Hurricane cone criticism, skinny line misleads

Meteorologists at the 2016 Governor’s Hurricane Conference in Orlando repeated what has become a familiar refrain among forecasters – ignore the skinny black line.

The line they’re speaking of is the one inside the infamous tropical cyclone cone of uncertainty. Storms track inside that cone 66 percent of the time, meaning they can go to either side of the line showing the center of the cone.

“Don’t even pay attention to the line, it’s immaterial,” said Pablo Santos, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Miami during a training session on tropical meteorology. “That is the message here. Unfortunately, it’s what everyone keeps focusing on.”

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Forecasters have a love-hate relationship with the cone. It tells nothing about the impacts of a hurricane – wind probabilities, storm surge, torrential rain.

And more than 30 percent of the time the hurricane or tropical storm wobbles outside the cone.

skinnyline

 

For example, during Hurricane Charley in 2004, the center of the cone had the storm cutting through the Tampa area. Instead, it spun up the Peace River into Punta Gorda.

The National Hurricane Center has been trying to steer people away from the cone to focus on other products it offers, such as wind speed probability maps, which it says more accurately depict what an area may feel as a result of a storm.

“Impacts can occur well outside the cone,” Santos said.

Wind speed probability map for Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Wind speed probability map for Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

About 1,100 emergency managers, first-responders, volunteers and faith-based organizations are attending the 30th Annual Governor’s Hurricane Conference.

While the first two days are training sessions, Wednesday and Thursday include workshops and a general session with National Hurricane Center Director Rick Knabb.

Also speaking will be Laura Myers, a social science researcher for the University of Alabama-Tuscaloosa’s Center for Advanced Public Safety.

Myers is working with NOAA’s Vortex-SE tornado research initiative to determine how changes in the weather warning process will impact the public’s behavior.

“There is serious under concern about storm surge and we find that people grossly overstate their evacuation intent,” said Brandon Bolinski, hurricane program manager with FEMA. “People think they have survived a Category 4 storm, but they were not in the thick of the thing.”

It’s been more than 10 years since a hurricane has hit Florida. In the introduction to the week’s agenda, it says emergency managers fear an “insidious growth of complacency.”

 

 

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