It’s no secret that the Saffir-Simpson scale, used to rate the strength of hurricanes, is inadequate. It is based solely on wind speed, which does a poor job of communicating the potential impacts. I wrote just a few months ago that it’s time to consider retiring it. So when I heard that AccuWeather rolled out a new hurricane scale, you might think I’d be in favor of it.
You would be wrong.
It’s not that I think AccuWeather’s leadership is awful. I do, but that’s not the point here. The AccuWeather RealImpact Scale for Hurricanes does not address the fundamental weakness of the Saffir-Simpson scale because it still produces a single number. That this number is produced from more inputs isn’t novel (the original Saffir-Simpson scale included other aspects of a hurricane threat) nor is it better at explaining the threat. You still need to tell the public why it received a particular rating, and the preparation for wind damage may be different from storm surge may be different from inland flooding.
Not to mention the fact that the scale is opaque. It cannot be reviewed by researchers and meteorologists outside of AccuWeather. There’s no indication that it’s had any input from social scientists and science communication experts to make sure it even accomplishes the stated goal of improving communication to the general public. In short, it’s just AccuWeather acting on its own and pretending there’s value.
After insulting National Weather Service employees by falsely implying that forecasts are degraded during this government shutdown, AccuWeather would do well to shut up for a little bit and work with the meteorological community.
Short answer: yes. Long answer: I’ll let Cliff Mass explain it. But as the 2018 Atlantic hurricane season draws to a close today, I’m more convinced than ever that the Saffir-Simpson scale does us no good.
The categories simply don’t mean much to the average person. Sustained wind speed is only one part of a hurricane’s power, and perhaps not even the most important. Storm surge, rainfall, and wind gusts are all significant contributors to the harm caused by hurricanes. Of course, coastal conditions, population density, and building quality factor into the end impact, too. Particularly inland, a slow-moving but weaker storm could cause more damage (due to flooding) than a stronger storm that spends less time over the area.
Ultimately, as I’ve written in the past, it’s not the meteorology that the public cares about. They want to know what the impact will be and what they should do about it. This means de-emphasizing wind speeds and focusing more on impacts. To its credit, NOAA agencies have put more emphasis on impacts in the last few years, but the weather industry as a whole needs to do a better job of embracing it. It requires a cultural change in the public, too, which may take a generation to settle in.
But there’s no time like the present to start preparing for day. And maybe it’s time to drop the distinction between tropical storm and hurricane watches and warnings, too.
Hear ye! Hear ye! I’ve opened up the Tropical Forecast Game for Potential Tropical Cycle Nine. Forecasts are due by 8 PM EDT Friday.
Chances are very good that this storm will be named later today. I’ll keep the “nine” appellation until after the contest closes to avoid any confusion. (Yes, the code is old and crusty so the name matters).
Hey! The tropics have awoken and there’s a not-unreasonable chance that the newly-upgraded Hurricane Joaquin will make landfall. Here’s your chance to test your forecast skill: http://funnelfiasco.com/cgi-bin/hurricane.cgi?cmd=view&year=2015&name=joaquin
Submit your forecast by 00 UTC on October 2 (8 PM EDT Thursday). If Joaquin does not make landfall, we’ll just pretend like this never happened. For previous forecast game results, see http://weather.funnelfiasco.com/tropical/game/
It’s that time again. The tropical storm Chantal forecast game has been opened. Be sure to get your forecast submitted by 8 PM EDT on Wednesday. As a new feature this year, I’ll include an approximated version of the National Hurricane Center’s forecast for comparison. You may also note that yet another year has passed without any significant updates to the game code. I swear one of these days I’ll make the improvements I keep promising.
We set a record for the number of players with the Hurricane Sandy contest, and the winner is the deceptively-named StormsHitGeorgia. Full results are at http://weather.funnelfiasco.com/tropical/game/2012-sandy.html. The scores were among the lowest I’ve ever seen, although the relatively short forecast period probably helped. It’s interesting to note that the last official forecast from the NHC, roughly converted into a forecast for this game, would have finished in 11th place.
It’s not often that career civil service employees get to spark a national craze. Certainly that’s not what forecaster James Cisco of NOAA’s Hydrometeorological Prediction Center (HPC) had in mind when he was writing the HPC’s preliminary extended forecast discussion on Thursday morning. His discussion included the following:
…AND ONCE THE COMBINED GYRE MATERIALIZES, IT SHOULD SETTLE BACK TOWARD THE INTERIOR NORTHEAST THROUGH HALLOWEEN, INVITING PERHAPS A GHOULISH NICKNAME FOR THE CYCLONE ALONG THE LINES OF “FRANKENSTORM”, AN ALLUSION TO MARY SHELLEY’S GOTHIC CREATURE OF SYNTHESIZED ELEMENTS.
It was, in my view, a harmless way of pointing out the unusual hybrid nature of what is setting up to be a sequel to the “Perfect Storm“. But the media saw the discussion and immediately latched on to the name (seemingly forgetting that it already had a name: Hurricane Sandy). Before long, the name “Frankenstorm” was setting the social media world alight, too.
Not everyone was a fan of this label, though. The Weather Channel’s Eric Fisher complained about it, and apparently so did many others. In a media briefing earlier today, NOAA officials said that “Frankenstorm” would not be used in any further NWS products. Since only the one discussion ever used that term, NOAA is effectively saying “we’re going to stop doing what we already weren’t doing”, but I get the point. They don’t want to create confusion by having two names for the storm.
The Weather Channel, after recently announcing they’d be naming winter storms, has wisely decided to stick with “Sandy” for this storm, even though some of the impacts will be decidedly wintery. Still, the name, much like the monster, won’t die. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad. There’s anecdotal evidence either way. On the one hand, the unusual name might cause people to pay more attention. On the other hand, calling by a non-hurricane name might give a false sense of diminished impact. Only a post-event analysis will tell.
It’s time to take a risk on Hurricane Sandy. I’ve opened the Sandy forecast contest. Forecasts are due at 8 PM EDT on Friday (27 October at 00Z).
Some rule clarifications:
- If the storm takes on extratropical characteristics, it still counts so long as the National Hurricane Center is tracking it at landfall.
- Landfall is defined as the first hit of the mainland, regardless of country. Barrier islands, etc, do not count.
Well, the results are in. Earl weakened pretty significantly as he traveled up the east coast, resulting in fairly minor damage. The game had a lot of first-timers, and most of them did pretty well. I’m pleased with my own performance, but I’d rather win. There might be another chance shortly if the remnants of Gaston get back together.
Also, I finally made a page with a link to all of the scored games and added that link to the tropical weather page.
The hurricane season is in full swing, with three active storms. Danielle is scooting off to oblivion in the North Atlantic, but Earl is gearing up to take a run at the east coast…somewhere. As of this writing, the forecast track is such that landfall could be anywhere from the Outer Banks to Nova Scotia, or perhaps it may yet turn out to sea. Of course that means there’s a Funnel Fiasco tropical contest underway. You can enter by clicking the link on the tropical weather page (or go directly to it here). The deadline for entry is Tuesday at 8 PM EDT (Wednesday 0000 UTC). Just a reminder to make sure you enter valid numbers, I won’t check them for you.
Stay tuned for more on Hurricane Earl, and also for a potential repeat when Tropical Storm Fiona get closer.