The forecast for Matthew was good but the communication was poor in North Carolina.

Even when there is a good forecast, sometimes the results and impacts are not fully understood by the end user. This was the case for Hurricane Matthew, especially in North Carolina.

via @islivignston

via @islivignston

It’s hard to argue that the forecast for the path of Matthew was not good. The Hurricane Center forecast tracks where all within the cone even as far out at five days. Many for some reason got fixated with the possible loop but that was a 5-7 day out prospect, and that was well after it was going to impact most of the Southeast. This forecast though was also part of the communication issue we have with tropical systems. People for whatever reason are obsessed with the “line” track of these systems. When in reality the impacts are felt over large distances and sometimes the worst weather is well displaced from the center.

IMPACTS VS TRACK:

Meteorologists for the past several years have been trying to focus more on the impacts in the forecast. This means not focusing as much on what we call the system that is causing those impacts. This really accelerated after Super Storm Sandy when it causes widespread impacts even though it was no longer a Hurricane. You see this with wind damage in severe thunderstorms; people assume all wind damage must be a tornado even though 90% of all wind damage from thunderstorms are caused by straight line winds. Remember your house, the trees, and the power system doesn’t care what produces 60-80 mph winds, just that there are 60-80 mph winds. When you live on the coast or even inland and there is flooding water coming. It only matters how much water is coming not what is causing this water to come.

North Carolinas flooding groundwork was laid in September:

For North Carolina, the impacts were always going to be flooding and storm surge. Water is our number one concern in all tropical systems even inland. The amount of rain forecasted was really quite remarkable. The National Weather Service and local Meteorologists were all over this. I can’t find a single instance where the rainfall amounts were not forecast to be huge. Here is just a sample from the NWS and local TV Meteorologists including mine posted Thursday night(Lower left corner).

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So what happened?

The problem was even with those well-forecasted flood threats and rainfall maps the focused continued to be on the track and how it was going to be just offshore. Which didn’t matter a lick as far as impacts. Many if not all meteorologists in North Carolina knew all too well what was about to happen. While many nationally may not have known, we had a disaster waiting to happen. Not just because of #Matthew but because of #Hermine, #Julia, and a Cold front. Remember September? The remnants of Julia and Hermine both soaked eastern North Carolina along with the 1st strong cold front of the Autumn.

Did people forget we had 15-20″ of rainfall in September acorss eastern North Carolina? Maybe.

2016-10-12_10-55-45

Politicians don’t help the situation:

Leading up to the storm you probably saw the daily parade of governors press conferences across the Southeast. Often my own weathercasts were cut short so we could go to a press conference live. While I sat there listening to politicians talk about the weather. I cringed as they often times completely miss the mark on impacts and timing of the storm. It’s not all their fault, but I would urge all governors to do what South Carolina did, have actual Meteorologists speak on the weather and impacts and save the preparations and other government information to the Politicians. Like playing the game of telephone governors just relay what they think they heard and interpreted the information they don’t fully understand. This leads to major public confusion and sometimes is in direct opposition to what the Meteorologists are actually forecasting.

Solutions:

picmonkey-collageIn no particular order.

  • Stop using the line tracks on TV and in all forms of tropical cyclone forecasts. The cone is a good representation of where the storm could go but even it doesn’t show the scope of all impacts
  • Stop focussing on models; this was the common issue in the NC press conferences for some reason and didn’t make much sense to the public.
  • Use more impact driven maps and forecast information. Instead of where Matthew is going, it should be here is what Matthew will do.
  • Use more skilled weather communicators in press conferences on storms and weather. Let the experts do their thing, and politicians do their thing. Always seemed weird we’d cut away from an expert on weather to hear a layman talk about weather in these situations.
  • Make sure that you pay attention to forecasts all the time with a dangerous storm. You can’t watch Monday and not expect things to change by Saturday. Until the storm is gone, you must always get the latest up to the minute information for your area.
  • Stop focusing just on the coast. Tropical systems are not just a coastal issue. They cause widespread impacts well inland, and this should always be on top of mind.
  • Learn from the mistakes of previous storms and get better at preparing and communicating. This is something I strive to do after every event, and this will make us better. My goal is to focus even more on the impacts going forward than even what I am doing now.

 

  • Matt Engelbrecht Witn

    It’s been a ridiculous month, year, years of rainfall records in ENC.

    Past 2 Years
    10/13/14 – 10/12/16
    143.64 (+45.74)
    1st wettest

  • Joe

    Sorry Brad – you’re my favorite meteorologist but I don’t think anybody in NC feels we got a good Matthew forecast from anybody. We’d rather hear that the storm just didn’t do what it was expected to do. We were told for DAYS that the storm was turning out to sea before reaching NC. Turning …. no. Turning … no. Turning … no …….

    • Jill Birge Rogers

      I tend to disagree..I’m in SC, just south of Charlotte, and we still weren’t exactly sure what was gonna happen..of course..i ALWAYS hog the weather channel, etc. during this season..but anyway..The meterologists can only do so much..Mother Nature does what she wants..Weather forecasting is not an exact science and never will be…I do understand your frustration though..just remember..Mother Nature has a plan of her own, no matter WHAT is forecast…

      • JenniferMD

        I agree Jill. Here in FL we were told to prepare for a Cat 4 to annihilate our coast and interior counties closest to the coast. It didn’t happen because we got the west side and the strongest part of the storm stayed off shore. Meteorologists can only predict so much. They prepare you for the worst and hope for the best. Just goes to show that even with the most high tech devices and best equipment, a storm on your doorstep still has a mind of its own.

    • wxbrad

      But Joe that is kinda of point the center of storm doesn’t matter, it actually did turn, the center of storm doesn’t matter it’s the impacts. People have got to stop the focus on the line track it literally does not matter, the impacts only matter. All the rain and flooding was forecasted at least 2-3 days prior. I agree that too much was made of the line track but it’s not like the rain information was out there. That why I said this was not a forecast issue it was a communication issue.

  • Rick Kinne

    I agree with Joe. It was supposed to turn before it got to the Outer Banks and that didn’t happen. I love your no nonsense reporting. Even when it started, the Weather Channel resorted to using words like “may” and “possibility of.” I haven’t talked to anyone who wasn’t surprised by Matthew on the Outer Banks, e.g., Hatteras – North…

    • wxbrad

      i think watching the weather channel for local weather information is a problem as well. They don’t live here or really know the area at all. As I said in the blog the line track was not something to focus on IMO. The impacts are going to felt well north and northwest of the track which is where the communication broke down.

      • Rick Kinne

        Brad, I’ll take your word for it. You are the expert here, not me. At a minimum, I will know to ask better questions next time :). Thank you for all you do!

        • wxbrad

          I understand the dilemma here and that’s why I wrote this blog. We need to do a better job of explaining that even if the track is far away it doesn’t mean there won’t be big impacts. Thanks for the comments and we all will do better next time on the communication front.

    • JenniferMD

      Even meteorologists don’t know exactly what a storm is going to do which is why words like may and possible are used. Here in FL, we were prepared for a cat 4 to annihilate our coast and possible interior coast. It didn’t. With any hurricane, we prepare for the worst, hope for the best.
      It is devastating what is happening right now in NC. Although I don’t live in NC, I saw the predictions of the 8″-12″ and with a state that has already seen a lot of rain, to me, that spells disaster. I don’t understand why the majority couldn’t put that together. The worst part of a hurricane is the north part of the storm. The eye doesn’t have to come on top of you to devastate your area. Sounds like a lot of finger pointing but bottom line is if we saw it happening from FL, your state should have seen it too. Hoping all can rebuild and that your local weather stations provide better for the future so many are aware just how bad a situation can be. Thoughts are with NC.

  • Kathy Wood Naquin

    I for one, think our local meteorologists in NC at WRAL and WTVD did an outstanding job considering the forecast track keep indicating it would turn and we would have very little impact. Through all the uncertainty, they stayed on top of it. They told us constantly that just a shift in 25-50 miles could make all the difference, the track could always change, not to let down our guard and how great the rain totals could be and not to concentrate on the line but the general area of the storm. We were told ahead of time that that kind of rain could cause major flooding and trees to come down simply from all the wet ground. I live in one of the counties that had 8 inches the week before. We knew, we were warned. They were as prepared as could be with the track constantly changing. I watched TWC and our local weather and none could prepare us more than the other and no one can hold back nature. All eyes were on Florida yet the Carolinas bore the brunt when in fact, NC especially was an after though in most national weather forecasting…but not our local ones! We went from a possible hurricane to a tropical storm with it going out to sea before getting to NC, then the track changed and it was a hurricane on the coast interacting with the front coming from the west. The officials, professionals and governor warned us to be prepared, to evacuate, to get out. Some will not and think a Cat. 1 is nothing only thinking of wind and not rain, much less 1 1/2- 2 hours inland. We had a number of dynamics working against us besides the storm and we were advised about them for days ahead of time.