“In summary, it’s going to be bad.”

That’s how Jeff Evans with the NWS in Houston/Galveston began Wednesday’s presentation, “What if Hurricane Michael Struck Houston? An Examination of Inland Wind Damage,” at the AMS 100th Annual Meeting in Boston.

He was boots on the ground after Hurricane Michael slammed the panhandle as a Category 5 with 160 mph winds on October 10, 2018, assisting the Tallahassee NWS office with surveying the widespread wind damage that extended well away from the coast. Because Michael was intensifying at landfall as well as accelerating, its extreme winds spread deep inland, across the panhandle and well into southwest and southern Georgia.

The Donalsonville, Georgia, airport northeast of Marianna, Florida, and about 90 miles inland, recorded a wind gust to 115 mph, while Marianna had a gust to 103 mph in Michael. Both as well as Blountstown, Georgia, suffered significant damage to structures as well as trees.

Track and power outage extent map from Hurricane Michael overlaying a map of Houston. What 95% of the Houston Metro area without power would equate to.
Track and power outage extent map from Hurricane Michael overlaying a map of Houston. What 95% of the Houston Metro area without power would equate to.

Evans overlaid maps of Michael’s track, wind swath, and areal power outages on Houston to show the extent of its damage potential. The entire Houston metro area with 7.1 million people would suffer; 6.9 million would lose power. And damage to homes and devastation to the landscape would mimic the widespread destruction he observed in the Florida panhandle and southern Georgia where entire forests were virtually flattened.

Evans said that as an NWS meteorologist responsible for warning the Houston area if such a scenario threatened he would have a lot of trouble following the standard hurricane mantra, “Run from the water, hide from the wind.”

Rice University in the Houston Metro area is about the same distance from the coast as Blountstown, Florida, which was blasted by Hurricane Michael.
Rice University in the Houston Metro area is about the same distance from the coast as Blountstown, Florida, which was blasted by Hurricane Michael.

“Telling people inland to stay put in such extreme wind conditions is not something I would want to do,” he says.

But, he adds, telling them to get out could prove just as deadly in the mass exodus.

“When you start talking about storms, such as Rita, with 130 mph winds or higher, it’s a spontaneous evacuation.” More than 50 people died just from the evacuation of Houston ahead of that storm, he says

It’s been 37 years since a storm brought a significant wind threat to the Houston area. Hurricane Alicia in 1983 was the last. Hurricane Harvey in 2017 was a widespread catastrophic flood event. Hurricane Ike in 2008 was primarily a surge storm.

“The population in and around Houston has doubled during that time,” Evans says. A 2015 American Community Survey showed more than 130,000 people in just Harris county who live in mobile homes, with thousands more in the surrounding counties.

He conducted the research to raise awareness of a “Michael-like” storm and the immense challenges it would represent.

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An exceptionally high resolution simulation of a supercell thunderstorm fascinated conferees Tuesday at the AMS 100th Annual Meeting in Boston. Leigh Orf of the University of Wyoming presdented imagery and animations of the simulation that ran on the Blue Waters Supercomputer. With a 10 m grid spanning 11,200 X 11,200 X 2,000 (251 billion) grid volumes, the 270 TB subdomain contains the entire life cycle of the tornado, including 10 minutes prior to tornado formation.

Image created with VAPOR3 of a 10-m supercell simulation. (a) Volume rendered cyclonic vertical vorticiy, highlighting the 3D structure of the tornado shortly after formation.
Image created with VAPOR3 of a 10-m supercell simulation. (a) Volume rendered cyclonic vertical vorticity, highlighting the 3D structure of the tornado shortly after formation. The 2D surface field traces the maximum surface cyclonic vertical vorticity, providing a representation of the tornado’s path. The view is following the tornado’s path. (b) As in (a), but later in the simulation when the tornado exhibits a multiple vortex structure. (c) Volume rendered cloud mixing ratio, with parameters chosen to present a quasi-photorealistic view of the cloud field. The 2D surface field traces the minimum pressure found in the tornado’s path. (d)  As in (a) and (b), but a different, wider view and utilizing different opacity and color map choices. The vortex to the left, which merges with the tornado later in the simulation, is weaker than the nascent tornado as evidenced by the vortex’s more transparent and darker visual presentation and path.

 

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[UPDATED] You’ve heard it before: The convergence of thousands of meteorologists at AMS Annual Meetings brings unusual weather to the host city. Spring-like warmth this weekend in this year’s host city of Boston is continuing this trend.

As of 2 pm ET Sunday, the temperature at Logan International Airport has climbed to at least 73 degrees, breaking the monthly record high of 72 for the city set on January 26, 1950. It smashed the daily record high 61 first established in 1913.

On Saturday, southwest winds gusting to nearly 50 mph drove the day’s high to 70 degrees, topping the daily record set in 1975 by 8 degrees.

The marquee at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center announces AMS100. The temperature was a record 69 degrees at the time.
The marquee at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center announces AMS100. The temperature was a record 69 degrees at the time.

 

Sunday’s temperature could go even higher—nearby Norwood was 74 at 2 pm—before a a north-south cold front halfway across Massachusetts and Connecticut plows through Boston mid afternoon, bringing an end to the record-setting January thaw. Behind the front blustery northwest winds 40 mph or more will quickly tumble temperatures into the 40s by evening and closer to normal levels overnight and Monday.

We’ve written about the Annual Meeting weather coincidences previously on the AMS blog, dispelling the pervasive myth that our meteorological convergence brings bad and even dangerous weather to the Annual Meeting host city.

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Saturday’s Student Conference at the AMS 100th Annual Meeting kicking off in Boston featured a series of Conversations with Professionals to gain insight into a variety of career choices, the work these professionals in our field currently do, and how they got where they are today. This year’s series, in which short introductions are followed by a Q and A session with students, included two meteorologists who fly into hurricanes with the Air Force 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Wing and another who helps c0-operate the Doppler on Wheels radar for tornado field research.

Below is a sampling of questions students asked Lt. Col. Ryan Rickert and Maj. Jeremy DeHart with the AF Hurricane Hunters as well as Karen Kosiba of the Center for Severe Weather Research. The answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Q (Hurricane Hunters): Can you tell us a little about your backgrounds in the Air Force?

A: (Lt. Col. Ryan Rickert) “Meteorology degrees, with active duty [13 years], go to a weather tech school to learn how to deal with military weather, and then pretty much start with your track—go to a main [Air Force] hub weather regional center to learn how to do big, broad forecasting, then … to a different place and forecast for an airfield so your supporting aircraft at the field. But there are different paths you can take: Science, modeling, Army support, Air Force support, many different ways that you can go.

A: (Maj. Jeremy DeHart) “Yeah, I agree. A lot of people think Air Force, military, and are like ‘Oh, I want to do research … it’s not really my cup of tea.’ but there are so many different tracks you can take, and you’re not going to get the breadth of experience you will in the Air Force doing the jobs we did while on active duty. I have a masters degree and they sent me to California for two years [while on active duty], and I was a full-time student and was paid full-time to go to school. And they’ll do that for your Ph.D., go teach at the Air Force Academy … so don’t be scared off by [military] operations.

Lt. Col. Ryan Rickert (r) and Major Jeremy DeHart at Saturday's Conversations with Professionals series.
Lt. Col. Ryan Rickert (r) and Major Jeremy DeHart at Saturday’s Conversations with Professionals series.

Q (Hurricane Hunters): How do you adjust when a hurricane is rapidly intensifying?

A: (Maj. Jeremy DeHart) You’re always adjusting, because it’s never what you exactly expected. We maintain a pressure altitude of 10,000 feet flying into and through the eye of a hurricane. By the time you’re in the eye, in the stronger storms you’re down to 8,000 feet. In Hurricane Wilma, which set a low pressure record, they were flying at 5,000 feet because they didn’t expect it to be that strong, and by the time they got [in the eye] it had bottomed out and the plane flying a 5,000-foot pressure … was down to about a thousand feet and had to pull up.”

A: (Lt. Col. Ryan Rickert) “We don’t do that anymore. We now go in higher. … When we’re briefing we’re changing things. And even in the execution of the mission we constantly have to adjust. … Constantly changing our pattern if there’s a really intense area [of convection] that doesn’t look [on radar] like it’s safe to go through.

Q (Hurricane Hunters): What do you do in the off-season?

A: (Maj. Jeremy DeHart) “We go to a lot of airshows.”

A: (Lt. Col. Ryan Rickert) “We give talks at conferences, promote what we do, find out what kinds of new instruments we want to put on our airplane, things like that.”

A: (Maj. Jeremy DeHart) “A lot of people don’t realize we have a winter storm requirement as well. … We’ll fly a synoptic pattern and just pepper a big storm with [dropwindsondes]. We’ll fly higher, like 30,000 feet or so, and just carpetbomb the whole thing with instruments.”

Q (Tornado Research): What made you target research versus academia on your career path?

A: (Karen Kosiba) “Sometimes when you’re deep in academia you don’t think there’s anything outside academia. I was getting ready to graduate and I had done tons of field research but also applied for jobs in academia, in government … and I got many of those jobs. So I picked what I liked. But even if you don’t know what you’re doing you visualize that you’ll try a little of everything. … When I first started working with the Doppler on Wheels I thought I was going to be a technician … but I started to enjoy some different things and it just ended up this way. Just because you get a bachelor’s, a master’s, a Ph.D., an associate degree—whatever you’re getting your degree in—doesn’t mean you can’t do different jobs.”

Karen Kosiba, with the Center for Severe Weather Research, answers students' questions Saturday at the AMS 100th Annual Meeting.
Karen Kosiba, with the Center for Severe Weather Research, answers students’ questions Saturday at the AMS 100th Annual Meeting.

Q (Tornado Research): Can you elaborate a little on graduate school and how you learned how to write grants?

A: (Karen Kosiba) “For those of you in graduate school, or going to graduate school, you usually work with a professor, and they’re trying to get grants, too. My professor said ‘Hey, you want to write a grant proposal?’ and I was like ‘Sure, let’s write a grant proposal.’  And you don’t really know much about how to write them in graduate school. You can just wing it, or you can have a good mentor, like I did. You know, [as an aside] you think your mentor should be someone exactly like you, and even though you can have someone who likes the same stuff as you, it can be advantageous to find a person who can help you meet your career goals. Someone who understands what you want to do and who you want to be.”

Q (Tornado Research): Do you have any advice for recent graduates who are interested in project-based research rather than forecasting? It seems like a lot of people just take the first thing out there, often university helper.

A: (Karen Kosiba) It’s true. But I think there are more opportunities out there than just waking up and taking those first opportunities. In my case not only did I shop for a mentor but also an advisor who could help me out in the field. Big universities often have big field projects, and they don’t always advertise them as well as they should. It can be tricky to get out and get that experience. But places like NCAR have programs getting [their] people out to do field projects. And the University of Wyoming, NSSL, will have projects going in and out. They’re out there and sometimes you have to do a bit of work to find them. Even if one professor doesn’t have anything, they might know someone who just got funded for a project. And once you’re in them take some responsibilities on … and become an active crew member and contributor to the project.

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By Mary M. Glackin, AMS President-Elect, and Dr. Joel N. Myers, Founder and CEO, AccuWeather

In his acclaimed book, The Signal and the Noise, noted statistician Nate Silver examines forecasts of many categories and finds that most forecast types demonstrate little or no skill, and most predictive fields have made insignificant progress in accuracy over the past several decades.  The one exception, Silver concludes, is weather forecasting, which he singles out as a “success story.” We quite agree.

The benefit of improved weather forecasting on human activity over the last 60 years cannot be overstated. As we approach in January the 100th Annual Meeting of the American Meteorological Society, the nation’s premier scientific organization dedicated to the advancement of meteorological science, it seems a fitting time to celebrate all that we have accomplished for the protection of life and property and the substantial benefits to people and business and contemplate the challenges ahead and the path forward to conquer them.

With technology and human knowledge increasingly transforming both weather forecasting and our relationship with it, our success will rest squarely on our ability to embrace transformational change and to recognize and welcome opportunities for collaboration between key facets of the weather enterprise – academic, government and the private weather industry.

The publicly funded National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration plays a critical role in supporting the entire infrastructure of weather forecasting, which government organizations, such as the National Weather Service, the U.S. military, and privately held organizations rely on. This infrastructure includes observational systems, maintenance and support of numerical weather prediction models, and providing life-saving weather warnings.  Warnings, arguably, are the biggest payoff of weather forecasting with lives and property on the line.

The NWS analyzes and predicts severe weather events and issues advisories and warnings to the general public for their safety and protection. Warning services provided by NWS have improved over the decades. By design, NWS weather warnings cover a broad territory, intended for the widest possible public audience in a region.

While all government weather warnings reaching the public are produced by the NWS, increasingly in today’s digital age they are tailored and delivered almost entirely by private weather providers through news broadcasts and free, advertising-supported mobile phone apps and other digital sources of convenience.  The greatest challenge the weather enterprise faces is ensuring these life-saving weather warnings reach the greatest number of people potentially impacted by hazardous weather with enough advance notice to take proactive steps to remain safe and out of harm’s way. When seconds count in a weather-related emergency, this partnership example significantly extends the reach of the government for greater public safety.

What some may not realize is that when severe weather threatens, companies, such as AccuWeather, pair a deep understanding of client operations with their team of meteorologists to provide vital services, such as custom site and operation specific weather warnings, to clients tailored to their risk thresholds.

recent Washington Post article mistakenly conflated warning services provided by NOAA with custom warning services provided to private clients.

In fact, with example after example, there is no doubt private companies, such as AccuWeather, which has received many AMS accolades for its warnings and expertise, can and do provide valuable warnings and services to private clients. It was unfortunate that a comment said on the fly was taken out of context. Both AccuWeather and AMS view the incident in this light and are continuing to build on their shared history of partnership. AccuWeather works closely with NOAA and NWS to make sure communities and businesses have the best information and warnings they need to stay safe. This partnership has never been stronger.

In fact, there has been a long history of cooperation between the public and private weather sectors.  National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHS), including the NWS, readily source data and intellectual property from private companies to support their mission of saving lives, protecting property, and enhancing the national economy.  This trend is likely to continue in the world of shrinking government budgets and resource allocation.  In turn, private companies leverage technologies, such as the many forecast models provided by NMHS, as the foundation to their own products and services.

As we look ahead to the next 100 years, many challenges impacting the future of the weather enterprise loom large, such as cost and financial pressures, the hyperbolic increasing rate of the capture, storing, processing and analyzing of data, emerging challenges of health and climate change and new accelerating technologies and platforms in the digital age, some of which we cannot yet even conceive.

These sectors of the weather enterprise have their own advantages and efficiencies and together we can most certainly succeed in furthering meteorological advancement if we capitalize on each other’s strengths and work cooperatively and decisively to achieve our larger mission of safety and protection.

All partners in the weather enterprise –government, commercial and academia —  in addition to the support and stewardship of important professional organizations, such as the AMS, the National Weather Association and the American Weather and Climate Industry Association – are essential to meteorological progress, and the sum of our value to the public and business can be far greater than the individual parts.

In the last six decades, each component of the weather enterprise has learned to better understand and appreciate one another and to communicate more effectively and to respect the important contributions of each in the true spirt of cooperation. The greatest example of this is the AMS-championed Fair Weather Report, a study funded by the federal government to generate more harmony across the entire weather enterprise.

Since we began our careers, we have had the privilege of seeing amazing progress in our ability to provide more specific, more accurate, and more useful weather forecasts and warnings, which extend further ahead and have saved tens of thousands of lives and prevented hundreds of billions of dollars in property damage.

With even more and better collaborations between the various facets of the weather enterprise, there is no question the public and our nation stand to benefit from greater safety and better planning. We look forward to continuing our work together to bring about more exciting innovations and enhancements to advance public safety.

Editor’s note: Mary M. Glackin is President-elect, American Meteorological Society. She was formerly the Deputy Under Secretary for Oceans and Atmosphere at National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and a Senior Vice President of Science and Forecast Operations at The Weather Company (IBM). Dr. Joel N. Myers is Founder and CEO of AccuWeather

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The Wind Speed Estimation (WSE) standards committee–jointly supported by AMS and the American Society of Civil Engineers–is holding its 9th meeting this week in conjunction with an NSF-funded Tornado Hazard Wind Assessment and ReducTion Symposium (THWARTS) at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana.

The WSE committee began in 2014 to develop standards for an improved process to estimate extreme storm winds. Currently, NWS and private post-storm damage surveys use the EF-Scale and treefall pattern analysis, real-time radar and in situ observations, remote sensing, and forensic investigations. The WSE committee includes a data archival team as well as an international working group to broaden the scope of the standard. (Click here for more information about the committee.)

WSE

This is the second joint meeting of WSE/THWARTS and will focus on sharing the latest findings on the multidisciplinary aspects of severe local storms, including the fields of meteorology, wind science and engineering, structural engineering, social science, and policy. A flyer about the symposium with basic information is available online.

Keynote speaker for THWARTS will be Erik Rasmussen. He was the field coordinator of the first of the VORTEX projects in 1994-1995 and a lead principal investigator for VORTEX2 from 2009-2010 and VORTEX-SE from 2016-2017. He currently consults with NOAA’s National Severe Storms Laboratory and the Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies.

The WSE meeting begins after the final session of THWARTS. The meeting is the first step toward a request for public comment on WSE, likely next year.

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by Bob Henson, AMS Councilor and Chair, AMS Committee on Environmental Stewardship (ACES)

Those of us involved with climate change in our professional lives—researchers, educators, authors, students—often feel the need to “walk the walk” in a demonstrable way. AMS is one of the world’s premier organizations involved with peer-reviewed research on our changing atmosphere, so it’s only fitting that the Society is finding ways to demonstrate its environmental bona fides in its own operations. For example, AMS has been a leader this past decade in working toward “green meetings.” An upcoming BAMS article will feature some green-meeting highlights, and a summary can also be found in the “About AMS” section of the AMS website.

Just in time for the Society’s 100th birthday, AMS has now ensured that the electricity supply in its offices in Boston and Washington, D.C., is effectively 100% renewable. The Boston shift involved working with the nonprofit Green Energy Consumers Alliance (GECA), a spinoff of Massachusetts Energy that works to maximize the use of renewables in the state’s electricity supply.

AMS recently finalized a renewable two-year agreement (retroactive to January 2019) to purchase Class I renewable energy certificates (RECs) from GECA. These certificates are equal to the full amount of electricity consumed at the AMS buildings at 44 and 45 Beacon Street. Each certificate mandates the production of one megawatt hour of renewable energy, documenting where, how, and when the energy (in this case, wind energy) was produced. In 2019, energy providers in Massachusetts were required to purchase in-state Class I RECs for 14% of all electricity they generate, a percentage that goes up each year by 1%. When entities such as AMS also purchase Massachusetts Class I RECs, it further stimulates the market for clean energy. In other words, Massachusetts Class I RECs don’t simply buy green energy that is already government-mandated; they actually promote the creation of new green-energy supplies within the state.

AMS Controller Joe Boyd worked with the AMS Committee on Environmental Stewardship (ACES) to research options for renewable energy at the Boston building and shepherded the final agreement with GECA.

“Given the Society’s strong commitment to environmental issues, it was natural that we include 100% renewable electricity sourcing to our efforts to maintain a small carbon footprint,” says AMS Executive Director Keith Seitter.

In Washington, AMS leases office space within the headquarters of the American Association for the Advancement of Science at 1200 New York Avenue NW. This building’s electrical supply is also effectively 100% renewable, via RECs that are purchased through a Constellation New Energy contract for transmission and generation. (The RECs do not include electric distribution, and the building also uses a small amount of natural gas.)

“ACES continuously strives to promote the Society’s environmentally progressive standards, complementing the research and efforts of AMS members. Thanks to felicitous timing, the Society is celebrating its transition to 100% renewable energy on its 100th anniversary,” says incoming 2020 ACES Chair C. Todd Rhodes (Coastal Carolina University).

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You know the perception: It never rains in Southern California, so forecasting the weather there is easy. Not so fast, says Anthony Yanez of KNBC TV in Los Angeles.

In his recent presentation at the 47th Conference on Broadcast Meteorology in San Diego, titled “Forecasting Southern California: Not as Easy as you Think,” Yanez takes a lighthearted yet very serious look at the myriad weather and other natural phenomena that threaten the state every year. These include heavy flooding rains, high winds, wildfires, mudslides, earthquakes, and hail. As station scientists, Southern California weather broadcasters must cover them all for viewers, and well. “I think that the science is a lot more … cuz everyone thinks the weather’s boring … when we do science, they love that. And they eat it up.”

YanezPresentation

 

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by Keith L. Seitter, CCM, AMS Executive Director

This week we join many other scientific publishers celebrating Peer Review Week to highlight the importance of high-quality peer review in the scientific process. The process of peer reviewing research results has been an indispensable component of the modern scientific enterprise: when scientists talk about having reached a consensus in some area of research, they mean that there is a consensus in the peer-reviewed literature. This week gives us an opportunity to focus on the importance of peer review while also recognizing the dedication of researchers around the world who make considerable commitments of time to ensure its continued success while usually receiving little or no explicit credit for those contributions.

When a researcher submits a manuscript presenting research results to a high-quality journal like those AMS publishes, the editor of the journal selects several experts in relevant specialties to review of the manuscript. These experts make sure the author(s) have carried out their experiments, observations, and/or analysis following sound practices and that their conclusions can be justified from the data and analysis they have provided. In their reviews, these experts identify weaknesses or flaws in experimental design or reasoning and suggest additional research and analysis that might be required, as well as other ways to improve the paper.

The editor collects these peer reviews and determines if the manuscript can be made suitable for publication. If the science is flawed and the paper cannot be made acceptable with a reasonable amount of additional work, the paper is rejected. More than one in three manuscripts submitted to AMS journals are rejected. The editor’s decision is provided to the authors, along with the full set of reviews with the names of the reviewers removed (unless the reviewer chooses otherwise), along with the editor’s decision. If the paper has not been rejected, the authors follow the guidance of the editors and reviewers to revise the paper, which then may face additional peer review under the editor’s direction. If the paper can reach the point that the editor is satisfied with the quality of the work, the manuscript is accepted for publication.

Peer review, even when implemented in the rigorous manner used by AMS, is not perfect, of course. Occasionally important research is initially rejected in peer review, or fundamentally incorrect research survives peer review to publication only to be shown later to be incorrect. Peer review done well, however, greatly reduces the chance of publication of poor or incorrect science, and experience has shown that overall the process is extremely successful. That is why scientists depend virtually exclusively on results presented in rigorously peer-reviewed journals and why major scientific assessments—like the reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)—rely on peer-reviewed literature from well-established, high-quality journals like those published by AMS.

Astute readers will have noticed that I refer to “high quality journals” multiple times above. It is important to make that distinction because there are journals vying for authors’ papers (and the income they provide) that do not put the time or expense into doing peer review with the rigor employed by the AMS journals. Authors, and the scientific enterprise itself, are best served by those journals that invest the resources needed to do the peer review to the highest standards. AMS journals enjoy membership in the elite group of such high quality journals that serve the atmospheric and related sciences.

Let me close with note of appreciation for those who maintain the very high standards of peer review for the AMS journals.  While the professional staff at AMS does a wonderful job of ensuring smooth and expedient reviews, as part of a positive author experience that is among the best in scientific publishing, it is the volunteers who serve as chief editors, editors, associate editors, and reviewers who dedicate the time and energy to maintain the AMS journals as world-class publications. And the reviewers especially deserve credit given that their efforts are, by design, mostly done anonymously for the collective good of science. All of us owe these dedicated individuals our thanks.

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2018’s devastating Hurricane Michael struck the Florida panhandle at Mexico Beach and Tyndall Air Force Base in October at Category 5 intensity with 160 mph winds, the National Hurricane Center announced Friday. That’s 5 mph higher than Michael’s wind estimate of 155 mph at the time of landfall.

GOES-16 Pseudo-color image or Hurricane Michael at 1730 UTC October 10, 2018. (Courtesy: NOAA NESDIS)
GOES-16 Pseudo-color image or Hurricane Michael at 1730 UTC October 10, 2018. (Image courtesy: NOAA NESDIS)

 

In its post-storm tropical cyclone report, released the same day, NHC stated it culled an abundance of wind data measurements not available in real-time to add the 5 mph to Michael’s wind intensity. The data came from aircraft reconnaissance, ground observations, satellite intensity estimates, surface pressures, and Doppler radar velocities from Eglin Air Force Base and the NWS in Tallahassee. The report goes in-depth with the data, explaining the observations and identifying those that were believable—a 152 knot (175 mph) aircraft wind measurement at 8,000 feet in the southeast eyewall that yields a surface wind of 137 knots (158 mph)—versus those that were suspect—a 152 knot (175 mph) surface wind measured by the stepped frequency microwave radiometer (SFMR) instrument aboard a different aircraft, deemed too high based on experience with such intense winds in hurricanes Irma, Jose, and Maria in 2017.

The upgrade makes Michael only the fourth Category 5 hurricane to hit the United States, joining a small, elite group of monster landfalling storms that include Hurricane Andrew (1992, 165 mph winds), Hurricane Camille (1969, 175 mph winds), and the Labor Day Hurricane (1935, 185 mph winds). Andrew plowed into South Florida, Camille landed on the Mississippi coast, and the Labor Day Hurricane devastated the Florida Keys.

A realty building destroyed by Hurricane Michael's winds on the east of Panama City, Florida.
A realty building destroyed by Hurricane Michael’s winds on the east side of Panama City, Florida.
(Photo courtesy: Chris Cappella [AMS])

Hurricane Michael roared ashore on October 10 as the strongest hurricane on record to strike the Florida Panhandle, with a storm surge around 14 feet above ground level, destroying Mexico Beach and much of Tyndall AFB, while tearing apart homes and businesses in Callaway, just inland, as well as in the eastern side of Panama City. Sixteen people died directly from the hurricane due to storm surge flooding and the intense winds, which blew down entire forests in the panhandle and destroyed crops across southern Georgia. Wind damage extended into the Carolinas.

Very few surface observations of the hurricane’s intense winds were made at landfall. The highest gust was 139 mph measured by an anemometer at Tyndall AFB before it failed. Two coastal monitoring program towers measured 129 mph and 125 mph, substantially lower than the upgraded wind speed at landfall. One of the towers was knocked over before the peak winds struck, and the other was outside the hurricane’s core. NHC notes that the sites “were likely not optimally located to sample the maximum winds, which is typical during landfalling hurricanes.”

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