Humberto’s Unexpected Hurricane Force

The National Hurricane Center (NHC) issued the first advisory on Tropical Depression Nine at 11 a.m. EDT on Wednesday, Sept. 12. At that time the depression was centered about 85 miles off the coast of Galveston, Texas, with maximum sustained winds estimated at 35 mph. The forecast called for the depression to strengthen to tropical storm strength with maximum sustained winds of 45 mph before landfall.

The depression strengthened to Tropical Storm Humberto at 5 p.m. EDT on Wednesday with winds estimated at 50 mph. The 11 p.m. EDT advisory reported that winds had increased to 65 mph and stated that winds could be approaching hurricane force over a small area near Humberto’s center when it reached the coast.

Humberto continued to strengthen and made landfall just east of High Island, Texas, near 3 a.m. EDT on Thursday, Sept. 13 with maximum sustained winds estimated at 85 mph. Instead of making landfall as a weak tropical storm as initially reported sixteen hours earlier, Humberto reached Category 1 status on the Saffir/Simpson Hurricane Scale.

National Hurricane Center forecasters have repeatedly stated that one of their greatest concerns is intensity forecasting. This has been listed as the No. 1 priority to the research community for years. Humberto’s rapid and unexpected strengthening is an example of the need for improved guidance on intensity forecasting. None of the models used as guidance by the NHC indicated such rapid strengthening.

While I was the Director of the NHC, I can say that every talk that I gave at local, state and national hurricane conferences mentioned the concern over rapid intensification. Humberto unexpectedly made landfall as a Category 1 hurricane.

One hates to think about the impacts if people had gone to bed expecting a Category 1 and ended up experiencing a Category 3 or higher hurricane. Without improved intensity guidance, one of these days this will happen and the result will be devastating.


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