Hurricane Ian's Forecast Fiasco

--- Bumped because of the additions below -- 

I am sorry to have to report that the National Hurricane Center’s (NHC) forecasts of Hurricane Ian left a great deal to be desired. 


Yet again, the European Global Weather Model did a far, far better job with the hurricane than the USA’s model. So did the British UKMET model. The Hurricane Center, as meteorologists sometime say, “went model chasing" in its forecasts.


On Friday (23rd), NHC had the forecast for Ian correct. It was nearly perfect -- and should have been left alone. M = major hurricane in the correct area. 

Unfortunately, the Hurricane Center allowed its judgment to be influenced by the often defective National Weather Service “GFS” model which took Ian on an excursion to the Alabama – Florida border – which was 400 miles from the eventual point of landfall. 


The center’s forecast by 11pm Saturday moved the point of landfall 

to the Florida Big Bend (above) because they were splitting the difference between the stable, nearly correct European/UKMET models and the terrible GFS (green line, below). Some members of the GFS Ensemble (thin, gray lines) had landfall in Louisiana! The eventual point of landfall was slightly outside of the “cone” (above) – which should not have happened. 

Meteorologists as far west as New Orleans began raising the alarm ("#NOLA").

As with Hurricane Sandy ten years ago, the GFS – yet again – misled forecasters. I became so frustrated that I began issuing and publishing my own forecasts on this blog, weighted toward the ECMWF/UKMET, something I am reluctant to do in hurricanes for fear of confusing people. 


The National Hurricane Center didn’t revert its forecast back to one that was essentially correct until Tuesday evening at 11 pm (below) -- just 14 hours before landfall. The fact it was at night made last minute evacuations chancy. 

The nearly four days of inferior forecasts cost our nation in several ways. The first was evacuating people who did not need to be evacuated. The second was shutting down businesses unnecessarily. The third was the hit to the reputation of weather science. Will people who unnecessarily evacuated for Ian evacuate the next time? And, what about the people in flooded Naples, quoted on newspaper websites, that said they didn’t have enough notice?

For a full decade, the NWS has been promising to fix these issues and has not. The agency has an internal culture problem where it usually rejects outside suggestions and even technical assistance. 

I'm hardly the only one to notice these issues. Dr. Cliff Mass of the University of Washington meteorology department has written a blog piece on these issues. I wholeheartedly agree with what he has written. 

The chances of the NWS/NOAA fixing the GFS model, deteriorating tornado warnings, and the rest of the ever-growing number of issues facing it are nil. They've had a decade and the problems have only worsened

This is why the United States desperately needs a National Disaster Review Board (NDRB). As with the National Transportation Safety Board does with airline or rail accidents, the NDRB would evaluate the performance of the NWS, FEMA, the Red Cross and others after one of these giant storms. It would make solid recommendations as to improvements.


After the Sandy fiasco, I first proposed a National Disaster Review Board on December 2, 2012

The National Weather Services’ poor model made national news after Hurricane Sandy, we have a yet another fiasco for exactly the same reason, in spite of the NWS and NOAA’s assurances that all would be well. Dr. Cliff Mass of the University of Washington meteorology department has come to a similar conclusion. In order to fix the problem, we can’t depend on NWS or NOAA. He ends his excellent piece with the the following:


“it will take the active intervention of Congress to fix it.”        


Cliff is absolutely correct. Please write your congressional delegation and urge them to create a National Disaster Review Board. Feel free to include a link to this post. 


Addition: Sunday, October 2:  

I have been asked, specifically, what was "wrong" with the forecast with regard to Lee County, Florida (Ft. Myers area). Here an explanation beginning with NHC's forecast 48 hours before landfall.

Red is hurricane warnings and blue is tropical storm warnings. In Florida, pink is a hurricane watch and yellow is a tropical storm watch which includes Lee County. No one orders evacuations for a tropical storm watch. 

Monday, at 8:06pm, Lee county still isn't in a hurricane warning. They were in a hurricane watch and tropical storm warning. My forecast, which included is above, NHC's is below. Their forecast still had landfall north of Tampa Bay. 
My purpose isn't to point fingers. It is to provide some context as to why Lee Co. officials may have been "late" in ordering an evacuation. As the administrator of FEMA is quoted:
The last time the National Weather Service (four years ago) did one of its "service assessments" of its performance during a hurricane, 100% of the participants were employees of or associated with the NWS and/or NOAA, its parent agency. See page 11, here

Too much is at stake for these lame "service assessments." The NWS should not be investigating itself. 

We must have an independent and expert National Disaster Review Board. 


Popular posts from this blog

Hilary's Forecast Path Shifts West; Updated 9:20am PDT

Dangerous Travel Conditions - People Reportedly Stranded

Dangerous Tornado Situation Developing Tuesday and Tuesday Night