The staff at the National Hurricane Center is often asked about what they do during the “off-season.” The off-season (December 1st thru May 15th) is a very busy time for employees of the Center. Meteorologists in the Tropical Analysis and Forecast Branch continue their year-round forecast responsibilities, and staff in the Technology and Science Branch develop new forecast tools, upgrade user interfaces, and maintain NHC’s computers. During the off-season, the Hurricane Specialist Unit’s around-the-clock forecasting role ceases; however, the staff take on other important functions that help improve forecasts and better prepare the public for the next hurricane event. The Hurricane Specialist Unit’s off-season activities fall generally within the following areas:
- Complete Tropical Cyclone Reports, seasonal review articles, and forecast verification of the previous season’s tropical cyclone forecasts
- Work on tools to make the forecast process more efficient
- Incorporate new scientific techniques and modeling to improve forecast accuracy
- Develop enhancements to NHC tropical cyclone products and services
- Provide outreach and education to key partners and customers
Each area of off-season focus is an important aspect in NHC’s ability to improve its services. The outreach and educational component increases emergency manager and media understanding of NHC products, and public awareness of hurricane hazards and risk.
Training for Emergency Managers and Decision Makers
NHC staff facilitated nearly 10 weeks of training for emergency managers and fellow meteorologists throughout the United States and Caribbean during this past off-season. Each year, the outreach and education period begins in earnest in January, when three one-week FEMA Hurricane Preparedness for Decision Maker courses are conducted at NHC. Local and state emergency managers from the gulf, southeastern, and northeastern U.S. coastal areas learn about the NHC forecast process, products, and forecast uncertainty. One day of the course is devoted to the storm surge hazard. Partners from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers provide information on the tools available that assist emergency managers in evacuation decision making. Since the course is held at the NHC, it also allows an opportunity for the NHC staff to meet and interact with emergency managers that help protect local communities during tropical cyclone threats. The course began in 1992 and continues to be refined today. A one-day version of the course is taught at some state and/or national hurricane conferences, and a three-day version of the course is offered to one state each year. This past off-season the three-day course was taught at the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management in West Trenton.
Training for International Meteorologists
In March, the NHC hosts a two-week World Meteorological Organization RA-IV Workshop on Hurricane Forecasting and Warning. Forecasters from national meteorological agencies from 15 to 20 countries in the Caribbean, North and South America, and Asia participate. The course is conducted in both English and Spanish and the visiting forecasters learn details about tropical analysis, satellite observing tools, and how NHC constructs tropical cyclone forecasts.
Training for National Weather Service Meteorologists
This past outreach and education season also featured two National Weather Service (NWS) Effective Hurricane Messaging Courses. These workshops provided local NWS forecasters the opportunity to more thoroughly understand how NHC forecasts are made and how best to communicate potential tropical cyclone hazards to emergency managers, the media, and the public. The workshop also allowed NHC staff and NWS forecasters to become more familiar with each other’s responsibilities during hurricane events. The workshop will help strengthen the NWS tropical cyclone warning coordination process and ensure a consistent message is communicated throughout the agency.
Discussions during these gatherings often focus on how best to communicate the tropical cyclone threat and potential hazards. These discussions sometimes result in ideas for new products or enhancements to existing NHC products and services.
NHC’s mission to save lives and mitigate property loss begins with a better public understanding of the hazards posed by tropical cyclones. Next time you think of the NHC “off-season”, remember it as the “Outreach and Education” season. As former NHC Director Max Mayfield said, “the battle against hurricanes is won outside the hurricane season.” Take the time to educate yourself before the next tropical cyclone threat by learning about hurricane and storm surge risk in your community. If you live in an evacuation zone, have a plan and a designated place to go to ride out the storm. Become hurricane prepared! For more information on hurricane preparedness see http://www.hurricanes.gov/prepare or http://www.ready.gov/hurricanes.