Not a Story about a Hurricane

The National Hurricane Center has been the target of criticism over a perceived hurricane fake-out, as Tropical Storm Erika defied models, according to The Palm Beach Post. Predicted to become a Category 1 hurricane, Erika was the source of considerable alarm, as Florida declared a state of emergency and the Palm Beach County’s emergency operations center upped its alert level due to the state falling within a projected cone for the path of the storm. However, instead of becoming a hurricane passing through Florida, the tropical storm instead ending up dissipating over Hispaniola.

In response to the criticism, the National Hurricane Center has issued a seven-page blog, as a post-mortem to the storm. Of particular note was the issue of communication, with the Center noting in the Post that “some in the media were accused of overinflating the threat, numerical models were bashed, and some public officials were charged with overreacting. NHC’s forecasts were questioned, while others lamented that NHC’s voice wasn’t strong enough amid all the chatter."

In response to these concerns, changes may be made in how the forecasts are communicated, with additional emphasis on the uncertainty in the forecasts, as well as changes to the size of the cone of uncertainly as confidence in the forecasts increases.

Computer models were also a target for discussion as for Erika, the forecast track error roughly 30 per cent higher than the five year average. However, James Franklin, chief of forecast operations for the National Hurricane Center in Miami, told the Post that despite this higher than normal error, the models should be praised for “the tremendous progress they’ve made, not criticized for missing this one.”

As observed by Marshall Moss, vice president for forecasting operations at AccuWeather in the Post, “you want people to be prepared for what could happen. You learn lessons from every storm.”