Hurricane Ike killed 112 (per Wikipedia) in the United States in 2008, most due to the storm surge. At the time I wrote a blog post advocating an enhancement to the Saffir-Simpson Scale to improve the risk assessment and public communication tool. With Hurricane Sandy bearing down on the New Jersey coast, I thought it would be a good time to revisit this old post. As many of you know, I almost studied meteorology in college and have maintained an active, detailed and lifetime fascination with severe weather events and severe weather warning communication processes.
Before I get into recapping the idea, I would like to point out some of the unique features of this life threatening storm:
- The sheer size of Hurricane Sandy has tropical force winds extending 485 miles from the center in the latest advisory. Hurricane Katrina, though massively more intense in terms of hurricane wind speed, had tropical force storm winds only 205 miles from the center per NHC Hurricane Katrina advisory #28.
- The sharp angles of the shape of the New York and New Jersey coast landfall potentially may have unprecedented adverse impacts in regards to the severity of tidal flooding and storm surge.
- The predicted sharp left turn to the west is highly abnormal for a hurricane at this northerly latitude and may impact the water and storm surge projection models in unanticipated ways.
Now let’s review what I wrote in that 2008 Hurricane Ike blog post. In the aftermath, I advocated a change to the Saffir-Simpson scale to more clearly communicate information already communicated in a verbose way. As you may recall, I advocated a change to show Saffir-Simpson Scale number / Miles of Hurricane Force winds from the center / Miles of Tropical Force winds from the center as one aggregated metric at the top of the advisory for public to better understand the impacts. For Hurricane Ike this was 2-120-275. For Hurricane Sandy this is currently 1-175-485. Based on current trends, Hurricane Sandy may well reach category 2 on the Saffir-Simpson scale prior to landfall which would make it 2-175-485.
In the National Hurricane Center Hurricane Sandy advisory 29, the National Weather Service did not even use the Saffir-Simpson scale in the advisory. It is not clear why. Potentially it is their unprecedented, advance planning for migrating the storm away from National Hurricane Center forecast control?
Certainly there are many other complicating factors that affect storm surge such as water depth, slope of coast, etc. but the width of the hurricane force and tropical storm force wind fields are already included in the advisory and changing the aggregation of the data would make it easier for the public to comprehend and media to immediately communicate. As such I repeat my 2008 request to the National Hurricane Center to adapt and change the Saffir-Simpson Scale in the manner above.
There are also many financial services and business operation risk models of the late twentieth century that also need adjustment to prevent disaster. Most of the risks are not currently assessed fully. It is not about big data, it is about high levels of common sense and business acumen guiding management to think differently. These issues affect business and society potentially as much if not more as Hurricane Sandy, but without the benefits of intense media focus of natural disasters.