Headline, Interview

P!Nterview: A Lot to Say About a Quiet Season

The Weather Channel’s tropical storm expert, meteorologist, Steve Lyons, sums up this year’s storm season and shares his preparedness philosophy.

Q: Climatologists have referred to the 2009 storm season as less active than normal. Is this a fair characterization? What else can you say about this year’s tropical storms and hurricanes?

A: Yes, this was a quiet year, not only from the standpoint of the Atlantic Basin as a whole, but also for what people remember. Only two rather weak tropical storms impacted the United States (US) coastline, Claudette in August and Ida in November and neither did much damage. There were no US hurricanes, and the season as a whole was slow relative to seasonal outlooks and compared to recent, severely damaging hurricane season years like:




2009 A big break for the coastal US

Q: Has weather forecasting improved or changed in the past year?

A: There has not been a big improvement in forecasting this year. Track errors were a little lower, but mostly because the forecasts were easier this year. Over the past 15 years, we have seen great improvements in hurricane track forecasts. The big problem remains forecasting a hurricane’s intensity. There has been little improvement on that front for many years now. Research is being done to try to improve intensity forecasts, but due to the many scales of atmospheric motion involved, this is a tough problem, especially since we have a very poor sampling of weather over open oceans. Satellites have improved weather sampling over the oceans in the past 15 years, but we need more satellite information from the open ocean to get the intensity forecast to improve. Models cannot do this alone!

Q: What is your preparedness philosophy or how do you see your role in the storm preparedness movement?

A: I try to forecast the impacts from the hurricane and focus on them. Each hurricane leaves its own unique damage “footprint”, with five unique toes: wind damage, wave damage, rainfall damage, coastal flooding damage, and tornado damage. Improving these forecasts will save lives and help convince people to prepare and evacuate when they need to. If you leave it up to a resident to try to figure out what a 100 mph hurricane of large size moving at 20 mph towards them will do, most can only guess. They don’t need to do that if I give them the expected hurricane damage footprint, which requires models to do so!

Q: What advancements or technological innovations in storm forecasting are meteorologists most excited about?

A: Well, new models are continually developed, the “HWRF” or Hurricane Weather Research and Forecast model is one that continues to improve. Unfortunately, this year we lost the scatterometer satellite. That was a big blow to efforts to identify initial disturbances and the radii of winds around storms and hurricanes. The scatterometer satellite, which we called “QuickSCAT”, measured surface winds over the global oceans by emitting energy pulses and gathering their scattered signal from the ocean surface . It was a hugely successful satellite. Launched into space in 1999, QuikSCAT was expected to last two years. It finally died in late 2009, outlasting its lifetime by at least 7-8 years. Unfortunately, replacement satellites are not expected until around 2016 (hopefully sooner)! Until then, hurricane forecasters are left without this powerful tool, but will have cloud-drift wind estimates from more conventional satellite imagery, and of course Hurricane Hunter winds in very tiny areas in and around the hurricane.

Q: What are the major events that have occurred within the meteorological community this year?

Some private, and non-profit groups like FLASH (Federal Alliance for Safe Homes), continue to work on making the coastline more hurricane resistant. This is a huge problem now- a growing population in harm’s way. Insurance companies know that homebuilders can now make hurricane-wind proof homes, we just need to build more of them. Water damage is always a problem and homes and their contents are always vulnerable to it. Getting states, counties and cities to develop areas that are NOT likely to see huge losses in a hurricane remains a long-term goal!


P!Nevents: Storm-safety Zones

New Zealand’s Dr. Bruce Glavovic comes stateside to share research about prepping entire communities for natural hazards.

Dr. Bruce Glavovic, Associate
Director of Massey University’s Joint Centre for Disaster Research in Palmerston North, New Zealand, will visit the Center for the Study of Natural Hazards and Disasters at UNC Chapel Hill (Hazards Center) this month. Dr. Glavovic has diverse research experience that complements Hazard Center work. His current work focuses on building sustainable communities able to weather severe storms and other hazards.

In specific, Dr. Glavovic specializes in:

  • Hazards, sustainability and community resilience
  • Coastal hazards
  • Collaborative planning and hazards
  • Hazards and poverty-environment linkages
  • Adapting to climate change

“My interest in natural hazard mitigation stems from my experience working in coastal communities in South Africa, the USA and New Zealand,” says Dr. Glavovic. “I have found that, despite the differences in culture, lifestyle, politics, etc., the imperative to build sustainable communities is widely recognized. But translating rhetoric into reality remains elusive. In this age of global change – including future climate change impacts – coastal communities are on the frontline of what I call ‘a battle for sustainability'”.
Dr. Glavovic worked extensively in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast following Hurricane Katrina, researching long-term recovery and measures to prevent future disaster.

While in the states, Dr. Glavovic will develop a joint research agenda with Dr. Gavin Smith, Hazards Center Executive Director. The research concerns disaster recovery, and includes the study of public and private projects, as well as work of non-profit and emerging organizations.
Regarding the protection of coastal zones from natural hazards, Dr. Glavovic says,

“Coastal communities the world over will have to develop innovative ways to become more robust, resilient and sustainable. We must transform thinking and practice with respect to, firstly, our relationship with nature. We need to move beyond the prevailing exploitive and destructive patterns of natural resource use. This would expose fewer people to natural hazards and we could benefit from nature’s ability to mitigate hazard impacts. For example, intact coastal ecosystems such as mangroves or wetlands can attenuate the impacts of coastal storms. Secondly, we need to learn to make social choices that reconcile individual and community needs. The pursuit of short term profit through high risk coastal property development exposes people and property to hazard impacts. Planning and community decision-making processes that foster such outcomes…put people in harm’s way. We need to learn to empower communities to make choices that are more inclusive, safer and sustainable. In short, we need to reform our governance arrangements to ensure more sustainable and resilient outcomes. Otherwise, coastal communities are going to experience horrendous impacts in coming decades.”


P!Npoints: 2009’s Stormy Weather

Former hurricane hunter, meteorologist Jeff Masters summarizes this year’s storm season and explains the root of its low activity

The inconsequential Atlantic hurricane season of 2009 is in the books. Residents all along the Atlantic coast can give thanks for this year’s much-needed break after the pummeling Mother Nature gave in 2008. The 4 direct deaths recorded this year represented the lowest death toll since the El Niño hurricane season of 1997, which also had 4 deaths.

This year’s season featured only 9 named storms, 3 hurricanes and 2 major hurricanes, according to the end-of-season summary posted by the Colorado State University hurricane forecast team of Phil Klotzbach/Bill Gray. Higher than average wind shear, and lower than average relative humidity at middle levels of the atmosphere were primarily responsible for this year’s reduced activity. These conditions are common during El Niño years, and this year’s moderate El Niño undoubtedly contributed to the low levels of Atlantic hurricane activity.

Klotzbach/Gray Report Highlights

The 2009 Storm Season was Notable for its:

Late Start:
Ana did not form until August 15.

Few Hurricanes: 3 hurricanes occurred in 2009. This is the fewest since 1997 when there were also 3 hurricanes.

No Major Storms: No Category 5 hurricanes developed in 2009. This is the second consecutive year with no Category 5 hurricanes. The last time that two or more years occurred in a row with no Category 5 hurricanes was 1999-2002.

Few Tropical Storms: Only two tropical storms (Claudette and Ida) made U.S. landfall this year.

No Hurricane Landfalls in US: 0 hurricanes made US landfall. This is the first time since 2006 and the 13th time in the last 66 years where no hurricanes made landfall in the US.

This article is an excerpt from a post on Dr. Masters’s blog, the Weather Underground at: http://bit.ly/4Z5YDg

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