Lessons from Irene

Note:  This blog is written with Local 10 viewers in Monroe, Miami-Dade, and Broward Counties in mind.

The official National Hurricane Center (NHC) track of Tropical Storm Fay continues to show the center moving over the Florida Keys and onto the southwest Florida coast and then continuing to move over the Florida peninsula.  I don’t want there to be too much focus on the center itself, and I can’t stop thinking about some of the lessons learned from Hurricane Irene in 1999.  Irene moved over western Cuba and then took a track northeastward across South Florida before heading up to just offshore the Carolinas.

The following is found in the NHC Tropical Cyclone Report on Irene.  “…Numerous watches and warnings issued for Irene. Some residents of southeast Florida expressed displeasure with the National Weather Service forecasts. Although a tropical storm warning was issued for a portion of southeast Florida (meaning sustained winds between 39 and 73 mph)…, and torrential rains of 10 to 20 inches with locally higher amounts were forecast, some residents, especially in southeast Florida claimed that such conditions were “unexpected” or “surprising”. There is an apparent disconnect between an accurate forecast issued some 36 hours in advance and a public perception of “surprise”. The remedial challenge in this case appears to be related to communications and not to the forecast. The combined resources of NWS, the emergency management community and the local media apparently did not adequately convey the message to the public that: (a) track forecasts are not exact; (b) hurricanes are not a point but cover a broad area; and (c) serious effects usually extend for hundreds of miles from the center. Instead, some residents, as well as isolated TV reporting, focused on the center of Irene.”

So let’s not focus just on the track of Fay.  The track may well shift a little from forecast to forecast but even if NHC has a perfect forecast, the strongest winds and the heaviest rains will be on the east side for the next couple of days.  The residents of the Florida Keys have been told to prepare for a Category 1 hurricane just in case Fay continues to intensify.  Residents in Miami-Dade and Broward Counties should expect the winds to increase (possibly to sustained tropical storm force) and the rain, sometimes heavy, to continue through Tuesday.  Today’s 11:00 am forecast calls for 4 to 8 inches of rain with isolated amounts to 10 inches over the Keys and South Florida.  That’s a lot of rain.


8 thoughts on “Lessons from Irene

  1. Very well put. We should all get ready whenever we have a tropical system near us plus sometimes I think these things have a mind of their own. I dont know if it is my eyes but I see Fay going North.

  2. Max, thank you for reminding us all about Irene and encouraging us to focus on the full scope of a storm!

    We are particularly happy that you did not leave the area when you retired from the National Hurricane Center. . .
    Your calm demeanor and ability to relay complicated weather information in a way that a lay person can understand is truly appreciated.

    We also appreciate the fact that you and the Channel 10 weather team stay away from the scare tactics, drama and tabloid-type reporting of some of the other local weather stations.

    You and Trent are the reasons that my family always stays tuned in to Channel 10 for updates and information.

  3. Pingback: Weather Nerd » Quick midday update on Fay

  4. I must say that growning up in SO. Fla. and having lived through Andrew, Irene, Wilma and all the others, I can appreciate the truthfulness behind your caution at only focusing on the center line of the cone. I can’t imagine why any citizen would assume that storms take a straight path. It’s always been my family’s and my practice to prepare even when the “cone” misses us. So many storms have caught people off guard because they held on to the “we’re not in the cone” idea. Mother Nature follows only her rules, that while we have some insight to, we are not privy to the exact details off. We should use these predictions only as warnings to make us prepare, and consider ourselves lucky that we have so much notice in advance, where places that have earthquakes have no warning. Thank you for your continued dedication to keeping SO. Fla. as safe as possible and for not dramatizing situations but keeping it “real”.

  5. Bravo, Dr. Mayfield, for injecting sanity. It is a privelege to have you blogging and thank you for sharing your time and expertise.

  6. Max, Its not that we were surprised or caught off guard with Irene its that the NHC didn’t issue hurricane warnings until last minute when everyone was at work and had to drive home in a hurricane.

    MOST people still have to go to work with tropical storm watches and warnings, but don’t have to go if there is a hurricane watch or warning and that’s where the NHC as well as the local media failed us with Irene.

    I agree with your notion of not paying attention to the center or the NHC line. But we’re in the same situation again where people will be stuck driving home in dangerous tropical storm force winds and abnormally strong rain storms with tornadoes possible.

    Since the wind field for this storm is predominantly on the east side, would it have been that bad an idea to err on the side of caution by issuing a hurricane watch for S.E. Florida? I mean, its only logical thinking to do so if we shouldn’t pay attention to the center and hurricanes aren’t just a point but a broad area.

  7. Max: Great job! Don’t forget Andrew, everyone kept saying it was going to turn, even up to the last minute before landfall. People were unprepared and surprised and angry. You can never tell what a hurricane will do, you can only predict, based on past occurences and present data and then hope for the best. People don’t understand that, especially newcomers. They expect you to say,”This is where it is going…” and then they shut off the TV and later say,”Hey, what happened?”. It’s good to have people around like you that remind us and inform them of the past.

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