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National Hurricane Center plans more outreach in preparing for ‘extremely active’ storm season

A NOAA satelite captured an image of Hurricane Ian as it hit Florida on September 28, 2022.
A NOAA satelite captured an image of Hurricane Ian as it hit Florida on September 28, 2022.

The National Hurricane Center is gearing up for what might be an extremely active, even record-breaking hurricane season. To prepare, meteorologists are keeping an eye on an increasingly common phenomenon and making several changes to the way information is shared.

Hurricane researchers are expecting an ‘extremely active’ 2024 season in initial forecasts. Researchers at Colorado State University are predicting 11 hurricanes, with 5 of those being major hurricanes this year.

Meteorologists with the NHC are warning that those storms could undergo a process scientists are seeing more and more of: rapid intensification. It occurs when a storm’s wind speed increases by at least 35 miles per hour over a 24-hour period.

Several significant storms that have hit Florida have rapidly intensified, including Hurricanes Irma, Ian and Idalia. Even Hurricane Andrew, which hit South Florida in 1992, rapidly intensified before making landfall.

“It's entirely plausible that a Category 5 rapidly intensifying storm could approach a major metropolitan area in our country in the United States or anywhere else across the Caribbean or Central America for that matter,” said Robbie Berg, Warning Coordination Meteorologist for the National Hurricane Center. “And the question is, are we going to be prepared for that?”

READ MORE: The 'cone of uncertainty' is moving inland - where tropical storm damage can be even more severe

The most recent example of rapid intensification was with Hurricane Otis, which Berg said was the strongest East Pacific hurricane to make landfall in the modern era. It made landfall as a devastating Category 5 after “explosively” intensifying from a tropical storm 24 hours earlier, according to Berg.

Despite forecasters becoming more skillful at anticipating rapid intensification, noted Berg, they’ve still been caught off guard with storms like Otis.

Several of the strong storms hitting the U.S. over the last century were tropical storms just three days before landfall. In fact, according to Berg, the average time for all of those storms between becoming a hurricane and making landfall was only about 50 hours.

“What it means is that these really devastating storms that hit the country, may actually be forming close to our doorsteps down in the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico, and they may not give us all that lead time that we really want to get ready,” Berg said.

Better preparation

Meteorologists hope to become more prepared by including the following:

  • Expanding wind field size forecasts
  • Expanding advisory times
  • Translating more advisories to Spanish
  • Condensing public advisories that previously ran too long
  • Eastern Pacific time zone change
  • New experimental cone graphic
  • Experimental rainfall graphics for international areas

The size forecast that the NHC makes will change. Now, wind field size forecasts will be made for days 4 and 5 of a hurricane. Historically, those forecasts stopped on day 3, according to Berg.

“We've been doing that internally in the Hurricane Center for the past few hurricane seasons to test it out, see if we have any skill,” he said. “So we're comfortable making those forecasts public.”

Historically, any tropical storm or hurricane watches and warnings have been issued on a full advisory. That limits advisories to 5 a.m.,11 a.m., 5 p.m., and 11 p.m. eastern time. Now, those advisories will be expanded to being able to be released on intermediate advisories at 2 a.m., 8 a.m., 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.

“This is kind of a big change this year,” Berg said. “This gives us more flexibility in issuing those watches and warnings at other times of the forecast cycle.”

One of the biggest benefits, Berg said, is getting to issue advisories during less intrusive times of the day, like 4 a.m if you’re on central time.

More advisories in Spanish

Using artificial intelligence tools, the NHC will also now be translating more text products into Spanish. Tropical cyclone public advisories, tropical weather outlooks, tropical cyclone discussions and key messages will all be translated. The U.S. is home to about 40 million Spanish-speakers.

“We know that there's accessibility issues,” Berg said. “We're truly trying to make our products more accessible to everybody. And part of that has to do with language.”

Language barriers were linked to several deaths when Hurricane Ida affected New York City.

“We need everybody to respond to these events and just providing it in English doesn't cut it anymore,” Berg said.

Public advisories can sometimes run quite long, Berg said. So another change will be that advisories are condensed with hyperlinks that will direct people to more detailed information about the storm surge peak inundation graphic, peak storm surge graphic, and rainfall forecasting.

“Our goal is to limit what you see in the public advisory to just the most impacted areas from surge and rainfall, while all the rest of that information will be contained in the forecast product itself,” Berg said.

New time zone modifications are coming to NHC products for eastern pacific tropical cyclones. The NHC will now be using Central Standard Time and Mountain Standard Time in certain areas of the Pacific region.

“The driving force here is that Mexico abolished daylight saving time for most areas in 2022,” Berg said.

This year, the weather service is releasing a new experimental ‘cone of uncertainty’ graphic. It will include inland U. S. watches and warnings, wind watches and warnings. The hope is that the new graphic will better service inland communities by more effectively communicating overall wind risk for not just coastal communities.

The new cone graphic will be implemented in August, meaning any storms affecting the U.S. before that will not include the experimental cone.

Rainfall graphics are already issued by the Weather Prediction Center in Washington D.C. Now, they’ll also be issued for international areas including the Caribbean, Central America and Mexico.

Copyright 2024 WLRN. To see more, visit WLRN.

Julia Cooper