Hurricane season officially begins this week, but it is off to an early start with the formation of subtropical storm Andrea. NOAA’s Atlantic hurricane season outlook calls for up to 15 named storms, including as many as eight hurricanes, of which a few could become major with Category 3 strength winds or higher. It is too early to determine whether any of these storms will make landfall, but those in hurricane-prone regions should begin preparing.
As we saw last year with Hurricane Michael, explosive intensification can occur over the span of a few hours very near the coast, and this leaves very little time for preparation. Now is the time to take action. Do not wait until a storm is threatening landfall and warnings are issued.
NOAA is better equipped than ever to keep communities informed ahead of storms through accurate and reliable forecasts. Through sustained investment in research, NOAA has advanced forecasting expertise to predict and warn the public of the many hazards associated with tropical systems — from destructive high winds and inundating storm surge to flooding and tornadoes, including inland threats as a storm’s impacts do not stop at the coastline.
New weather satellites in orbit are now feeding better data into more sophisticated computer models that can accurately project how weather conditions will evolve at smaller intervals and further out in time.
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NOAA is also implementing a series of upgrades this hurricane season to the Global Forecast System, commonly referred to as the “American model.” The upgraded model better predicts cyclone track and intensity, as well as other large-scale weather patterns. A new software framework for predicting pressure, density, temperature and wind will form the foundation for future improvements, ranging from how the model ingests weather observations to how it calculates incoming and outgoing radiation, clouds, and precipitation.
The effectiveness of scientific and technological advances relies on the deep expertise of forecasters and their strong working relationships with the emergency management community at all levels of government. These vital connections build trust and foster the exchange of information to support important decisions at the state, local and federal levels when lives are on the line. It is important to remember that disaster management is locally-executed, state-managed, and federally supported, and NOAA provides key information to leaders at every level of government.
Since Hurricane Camille slammed into the Gulf Coast 50 years ago as one of the few notorious Category 5 storms to strike the U.S., hurricane forecasts have advanced tremendously; however, work still remains. For example, researchers and forecasters are studying ways to overcome the challenges of predicting storms that experience rapid intensification, which is especially critical when quick changes occur close to land. NOAA is also working with social scientists to better communicate the array of hazards of tropical systems, from storm surge along the coast to inland flooding from rainfall that occurs far from where the storm comes ashore.
Accurate forecasts are part of the preparedness equation, but they can only go so far in saving lives and property. Everyone needs to take the time now to do their part in preparing for the worst, while still hoping for the best. People can take steps today by determining if they live in an evacuation zone, assembling an emergency kit with essential supplies, creating a communications plan and purchasing flood insurance. Waiting until you are in the path of a land-falling storm could prove to be too little, too late.
Neil Jacobs, Ph.D., is the acting administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the agency’s assistant secretary of Commerce for Environmental Observation and Prediction. He was previously chief atmospheric scientist at Panasonic Avionics Corporation, chairman of the American Meteorological Society’s Forecast Improvement Group and served on the World Meteorological Organization’s aircraft-based observing systems expert team.
SOURCE: THE HILL