NBC10 Chief Meteorologist Glenn "Hurricane" Schwartz' blog on weather events.
SANDY BLOG #6 / WEDNESDAY 10-31-2012 / LESSONS LEARNED FROM SANDY
1. THOSE MUCH-CRITICIZED DUNES SAVED MANY BEACH AREAS…
……or THOSE WHO TURNED DOWN OR DESTROYED DUNES PAID A HORRIBLE PRICE…..
2. THOSE EUROPEANS GAVE US AN EXTRA 3 DAYS ADVANCE NOTICE ON HOW BAD SANDY WOULD BE…..U.S. MODEL LOSES AGAIN
3. WHEN OFFICIALS TELL YOU TO EVACUATE, THEY USUALLY HAVE A GOOD REASON…ASK THOSE AT THE BEACH WHO STAYED…
4. THERE WILL BE MORE CONTROVERSY ON WHETHER GLOBAL WARMING MADE SANDY WORSE OR HELPED CHANGE ITS TRACK…
NOW TO THE DETAILS……………..
1. How those “awful” dunes saved some beach areas….
As one who has vacationed at the Jersey Shore since the 1950s, AND as a meteorologist who specializes in hurricanes, I have been preaching for years how important it is to have a good dune system. SO many people complain about them, since they block their view of the beautiful ocean, and cause them to walk up and down sharp hills to get to the beach.
The shore areas I am most familiar with are the Atlantic City to Longport area, and Long Beach Island, but I’m sure the general rules applied to all beach areas of New Jersey.
Beach replenishment projects are very expensive-and temporary. A single strong Nor’easter can wipe out months of hard work. So, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is recruited to do it all over again. Their latest project was just this year, covering a 5 mile stretch from Atlantic City to Ventnor, costing $18 million. The funding came from the state’s Shore Protection Fund. So why did the project not extend to Margate and Longport on the same island? Because they turned it down. Supposedly, they didn’t want the dunes that came along with the package.
In order to protect their new, expensive beach, a large project of dunes is required. There are specifics as to how high and wide the dunes will be. Margate and Longport said “no”. Atlantic City and Ventnor said “yes”. Guess which part of the island was most damaged by Sandy? Guess which part of the island you saw on TV after the storm? Longport, the narrowest part of the island.
The beach replenishment project was only partly finished on Long Beach Island. I visited the beach right at the end of the new, HUGE dunes. It was the biggest man-made dune I had ever seen. No wonder people were complaining! It seemed to be at least 30-40 feet high. It was quite a hill to climb and then a steep drop just to get to the water. Everyone was complaining. Only yards away, there was virtually no dune. The people living behind that area could see the ocean from their oceanfront homes, and had no hills to climb to get to the water.
Our newest reporter, Chris Cato reported from LBI that the big dune area saved the nearby houses from destruction, and the houses without the big dune suffered much more damage. If the whole island had big dunes like the one I saw, you probably wouldn’t be hearing about Long Beach Island today.
My old friend and colleague Jim Eberwine recently retired from the National Weather Service, and was their coastal/hurricane specialist. He was quoted yesterday in the Courier Post: “There’s a nice correlation between healthy beaches and dunes and less structural damage. It’s so obvious. What do people run for when a flood is predicted? Sandbags. Here with dunes we have natural sandbags. Why wouldn’t you want them.”
2. THOSE DARN EUROPEANS BEAT US AGAIN, BUT IT HELPED…
I’ve heard a lot of questions in the past year on the order of: “Why do you talk about the European model so much?” “What does Europe have to do with a forecast here?”
There are many computer models around the world. Many are “global”, meaning they put in data, and get out results, for the whole world. After all, there are no borders in the atmosphere. So we can compare all of them for accuracy, and even get “skill scores” for them. The model known as the European (or ECMWF) is “an independent international organization supported by 31 European States”, according to their website. They have won the computer model battle for at least 20 years.
The main U.S. model (GFS) has been improving all that time, but the EURO keeps improving, too, and keeps the lead. Nowhere was that more obvious than with Sandy, when the EURO predicted a major East Coast threat more than a week in advance. Here’s their predicted map A WEEK BEFORE SANDY HIT:
They showed a HUGE storm, with an incredibly low pressure, right along the U.S. East Coast. At the same time, the GFS had the storm about 1000 miles offshore. Bit of a difference, wasn’t it?
The EURO showed a similar result twice a day until Sandy hit. There was no wavering, or flip-flopping, as models often do well ahead of a storm.
So, why are they better? There are several reasons:
1. More computing power. The more accurate current data put into a model, the better it performs. But there are limits. It costs a LOT more for that extra data and computer power.
2. More variety of products from the main U.S. computers forces less focus on the basic product. We use the GFS for longer-range forecasts, more frequent updates (4 times a day, vs. 2 for EURO), we have high-resolution, detailed, short-range models, and even climate projections.
3. The Europeans charge big money to access their products, while the U.S. products are free. That money goes into improving their model.
There are more reasons, more technical than needed in this blog, but meteorologists in this country have increasingly learned to trust the EURO in many cases. That’s why the National Weather Service in DC did such a good job with the forecast threat-they minimized use of their own model.
The EURO isn’t always right-no model is. But at longer ranges (3-7 days) it is a strong performer, and should not be ignored. Some meteorologists did ignore it when it was the only model showing an East Coast hit, and special hurricane models took Sandy out to sea. It was a very unusual solution, but it was the right one. Unfortunately.
(I’ll address lessons 3 and 4 in my next blog).