a straw

I have avoided talking about the BP spill. That doesn’t mean it hasn’t been with me on a constant basis. I am incensed by what has happened in the Gulf. I am just as incensed, maybe more, that this is a case where shortcuts were taken to make more money. The Gulf disaster was engineered to fail.

I’ve been in the workforce for forty years. It’s not like shortcuts are a surprise to me. However, none of my jobs involved pumping dangerous/poisonous fluids up a straw.

The Deepwater Horizon disaster is a clusterf**k. It is so complex a project there were myriad ways to cut corners–and most were cut.

Pick your poison–literally. There was outsourcing which decentralized responsibility. Each subcontractor had an incentive to save money on their piece of the project without, by design, seeing the full picture

There was “convenience flagging” which allowed many of the projects largest parts to escape proper US inspection by being “flagged” as foreign vessels. There was a cavalier attitude toward safety when safety cost money.

It’s no wonder our government is powerless to fix this problem. We were assured… No, we were lied to by the companies doing the drilling they had all the technology necessary to solve any problem that might arise in this incredibly complex problem. Make no mistake, they lied and we believed them.

Nowadays industries often work in areas so technologically complex we have no choice but to believe them. Oil isn’t alone here. Over the past few years airlines have been fined for flying planes with unfixed maintenance problems. Hospitals have had their problems too. Here’s a Google search for the phrase, “hospital fined.”

Fines are not enough. They become another calculation–a cost of doing business. If you’re lawyered up well crime can pay.

I am now vindictive. People in suits need to spend long periods of time in prison. Rich, powerful, well connected people need to take perp walks.

Over the long run masters of industry need to be fearful that their actions will have real world downsides for them.

That probably won’t happen. It should.

The Forecast From Hell

I suppose some people might make a definitive forecast tonight, but no one knows for sure. This is far from settled.

snowy-wood-pile.jpgThe past few days have been bitterly cold. Very unusual this early. It’s been an easy forecast to make. This Sunday there might be snow. It’s the forecast from hell!

All the computer models are pointing in different directions. The implication is there will be a big snowstorm. I just can’t tell you where.

Up in Buffalo, safely removed from this particular tumult, Don Paul threw out a forecast suggestion for us in the Northeast: “Accumulations may range from 3″ to 3′.”

He suggested we mumble that line and move on.

The models are seeded with real world data to get them initialized, but my usual favorite (GFS) has initialized with a poor understanding of a strong low in the Gulf of Mexico. Other models are forecasting snowfall in the multi-foot range. Are they any better initialized?

Our data is limited and often flawed. There are many places for which no data is received. I don’t quite understand how these models attempt to compensate for all the things we don’t measure. It has to weaken the model output.

As a meteorologist the uncertainty bothers me no end.

We’ve had a little discussion going on over at Facebook. Some of the talk is technical. This is generally a time when meteorologists talk it out. The scenarios are so complex it’s possible to miss something so talking is valuable.

In the end all our individual forecasts will vary a little. Most of the time most of us will be mostly right… and we’ll relax knowing we’ve dodged the bullet for now. There is no upside to being wrong.

After twenty five plus years these winter forecasts have gotten no easier to make. I’m sweating it out with you.

The Hurricane Center Did A Terrible Job On Ida

I was just having a discussion with a friend about Hurricane Ida. It’s difficult to remember a tropical system this poorly forecast.

Here’s what the Hurricane Center said in their technical discussion Friday night:


ida-wind-fields.gifSo much for plausible! Ida was forecast to be a tropical storm now, not a powerful hurricane.

A blown forecast like this, even though the storm is far from the mainland, changes how preparations are made. When the forecast is less dependable storm preps become necessary earlier and for more storms.

Bad forecasting is costly.

That being said I can’t tell you who forecasts hurricanes better. I’m not sure anyone does. The Hurricane Center is stocked with very bright people. Most of their lead forecasters are PhDs.

I don’t know how well, or even if, NHC does post storm analysis. In cases like this I’d like to see some outside agency or (more likely) the academic community take a gander and see if there’s anything that should be done differently.

More accurate forecasting of tropical weather systems is a money saver, plain and simple.

Ike Gets Scarier

Ike is especially scary now since it looks like ‘he’ will be heading into the Gulf of Mexico. It’s the watery equivalent of a box canyon with no exit but landfall.

scary-hurricne-ike.pngBob Hart’s site posts the GFDL–a computer model run optimized for and ‘bogused’ with hurricane and tropical storm data. Ive been keeping an eye on Huricane Ike.

Ike is especially scary now since it looks like ‘he’ will be heading into the Gulf of Mexico. It’s the watery equivalent of a box canyon with no exit but landfall. There are a few places with sparse population and of course that’s where you hope these storms go.

Right now, too early to be dependably accurate, the GFDL brings Hurricane Ike to nearly the same landfall that Hurricane Gustav made! I just couldn’t imagine having to deal with two strong hurricanes in the same season. I guess you do what you have to do… still it’s got to make you question where you’ve chosen to live.

We’re at the peak of the season now, give or take a few days. Hopefully the activity will begin to taper off. These storms are fascinating to forecast, watch and track, but I’m no fool, there are lives at stake.

Gustav And The New Orleans Quandary

The damage in New Orleans was hurricane related, but it wasn’t the damage you expect in a hurricane. On the Mississippi coast structures were blown apart. In New Orleans most buildings were intact until they were flooded.

As I type this, Gustav is somewhere near the Cayman Islands, picking up strength and heading toward the Gulf of Mexico. The Gulf is warm. Gustav will strengthen some more.

For the past few days the official Hurricane Center Track has pushed Gustav toward the Louisiana coast sometime late Monday/early Tuesday. The latest center of the track would bring landfall west of the Mississippi over a swampy, sparsely populated area near Vermillion Bay. That would put New Orleans on the stronger side of the storm, but possibly far enough away to escape the worst. Katrina struck on the opposite side of New Orleans–actually on the Mississippi coast. For Katrina, New Orleans was on the weak side!

Monday’s a long way off. The track will certainly shift somewhat by then.

There is a misconception most people have about Katrina. I’m writing tonight to put that part of the Katrina saga in perspective. The damage in New Orleans was hurricane related, but it wasn’t the damage you expect in a hurricane. On the Mississippi coast structures were blown apart. In New Orleans most buildings were intact until they were flooded.

I’m not saying there wasn’t damage before the water–there most certainly was. But New Orleans wasn’t flattened by a hurricane. It didn’t receive strong and sustained hurricane force winds. It was not the ‘worst case scenario’ storm New Orleans had feared.

I wrote this as Katrina began to pull away Monday evening.

Katrina Comes Ashore 08/29/05 9:21 PM

New Orleans wasn’t totally laid to waste. There has been plenty of damage, and once we get out of the ‘fog of war’ we’ll find plenty more. The coasts of Alabama and Mississippi really took the brunt of Hurricane Katrina. That was more than expected.

After the fact, I still agree with the decision to empty out New Orleans. Yes, some people will crawl out of the woodwork to say they rode it out and it wasn’t that bad. That’s not the point.

At this point the New Orleans hurricane damage from Katrina wasn’t that bad. The damage we all saw didn’t start until later Monday night long after the storm was over. It was as if the Katrina unfolded in slow motion.

Bad News For New Orleans, Out of Left Field 08/30/05 3:02 AM

Rick Sanchez was on the air, speaking by phone with someone from Tulane Hospital in New Orleans. The hospital’s spokesperson was talking about water – rising water.

The hospital had seen no real flooding while Hurricane Katrina passed by, but tonight, water had begun rushing in and it was rising at an alarming rate.

I could hear the fear in her voice as she described the water level rising an inch every five minutes. That’s a foot an hour. Already there was six feet of water outside the hospital. Soon, water would reach the level of their emergency generators on the second floor.

Sanchez was taken aback. I’m not sure he originally understood what she was saying. It was so unexpected – so out of context.

She said a levee keeping Lake Ponchartrain out of New Orleans had been breached. The cut in the levee was two blocks long and water was rushing in unimpeded. Even if there were pumps working, and she wasn’t sure there were, they wouldn’t be able to keep up with this deluge.

On CNN, Rick Sanchez kept asking questions, but it was obvious this woman wanted to get off the phone. Speaking to him wasn’t going to help her.

I heard terror in her voice.

The hospital had to get its patients out. Its patients were by and large critical. The only way to move them would be by helicopter and FEMA would be needed for that.

The other all news stations are in their usual reruns. I have no way of knowing if this is true. If it is, this is New Orleans’ worst fears are realized. Lake Ponchartrain could inundate the city.

Here’s my point. If Gustav gets strong (likely) and hits just west of New Orleans (possible) there will be a different type of damage in the Crescent City. New Orleans could just get blown over. Nothing FEMA or the Corps of Engineers has done would prevent this kind of destruction.

I’m not sure which scenario is worse–what happened in ’05 or what’s possible in a few days. They are not, unfortunately, mutually exclusive scenarios.

New Orleans, Again

lake-charles-radar.jpgI woke up to see live pictures of a levee breach in New Orleans. I did not expect this.

Hurricane Rita is well out in the Gulf. Though New Orleans is under a Tropical Storm Warning, the winds have been out of the East, but only around 20 mph. Obviously, I underestimated how precarious the situation still is.

I don’t mean to diminish the pain and suffering of those there, but is this now a significant setback? These homes are already destroyed. They’ve been underwater before.

It certainly does point to how much thinking will have to take place before New Orleans is rebuilt… if it is rebuilt.

Speaking of precarious; we’re going to find out a little more about whether our nation’s finances are secure or precarious. The potential for damage in Texas is just as great, maybe greater, than New Orleans.

Though Galveston could flood, those waters would naturally recede. I’m just as, or more, concerned with the type of damage that took place on the Mississippi and Alabama coasts from Katrina.

It’s possible, no… it’s probable we’ll see houses and industrial facilities leveled – again. Where are we going to come up with all this money?

The best view of this storm is radar, again. The eye is clearly visible on the long range scan out of Lake Charles, LA. Later, as the storm gets a little closer, I’ll start probing it with the Doppler capabilities of the radar to try and get a better feel for the wind speeds within.



A lot of ‘ifs’ in that discussion. Nothing to do now but hope and pray.

Now It’s Rita That’s Got Me Worried

I should have started this over the weekend, because a new storm was the source of almost immediate ‘meteo chatter.’

Ophelia passed to my south. Phillippe is out-to-sea where he will cause little harm. Rita is in a bad spot with the promise of intensification.

There’s no doubt, New Orleans is the most vulnerable city for hurricanes in the US – duh. After that, Key West and Galveston are high up on the list. The official track projection for this storm, still a tropical storm and not a hurricane, impacts both cities!

Key West is an island with little land significantly above sea level. It is possible that during a significant hurricane (which Rita probably won’t be at the time) the entire island could briefly disappear as it was overwashed. There wouldn’t be the lasting flooding of New Orleans.

Galveston too is an island and prone to hurricane surges. Isaac’s Storm, the scariest book I’ve ever read, describes Galveston during the 1900 Hurricane. It stands as America’s most deadly natural disaster. Somewhere between 6-12,000 were killed, with most bodies never found.

From Wikipedia:

Since its formal founding in 1839, the city of Galveston had weathered numerous storms, which the city survived with ease. Residents believed any future storms would be no worse than previous events. In order to provide an official meteorological statement on the threat of hurricanes, Galveston Weather Bureau section director Isaac Cline wrote an 1891 article in the Galveston News in which he argued not only that a seawall was not needed to protect the city, but that it would be impossible for a hurricane of significant strength to strike the island.

The seawall was not built, and development activities on the island actively increased its vulnerability to storms. Sand dunes along the shore were cut down to fill low areas in the city, removing what little barrier there was to the Gulf of Mexico.

Rita isn’t much more than 24 hours from Key West. If the people there are lucky, the storm won’t intensify much, nor will it jog to the north.

Galveston has a bigger question mark. The five day forecast from the Hurricane Center aims squarely at Galveston (for purposes of this entry, let the cone of uncertainty be damned).

If you were living there, what would you do today? The storm is five days away and most likely will find another track before it arrives… or maybe not.

Dinner With A Hurricane Katrina Survivor

A week ago, as Hurricane Katrina was strengthening in the Gulf of Mexico, I spent some time on the phone with my friend’s 86 year old mom. I tried… I guess I did convince her to leave her New Orleans home.

Before dawn Sunday morning she got into her car and drove to the Louisiana Superdome. This was before all the tumult and grief there. Before long they had her on a bus headed to Alexandria. She never got there. The bus drove 10 hours to Baton Rouge (a one hour trip under normal circumstances) and dropped her off at LSU.

Though we’ve all see the horrific images from New Orleans and the Mississippi and Alabama coasts, Ruth was treated well at LSU. They fed her and there was air conditioning, while the power was on.

We all assume Ruth’s house and all her possessions are gone. The area it’s in was one of the hardest hit, under ten or more feet of water! Her car, in the Superdome parking lot is probably a total loss as well.

A few days ago, my friend bought tickets to bring his mom to Connecticut&#185. She will stay with her daughter who lives here in the Naugatuck Valley.

When I heard Ruth was coming to Connecticut, I told the station’s assignment desk and we sent Darren Duarte to do a story. Ruth is telegenic and articulate. The story was very emotional – as you might imagine.

Astoundingly, and much to her delight, Ruth has become a ‘TV star’. First it was the UPS man, delivering a package, asking if she was the woman from television? Then at Macy’s in the Trumbull Mall.

Last night, Ruth and family invited me to dinner at Tony & Lucille’s on Wooster Street in New Haven. Dinner was exceptional. Even Ruth, a lifelong New Orleans resident… a city known for it’s astounding cuisine… was blown away.

More interesting were Ruth’s stories and her amazing attitude. I don’t know about you, but if I had lost everything, I don’t think I could have maintained her composure and positive attitude.

Everything is gone – photos, letters, memorabilia. Furniture and cars, even houses can be replaced (and, thankfully, she has the insurance to do that). But how do you replace a lifetime of possessions with special meaning? There is no insurance for that.

Ruth has no imminent plans to return to New Orleans. She will probably take up living with her daughter and, if all goes well, just stay.

This is part of what will change New Orleans. At the dinner table we discussed whether New Orleans would ever come back?

Can tourists and conventions ever look past the images of gun toting thugs walking down the street or the misery of the people trapped in the Convention Center, Superdome and even on highway overpasses?

Will those with means, like Ruth I suppose, flee the city? It could turn from a primarily poor and black city to a totally poor and black city. An analogy was made to Newark, NJ.

That would be a shame. Though it’s an overused term, New Orleans really was a one of a kind city. It would be nice to see it return to that stature.

&#185 – When my friend, whose name I have kept from these entries, called his travel agent to tell his mother’s story and get tickets, the agent said the trip was on her company. Some stories from this tragedy are good. Most of us do operate the way you’d like under difficult circumstances.

Katrina And My Sleep Schedule

We’ve got a little coverage problem at work. I’ve been asked to work Sunday morning – airtime: 6:00 AM! So, I’ve napped a bit this evening and will try and catch a few more hours of sleep before then.

In essence, I’m trying to put myself on ‘jet lag’.

As long as I’m up, another look at the hurricane progress. Since leaving Florida, Hurricane Katrina has been left alone in the open Gulf of Mexico. She’s intensified, but not as much as I would have thought. Still, the official number at this hour is 115 mph – that’s a wickedly powerful storm.

The forecast path is still a worst case scenario for New Orleans&#185

A common hurricane misconception is that its winds are only affected by the outside environment. Is there warm water? Are the feeders and outflow unimpeded? Is the hurricane being dragged near rough terrain, like mountains on an island? Things like that.

Often missed is the eyewall cycle. Hurricanes are constantly reforming their eyewall, shedding the old one for a new one. During this cycle, the strength of the hurricane’s winds are temporarily reduced, only to spring right back up. If this happens as a storm approaches land, you’ve dodged a bullet… or at least lowered the caliber.

That’s what’s being talked about in this discussion from the Hurricane Center:


At the home page of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, there is no new news – none! The website seems to be untouched since Saturday morning, or more likely Friday night. I can’t believe that, under these critical circumstances, but it’s true.

WWL-TV is up-to-date, including information on “contraflow.” Some interstates and other highways now have all their lanes heading north! It works moderately well, but it’s confusing.

New Orleans needs to empty out now. There is no longer enough time to consider the forecast might be wrong. People staying in New Orleans, or much of the rest of Southern Louisiana, do so at their own peril.

&#185 – When meteorologists talk weather, they often abbreviate, using the airport identifier. Bradley International is BDL, Kennedy in New York is JFK, West Palm Beach is PBI. Some are non-intuitive. New Orleans is MSY. I cannot think of New Orleans without MSY popping into my head.

Katrina Shifts West Again

Earlier this afternoon, before the Hurricane Center issued its 5:00 PM update on Katrina, I sent an instant message to my friend Bob at FSU. I told him I was putting up a dollar that Katrina’s forecast would be shifted left.

It was.

I had the exact same feeling tonight… and NHC moved it again.

Maybe feeling is the wrong word, because this isn’t intuition or guesswork. I could see signs. The storm was refusing to make the predicted right turn. In fact, it was traveling south of west.

To the north there was some sort of convergence. Feeder bands from the hurricane were meeting something moving from the north. Clouds were showing up bright white – a sign they were developing vertically.

Whatever it was to the north, it would impede that right turn forecast at the Hurricane Center.

I’m sure I’ve said this before, but it’s worth repeating. The best hurricane information is often contained in the forecaster’s technical discussion. These really were meant to be ‘internal use only’ documents, but you can’t do that when you work for the government.

In these the lead forecaster discusses what has gone into the latest forecast package. I’m sure it’s very helpful at NHC after the hurricane season is over or whenever post mortems are done.

I’ll attach tonight’s at the end of this message so you can get a feel for yourself. This one was written by Dr. Lixion Avila, one of NHC’s hurricane specialists. Four of the six specialists are Ph D’s. This is specialized work.

Sometimes, I sense, things are thrown in with the understanding that it’s more than meteorologists reading.




No one trained in weather needed that line. Some surface water in the Northern Gulf of Mexico is 90&#17+. Without a doubt, this is a dangerous storm and getting more dangerous by the minute.

My biggest fear is Katrina will head west of New Orleans and strike the coast there. A Category 4 storm (which is the forecast) in that location would be devastating. For a variety of reasons, New Orleans is incredibly vulnerable and a strike like that would be the worst of all possible scenarios!


Man, I hope he’s right. So far, this storm has been poorly forecast&#185. And, recently, each succeeding forecast has moved the path farther left… farther to the west.

Today alone, the center of the forecast path for landfall has moved a few hundred miles.

More on Katrina later. We have a few days with this storm at sea before the real trouble begins.

&#185 – By poorly forecast, I don’t mean NHC did a bad job. I mean the ability to forecast this particular storm was beyond the capabilities of science at the moment. Something’s there that no one can get a handle on. That we don’t know exactly why it went wrong is as troubling as it going wrong… maybe more.

Continue reading “Katrina Shifts West Again”

Katrina And The Gulf

Katrina has left Florida. I’m not there, but I’m still betting there are lots of upset people in Dade County. The forecast track was too far north.

Now Katrina is in the Gulf of Mexico and intensifying. Already today NHC has shifted the probable Gulf Coast landfall 150 miles west.

That’s not a sign of confidence.

For years I’ve heard how difficult hurricane forecasting is. I’m not disputing that. I’m just not sure it’s any more difficult than any type of forecasting.

The problem is, every part of a hurricane forecast is critical. Many parts of my day-to-day forecast are not. I can get close and be considered right. I though 40% clouds, we had 60% – who cares? I figured .5″ rain, we got .75″ – who cares? The Hurricane Center doesn’t get that free pass.

This storm will continue to hold my attention. There’s actually 90&#186+ water in the Gulf. That’s like gasoline near an open flame.

Florida’s Magnetic Personality

We’ve been watching some unsettled weather in the Gulf of Mexico for the past few days. Today, the Hurricane Center said, “enough is enough,” and Tropical Storm Matthew was born.

This is not a major deal and I normally wouldn’t even pop it here in the blog – other than to say I have links to the latest hurricane bulletins on the right side of the screen.

What makes it significant is that it looks to be headed toward the Florida Panhandle! That would be the fifth named storm to hit Florida this year. Can you imagine?

Matthew should grow enough to be a hurricane; still, how much more can one state take?

Ivan Nears Mobile

I’ve just taken a look at the Mobile, AL National Weather Service radar. I don’t believe there’s any other remote sensor that gives you this much of a feel for what’s going on.

On the shoreline, bands of heavy squalls, yellows and oranges on the radar display, are dropping torrential rains. It’s the kind of rain that flows over the sides of rain gutters – except this rain is being blown horizontally.

Out in the Gulf of Mexico the eye is easily scene. It was more circular earlier. Now it has opened a little. Looking back at the last 10 images covering an hour, its rotation is obvious.

The Doppler display of winds shows an “S” shaped pattern with solid green and red bands adjacent to each other. Green shows winds moving toward the radar, red is moving away.

I’ve seen a few TV reporters on the air from Mobile. I hope they get out of harm’s way, but I continue to worry which storm will be the one where someone will be killed on live TV as they’re hit by debris or overtaken by the strong winds.

For people along the Gulf Coast, tonight will be the scariest night of the life.

Tonight’s Last Look At Frances

One last look… one final peek at the computer guidance before bedtime. It is troubling.

The gfdl is continuing to call for the track of Hurricane Frances to move just north of West Palm Beach and then over Lake Okeechobee, through the center of the state, and into the Gulf of Mexico via Tampa Bay. This is well south of the official Hurricane Center forecast.

The cross state portion of the trip should take nearly 24 hours. Even that number doesn’t take into account all the hours of tumult, just the hours the eye is over land.

Miami radar is continuing to show the eye over the Bahamas. It still doesn’t look like it’s moving to me. That’s a bad sign. Slow moving storms mean more rain. If the storm is capable of 2-3″ of rain per hour, the enemy becomes time. More hours equal more rain.

On this radar screen&#185 the eye should look like the hole on the end of a drinking straw. Instead it looks like a manhole cover – huge.

That eye would really have to shrink… and quickly… for the storm to intensify. The gfdl thinks it will. There is plenty of warm, open water west of its current position. I won’t even venture a guess. I think this storm is beginning to become very unpredictable.

The gfdl anticipate landfall for the eye late Saturday evening. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it still offshore Sunday at daybreak.

Moving slowly like this hurricane Frances doesn’t have to be a Category 3 or 4 storm to do real damage. It will wear its opponents down over time.

&#185 – The link is ‘live’, meaning clicking gets you the latest view which is not necessarily going to resemble what I’m seeing at 3:43 AM EDT.