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.
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).
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.
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.
In 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.