Friday, November 2, 2012

A Tip of the Hat to the NWS

One aspect of "superstorm" Sandy that is receiving little attention is the role of the National Hurricane Center and the National Weather Services offices throughout the east. The accurate forecast of the storm track and the days of warning about the expected impact of this storm without question saved many lives. In the coverage of the aftermath - the astounding damage, the rescues, and the heroic stories, it's easy to lose sight of the fact that without the skill and dedication of these forecasters, the human toll could have been much, much worse. No one can say "We didn't know this was going to happen."

Improvements in computer models were intrumental in the accurate forecast of Sandy's track and intensity. However, models are far from perfect and it takes the knowledge and skill of a human forecaster to interpret the computer forecasts and make the final forecast and issue the appropriate warnings. Those models also require accurate data to initialize correctly. NWS offices across the U.S. launched two extra upper-air soundings each day for three days prior to Sandy's arrival to provide more up to date and accurate data for the models. Normally there are two soundings per day.

This graphic was prepared by the Huntsville, AL NWS office and shows
the forecast tracks for Sandy three and five days prior to landfall
Forecasters and staff in the individual National Weather Service offices from the Carolinas through Maine worked continuously to update the warnings and advisories that kept emergency officials and the public informed about the storm and its impacts. In the hardest hit areas staff worked while their families were home dealing with the storm. This is the case when severe weather is occurring anywhere, be it a hurricane slamming into New York or massive tornadoes swarming through the southeastern U.S. The NWS facilities aren't immune to the wrath of these storms, either.  At this time a cut fiber optic cable and other communications issues are affecting the web sites in the Eastern Region and they are operating in backup mode. The Eastern Region Headquarters is in Upton, NY.

A press release from the World Meteorological Organization also gave a thumb's up to the National Weather Service.

"WMO’s Director of Weather and Disaster Risk Reduction Services, Geoff Love, said there is virtually no difference between the analysis of likely events and the forecast.  He said the 48-hour forecast was spot-on.

“The environmental conditions were perfect. The forecasts were very, very, very good and, of course, we have seen on the media the U.S. emergency authorities all responded exceedingly well," said Love. "So, from the WMO perspective, it is a disaster. But, boy, all our systems worked really well - the U.S. forecast, the U.S. Emergency Management systems. And, it will be seen as, probably, a text-book case in how well you can do.”

So, a tip of the hat and pat on the back for a job well done to the men and women who monitor and forecast our weather for the purpose of protecting lives and property.

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