When It Comes to Storms Like Hermine, There's No 'Hype' or 'for Ratings' | NBC 10 Philadelphia

When It Comes to Storms Like Hermine, There's No 'Hype' or 'for Ratings'

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    NEWSLETTERS

    NBC10
    NBC10 chief meteorologist Glenn "Hurricane" Schwartz forecasting Hermine on Friday, Sept. 2, early in the storm's advance up the Atlantic Coast. He stands by his weekend forecasts calling for people to stay away from the Jersey shore, considering what the models showed and his 40-plus years gauging storms.

    How about we start with some of the nastier tweets?

    pure fear mongering. Exploited emotions for ratings. Should be embarrassed.

    Feel sorry for the the shore businesses who lost $$$ because this fraud chose ratings over scientific fact

    anything to say 2 the shore merchants you crushed with your catastrophic warnings

    what do you say to those who feel this has been overhyped and cost shore businesses money?

    You hyped the whole weather situation at the jersey shore


    So what is "hype"?

    Merriam-Webster defines hype as: 1. Deception 2. Publicity; especially promotional publicity of an extravagant or contrived kind.

    Hermine wasn’t hyped. The threat was real. The threat was for coastal flooding in parts of our region that could have been worse than Sandy. The threat was life-threatening. The threat was acknowledged by every meteorologist who knows anything about hurricanes. There wasn’t much disagreement on the threat.

    The National Hurricane Center (NHC) & National Weather Service used the term “life-threatening inundation” in their forecasts for our coastline. Their specific forecast for ocean levels from Atlantic City to Rehoboth Beach were literally at or above all-time record levels.

    At one time or another, every computer model-from all over the world predicted a major storm taking a rare left turn and tracking dangerously close to the coast. It obviously wasn’t a repeat of Sandy -- not as large or tracking fast directly into the coast. But there were some scary similarities. The main difference was Hermine was threatening when coastal populations had swollen to beyond capacity due to the big holiday weekend. Sandy hit way after the summer season -- only a small fraction of the population of last weekend.


    What is our mission as meteorologists?

    We are not talking about a science like astronomy, where we can predict to the minute when the next eclipse will start and finish, and to the mile about which areas will see it. This is weather forecasting, which everyone knows is not an exact science. The science has improved steadily in the 40-plus years I’ve been forecasting, but chaos theory says that we can never be perfect.

    So, when a life-threatening storm approaches on one of the busiest weekends of summer, what do we do? When the official forecast from the well-respected NHC predicts record coastal flooding, what do we say? Are we “hyping” the storm by relaying these statements? Of course not. It’s called “communication," and it is our responsibility to do it. And we need to communicate it at the same level of concern NHC does. If we don’t, we are being reckless and irresponsible.

    What happened to Hermine?

    Hermine was a headache to predict even before it became Hermine. The tropical wave originated off the coast of Africa Aug. 18, as the historical peak of hurricane season began. It struggled in its path across the Atlantic, often being predicted to strengthen into a tropical storm, but not doing so until it reached the Gulf of Mexico. It reached hurricane strength in the Northern Gulf before making landfall in the Florida Panhandle.

    The future track looked like a threat to our part of the coast even before it made landfall. The forecast from the world-renowned European Model on Wednesday, Aug. 31, showed a potential future disaster: a hurricane tracking a mere 50 miles off of Cape May by Sunday morning.

    The purple area (winds at 5000 feet of 74 to 92 mph) of maximum winds covered virtually ALL of NJ and DE, and even extended west of Philadelphia. Winds would be less at the ground-but not much less. Worse, it had Hermine stalling in the area for days, which would build up the seas to a point where record flooding would be possible in some areas.

    The EURO is not only the best overall model in the world, but it has also been the best hurricane model for the past few years. It has even beaten the NHC models specifically designed for the tropics. As you may recall, the EURO was, by far, the best model during Sandy. It was predicting the rare, sharp left turn at the same time other models were tracking it out to sea. The EURO is run 51 times twice a day, and those 51 solutions are averaged into what is known as an “ensemble." I refer to this as “the best of the best." The ensembles showed the same solution. Twenty-four hours later, the EURO showed the same solution: an historic storm for the South Jersey shore and the Delaware beaches.

    Other computer models started coming up with the same solution in the next couple of days, adding to the concern. Relying on only one model-even if it’s the best, can be a mistake at times. But when multiple models on multiple days come up with similar, yet rare solutions, it does more than raise eyebrows. So NHC predicted a track and intensity close to the EURO:

    The consensus was that Hermine would track about 150 miles off the East Coast, then stall, and then start curving back toward the coast. Their “cone of uncertainty” extended from the Jersey shore itself out to about 300 miles offshore. It turned out that Hermine tracked up to 370 miles offshore! It went SO far east that even a strong and rare left turn days later still didn’t bring the storm as close to the coast as the NHC prediction had.

    Compare the actual track below to the predicted one:

    Why did Hermine track so far east?

    Predicting a hurricane to stall or dramatically change course is, by far, the hardest part of the job. This means that the storm is entering an area with very weak (or changing) “steering currents." These currents are winds thousands of feet up. My former boss at NHC, Dr. Neil Frank used to say: “Hurricanes move along like logs in a river. But, in this case, the rivers MOVE." Modern computer models are much better at predicting these changing rivers, but….

    In this case, even a 100 mile error in the forecast track was critical (even 50 miles would be important). So, precision was needed in the hardest part of the track forecast. Unlike with Sandy, the timing of the left turn was off. And that changed everything. Hermine was able to continue tracking east into the Atlantic farther and farther as the stall or turn was delayed. Even moving only 10 mph, a one day delay would mean a 240 mile error to the east. That’s exactly what happened.

    Talking about 'uncertainty'

    We know hurricane track forecasts won’t be perfect. We know the forecast of this particular storm was tough due to the unusual movement. But we also know that being “wishy-washy” in forecasts causes people to tend to NOT take action. Does the public want forecasts that say: “Well, the hurricane could track this way and lead to a life-threatening situation. Or it could track farther east, and we’ll end up with a nice weekend”?

    What would people do if a meteorologist said that? Probably nothing. And if the worst happened, we would have failed as both meteorologists and communicators. Our mission of “protecting life and property” would be ignored.

    The governors of New Jersey and Delaware did exactly the right thing by issuing a state of emergency. The consequences of not doing that, and have the storm merely do as predicted could have ended up tragically. And we in the local meteorological world also did the right things, even though they turned out wrong. As one of the rare tweets said:

    This reminds me of the saying from one of my former colleagues at NHC many decades ago. He called it "The Meteorologist’s Motto":

    “I forecast with great trepidation, and for that I have no regrets. Because when I’m right no one remembers, and when I’m wrong, no one forgets.”