Dorian: Lessons and observations

First off let me say all our hearts go out to our neighbors in the Bahamas. Particularly for those of us from the southeastern corner of the state, places like Freeport, West End and Marsh Harbor are closer to us geographically and in some ways economically and culturally than most of the United States and even much of Florida. Freeport for instance is closer to West Palm Beach than Orlando or Tampa are. This is an unspeakable tragedy for the Bahamas and we need to be ready to help them in any way possible.

With all the cruise lines that leave from Florida and love to park in Nassau or Freeport (or have their own islands) as well as the number of flights from Florida airports particularly Miami and Fort Lauderdale to the Bahamas it’s time for them to step up in that nation’s hour of need.

National Hurricane Service Forecasts and Modeling continue to improve

The NHC and computer models have become better than ever at forecasting storm tracks and timing. They still have a ways to go however on forecasting intensity and in truly understanding eye wall replacement cycles. The science to understand the steering currents needs to be looked into. The NHC did well on those but room for improvement does exist.

The NHC forecasts have come a long way. In 1999, the NHC put the entire east coast at some point under a Hurricane Watch or Warning due to Hurricane Floyd. This year they were pinpoint accurate in advisories for Dorian, a storm that behaved much the same way Floyd did in terms of track and intensity. Miami-Dade County, for instance was never put under any watches or warnings.

Local TV weather presenters more reliable than The Weather Channel

The Weather Channel has become far more sensationalist in terms of covering tropical weather than it was let’s say 10 or 15 years ago. If you live in Florida you’re better off watching your local TV channels and trusting your TV meteorologists most of whom have some basic understanding of tropical weather and hurricane history.

In this world of polarized politics, TWC has been given higher marks for trust than CNN, FOX or the major network news casts. It’s time to reevaluate that. They have since Hurricane Matthew become more sensational in coverage of tropical weather, continuously stoking the fears of worst case scenarios in a way local TV news people don’t.

Bryan Norcross is a National Treasure

Bryan Norcorss who we’ve had the honor of interviewing on this site is a national treasure. Seriously, even in later years as a TV meteorologist no one gets tropical weather like him. No one. He can now be seen on WPLG, the Miami-Fort Lauderdale ABC affiliate. The TV weather people on the CBS and NBC owned stations in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale TV market as well as the affiliates in the West Palm Beach market for all three major networks showed reliability and trustworthiness during this storm.

Governor DeSantis excelled this week in ways only a Floridian can

Governor Ron DeSantis was outstanding during the storm. The contrast from Governor Scott could not be more apparent. DeSantis, a native Floridian was able to reliably cite historical impacts and precedents in TV interviews and was assured in public statements. I’ll admit a bit of awe as he sounded like me at times talking to my friends when he was reciting the history of the 1935 Labor Day Storm, Betsy and Andrew. He knows his Florida history, of which hurricanes are a major part of the story.

Scott, by contrast always seemed less assured and while his Emergency Management handling got high marks from the media he didn’t seem to be able to convey the unique nature of these storms – it could have been a major forest fire or earthquake for him. Not to knock him because did well in his own way, but DeSantis definitely gets this particular phenomena better, in a way that demonstrates he’s lived in Florida most of his life.

Scott’s few interviews during this storm were torrid affairs to listen to compared to DeSantis’ assured presentation. Both are trying to help the public, but DeSantis did a much better job from where I sit. That having been said, credit to Senator Scott for at least trying. Other elected officials in both parties seemed to be panicking people unnecessarily but we will save that for another time.

Put faith in forecasts and the NHC

Dorian was last forecast to make a Florida landfall Thursday or Friday. The NHC did well in adjusting the track offshore as the storm’s speed slowed.

Floridians need to put faith in the models and NHC forecasts while still understanding a storm’s center is what is projected by the cone and serious impacts exist outside the cone. Perhaps the NHC needs to explain this better?

Climate Change

Finally a word on Climate Change. We have seen rapid intensification of storms in the Gulf before Michael. Camile which struck Mississippi 50 years ago comes to mind as do several storms that struck Texas and Louisiana in the 1950’s. However, in the Atlantic Basin the last three years have been alarming. We’ve never had a storm develop and maintain intensity as far south as Matthew did in 2016 before bee-lining up to the US east coast. We’ve never had a storm in the Atlantic maintain intensity the way Irma did in 2017. And now finally, we’ve never had a storm intensify as rapidly close to land in the Atlantic basin as Dorian did in 2019, with the *possible* (I emphasize possible here) exceptions of the historic 1935 Labor Day storm and 1992’s Andrew.

Some Conservatives like to reject climate science claiming we’ve always had powerful storms while many liberals like to point to every storm as evidence of a warming planet. I believe we are warming but not every storm is an example of that (Michael was Camile 49 years later, hitting where Camile was originally forecast to strike FWIW and rapidly intensifying the same way on almost the same exact trajectory), but this one most certainly was. Dorian was unprecedented in the annals of tropical weather record keeping in the Atlantic basin.

Dorian was an all-week experience for most of the peninsula and even though it’s almost certain not to make landfall in the state now, we take a lot away from the experience.

4 comments

  1. […] posted by The Florida Squeeze on 2019-09-03 […]

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  2. We have made good progress in disaster forecasting – excellent. At least we can reduce the damage.

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  3. Good article. I would like to talk about the sensationalism a bit regarding the TWC. Back in 2011 or 2012, Mike Bettes from The Weather Channel scolded storm chasers for “being careless” and seeking “sensationalism” (note, those aren’t direct quotes, but the jest of his argument). Then, in 2013, Bettes and his crew were almost killed chasing the deadly El Reno tornado. So, the TWC wants to have it both ways…go after sensationalism, but also corner the market on sensationalism.

    And what you say about local news is absolutely correct, which is why I always do local streams during storm season. Watch Gary England from OKC (who is retired now) and James Spann from Alabama, and you can see how local historical knowledge matters!

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