UPDATE, 6:20 p.m.: The National Weather Service has issued a statement clarifying that the updated criteria for hurricane warnings is proposed, not official policy. Here is the statement:
“A proposal was raised during the NOAA Hurricane Conference last week for NWS to have the option to issue hurricane and tropical storm watches and warnings for post-tropical cyclones that threaten life and property. This is one step in the process required before any proposed change to operational products becomes final. As part of our review of the 2012 hurricane season, including the Sandy service assessment, we will review all policies and changes through the existing and established process.”
From 2:06 p.m. (italicized text next to strike-outs updated): Facing criticism over the fact it did not issue hurricane warnings during Superstorm Sandy, the National Hurricane Center
has proposed looser criteria for posting these advisories.
According to AccuWeather, which broke the news, the revised conditions for issuing hurricane warnings
An announcement that sustained winds of 74 mph or higher are expected somewhere within the specified area in association with a tropical, sub-tropical, or post-tropical cyclone. Because hurricane preparedness activities become difficult once winds reach tropical storm force, the warning is issued 36 hours in advance of the anticipated onset of tropical-storm-force winds. The warning can remain in effect when dangerously high water or a combination of dangerously high water and waves continue, even though winds may be less than hurricane force.
Under these criteria, hurricane warnings would have been issued for Superstorm Sandy.
The previous definition - the basis for not issuing warnings for Sandy - was:
“An announcement that hurricane conditions are expected within the specified area.”
“Because outside preparedness activities become difficult once winds reach tropical storm force, warnings are issued 36 hours in advance of the anticipated onset of tropical-storm-force winds.”
During the run-up to Sandy, the National Weather Service issued a variety of non-tropical advisories instead of hurricane watches and warnings because the storm was technically transitioning to a “post-tropical cyclone.”
Some prominent meteorologists spoke out against this decision, out of concern the public and decisionmakers would take the storm less seriously in the absence of hurricane warnings.
“...the way we handled it was not right. But we’re fixing it,” Chris Landsea, Science Operations Officer at the National Hurricane Center, told AccuWeather.com.
Here’s an excerpt from an earlier piece Eric Holthaus and I wrote, summarizing the concerns:
Bryan Norcross, the Weather Channel’s hurricane expert, said the hurricane center’s adherence to “arcane and inflexible rules” compromised communication.
“When all hell is breaking loose, sometimes you’ve got to break a few rules to do the right thing,” he blogged after the decision.
Smith said, “People — including Mayor Bloomberg — were misled by the NWS’s, in my opinion, highly unfortunate decision not to issue a hurricane warning, into thinking the threat had lessened when it actually increased.”
Two days before Sandy hit, while noting the serious danger, New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (I) played down the chances of sudden water surges, “which is what you would expect with a hurricane, and which we saw with Irene 14 months ago. So it will be less dangerous.”
He pivoted quickly after the Weather Service updated its report on potential sudden water surges.
According to New York City statistics, about 6,100 people used emergency shelters in the run-up to Sandy, compared with 9,600 for Hurricane Irene. Both storms prompted mandatory evacuation of the same low-lying areas, totaling about 375,000 people, though Sandy caused more extensive damage to the city.
The national death toll for the storm hit 125, and cleanup estimates in New York and New Jersey alone are in the billions of dollars.
Knabb said that closely following procedure may have caused confusing messages.
“There are some inflexibilities in the Weather Service warning and product dissemination system that we could change for next time,” he told the Weather Channel.