We depend on accurate, timely weather forecasts to let us know when inclement weather is expected or possible, and we at The Panama City News Herald editorial board think Hurricane Michael proved more research is needed to provide more warning when a deadly, destructive storm is imminent.
Michael grew quickly, and even the best computer models could not presage how ferocious and deadly the storm would be. Three days before landfall, one of the more reliable models, the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasting showed Michael with peak winds of just under 95 mph when it reached the Gulf of Mexico south of Mexico Beach, Florida. After that, as we know, the storm intensified quickly, slamming the coast with winds of at least 155 mph.
So, with all the money and effort this country has spent on improving hurricane forecasting, the News Herald editorial board believes that — by now — the forecasts should be more accurate.
To fine-tune and improve future forecasting for hurricanes in this age of climate change, meteorologists, climatologists and others must study everything that transpired with powerful, aberrant hurricanes like Florence, Gordon, Michael and Maria, and utilize the data to determine how Michael intensified — in three days — from a tropical depression to the fourth most powerful hurricane to hit the mainland United States.
Some of that data will come from sensors deployed in Mexico Beach, which was walloped with a three-story storm surge, according to a Washington Post report that appeared in the Nov. 12 edition of the News Herald. Other data that should be re-examined are the intensity models that are used as gauges of how strong a hurricane will be at a future time. Although there has been marked improvement in long-range-forecasts, especially in the last 10 years, the forecast models and other tools used have not been recalibrated enough in this age of climate change, when record offshore temperatures can cause a storm to blow up into a monster much faster than it has ever before.
We know more about tropical cycles now, but not enough, and we think a concerted effort of weather observers, scientists — and, perhaps, even some ambitious students at the Florida State University meteorology department — and others, such as the Hurricane Hunters, can collaborate to further improve our understanding of the sciences that would improve computer weather models and future tropical cyclone forecasts.
And while we normally are one to urge fiscal restraint, this is one area — with lives, livelihoods, property and so much more at stake — money should be a secondary consideration. But perhaps, a way to measure improvement in forecasting from season to season is in order. We won't suggest a monetary figure, but we know it will be expensive.
Before the Atlantic hurricane season comes to a close later this month, the News Herald editorial board is confident all those involved in this crucial piece American security will be mapping out how they can ensure the 2019 season doesn't bring any surprises like this one did.
REPRINTED FROM THE PANAMA CITY NEWS HERALD