Hurricane Prediction Now, and Then

This is now: SAIL contributing editor Ben Ellison, after a pilgrimage to the government's Tropical Prediction Center on the campus of Florida State University, some 12 miles west of downtown Miami, says: "Without doubt the most thorough and timely hurricane information is on the World Wide Web. The Web is also a terrific place to pursue background studies and collect resources for those
Author:
Publish date:
Updated on

This is now: SAIL contributing editor Ben Ellison, after a pilgrimage to the government's Tropical Prediction Center on the campus of Florida State University, some 12 miles west of downtown Miami, says: "Without doubt the most thorough and timely hurricane information is on the World Wide Web. The Web is also a terrific place to pursue background studies and collect resources for those times when you have no online access. Here are a few valuable starting points:"

The Tropical Prediction Center and its forecasting department, the National Hurricane Center, maintain an information-rich site at www.nhc.noaa.gov. Data on current storms is posted every 6 hours starting a 5 a.m. Don't miss this hard-to-find page detailing hurricane precautions for boaters: NOAA: Marine Safety.

NOAA uses artificial intelligence to improve navigational safety data:
Read about AI (Artificial Intelligence)

There are numerous non-government sites for dedicated hurricane watchers. One with fast access to all sorts of sophisticated and current Atlantic hurricane model data, satellite imagery, and more is at atwc.org.

Central Pacific typhoons are followed by the National Weather Service Honolulu office. Western Pacific and Indian Ocean typhoon forecasting is available from the U.S. Navy's Joint Typhoon Center also in Hawaii. A gentleman named Tim Rulon maintains a superb site detailing the myriad ways, like fax and USCG radio, that most public marine weather products—including hurricane advisories—are disseminated: Marine Product Dissemination Information

And, finally, there's a well made software program for tracking active cyclones worldwide and studying the tracks of past hurricanes. It's called Eye of the Storm, and it's available for demo or purchase ($30) at www.starstonesoftware.com.

Stormy, stormy times

2004 launched with a prediction that we would see a heavy storm season, not unlike 2003. To refresh your memory:

Last year's Atlantic hurricane season officially ended on November 30, 2003, but somebody forgot to tell that to Odette, which showed up after the hurricane season and (together with the much weaker Peter that followed) drenched the Domenican Republic and Haiti and raised the number of named storms from the first official count of 14 to a new official count of 16. o,

That aside, NOAA's official end-of-hurricane-season release is worth a read.

With the 2003 Atlantic hurricane season having officially ended Nov. 30, 2003, NOAA hurricane specialists said the above-normal 2003 Atlantic hurricane season produced 14 tropical storms, of which 7 became hurricanes and 3 became major hurricanes (Fabian, Isabel and Kate). Six of the named systems affected the United States, bringing high wind, storm surge or rain.

"NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, Hurricane Research Division and National Hurricane Center identified the high likelihood of an above-normal Atlantic hurricane season as early as May," said John Jones, deputy director of the NOAA National Weather Service. "We expected an above normal season based in part on the wind, air pressure and ocean temperature patterns that recur annually for decades at a time and favor active hurricane seasons. These patterns make up the active phase of the Atlantic's multi-decadal signal."

Gerry Bell, head of NOAA's long-range hurricane forecast team, said, "These conditions were in place by early August, setting the stage for a very busy season."

Not content to wait so long to make a prediction for 2004, the Tropical Meteorology Project at Colorado State University studied the same long-range date and concluded that we'll see 13 named storms, with 7 developing into hurricanes and 3 becoming intense hurricanes.

According to the Tropical Meteorology Project, short-range prediction is as difficult as ever, but year-to-year forecasting is increasingly possible as researchers sort out improved packages of predictors. Nothing's easy in this, as the research team notes: due to "the nature of the seasonal or climate forecast problem where one is dealing with a complicated atmospheric-oceanic system that is highly non-linear."

Another way to say (and see) that is to note that the researchers define a "rather high" degree of year-to-year forecast potential as something in the range of 50-70 percent.

The Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory expects "enhanced intense Atlantic basin hurricane activity" for the next couple of decades. The prediction is based upon a combination of geographic and historical evidence suggesting that there are cycles in heat circulation in the Atlantic of 25-50 years, and we're headed into a hurricane-happy period.

Read more at:
National Hurricane Center

Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory: FAQs

Tropical Meteorology Project

isaac

That was then: Eric Larson's 1999 book, Isaac's Storm, is an account of the absurd delusions that gripped certain quarters of the U.S. Weather Bureau in that era of hubris, the turn of the 20th century. The hurricanes that had once surprised and confounded Columbus were now familiar—and understood, so it was believed. The "Isaac" of this tale is Isaac Monroe Cline, a young, confident family man assigned to run the Weather Bureau office in Galveston, Texas, a bustling city predicted to become the New York of the West. Isaac did not think it ominous that the whole of the city was so low, so flat, "so close to sea level as to produce the illusion that ships in the Gulf were sailing in the streets." Isaac believed that the great expanse of shallow Gulf water east of Galveston made it invulnerable to hurricanes. He would believe that right up to September 8, 1900, a day that dawned with a mystical beauty and rising wind that drew people to the waterfront to enjoy a spectacle. Until the spectacle rolled over the city, drowned it, and tore it apart.

Mr. Larson tracks the storm from its beginnings: "Over the Niger, the colliding winds veered and arced. Thunderstorms of great violence purpled the sky. A huge parcel of air began circling slowly, far too high for anyone on the ground to notice. The powerful Saharan wind swept it west toward the Atlantic as a wave of turbulence, thunderstorms and driving rain." He follows the storm across the sea, through the shipping lanes, to its devastating landfall: "The water was rising rapidly to the second floor, so Papa helped us climb from the outside through dormer windows to the attic bedroom . . . The house eased from its foundations, slid through a shallow westward arc, then began to float."

Larson does not spare the irony that the information was available for Galveston to know the storm was coming. An account of people in the worst disaster in U.S. history. Recommended reading—K.L.
Isaacs Storm
By Eric Larson
Crown Publishers, New York. $25.

Galveston

Related

01-Lead-show

France’s Annual Multihull Show

If a boat show could be described as intimate, the annual Salon International du Multicoque in La Grande Motte, on France’s Mediterranean coast, is it. Held in the latter part of April, the multihulls-only in-water show is a boon for builders, because the people who attend come ...read more

TOTW_PromoSite

SAIL's Tip of the Week

Presented by Vetus-Maxwell. Got a tip? Send it to sailmail@sailmagazine.com Check the waypoint  Most errors with GPS and paper chart navigation are caused by the operator punching in the wrong numbers or plotting the lat/long incorrectly. The surest way to double-check a ...read more

Furlex-Electric

Gear: Seldén’s Furlex Electric

Furl Power Seldén’s Furlex Electric offers an easy path into the world of sweat-free headsail furling. The compact unit can be retrofitted to an existing manual Furlex unit or installed as a replacement for whatever you’ve got now. Its DC-DC converter accepts your boat’s 12V or ...read more

11_DSC8423Tom-Zydler

Cruising: Nova Scotia

There’s a unique cruising ground that combines access to urban locations with easy escapes to wilderness and nature. Its native people may be the friendliest on the east coast of North America. Its coastline runs 250 nautical miles in a straight line, but that should be ...read more

01-LEAD-shutterstock_727849660

Boat Monitoring System

Boat Oversight In a world where you can track your friends’ locations in real time and stream yourself live on the internet, it should come as no surprise that you can also keep a close eye on your boat from the comfort of home. In fact, not only is there a plethora of options ...read more

pilot_saloon_42-_en_navigation_11

Boat Review: Wauquiez Pilot Saloon 42

Old salts grouse about modern aesthetics. It’s just what they do, and the hard lines and spartan interiors of today’s production boats give them many reasons to complain. French builder Wauquiez, however, seems to consistently be able to marry contemporary elements with ...read more