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9 April 2013


Hurricane Committee Considers Lessons from Sandy

Lessons learned from Hurricane Sandy are high on the agenda of a meeting convened by the World Meteorological Organization to review the 2012 tropical cyclone season in the Atlantic and eastern North Pacific and prepare for the forthcoming season.

The Hurricane Committee of WMO Regional Association IV (North and Central America and the Caribbean) meets in Curacao 8-12 April to discuss how to strengthen warning services and regional coordination to protect lives and property.

The 2012 Atlantic hurricane season was marked by above-average tropical cyclone activity with the formation of 19 tropical storms, of which ten became hurricanes.  The numbers of tropical storms and hurricanes were each above the long-term average (1981–2010) of 12 and 6, respectively.  Two of the hurricanes – Michael and Sandy – strengthened into major hurricanes (Category 3 or stronger on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale), according to a review of the past hurricane season prepared by WMO’s Regional Specialized Meteorological Centre (RSMC) Miami.  The U.S. National Hurrican Center (NHC) serves as the RSMC for WMO Regional Association IV.

WMO Deputy Secretary-General Jerry Lengoasa said the massive impact of Hurricane Sandy on the Caribbean and United States had heightened international awareness about the threat of tropical cyclones in the region.

“This Hurricane, which caused or contributed to the deaths of almost 300 people and resulted in total economic losses of over 75 billion US dollars, has left us many important lessons to learn in forecasting, early warning and communication,” Mr Lengoasa told the opening session of the Hurricane Committee.

“As the diverse impacts of tropical cyclones were once again experienced in 2012, we encounter numerous challenges in improving forecasts and warnings not only for tropical cyclones themselves, but also for their numerous wind and water hazards,” Mr Lengoasa said.  “We are fully aware that, although the timeliness of hurricane warnings and the accuracy of track forecasts have been improving steadily over the last few decades, there still is a need to achieve further progress, particularly in cases of sudden changes in intensity, and for longer-range forecasts, in order to provide increased lead times for enhanced response.”

The meeting, attended by top hurricane experts from throughout the region, will consider a range of disaster risk reduction measures, including how to strengthen warnings on storm surge and rain-induced floods.  These water hazards have historically caused more fatalities than high winds, yet their destructive potential is not widely understood by the public.

There will be a special session devoted to Sandy, which caused devastation in Cuba and Haiti before it moved towards the USA. The large category 1 hurricane made the transition into a powerful extratropical cyclone just before it made landfall near Atlantic City, New Jersey on 29 October, with an estimated intensity of 80 miles per hour.  At least 147 direct deaths occurred across the Atlantic basin due to Sandy, with the mid-Atlantic and northeastern United States recording 72 of these fatalities.  This is the greatest number of U.S. direct fatalities associated with a tropical cyclone outside of the southern states since Hurricane Agnes in 1972, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center.

NOAA’s National Weather Service announced, starting June 1, the definitions of hurricane and tropical storm watches and warnings will be broadened to allow these watches and warnings to be issued or remain in effect after a tropical cyclone becomes post-tropical, when such a storm poses a significant threat to life and property.  In addition, it said it would allow the National Hurricane Center to issue advisories during the post-tropical stage.  These changes were motivated by the special challenges posed by Hurricane Sandy, which was forecast to evolve from a hurricane to a post-tropical cyclone prior to reaching the coast

Tropical cyclones and hurricanes are named according to a list which rotates every six years.  If a storm is so deadly or costly that the future use of its name on a different storm would be inappropriate for reasons of sensitivity, then its name is removed from the list and another name is selected. The retirement of any previously-used names will be decided this week by the Hurricane Committee.

Figure 1:  Tracks of Atlantic tropical storms and hurricanes during 2012










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