Hurricane Joaquin was an unlikely killer, starting life as a modest non-tropical system with a low chance of strengthening.
But Mother Nature is a capricious character, and once the atmosphere begins mustering strength, there are no guarantees of fair play, or mercy.
In the Atlantic, as Joaquin exploded into a powerful Category 4 storm on Oct. 1, it was just deeply warm water and wind and the ill-fated cargo ship El Faro.
A report released last month by the National Hurricane Center outlines the challenges in forecasting Joaquin. Its dubious birth over the eastern Atlantic, evolution into a raging goliath with 155 mph winds and its wayward path flummoxed early computer models.
And maybe Joaquin would just be a novelty — a rebel cyclone flaunting advanced forecast technology — if not for the 33 lives lost when the El Faro sunk to the bottom of the ocean near Crooked Island in the Bahamas, its deck sheared clean off and last moments a mystery for lack of finding the ship’s data recorder.
The National Transportation Safety Board is still investigating the sinking, reviewing the age of the vessel — 41 years — the actions of the captain and the quality of forecasts by the National Hurricane Center and a private weather service used by the captain.
Beginning Feb. 16, the U.S. Coast Guard will conduct public Marine Board of Investigation hearings in Jacksonville to determine factors that contributed to the accident.
And in negligence lawsuits filed in federal court by families of the crew, maritime experts debate the path from Jacksonville to Puerto Rico chosen by El Faro’s captain and whether he followed early forecasts that proved faulty or purposefully drove head-on into the storm.
“I don’t know what the captain was thinking, but maybe he did put too much faith in the initial ideas of what this storm was going to do and thought it would be long gone by the time he got to where it was,” said Dan Kottlowski, a senior meteorologist and hurricane expert with the Pennsylvania-based AccuWeather. “Initially, we thought this thing would move northwest and not bother land at all, but it went southwest.”
For the rest of the story, read the full article in The Palm Beach Post here.