HOUSTON – A few weeks ago I met with the new National Hurricane Center Director, Michael Brennan. We talked about the Hurricane Hunters who were at Ellington Field on this day. I asked how busy this hurricane season is going to be and the impact of El Nino this summer. And we end with our thoughts about using a 10-day hurricane model forecast.
Michael Brennan, NHC Director:
Both the Air Force Reserve and (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) hurricane hunter aircrafts help us improve the forecast by 10 to 20%. We get more accurate forecast of track and intensity size of the storm. Better issuance of watches and warnings get people ready for storm surge, rainfall, wind and all the hazards of hurricanes. We’ve these flights for years. But what’s new within the last three or four years is really where the data is going. The data for 50 years has been used directly by forecasters at the hurricane center. We know where’s the storm? How strong is it? How big is it? But this data is now getting into the forecast models that we use to forecast and track the intensity and the size of the storm. How much storm surge or rainfall there’s going to be? And that’s the big thing that’s changed in the last few years. Dropsondes give us data, flight level data that these aircraft collect. It goes right into the models, and they’ll make forecasts better when you talk about an improvement of 10 to 20%.
What does that mean, in terms of miles in terms of people that don’t have to be evacuated.
That’s a huge benefit. The more accurate we can make the track forecasts, your track forecast errors go down 30 to 40 miles a day. So if you can cut 10 to 15 miles off of that, you can narrow down the uncertainty. You can give more precise warnings. Fewer people need to be evacuated. Only the people really under the most serious.
The No. 1 question I always get or two questions basically, is how busy is this hurricane season going to be? Is my house going to flood?
Unfortunately, we can’t answer either of those questions at this point. But what we can tell people is that it doesn’t matter how busy the overall hurricane season is. If you get hit by a storm, it’s busy for you. And you have to prepare every year as if you’re going to be hit. Living here in Southeast Texas on the Gulf Coast, that threat is there every year. From the risk of heavy rainfall, storm surge if you live along the coast, and high winds. So you have to be prepared every season.
You mentioned the 15-year anniversary of Hurricane Ike. I was here during it and I just remembered the trees that were down we had a couple of holes in our roof. And we were well inland. And looking back at that and realize you get hit on average in Galveston, Southeast Texas once every eight years. We’re almost due.
That risk is there every year. I mean, some years you can get hit more than once as we’ve seen in certain places recently so that, that message of preparedness has to be there all the time. You know, it’s always a challenge because you have new people moving into an area they don’t have a history of. Understanding the hurricane impacts in this area that they don’t know what that risk is. So this is the time to understand what your risk is. Know if you live in that storm surge evacuations zone. Or if you live in a flood-prone area, make those preparations now.
Hurricane names get recycled every six years. And we have a new “H” name because Harvey was retired. Harvey was six years ago. And I know when I say that name and people feel dread.
I mean, Harvey was one of the most catastrophic hurricane impacts we’ve seen in this country in terms of the rainfall. The number of lives lost and the scale impacts all the way for the landfall area down the middle of Texas coast up to Southeast Texas. So, we have a catastrophic storm. We get rid of that name. But again, those risks are there every year and we’ve seen even storms like Imelda just a few years ago, a tropical storm that formed right at the doorstep of Southeast Texas produced over 40 inches of rain in some places. So, it doesn’t even have to be a hurricane to be a devastating event potentially.
What is the forecast this year, especially with what’s expected with El Nino?
NOAA’s going to issue (a) seasonal forecast later this month.
*Note: The NOAA hurricane was released May 25:
But you know, El Nino tends to maybe tamp down activity in the Atlantic basin, but we don’t really know how that’s going to play out. But again, the Gulf Coast is at risk every year, regardless of whether there’s an opening or not, so people have to prepare regardless of anything else to say in your position.
Michael’s final thoughts:
Find your trusted sources of information, your local media, your local government officials and National Weather Service office because there’s so much information that comes out during a hurricane it’s easy to get confused. There’s a lot of stuff out there, and social media is misleading and may be hard to understand. So find your trusted sources of information. Now have that hurricane plan in place now so that you’re not trying to put it together when a storm threatens you. Again, get that done now.
You mentioned something that happens to me all the time, someone will send me an image, a forecast, and they’ll say, ‘Hey, hurricanes going to hit us. It’s a Category 5 in 10 days,’ and it’s so hard to tell people: “That’s not how it works.”
Yes, we issue forecasts when a tropical depression or tropical storm might form this year up to seven days. So that’s sort of our limit of when we think something might form and we have an existing storm. We make a forecast out to five days -- we’re looking to go out to seven days, but once you get out beyond seven to 10 days, the uncertainty is so high that you know posting model forecasts and things like that can unnecessarily get people scared. We want to point people to their most trusted sources of information.