The State of Hurricane Forecasting is . . .
The National Hurricane Center (NHC) has the responsibility for issuing advisories and U.S. watches/warnings for tropical cyclones (TCs), which includes tropical depressions, tropical storms, and hurricanes, for the Atlantic and east Pacific basins. NHC has a long history of issuing advisories for TCs, with the first known recorded forecast being in 1954, when 24-hour predictions of a TC’s track were made. Since then, we’ve expanded our forecasts out in time and added predictions of TC intensity, size, and associated hazards, such as wind, storm surge, and rainfall. In addition, the lead times of tropical storm and hurricane watches and warnings have increased to give the public additional time to prepare for these potentially devastating events. Since we’re at the time of year when the U.S. President and state governors have just given their “State of the Union” or “State of the State” speeches, we thought this might be a good time to give our own “State of Hurricane Forecasting” speech. This blog entry takes a look at the accuracy of NHC’s forecasts and quantifies how much more accurate they are today compared to decades ago.
Track Forecasting (a.k.a., Where the Storm Will Go)
We are usually more confident in predicting the path of TCs as compared to predicting the strength or size of a TC. The primary reason for this is because the track of a TC is governed by forces larger than the tropical system itself, since the surrounding steering currents cover a much larger area than the hurricane. Because these nearby weather patterns are big, we can usually “see” them easily, and the global weather models do a fairly good job in predicting how these steering features might evolve over the course of a few days.
The figure below shows the average NHC track forecast errors for tropical storms and hurricanes by decade beginning in the 1960s. You can see that there has been a steady reduction in the track errors over time, with the average errors in the current decade about 30-40% smaller than they were in the 2000s and about half of the size (or even smaller) than they were in the 1990s.
If that doesn’t seem impressive, let’s look at another example. The next graphic shows two circles centered on a point near Pensacola, Florida, with the blue one representing the average 48-hour track error in 1990 and the red one showing the average 48-hour error today. What it shows is that if NHC had made a forecast for a storm to be over Pensacola in 48 hours back in 1990, the TC would have ended up, on average, not exactly over Pensacola but somewhere on the blue circle. If NHC makes the same forecast today, now the storm ends up, on average, somewhere on the red circle. You can easily see that the NHC forecasts for the path of a TC today are much more accurate, on average, than they were decades ago, and these more accurate forecasts have helped narrow the warning areas, save lives, and make for more efficient and less costly evacuations.
So, you might be wondering why the track forecasts are more accurate today than in the past. Well, the primary reason is the advancements in technology, specifically the improvements in the observing platforms (satellites, for example) and the various modeling systems we use to make forecasts. The amount and quality of data available to the models so they can paint an initial picture of the atmosphere have increased dramatically in the last 20 to 30 years. Also, the resolution and physics in the models we use today are far superior to what forecasters had available in the 1990s or prior decades, in part due to the tremendous improvements in computational capabilities. In addition, NHC has found ways to even beat the individual dynamical models by using a balance of statistical approaches and experience.
We often hear a lot of questions asking which model is the best one. Although some models are usually better than others, no model is perfect, and their performance varies from season to season and from storm to storm. Two of the most well-known models for weather forecasting are the U.S. National Weather Service’s Global Forecast System (GFS) and the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF). The figure below shows a comparison of the NHC forecasts (OFCL, black) and forecasts from the GFS (GFSI, blue) and ECMWF (EMXI, red) models for Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria, and Nate in 2017. In all of these cases, except for Hurricane Irma, OFCL performed as well as or better than GFSI and EMXI. Among the two models, EMXI beat GFSI for Harvey, Irma, and Nate, but GFSI beat EMXI for Maria.
Over the past decade, the average track errors of GFSI and EMXI models have been quite close, so even though EMXI was the best-performing model most of the time in 2017, it does not mean that it will always be the best for every storm. The models that typically have the lowest errors are consensus aids, which blend several models together. Forecasters construct their own forecasts of how the storm will evolve, aided by model simulations and their knowledge of model strengthens and weaknesses.
Even though our track forecasts are much more accurate today – in fact preliminary estimates are that the 2017 Atlantic track forecasts set record low errors at all time periods – typical track errors currently start off at 37 n mi at 24 hours and then increase by about 35 n mi (40 mi ) per day of the forecast. This means that our 5-day track error is on average around 180 n mi (210 mi). So, keep that in mind and be sure to account for forecast uncertainty when using NHC forecasts next hurricane season.
Intensity Forecasting (a.k.a., How Strong the Storm Will Get)
Predicting the intensity of a tropical storm or hurricane is usually more challenging than forecasting its track. This is because the intensity of these weather systems is affected by factors that are both big and small. On the large scale, vertical wind shear (the change of wind speed and direction with height) and the amount of moisture in the atmosphere greatly affect the amount or organization of the thunderstorm activity that the TC can produce. Ocean temperatures also affect the system’s intensity, with temperatures below 80° F usually being too cool to sustain significant thunderstorm activity. However, smaller-scale features can also be at play. One of the more complex phenomena that affects a TC’s intensity is an eyewall replacement cycle. Initially, when two eyewalls, one inside the other, are present, the hurricane’s wind field will begin to expand, and as the inner eyewall dies, the hurricane’s peak winds start to weaken. However, if the second eyewall contracts, the hurricane can often re-intensify. The radar image below of Hurricane Irma (2017) was taken at the beginning of an eyewall replacement cycle, when the hurricane had a double eyewall structure.
Given these complex factors and the fact that errors in the track can also affect the TC’s future intensity, we have not made as much progress in this area as we have for track forecasting. The next graphic (below) shows NHC average intensity errors for Atlantic tropical storms and hurricanes by decade starting in the 1970s. Note that only small improvements were made in the intensity predictions from the 1970s through the 2000s. A much more significant reduction in error has occurred in the current decade, which could mean that the recent investment in new models and techniques is beginning to pay off. Today’s intensity errors are close to 15 kt (17 mph) from 72 to 120 h. This number is on the order of one Saffir-Simpson category, so we often encourage those who could be affected by a TC to prepare for a storm one category stronger (on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale) than what we are forecasting.
Although the GFS and ECMWF models are skillful for track forecasting and help us understand the environment around the TC, did you know that these models are typically inadequate to predict how strong a TC might become? Both the GFS and ECMWF are global models, and they cannot “see” sufficient detail within the storm to represent and predict the core winds in the hurricane’s eyewall. Therefore, we use different models to predict intensity, some that are run at high resolution specifically for TCs (e.g., Hurricane Weather Research and Forecasting [HWRF] model, Hurricanes in a Multi-scale Ocean-coupled Non-hydrostatic [HMON] model) and some that are statistical in nature (e.g., Statistical Hurricane Intensity Prediction Scheme [SHIPS], Logistic Growth Equation Model [LGEM]). The statistical models tell the forecaster what typically occurs for a TC in a specific location and environment based on past storm behavior. Even though the intensity models are improving, the gains in these models are much smaller than what has occurred in the models we use for track forecasting.
If you want more information on the models, please visit the following page for details: http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/modelsummary.shtml
Will the errors keep decreasing?
The short answer is they likely won’t forever. At some point the forecasts made by NHC and other forecasting centers will likely reach the limits of predictability. No one knows for sure what those limits are or when they will be reached, but researchers are still providing great information that is helping NHC make steady advancements as discussed above.
For more information on the NHC and model verification please visit the following page: http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/verification/
— John Cangialosi
It’s been an extremely busy hurricane season, and even though there are still two months left, we’re already starting to get ready for the hurricane “off-season.” It’s no surprise that the National Hurricane Center (NHC) spends the hurricane season issuing forecasts, watches, and warnings for tropical cyclones to protect lives and property, but people often wonder what we do when it’s not hurricane season. An earlier blog entry discussed some of the main activities during the “off-season”. However, one item that was not discussed was NHC’s interaction with students and the general public. To engage and educate students and the general public, NHC organizes and is involved with numerous outreach events.
One of the largest public turnouts was in April 2017 for an open house at NHC and the Miami NWS Weather Forecast Office (WFO). Over 1,000 people showed up to learn more about NHC and WFO operations and how to be hurricane ready. Similar experiences were provided during several office tours that were open to the public and schools outside of hurricane season. NHC forecasters also make efforts to interact with students and teachers at career days at schools in South Florida, and participate in outreach events at local museums, boat shows, and colleges to help get the message out about weather hazards and preparedness. For a virtual tour of NHC’s operations, visit http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/nhctour.shtml.
Since many areas in the United States and internationally are affected by hurricanes, the NHC takes their outreach efforts on the road to reach more hurricane vulnerable locations. NHC plays a critical role in two annual Hurricane Awareness Tours (one in the Caribbean/Mexico and one in the United States/Canada). The Hurricane Awareness Tours are an opportunity for NOAA and its partner agencies to visit locations that are vulnerable to tropical storms and hurricanes. At each location along the tour, the public can get an up-close look at the NOAA and U.S. Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunter aircraft and meet some of the crew that fly into hurricanes. In addition, NHC and other partners discuss the importance of having a personal hurricane plan at each stop of the tour, including knowing whether or not you live in an evacuation zone. The events provide an opportunity for NHC to spread the hurricane preparedness message through local media and emergency managers, with the main goal being to increase public awareness of hurricane threats and ensure that communities and families in hurricane prone areas are better prepared to face the next storm. Over 13,000 people showed up for the 2017 U.S./Canada Hurricane Awareness Tour, the most successful turn out in its history.
To take advantage of today’s high-tech society, NHC has moved a portion of our outreach efforts into the virtual world. To reach students, NHC has teamed up with the University of Rhode Island and NOAA’s Aircraft Operations Center to conduct educational webinars for 4th, 5th, and 6th graders. These webinars provided an overview of hurricane history and hazards, and we quizzed students on their hurricane knowledge. The webinars also featured videos of the Hurricane Hunters and allowed students to directly ask questions. During the past five years, the webinars have reached more than 40,000 students from around the country and beyond. For more information please visit http://www.hurricanescience.org/resources/nhcwebinar/.
During the past few years, NHC has also partnered with NOAA’s Southeast and Caribbean Regional Collaboration Team to offer a series of webinars that are intended to improve the understanding of NHC and local NWS Weather Forecast Office tropical-cyclone-related products and services. These webinars are geared toward the general public, emergency managers, and media partners. Recordings of these webinars can be found at http://www.regions.noaa.gov/secar/index.php/highlights/noaas-2017-hurricane-season-awareness-webinars/.
These are just some examples of how meteorologists at NHC interact with the public and students. It has been one of the most rewarding parts of my job, as I know that I am providing a valuable education to those that live in hurricane vulnerable locations. In addition, some of these events have inspired students to want to learn more about weather, hopefully encouraging the next generation of meteorologists. So if you are interested in attending some of these events for the next “off-season”, stayed tuned to hurricanes.gov for updates.
— John Cangialosi
The hurricane season had yet to see its first named storm in August 1992, but that changed dramatically with the arrival of Hurricane Andrew.
South Florida and NOAA’s National Hurricane Center in Coral Gables took a direct hit from Andrew.
We’re going to take you behind the scenes for a glimpse of what it was like to be on duty during that fateful week twenty-five years ago.
The disturbance that had rolled off the coast of Africa became Tropical Storm Andrew on Aug. 17. But three days later, it almost disappeared.
“It looked like the storm had dissipated, but we hung onto it just a little bit longer”, said hurricane forecaster Dr. Richard Pasch, who was working the midnight shift. “The aircraft couldn’t locate the center, and Bob Sheets, the NHC director, came in and I told him I don’t think it’s going away. Bob said ’I don’t either‘, so we went ahead and hung onto it.”
It was a wise decision.
Just two days later, the Hurricane Hunter aircraft found a lower air pressure and better organization. On Saturday morning August 22, they found hurricane-force winds.
Later that same day, Hurricane Research Division (HRD) scientists James Franklin and Dr. Mark DeMaria boarded the NOAA Hurricane Hunter WP-3D aircraft in San Juan as part of a dropwindsonde mission to better sample the winds around the hurricane. The mission ended in Miami about midnight and both went to NHC to see if the new data had an impact on the forecast models. “The models now showed Andrew’s path much farther south and a direct threat to Miami-Dade County,” said DeMaria who, along with Franklin, would go on to become part of the NHC management.
Andrew continued to rapidly strengthen as it approached South Florida.
In the pre-dawn hours of August 24, its eye, with winds screaming at more than 155 mph around it, neared the Dade County coastline.
Hurricane forecaster Dr. Ed Rappaport recalled how tense that night was, but he and many others were oblivious to the chaos outside. They were all focused on the analysis and typing out the 5 a.m. advisory with the updated forecast and warnings.
“When the advisory went out, somebody came up to me and said, ‘What do you think?’ I said, ‘about what?’ And he said ‘Well, the building’s swaying!’ A few minutes later, the anemometer measured a wind gust to 164 mph,” Rappaport said.
And then there was the time the whole building shook.
No one knew what it was, but NHC radar meteorologist Martin Nelson noticed the Miami radar, a WSR-57 (Serial #1), quit working.
“We believe another antenna broke loose and hit the fiberglass dome. Once that happened, the actual radar antenna was exposed,” Nelson said.
Part of that dome fell and landed on top of his pickup truck, while many other dome parts were blown down U.S. Highway 1. Radar fixes of Andrew’s trek over South Florida were captured by the new Doppler radar in Melbourne, Florida.
The day before Andrew made landfall, several NHC forecasters were sent to NOAA’s National Meteorological Center in Maryland to back up NHC just in case it was needed.
One of those forecasters was Hugh Cobb. He was taking a break in his hotel room hours after Andrew made landfall and turned on CNN where the newscaster was talking about damage to the hurricane center.
“I happened to glance up and I saw an image of my car. Apparently there was a blue car that was tossed on top of my car.”
Several other employees lost their cars. Worse, two dozen NHC and HRD employees had suffered major damage to their homes. Seven of those homes were destroyed.
NHC moved into a new single story facility three years later, well inland on the campus of Florida International University. Herb Saffir, a structural engineer, had a hand in the fortified design of the building. If the name sounds familiar…he is the “Saffir” in the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale.
When another hurricane strikes, especially one with the power of Andrew, things will be different.
“We’ve got a plan in place for a hurricane landfall here in Miami, and we have successfully exercised it a few times, including when 2005’s Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Wilma hit us,” said Rappaport, who is now the acting NHC Director. “We’ve got the shutters and other essentials here to provide protection…as we try to impress upon the public to do the same.”
— Dennis Feltgen, NOAA Communications and Public Affairs Officer, National Hurricane Center
Two years ago this month, Tropical Storm Bill made landfall along the central Texas coast, just 17 hours after becoming a tropical cyclone only 145 miles offshore. The precursor disturbance, a broad and ill-defined area of low pressure, had already been producing tropical-storm-force winds, and there was little doubt that the system would soon bring those dangerous winds onshore. Although NHC’s Tropical Weather Outlooks had been talking about the possibility of those conditions two days in advance, and their likelihood one day in advance, some in the media and emergency management communities lamented the lack of earlier formal tropical storm warnings and full advisory products from NHC. A few even suggested that NHC classify the disturbance as a tropical storm when it wasn’t one. By policy and tradition, NHC advisories, track and intensity forecasts, and any associated watches and warnings begin only after a disturbance has become a tropical cyclone; in this case a tropical storm warning was issued as soon as Bill formed, about 12 hours before the hazardous winds reached the coast. For some additional discussion on why warnings couldn’t have been issued any earlier for Bill, please see our blog post written after that event.
This is hardly the only example of a tropical cyclone striking land shortly after genesis, and well within the normal 48-hour watch/warning time frame. In 2010, Tomas struck Barbados as a tropical storm 27 hours after formation, and St. Vincent and St. Lucia as a hurricane 38 hours after formation. In September of 2007, Humberto made landfall as a hurricane along the Texas coast a mere 19 hours after becoming a tropical cyclone. This recurring problem has been on our minds for a long time, and this season we’ve introduced a service enhancement to address the issue.
Starting this year, NHC has the option to issue advisories, track and intensity forecasts, watches, and warnings for disturbances that are not yet a tropical cyclone, but which pose the threat of bringing tropical storm or hurricane conditions to land areas within 48 hours. This substantial change in policy means that we won’t have to wait for a disturbance to meet the technical requirements of a tropical cyclone (such as having a well-defined center of circulation or sufficiently organized thunderstorm activity) to issue forecasts or post warnings. And boy, it didn’t take long for us to employ this new option, with both the pre-Bret and pre-Cindy disturbances requiring the initiation of potential tropical cyclone advisories on two consecutive days! But more on that in a moment.
Although we’ve been working on the technical and administrative changes to bring this about over the past two years, the effort actually began after the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010, when NHC was asked to provide enhanced forecast support for the response effort. Since then, NHC has been practicing making track and intensity forecasts for disturbances, and at the same time we’ve been improving our ability to forecast tropical cyclone genesis. We now believe that the science has advanced enough to allow the confident prediction of tropical cyclone impacts while these systems are still in the developmental stage.
So for these land-threatening “potential tropical cyclones” (and that’s the term we’re using in our advisories), NHC can now issue the full suite of text, graphical, and watch/warning products that previously has only been used for ongoing tropical cyclones. This includes the cone graphic, public advisory, discussion, wind speed probabilities – everything – and all the products will look exactly the same as our tropical cyclone products. The only thing that’s different is what we call the “system type”; we’ve added POTENTIAL TROPICAL CYCLONE to the roster of possible system types. And since you asked (or at least were thinking about asking), here’s the complete list:
POTENTIAL TROPICAL CYCLONE
For those who are interested in the definitions of each of these system types, you can find them in National Weather Service Instruction 10-604, Tropical Cyclone Names and Definitions.
We did consider some alternatives to the term potential tropical cyclone. “Tropical disturbance” was a fairly obvious option but we knew that some of these precursor disturbances weren’t going to be tropical in nature (such as a frontal cyclone evolving into a subtropical or tropical cyclone), so that eliminated tropical disturbance. Another option was simply “disturbance”, which aside from evoking Star Wars imagery (I felt a great disturbance in the Gulf), did not in our view adequately convey the appropriate level of threat. In the end, potential tropical cyclone seemed both accurate and appropriate to the threat, although it’ll take a bit of getting used to for some.
Potential tropical cyclones will share the naming rules currently used for depressions, with depressions and potential tropical cyclones being numbered from a single list (e.g., “One”, “Two”, “Three”, …, “Twenty-Three”, etc.). The assigned number will always match the total number of systems we’ve written advisories on within that basin during the season. For example, if three systems requiring advisories have already occurred within a basin in a given year, the next land-threatening disturbance would be designated “Potential Tropical Cyclone Four”. If a potential tropical cyclone becomes a tropical depression, its numerical designation doesn’t change (i.e., Potential Tropical Cyclone Four becomes Tropical Depression Four).
Potential tropical cyclone advisory packages will be issued at the standard advisory times of 5 AM, 11 AM, 5 PM, and 11 PM EDT, with three-hourly Intermediate Public Advisories being issued at 2 AM, 8 AM, 2 PM, and 8 PM EDT when watches or warnings are in effect. The product suite will include a five-day track and intensity forecast, just as is done for ongoing tropical cyclones. In addition, the Potential Storm Surge Flooding Map and Storm Surge Watch/Warning graphic would be issued for these systems when appropriate. We’ll continue issuing advisory packages on a potential tropical cyclone until watches or warnings are discontinued or until the threat of tropical-storm-force winds for land areas sufficiently diminishes, at which point advisories would be discontinued. However, if it seems likely that new watches or warnings would be necessary within a short period of time (say 6-12 hours), then advisories could continue during that brief gap in warnings in the interest of service continuity.
Since the primary issuance trigger is the threat of tropical storm conditions over land, there won’t be any specific threshold of formation likelihood for the initiation of advisories. For example, a fast-moving tropical wave approaching the Lesser Antilles might already have tropical-storm-force winds but no closed wind circulation. In this case, a genesis forecast of 40% – 50% would likely be enough to trigger advisories and warnings. In contrast, a genesis forecast of 70% for a system close to shore might not trigger advisories if the system were not expected to reach tropical storm strength before moving inland.
The issuance of NHC products for potential tropical cyclones is very much analogous to the change that occurred after Hurricane Sandy in 2012, when NHC advisories on post-tropical cyclones became possible. After Sandy, we realized that there was great benefit to users in NHC’s being able to continue writing advisories on systems even after they were no longer a tropical cyclone. That solved the service continuity problem on the “back end”, and now we’re completing the process by ensuring a steady flow of information on the front end of a tropical cyclone’s life cycle. In all cases, we’ll be trying to ensure that warning types (tropical vs. non-tropical) don’t have to change in the middle of an event.
There are some things to be aware of with this new capability. First, potential tropical cyclone advisories will not be issued for systems that threaten only marine areas – largely because this would pose an unmanageable workload/staffing issue for us but also because marine forecast products (the High Seas and Offshore Waters forecasts) already allow the issuance of gale and storm warnings before a tropical cyclone has formed.
Second, because potential tropical cyclones will have a standard five-day forecast track and uncertainty cone, to avoid potential confusion with the cone we’re going to stop drawing potential formation areas for these systems in the Graphical Tropical Weather Outlook.
We’re also concerned that some users may pay too much attention to the longer-range part of these new forecasts (the part beyond 72 hours). We know that forecast errors for weaker and developing systems tend to be larger than those for strong storms and hurricanes, and we even considered only going out to 72 hours with the new potential tropical cyclone advisories (since the primary purpose was to support watches and warnings). But in the end, consistency and technical issues argued for going out to five days, and that’s what we’re doing. So it’s likely that forecast-to-forecast changes in the longer-range portion of our potential tropical cyclone advisories will be larger than what folks are used to. And for those of you who like to look at forecast model intensity guidance, be aware that most of these intensity models assume the system is a tropical cyclone. Since that won’t be the case for these systems, intensity models run on potential tropical cyclones will generally have a high bias. And lastly, since many potential tropical cyclones will not have well-defined centers, there will likely be large jumps in the reported location of these systems from advisory to advisory. But even with all these caveats, we think that the ability to post warnings before a cyclone forms is an important service enhancement – one that will help save lives and protect property, while at the same time allowing NHC to analyze and report on tropical systems as accurately and as honestly as possible.
After our experiences with Bret and Cindy, we’re optimistic about the value of this new capability. Advisories on Potential Tropical Cyclone Two were started 24 hours before Bret officially became a tropical cyclone, giving residents of Trinidad and Tobago, Grenada, and northeastern Venezuela an additional day of warning for tropical storm conditions. If this were still 2016, places like Trinidad may have only had three to six hours between the time of the first advisory and the time when tropical storm force winds began on the island. And for Cindy, advisories on Potential Tropical Cyclone Three were initiated roughly 21 hours before Cindy met the criteria of a tropical cyclone. This allowed Tropical Storm Warnings to be issued for southeastern Louisiana 21 hours earlier than they would have been if the storm had occurred last year.
Just a few weeks into the new season, we’re pretty happy about the way this all worked. We think we successfully demonstrated the ability to provide more advanced warning than we could have in previous years for these developing tropical cyclones. But we’d love to hear feedback from our users, customers, and partners. Were the potential tropical cyclone advisories in advance of Bret and Cindy confusing? Helpful? Maybe both? Or bad puns aside, did the new capability fit the “Bill”?
If you’d like to provide comments on your experiences with the Potential Tropical Cyclone advisories during Bret and Cindy, please feel free to contact Jessica Schauer, the NWS Tropical Cyclone Program Leader, at Jessica.Schauer@noaa.gov.
— James Franklin
Editor’s Note: This post marks James’s last blog contribution as a member of the NHC family. After 35 years of service in the federal government (17 years at NOAA’s Hurricane Research Division and 18 years at the National Hurricane Center), James is retiring at the end of this week. We want to thank James for his contributions to not only the blog, but also for his many contributions to hurricane forecasting and NHC operations over the past several decades. Although James will no longer be “inside the eye” of the sometimes-hectic NHC scene, we know he won’t be too far away cheering on his beloved Miami Hurricanes, Miami Dolphins, and Florida Panthers. Congratulations, James, and happy retirement!
Get a Plan!
A lot of the advice you hear in advance of hurricane season includes some variation on “Get a Plan”. And you may have thought, “Why? How difficult can it be?” The truth is, it’s really not difficult. Most of the things that I want you to consider when dealing with a natural disaster such as a hurricane are basic, common-sense issues that you deal with every day of your life. The problem is that when a hurricane or other severe weather is bearing down on you and your family, the things that you normally take for granted may be in short supply, and you’ve got to get a lot done in a very short period of time. In those circumstances, having gone through the planning process with your loved ones, and developing a written plan to help guide your actions, could save your life.
Simply considering developing a plan is a very good first step. It will help you think about the hazards where you live. Are you close to the ocean and potentially in a storm surge zone? Do you live in a flood plain? Do you live in a house likely to be damaged in high winds? Are the roads you rely on to get to the grocery store or the pharmacy prone to flooding? Knowing how a storm can affect you will help determine what kind of plan you should develop.
Once you know how a hurricane will affect your physical environment, consider what that means for your loved ones. Do you care for young children or elderly relatives? Do you have pets or livestock that you need to care for? Think about how a prolonged period without power or water will affect them. What would you do if you couldn’t get to the grocery store for a few days, or if the gas station ran out of fuel?
Once you’ve thought about these issues, though, take the next step and write down your answers. When a hurricane is coming, having a written plan will help ensure that you’re taking care of the most important things. And by going through the planning process together, you and your family will be more confident that you’ll be able to survive the storm and get your life back to normal as quickly as possible. Having a guide to make sure you’ve taken care of the essentials will give you peace of mind and allow you to focus on keeping your family safe.
Will everything go exactly as you planned it? Probably not. There are so many variables in a hurricane and so many unknown factors that you’ll likely have to improvise. But it’s much easier to deviate from a well-considered plan than it is to try to develop a course of action from scratch during the middle of the event.
There are a lot of resources to help you. In Florida, try www.flgetaplan.com. In South Carolina go to http://www.scemd.org/planandprepare/preparedness/famdiasterplan, and in Texas a good resource is http://www.texasprepares.org/. Other great sites include The Red Cross and FEMA’s Ready.gov site. And there are many more; simply search “disaster plan” on the internet and you’ll find plenty of options. All of them are very good, and any one of them will help you accomplish your goal of getting you ready. Kids can even get involved by helping their parents fill out a family communication plan.
Hurricanes are a fact of life, and their impacts can be catastrophic. If you are well prepared for them however, the likelihood that you will survive and be able to recover quickly are tremendously improved. That preparation starts with developing a plan to guide you through the situation. An hour or two spent now on writing your plan could save your life!
Identifying Trusted Sources for a Hurricane Event
Dr. Gina Eosco
Senior Social Scientist/Risk Communication Specialist, Eastern Research Group
@WxComm / @ERGupdate
Hurricanes are dangerous! Extreme winds, storm surge, inland flooding from heavy rains, and tornadoes can all be life threatening. Understanding your risk from these threats is important—and a trusted, credible source for hurricane information can help.
- The National Weather Service, including the National Hurricane Center
- TV stations
- Social media
- And others… like friends and family
But, are all sources of weather information the same? Are all sources trustworthy?
To answer that question, you first have to define what is meant by “trustworthy.” As it turns out, several factors contribute to people’s perceptions of trust, including the source’s knowledge and expertise, openness and honesty, and concern and care.[i] Using these factors of trust, here are some tips to identify trusted sources of hurricane information:
Does your source have hurricane knowledge and expertise? Knowledge and expertise are gained through a combination of study and practical experience. Does your source hire staff with degrees in meteorology? In addition to formal degrees, the American Meteorological Society certifies individuals who have “achieved a high level of competency in communicating complex weather.” The National Weather Association also offers a certification program. These certifications and corresponding logos are shown on TV next to a broadcaster’s name, online, or in someone’s biography.
Of equal importance is how many years of experience does your source have? Hurricanes are like fingerprints. No two storms are the same. Forecasters must observe, collect, and analyze complex data to determine the hurricane track, intensity, and potential impacts, like storm surge. It stands to reason that the more experience a source has with different storms, the more knowledge and expertise that individual has gained over time.
Determining if a source is open and honest is a bit more subjective. Here are a few guiding thoughts.
Does your source convey what he or she knows and doesn’t know? There is always some uncertainty with a storm. Communicating uncertainty is vital to an open dialogue about the risk of hurricanes. For example, during Hurricane Joaquin in September and October of 2015, the National Hurricane Center issued a new “key messages” section in their Tropical Cyclone Discussion and also sent it out on Twitter, at one point stating, “Because landfall, if it occurs, is still more than three days away, it’s too early to talk about specific wind, rain or surge impacts from Joaquin in the United States.” NHC openly shared what it did and did not know about the storm.
The last factor that leads to trust is perceiving that a source has concern and care for you. You might get the impression that a source feels concern and care by his or her tone of voice or word choice—but how do you really know? One way to gauge concern and care is by understanding the source’s mission. For instance, the National Hurricane Center explicitly states that its mission is
“To save lives, mitigate property loss, and improve economic efficiency by issuing the best watches, warnings, forecasts and analyses of hazardous tropical weather, and by increasing understanding of these hazards.”
Hurricanes can be fearful experiences to live through, and evacuation decisions can be equally as stressful. Hurricane risk information from a trusted source can calm those fears and provide the details you need to make an informed decision that is right for you.
Hurricanes may vary in their strength, but with trusted sources by your side, you can always remain #HurricaneStrong.
[i] Peters, R. G., Covello, V. T., & McCallum, D. B. (1997). The determinants of trust and credibility in environmental risk communication: An empirical study. Risk analysis, 17(1), 43-54.
President and CEO, Federal Alliance For Safe Homes (FLASH)©
@LCHenderson / @FederalAlliance
If you’ve been following along with us this National Hurricane Preparedness Week and joining us to get #HurricaneStrong, you’ve already moved through the first four steps on your path to the ultimate state of readiness. You’ve determined your risk, developed an evacuation plan for your family, secured an insurance check-up, and assembled your disaster supplies.
So, now it’s time to focus on our message for Day Five–Strengthen Your Home. This may be the most challenging of the critical steps to preparedness, but it is also one of the most rewarding. Having a strong home will give you the peace of mind that comes with feeling safe and sound.
If you have a strong home, and reside outside of a storm surge evacuation zone, you should be able to take shelter in your home. This will keep you, your family, and your pets together, off the roads, and out of the shelters. This is especially important as shelter space is limited, and should be reserved for those that must evacuate.
Also, if a hurricane strikes, your strong home can be the key ingredient for a swift recovery after the storm because strong, high-performing homes resist the wind and water that come with a hurricane. They suffer less damage, save you money, and reduce or eliminate repair time.
So how can you get a strong home?
First, it is important to understand the different ways that hurricanes can damage a home.
Hurricanes can cause damage to buildings and homes in a variety of ways:
- High winds put pressure on the home and its connections
- Windborne debris batters and breaks windows, doors and garage doors
- Wind-driven rain enters through openings like windows and doors
- Rising waters flood inside homes, damaging appliances, electrical systems, flooring, and more
- Waves and storm surge batter a home, causing it to break apart or even wash away
High winds exert extreme pressure on your home, and cause four types of building failure. Uplift occurs when the wind moves over the structure pulling upward, especially on the roof. Racking happens when horizontal pressure causes the house to tilt. Sliding occurs when the horizontal wind pressure pushes a house off its foundation. And, overturning occurs when a house resists horizontal pressure, and won’t rack or slide.
These high wind failures can be prevented or effectively lessened when a home is well-connected with the right amount of nails and metal connectors. The key connections to reinforce include the roof-to-upper story; upper story to first floor; and house to foundation. When you make these connections the right way, you will have a continuous load path that ties your home together from the roof to the foundation.
If you are getting ready to build a new home, remember, it is possible to build a hurricane-resistant home from a variety of materials, including wood, engineered wood, and concrete products like concrete block, insulated concrete forms, cast-in-place concrete, and more. Many materials provide the additional benefits of durability, energy savings, and sustainability, so it’s important to research all of your options before you begin.
Windborne debris batters and breaks windows, doors, and garage doors, but this can be prevented by using impact-resistant windows and doors, or tested and approved hurricane shutters. Shutters can be permanently installed, or temporarily. Even the proper thickness of 5/8” plywood cut to fit each window and opening is effective if properly mounted with the right fasteners. Click here to view our videos about hurricane shutters, impact-resistant windows, and how to make temporary, emergency panels.
Wind-driven rain can be kept out of your home if you refresh the caulk around your windows and the flashing around doors at least once per year. Hurricane shutters will also help prevent this damage.
Rising waters flood inside homes, damaging appliances, electrical systems, flooring, and more. Click here to use this calculator and see the potential damage to your home from flooding. What you’ll learn is that only four inches of water can cause nearly $30,000 in damage.
The best financial protection from flood damage is flood insurance, but you must purchase a separate policy as it is not part of your homeowner’s insurance coverage. Also, flood policies carry a 30-day waiting period, so it is important to secure your protection now before the hurricane season begins.
In addition to flood insurance, there are many steps you can take to minimize flood damage. This animation provides a comprehensive overview, and here are some examples:
- Elevate electrical outlets
- Anchor fuel tanks
- Install a floating drain
- Elevate appliances inside and outside
It is also important to keep your gutters and downspouts around the home clear of debris, so they can carry the water away from your foundation.
If flooding is imminent, you should secure sandbags. If they are properly filled, placed, and maintained, sandbags can redirect storm water and debris flows away from a home and other structures. Follow the guidance below to make sure you use and then dispose of them correctly.
- Fill sandbags one-half full.
- Use sand if readily available, otherwise use local soil.
- Fold top of sandbag down and rest bag on its folded top.
- Take care in stacking sandbags.
- Limit placement to three layers unless a building is used as a backing or sandbags are placed in a pyramid.
- Tamp each sandbag into place, completing each layer prior to starting the next layer.
- Clear a path between buildings for debris flow.
- Lay a plastic sheet in between the building and the bags to control the flow and prevent water from seeping through openings like sliding glass doors.
- Sandbags will not seal out water.
- Sandbags deteriorate when exposed to continued wetting and drying for several months. If bags are placed too early, they may be ineffective when needed.
- Sandbags are for small water flow protection up to two feet. Protection from larger flow requires a more permanent flood prevention system.
- Wet sandbags are very heavy and caution should be used to avoid injury.
It is important to consult your local environmental protection department before disposing of used sandbags. Sandbags exposed to contaminated floodwaters may pose an environmental hazard and require special handling.
Storm surge and waves are often the most destructive threats to homes in the path of a hurricane. So, whether you live near the coast where storm surge is possible, or you are inland where rising waters from heavy rains threaten, it is best to build or buy a home that is elevated above the Base Flood Elevation (BFE) or the expected level of flooding established by the FEMA flood maps.
No matter where you live, the best protection from hurricanes or any natural disaster is to ensure that your home is constructed to meet or exceed current building codes. Post-disaster investigations have proven again and again that homes built to code have the best chance of surviving. And when you have a strong home that survives the wind and the water from hurricanes, you will become resilient in the face of the storm.