Thursday, August 27, 2020

Before the Winds Subside the Complaints Begin

Weather science just a splendid job for the people of Louisiana, far east Texas and Arkansas. Hundreds of lives were saved. Yet, even while 100+mph winds were still blowing, the gripes started. I wish to comment on them and then put Hurricane Laura "to bed."

The complaints center around two themes:
  • The forecast was bad. Laura wasn't what was expected.
  • People didn't know it was coming; there was nothing done to help the poor. 
The emails below are a small sample to give you the idea. I had to report one to Twitter; it was vile. 

Let's begin with the shelters and buses. I don't know from where this came. There were many photos and stories in the media documenting people boarding buses provided by the government to shelters as far away as San Antonio. Yet, there were people upset about this from as far away as Japan.

As far as I can tell, the evacuations went off pretty much without a hitch.

With regard to the quality of the forecasts, I believe they were pretty good. You can see for yourself by scrolling down on this blog or reviewing the National Hurricane Center's Laura archive which is here. As to some of the details like storm surge, we suffer from broken instruments due to the storm. For example, one tide gage near the coast measured a surge of 9' when it failed. The official wind instruments at the Lake Charles airport failed at 139 mph. Over the next few days, NOAA and others will put people in the field to survey what actually occurred and we can do a better job of measuring what was forecast versus what actually occurred.

As important as electricity is to modern society with head indices in the South over 100° today, the forecast of power failures was excellent.

Actual outages at this time:

Regardless of the Laura forecasts' details, the bottom line is the warnings saved hundreds of lives. How do we know? We have a good comparison:
Hurricane Audrey damage, 1957
In 1957 a poorly forecast Hurricane Audrey came ashore during the night in southwest Louisiana along much the same path and almost the same time of day as Hurricane Laura. These result? At least 431 deaths (some sources day more than 500).

Audrey was forecasted to strike on the 27th of June but, instead, struck early in the morning of the 26th, catching most everyone by surprise. There was even an unsuccessful lawsuit against the Weather Bureau. Hundreds died due to drowning in the storm surge or when trees fell on the their homes.

Even though Hurricane Laura was stronger than Audrey, the death toll from Laura, currently 4, is tiny by comparison.

In 2020, in spite of all of the things that have gone wrong, the storm warning system worked well for Laura and hundreds of lives were saved. In addition to meteorologists, emergency managers and local officials deserve a great deal of credit. If you have a moment, go to Twitter or Facebook and leave compliment for the meteorologists you depend upon. They will certainly appreciate it!

It is frustrating that, time and again, meteorology continues to be the science that 'gets no respect.'

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