Posted: Nov 28, 2012 9:21 AM by NBC News
Updated: Nov 28, 2012 9:58 AM
As Hurricane Sandy approached landfall along the coast of the northeastern U.S. in late October, the National Hurricane Center declined to issue hurricane watches and warnings for the New York and New Jersey coasts.
This prompted criticism from many quarters.
The Weather Channel spoke with NHC Director Dr. Rick Knabb to learn more about why the agency elected not to issue watches and warnings for Sandy, and how it will handle storms in the future like this one.
Q: Why weren't watches and warnings issued for the Northeast during Sandy?
Dr. Rick Knabb: The big challenge with Sandy was not just the usual challenge of forecasting where it's going to go and how strong it's going to be. We also had the added challenge of forecasting what kind of system was Sandy going to be. Again, it came ashore on Monday night, but if you rewind back to Friday, for example, at that point we still weren't sure when Sandy would lose its tropical characteristics and no longer be a hurricane.
As it turned out, that happened not long before landfall late in the day on Monday, but as viewed from two to three days in advance of landfall it was very uncertain. It could have become post-tropical even sooner. If that had happened -- and this goes into why we elected not to put up the hurricane watches and warnings -- if it had become post-tropical even sooner, and that was a concern we had two to three days before landfall, then we would have been faced with three potentially unpleasant options.
One would have been, well if it becomes post-tropical Sunday night, say a day before landfall, then if we had just gone by the books of how we do things when it becomes post-tropical -- we stop advisories, take down the hurricane watches or warnings that we would have put up -- that wouldn't have been such a good thing to do, because you don't want to change the hurricane watches and warnings mid-stream.
It would have been pretty bad to put up a hurricane warning, everybody starts evacuating, and then in the middle of the event, the warnings come down. So that was one reason why we elected not to put them up in the first place, because the only thing worse would have been to put them up and then take them down.
Now, to preserve those warnings in such a scenario, when it becomes post-tropical a day or so offshore, the only other things we could have done were to continue to write advisories on it, even though it's post-tropical. Continue to leave hurricane warnings up even though it's post-tropical... but we would have risked breaking the dissemination system of our products and our warnings. That was a risk we weren't too keen on taking.
Then finally the only other option we would have had was to, despite it being post-tropical for a day or so before landfall, to -- for lack of a better term, fake it -- call it a hurricane for a day or more before landfall.
We try to call it like we see it. We have to be credible in what we are sending out in terms of our products and warnings. Sandy just posed the scenario where no matter what we were going to do, it was going to have the potential for confusing people.
But we also realized in Sandy that there are some inflexiblities in the weather service warning and product dissemination system that we could change for next time. And we're going to start working on that right here at the beginning of the off-season.
Read more: http://www.weather.com/news/weather-hurricanes/sandy-why-no-hurricane-warnings-20121127
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