Aug 29 2011
Long post title, but it is really important to separate the successes surrounding hurricane Irene from the flakes. Flakes run around claiming bald face lies, like how Irene was caused by Global Warming. On the other hand, the National Weather Service (NWS) and National Hurricane Center (NHC) pretty much succeeded – though they need to resist the drama-media’s siren song when it comes to focusing on ‘worst case’ scenarios.
Or in the case of a Cat 3 hitting NYC, they need to avoid pathological case scenarios. These are scenarios so rare it is impossible to plan or prepare from them. For example, it is technically possible for every nation on the coast of an ocean to build for the threat of a 30 foot tsnumai – something we have seen twice in the last 11 years (once in Japan and once in the Indian Ocean). But the problem here is these kinds of events are extremely rare, so do we build everywhere for them?
What about 9.0 earthquakes? 3 foot blizzards? Comet or asteroid impacts? We cannot afford to make every home, restaurant, store and office building immune to all the natural disasters we know can hit us at any point in time. So we build and prepare to the reasonable spectrum of cases, and then hope we never see anything bigger. Katrina was a great example of missing the point.
In Mississippi, where the storm hit strongest, the coast was wiped clean of humanity’s structures. But the evacuation orders were heeded and very few people lost their lives. In New Orleans the city actually weathered the storm, but lack of maintenance on the city’s levies (due to funneling those dollars to special projects by corrupt politicians) combined with bad decisions not to evacuate by the Mayor and Governor of that state, led to a disaster that NEED NOT HAPPEN. Unlike Mississippi, where nothing humanity could do would stop Mother Nature, New Orleans showed what happens when we don’t maintain plans and preparedness. Human screw ups caused New Orleans – and no amount of pointing at President Bush is going to change that fact.
So here is what the NWS and NHC got right with Irene – they figured out early on WHERE the storm would hit:
By Monday night, five days before Irene first hit the East Coast, the hurricane center figured the storm would come ashore around the North Carolina-South Carolina border. By Tuesday night, they predicted it would rake the coast. And on Friday morning – 24 hours before landfall – they had the storm’s next day location to within 10 miles or so.
Twenty years ago, 24-hour forecasts were lucky if they got it right within 100 miles and the average 36-hour forecast within 146 miles. With Irene, that was about the accuracy of the five-day forecast.
“This is a gold medal forecast,” retired hurricane center director Max Mayfield said. “I don’t think there’s any doubt: I think they saved lives.”
There is no doubt people were saved. I remember the damage a hurricane could inflict in the 1960’s and 1970’s. The storms have not changed in force, the people have been forewarned and able to make decisions.
For those short sighted fools who think we don’t need the NWS this is what we invested our money in all these years – the ability to warn people precisely. Which is why most of us on the Eastern Seaboard did not have to be panicked or concerned. Those in the path of the storm surge and rain had to take precautions. But we do this all the time and every year. To this day, the worst flooding we had in my house was not from Hurricanes coming through but from 3 days of rain from a Nor’ Easter. Panicking the entire coast was not necessary. Warning those who needed to know was a necessity. Somehow the balance was lost this time.
However, what the NWS and NHC (and NO ONE) can predict is the hour by hour energy or life of the storm:
They knew where it was going. But what it would do when it got there was another matter.
Predicting a storm’s strength still baffles meteorologists. Every giant step in figuring out the path highlights how little progress they’ve made on another crucial question: How strong?
This is why we send planes into hurricanes 3-4 times a day to take numerous measurements across the structure – the cyclone as a system interacting with the atmosphere and ocean as independent systems is too complex. We don’t have the science yet to work this out even to predict out 4-6 hours what will happen (which goes to show you how silly it is for some to think they can predict out years an decades in advance what our global climate will be, when local climate still baffles us a week out).
The hype around Irene was from the big-government left-wing and drama-media, trying to prove they are still viable and important to society. They are not. Sober and balanced communication of what the NWS and NHC models were saying would have been plenty and sufficient. Warnings on times and locales, breadth of wind and rain, and hourly checks on strength are all people need to avoid harm.
Those who seek out danger tend to be injured because they are in need of a life lesson, they cannot be helped. And then there will always be the acts of God, such as the lightening strike or the tree that finally falls. That comes with the territory of being alive.
Big government and drama media were a useless irritants in this case. We did not need all the staged hype (news casters should not be trying to act out while normal folks walk by in the background). Just send out the warnings, we are more than capable of processing and acting on the data ourselves.
Update: To those who claim hurricanes are worse now than ever before, a little real data is in order (from WUWT – click to enlarge):
As can plainly be seen, we are actually experiences a historic LOW in intense cyclonic storms here on Planet Earth.