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Date of Issue: March 30, 2005

Sandscript

Another near miss for Island via Frances

Sixty-nine years ago, a massive hurricane struck the Florida Keys. The Great Labor Day Hurricane swept past Long Key as a Category 5 storm. Winds of more than 155 mph were recorded, more than 600 people died, mostly veterans who were working on the almost-completed railroad linking Miami to Key West. The railroad bed was destroyed and never rebuilt.

A later report on the Labor Day storm stated that, "No anemometer reading of the wind was obtained, but the gradient formula gives 200-250 mph winds."

Fast forward to now. We've had two major hurricanes strike Florida within weeks of each other. Hurricane Charley, a fast-moving Category 2 storm, took a diagonal path, tearing across the state from Punta Gorda to Melborne, causing 26 deaths, massive power outages and billions of dollars of damage.

On Labor Day weekend, Hurricane Frances - which at one point was a Category 4 hurricane - churned up the Southeast Coast of the state before making landfall near Stuart Sunday morning. The storm also moved diagonally across Florida, this time southeast to northwest and, at one point, was causing at least tropical force winds from Jacksonville to the Florida Keys.

Frances was huge, wet, and slow. Whereas Charley was over and done with in half a day, Frances' impacts started to be felt on the east coast by Thursday, the west coast by Saturday, and some of us are still digging out from under a storm from which the center passed a mere 75 miles from Anna Maria Island.

As of Monday, more than 6 million residences were without power, and that number will probably be higher as Frances made yet another landfall near Apalachicola Monday night.

Neither Charley nor Frances made a hard hit on the Island.

Evacuation orders were issued for Charley as its early forecast track had the storm making landfall at the Sunshine Skyway Bridge before veering away to points south, at Port Charlotte.

Frances's track was always to our north, so it caught us with tropical force winds Sunday and torrential rain and a slight storm surge Monday, but except for four trailers and a some roof damages to homes and businesses, the Island came away from the latest storm pretty much unscathed.

Of course, almost all of the Island was without power for much of Monday and Tuesday.

So what are the lessons we learned from Hurricane Frances?

Looping through the Island on Sunday brought home again the need for severe tree trimming along power lines. Almost the entire stretch of South Bay Boulevard-North Bay Boulevard had power lines entwined within tree limbs and palm fronds.

Florida Power & Light doesn't turn off the switch when a storm comes, but when a line goes down, they've got to send a crew out to flip the circuit breaker to turn the juice back on. With winds better than 35 mph, the crews don't roll. If there are tree limbs in the way, an additional tree-trimming crew is called in to get rid of the obstruction before the power is restored, even if the power lines are still intact.

It's really pretty simple:

No tree limbs = better chance of no power loss.

Keep calling to get your power restored. Don't think that a neighbor has done the task for you. Remember: FPL power outage number is 1-800-4OUTAGE.

My power was off for better than 12 hours. The result will be a really clean refrigerator, and another just remembered valuable lesson:

Ice thaws if it's not kept cold.

I just swabbed up a puddle from under my fridge caused by the ice leaking out of the ice-water dispenser in the front. Oops.

A few years ago I splurged on some really nifty rechargeable flashlights that are about as bright as the sun. During this storm, I've found that the nifty flashlights also flare out about as fast as a light bulb. My old trusty five-cell flashlight works just fine, though, so the lesson:

Have more than one flashlight. And lots of batteries. Lots and lots.

And finally, if you've boarded up your house, why not keep it that way for the next few days. Be alert ...

Next up: Hurricane Ivan
Hurricane Ivan, a Category 4 storm, is currently working its way toward the northwest in the Caribbean. Storm models indicate it could reach the Cuba-Florida Keys area by weeks end, and the storm is predicted to intensify in the next few days.

However, there was an interesting Web site that came to light in the past few weeks that reveals almost everything - and then some - about those hurricane computer forecast models that the weather people are always talking about.

Go to hurricanealley.net and you'll get more information than you'll ever want to have on current and historic storms. The site seems to be a bit erratic; sometimes its free, sometimes the Webmasters want money, but even if they want some money, it's only $6 a month to get an awful lot of information about hurricanes.

So here's what the hurricane models say to date about Hurricane Ivan: Almost all the computer models indicate it will turn to the north before reaching Florida, pretty much following the Gulf Stream to points north.

Yay!

... and about those hurricane model descriptions
The National Hurricane Center uses a slew of computer models as a part of its prediction for storm tracks, intensity, storm surge and all the other impressive things that make up all the parts of a hurricane.

Compliments of hurricanealley.net, here is a very abbreviated version of some of the models. By the way, if you go to nhc.noaa.gov, you can read the "discussions" of each of the storms coming at us, and there is often a mention of a specific model used in the forecast.

According to the Web site:

"Statistical models start with the information as to where the storm is located and the time of year of the observation. The program will then search the available database for other storms in the same location at the same time of year. The forecast is then based upon the history of those storms, what they did at the same time of year from the same location. The program is not provided with any information concerning current weather factors that may influence the system being forecasted. This means that there could be potentially major influences upon the particular storm in question that would override the 'historical' perspective.

"CLIPER (CLImatology and PERsistence) include the initial latitude and longitude of the storm, the components of the storm motion vector, or which direction it is moving, the day of the year, and the initial storm intensity. The CLIPER forecasts are used to normalize the output from the other forecast models and as benchmark for tracking forecasting model skill. Any model that cannot demonstrate significant skill over CLIPER's combination of climatology and persistence is discarded.

Dynamical models, unlike the statistical models, disregard history altogether. They use as much information as possible concerning the storm itself and the conditions surrounding the storm. The simplest type of dynamical model sets up a three-dimensional grid of the atmosphere of isolated points on the earth's surface. Observational readings are then taken which include winds, air pressure, humidity and temperature. These readings are then fed into the computer and the 'model' will then create a forecast of future movement based on the output from the interaction of the storm with these atmospheric conditions at the selected grid points.

"The AVN or aviation model is run by the NCEP, or National Centers for Environmental Prediction MRF (Medium Range Forecast) model. The MRF is a 28-level of atmosphere global model and uses readings from 28 levels of the atmosphere over the entire globe.

"BAM (Beta and Advection Model) follows a trajectory from the Aviation run of the MRF model to provide a track forecast. There are three versions of the BAM [ranging from shallow to medium to deep]. For a weak hurricane without a well-developed eye wall extending deep into the atmosphere, or for a tropical storm, the shallow version of the model may work well, because storms of this nature tend to be steered by low-level winds. As the storm grows stronger and the eye wall gets deeper the deeper versions become more accurate, for these types of storms are steered more by the winds in the upper-level.

"GFDL (Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory) model was developed specifically for hurricane prediction.

"GHM - The GFDL Multiply-Nested Moveable Mesh Hurricane Model also produces experimental forecasts of hurricane intensity and wind swath maps that show the distribution of predicted maximum surface and boundary layer winds. The GHM was developed by NOAA's Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory at Princeton University.

"The GUNS Ensemble - An Average of the GFDL, UKMET Office and NOGAPS Models, was developed by James Goerss of the Naval Research Laboratory in Monterey, Calif. He has demonstrated that a simple consensus of the GFDL, UKMET and NOGAPS models was about 20-percent more accurate at 24, 48 and 72 hours than the best of individual models. Consensus forecasts, on average, are often more accurate than the forecasts from individual models.

"NOGAPS (Naval Operational Global Atmospheric Prediction System) uses parameterizations of physical processes and a bogussing, or faking, scheme for a tropical cyclone - taking synthetic observations that represent the storm's circulation that are then added to the data assimilation system.

"UKMET (United Kingdom Meteorological Office), like the NOGAPS and MRF models, UKMET includes extensive physical parameterizations and a tropical cyclone bogussing system.

"SHIPS (Statistical Hurricane Intensity Prediction Scheme" model is a statistical-dynamic intensity prediction model."

Now, isn't that more than you ever wanted to know?

Sandscript factoid
The NOGAPS computer model was the only computer run that correctly predicted that Tropical Storm Harvey would buttonhook to the south instead of hitting Tampa Bay a few years ago.

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