Tuesday, August 31, 2004

evening update:


WARNING: this is a long rant about the Gaston forecast. If you want to skip to Frances, scroll down further.

I know that my headline is a strong statement... but tell me how difficult you think it would be to make a forecast for heavy rain from a tropical storm if you already knew that:
1. It is a very slow-moving system... this was proven by radar and satellite imagery.
2. It has a well-defined, non-decaying central circulation.
3. It is moving into a highly moist area with dewpoints 75-80 F. That is like wringing water out of the air.
4. It is maintaining tropical characteristics, such as sustained winds above 40 mph, with a gust at Cape Henry Lighthouse to 64 mph.

I think there is absolutely no excuse for not having a tropical storm warning in place for Richmond before the storm arrived. Either there are personnel issues going on in the NHC, or what I don't know, but I have NEVER seen the forecasting of a storm be handled so poorly. I have been watching and tracking and researching hurricanes for 20 years now, and I've never seen anything like this.

Don't buy any of this jibberish on the news about how it is difficult to forecast for a localized area. That is ridiculous. The NWS has super-incredibly powerful computers that can detect extremely minute changes in weather conditions anywhere in the world, from satellite, from radar, etc. And there are also very extensive hydrological forecasting centers who do all kinds of analysis on the potential effects of storms on river flooding. And Doppler radar provides instantaneous information on the amount and intensity of rainfall. Whoever called for 1-4 inches of rain what not paying attention, took their late shift break too early, or something. You can't tell me that this rain fell for 4 HOURS and it took the NWS/NHC that long to figure out there was a problem? I think any of us would be able to tell if the rain is falling hard enough to produce 10 inches in 4 hours.

The proof this was handled so badly... why did NHC upgrade the storm AFTER the damage occurred? That wasn't necessary, the damage was done. Why were Tropical Storm Warnings never posted for Richmond? Only the NHC can legally issue a tropical cyclone watch or warning. So I'll bet the the Richmond local NWS forecasters (Wakefield, VA office) were screaming into the phone to NHC about the conditions on the ground, because they are limited to a range of public warnings that do not include TS warnings. Usually when NHC raises the flags on a system, they post a full range of products for the public... which indicates they have done their research.

Last night, I observed in real time how advisories and statements were hastily written and posted.

Worst of all, it is very sad to know that 5 or more people lost their lives, because they got bad information from the start. I'll bet there will be an official government inquiry into why this forecast went so wrong. Those of you in the corporate world know... heads have to roll because someone screwed up.

if you do not trust the official forecast, pay attention more to your local conditions and less to what is said on TV. And if you think it is "getting bad" then do something about it (other than drive into flood waters).

MY BIG FEAR IS... since we have a botched forecast on this Carolina system, is there a chance that forecasters will write off Frances too early once it makes landfall.

So enough of my rant about Gaston, and on to the ever-growing monster that is Frances.


Read the latest discussion from NHC:

And the current track projection:

By Thursday, we will come to a fork in the road. The NHC will be forced to make a decision about watches and warnings. It is safe to say hurricane watches will go up from perhaps Melbourne all the way to Savannah.

My major concerns about potential "surprise changes" in the storm:

(1) I am still concerned about a gradual turn toward the north, and an increased in forward speed, which would catch the GA/SC coast off guard in the sense that residents would think there was 36-48 hours to prepare, and then it is suddenly whittled down to 24-36 hours.

(2) The high that is forecast to weaken and nudge east is now in place over the Mid-Atlantic. But there is also a frontal boundary draped across the southeast. If this thing does not move soon, it will act as a barrier against Frances, causing her to begin turning northward. I see all the people on the news in Miami buying supplies, which is a prudent move, but I think ANYONE within 20 miles of the coast from Cape Canaveral all the way to Hilton Head should be ready to leave within 24 hours if necessary.

(3) Water vapor imagery shows the hurricane has absolutely vacuumed up all the stray tropical moisture within hundred of miles in it's wake. View the impressive pics here:
http://www.goes.noaa.gov/browsh3.html What you'll notice is two things:

(a) All those dark areas behind storm... that is dry air from which the storm has squeezed out the moisture.
(b) All the bright white and gray fuzzy areas AHEAD of the storm. What do you suppose that is? Yeah, you guessed it... MOISTURE LADEN AIR.

What this means is the water temperature is very high.. near 90 in some areas of the Bahamas. And the atmosphere is loaded with moisture due to that pesky frontal boundary. So what happens when the hurricane moves into this warm, moisture-rich environment?

It will grow much larger, and intensify further, reaching solid Category 5 status by Thursday, with winds at 160 mph or possibly even greater. It sounds sadistic, but I have to tell it like it is. The simple truth is under the right (wrong) environment, Frances could come onshore as a Category 5. The damage would be unimaginably catastrophic, beyond the scope of Andrew.

(4) The frontal boundary and the high will work in tandem to squeeze the storm, forcing it into a channel through which it cannot escape. The same was true for Isabel, Floyd, Gloria, Camille, etc. My fear is the boundary moves east as the high moves east, the storm responds by starting a slow curve to the west-northwest, then northwest, then north-northwest over the next 3 days.

Proof of my theory is in the NWS forecast map for Thursday: http://www.hpc.ncep.noaa.gov/basicwx/98fwbg.gif

And if you think about this clearly… WHY would a hurricane go charging into a front. It doesn’t happen. That is an area of HIGHER pressure. Hurricanes avoid fronts like the plague. I don’t think the models see this too clearly, because this situation has not happened in a long time.
It has been 400 YEARS since a hurricane struck the East Coast of Florida at an angle like this one is thought to do. Saint Augustine, FL has records of a storm like this striking in the 1600s.

(5) Last major concern… a repeat of the 2003 blizzard.. tropical style. Look again at that map. See how the high is parked over upstate New York? Now pretend the hurricane is a snowstorm moving north. It can’t move north because the high is blocking. Cant’ go east cause the high is pushing it back toward the coast. But it does not want to get near the front as that weakens it.

So the worst situation of all (or the best).. is that it STALLS. OMG. (that’s teenspeak for OH MY GOD.) A stalling Category 5 hurricane on the southeast coast. That’ll be one to text message home about.


Even if the storm curves north and hits along the SC/NC border, Virginia (poor Richmond) will feel effects by Sunday morning, with a rapid deteorioration in conditions for a 24 hour period. God forbid the storm would slow down, but usually they speed up as they move north.

In that scenario, MD would begin seeing heavy rain and windy conditions by Monday morning, lasting 24 hours or more.

If the storm takes the Florida route, which I am getting more convinced it will not, the Mid-Atlantic would be spared, temporarily. But remember that frontal boundary will eventually pick up the storm and bring it north-east, along with all the moisture in it. So in that scenario, you’ll see delayed effects of rain and wind not starting until Wednesday, and lasting into Thursday.

Ultimately, from Saturday into possibly next Thursday, I think all of us from Florida to New York are in for a “long, hard slog” to quote Donald Rumsfeld.

8PM NHC advisory says it is 140 mph, moving WNW with a pressure drop to 939 mb. Only has 19 more millibars to go until it ties Isabel.

My fingers are tired. I’m going to go warmup some pizza now. A quick update Wednesday morning around 5:30 AM.

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