Hurricane Sandy: NHC Final Report and AMS Town Hall Presentations Online

The National Hurricane Center released its post-storm report on Hurricane Sandy this week, confirming the many nuances of the late-season monster storm we already knew. Yet it’s the details, provided by scientists attuned to getting the minutiae right, that make the report an inviting read.
For starters, the NHC report confirms that Sandy wasn’t a hurricane at landfall. Its core convection collapsed as the center of the storm moved west of the warm waters of the Gulf Stream—the same warm waters that earlier on the day of landfall (October 29, 2012) cranked up Sandy’s winds to 100 mph as the center closed in on New Jersey. Cold air wrapping into Sandy’s center contributed to the collapsing convection, and this structural change transitioned Sandy from tropical to extratropical just 50 miles offshore of Atlantic City.

Sandy Inundation Map
Estimated inundation in feet above ground level in New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut from Sandy. (Source: NHC Tropical Cyclone Report—Hurricane Sandy)

Post analysis of the storm’s intensity in the Caribbean also explains why NHC has now upgraded Sandy to a Category 3 “major” hurricane with 115 mph winds from Category 2, which at the time had been considered the peak classification prior to landfall in southeastern Cuba. The destruction wrought there, described as “especially severe,” included more than a quarter-million homes damaged and 17,000 sheared to pieces by the extreme winds. Gusts topped 110 mph before disabling the anemometer in Santiago de Cuba, the island nation’s second-largest city, and reached an incredible 165 mph at Gran Piedra (“Big Rock,” elev. 2,000 feet) in the national park east of the city. Sandy killed 11 people in Cuba, an unusually high number in a nation that has weathered numerous ferocious hurricanes with lesser loss of life. It was a testament to Sandy’s fury.
Additionally, the report describes changes proposed to NHC’s watch/warning criteria. If adopted, they will address limitations to the use of tropical storm and hurricane watches and warnings when tropical cycl0nes transition to extratropical (i.e., non-tropical or “post tropical”) storms. Facing the potential for Hurricane Sandy to make such a transition prior to striking the Northeast, NHC opted not to issue hurricane watches and warnings north of North Carolina because the transition would force NHC to discontinue them even though the threat for severe wind and tidal conditions remained, which “would cause an unacceptable level of confusion and disruption during critical periods of preparation that included evacuations.” The decision was widely criticized and cited as contributing to the large number of deaths due to storm surge flooding and falling trees in and around New York City.
The report has much more, including details about the record storm tides in New York City, New Jersey, and Connecticut, flooding rain in the mid-Atlantic states, and snow in the Appalachians, as well as a breakdown of U.S. deaths and an abundance of observations.
Town Hall Meeting on Sandy
Recordings of the the presentations made at the AMS Town Hall Meeting on Hurricane Sandy at the Annual Meeting in Austin are now available.
Hurricane Sandy Introduction
Tanja Fransen, NOAA/NWS, Glasgow, Montana
Introduction to Sandy and the Major Impacts
Louis W. Uccellini, NOAA/NWS/NCEP, Camp Springs, Maryland
Hurricane Sandy: Hurricane Wind and Storms Surge Impacts
Richard D. Knabb, NOAA/NWS/NHC, Miami, Florida
Post-Tropical Cyclone Sandy: Rain, Snow and Inland Wind Impacts
David Novak, NOAA/NWS/Hydrometeorological Prediction Center, College Park, Maryland
A Research-Community Perspective of the Life Cycle of Hurricane Sandy
Melvyn A. Shapiro, NCAR, Boulder, Colorado
Communicating the Threat to the Public through Broadcast Media
Bryan Norcross, The Weather Channel, Atlanta, Georgia
Following the Storm through Social Media
Jason Samenow, Washington Post, Washington, D.C.; and Andrew Freedman, Climate Central, New York, N.Y.
Storm Response in New York and New Jersey
Eric Holthaus, The Wall Street Journal, New York, N.Y.

2013 Recipient of Biometeorology Award Aims to Resolve Complex Boundary Layer Interactions

Thomas Foken, professor of micrometeorology at the University of Bayreuth Center of Ecology and Environmental Research in Bayreuth, Germany, is the 2013 recipient of the AMS Award for Outstanding Achievement in Biometeorology. Specifically, Dr. Foken received this award for many contributions, as a researcher and educator, to the understanding and measurement of atmosphere-biosphere interactions and the surface energy balance.
The Front Page caught up with Dr. Foken at the 2013 Annual Meeting in Austin, Texas, to find out more about his research, including his interests in micrometeorology. His described this area of our science as the physics and chemistry of the boundary layer, which encompasses the lowest portion of atmosphere, and the complicated interactions among plants, soils, the oceans, and the atmosphere. He adds that micrometeorologists investigate all the parameters in the global models that are part of this small-scale environment, known as the biosphere or ecosphere. Moreover, he defines biometeorology as an interdisciplinary science that brings meteorologists, soil scientists, and biologists together to better understand the processes that define all of these small-scale interactions so the problems they present within the models can be resolved.
Click on the image below to view the interview.

Broadcast Meteorologist Explains the Climate Change Impacts Already Affecting His Viewers

Chief Meteorologist Jim Gandy of the Columbia, South Carolina, CBS affiliate station WLTX-TV is the 2013 recipient of the AMS Award For Excellence in Science Reporting by a Broadcast Meteorologist. Mr. Gandy received the award and recognition for pioneering efforts to educate viewers about climate change and explaining how it already affects them.
In an interview with the AMS, Mr. Gandy explains how he developed a climate change segment for his Weathercasts called Climate Matters. Each segment focuses on an aspect of climate change that is already showing up where viewers live, work, and play. The Climate Matters stories, including the segment about Poison Ivy and Climate Change that won him the award are posted online for not just his viewers but everyone to watch. He also mentions that the favorable response from his viewers about the segments sparked the creation of a blog for the station he similarly named Weather and Climate Matter.
Click on the image below to view the interview. (Please note that the video portion of the interview has a bit of a lag, and for that we apologize; the audio itself is clear.)

2013 Carl-Gustaf Rossby Award Recipient Strives to Deepen Our Grasp of Earth's Climate System

Dennis L. Hartmann, professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington, is the 2013 recipient of the prestigious Carl-Gustaf Rossby Research Medal—meteorology’s highest honor. Dr. Hartmann is receiving this distinctive award for his significant contributions to the synthesis of knowledge of radiative and dynamical processes leading to a deeper understanding of the climate system.
The Front Page spoke with Dr. Hartmann to learn about his research and how it has evolved and become more interdisciplinary as climate change has grown increasingly important. He explained that he now focuses more on trying to understand Earth’s climate system, blending the traditional disciplines in the atmospheric sciences—radiation, dynamics, and cloud physics and chemistry—because, he said, “they are so interconnected on the long time scales associated with climate change.” With advances in technology, Dr. Hartmann utilized more and better remote sensing data from satellites to make improvements in modeling Earth’s climate—in particular, the approximate interactions between clouds and the global circulation.
“The one thing that I’ve tried to do is to look for simple, fundamental explanations for how things work and that gives us more confidence in the rather complex simulations that we do with global models.”
Click on the image below to view the interview.

2013 Jule G. Charney Award Recipient has an Out-of-this-World View of Earth's Circulations

Alan Plumb, professor of meteorology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), is the 2013 recipient of the prized Jule G. Charney Award. Dr. Plumb is being honored with this award, which is in the form of a medallion, for fundamental contributions to the understanding of geophysical fluid dynamics, stratospheric dynamics, chemical transport, and the general circulation of the atmosphere and oceans.
The Front Page spoke with Dr. Plumb to learn more about his research, including his interests in the dynamics of Earth’s atmosphere as well as the atmospheres of other planets. Though he now mostly focuses on Earth’s circulations, he mentioned that his PhD thesis was on the atmosphere of Venus and interactions of waves on its circulation. More recently, he has been focused on understanding how gravity waves interact with our stratosphere.
Click on the image below to view the interview.

2013 Verner E. Suomi Award Winner Strives for Uniformity in Global Sounding Observations

Richard H. Johnson, professor of meteorology at Colorado State University (CSU) and head of the Johnson Research Group at CSU, which focuses on cutting-edge research of tropical and mid-latitude weather and dynamics, is the 2013 recipient of The Verner E. Suomi Award. He is being recognized with this esteemed award, which is in the form of a medallion, for exquisite design of rawinsonde networks in field campaigns and insightful analysis of interactions between convective clouds and the large-scale atmospheric circulation.
The Front Page caught up with Dr. Johnson to learn more about his research and field programs. He has been working with rawindsonde data for 40 years to study convective processes, including monsoons, which he notes impact more than half the world’s population. He explains that the biggest challenge working with such data is removing biases, due to nations around the world using as many as 30 different sounding systems to gather the observations.
Click on the image below to view the interview.

2013 AMS Teaching Excellence Award Winner Developed University of Miami Meteo Program

Bruce A. Albrecht, professor of meteorology and physical oceanography at the University of Miami, is the 2013 recipient of The AMS Teaching Excellence Award. With this award, Dr. Albrecht is being recognized for dedicated and innovative teaching inside and outside the classroom, and for his leading role in developing a dynamic undergraduate and graduate meteorology program within UM’s world-renowned Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences.
The Front Page spoke with Dr. Albrecht to learn what makes UM’s meteorology program dynamic as well as the challenges of improving on such success. With regard to full disclosure, the interviewer is a former student of Dr. Albrecht’s when he taught at Penn State. Find out why the interviewer wasn’t at all surprised to learn of his former professor’s notable recognition.
Click on the image below to view the interview.

NCAR Director is Recipient of the 2013 Charles Franklin Brooks Award for Service to the Society

Roger Wakimoto, Director of NCAR and an expert on severe convective weather is the 2013 recipient of The Charles Franklin Brooks Award for Outstanding Services to the Society. Specifically, Dr. Wakimoto is being acknowledged for improving AMS processes through unselfish and highly effective service on numerous committees and as Councilor of the AMS as well as Commissioner of the AMS Scientific and Technological Activities Commission (STAC).
Dr. Wakimoto spoke with the Front Page to share his vision and motivation for commanding these services. He also discussed his on-going research of tornadoes, severe thunderstorms, and downbursts, and he mentioned that he will be stepping down as NCAR’s director to focus on his recent appointment to the National Science Foundation as head of the Directorate for Geosciences.
Click on the image below to view the interview.

2013 Kenneth C. Spengler Award Winner Designed AMS Commission on Weather & Climate Enterprise

John Snow, a veteran professor of meteorology at the University of Oklahoma (OU), retired dean of the OU College of Atmospheric and Geographic Sciences, and a founding member of the OU National Weather Center, is the 2013 recipient of The Kenneth E. Spengler Award. He is being recognized this year for his exceptional foresight and leadership in melding a diverse group of people in designing a new Commission of the AMS—the AMS Commission on the Weather and Climate Enterprise—to meet ever expanding weather and climate enterprise needs.
The Front Page caught up with Dr. Snow to learn about his role in the formation of the Commission, which now encompasses a number of committees and boards to focus on specific disciplines and interests. He also shared his special interest and active involvement with the Board on Enterprise Economic Development, which he says not only fascinates him because of the private sector’s solid foundation but also because of its dynamic growth.
Click on the image below to view the interview.

A Promising Trend in Lightning Safety

Since 2006, lightning has been the third most common cause of storm-related deaths in the United States, behind only floods and tornadoes. But lightning deaths are trending downward, suggesting that educational efforts on the dangers of lightning, as well as improved warning capabilities, are making a difference. Over the past 30 years, the U.S. has averaged 54 lightning deaths per year. But over the last decade, that number falls to 32 deaths per year, with a record-low of 26 in 2011 and only 28 in 2012. Of course, some of that decline is connected to social trends: early in the twentieth century, when many more people worked outside, lightning deaths in the U.S. numbered in the hundreds per year.
At the Annual Meeting in Austin, the Sixth Conference on the Meteorological Applications of Lightning Data will look at some social factors connected to lightning fatalities, including posters on Monday in Exhibit Hall 3 by Ronald Holle of Holle Meteorology and Photography (summarizing the dangers of lightning to people sheltering near trees) and Andrew Rosenthal of Earth Networks (on the effects of lightning at sporting events). And in the 16th Conference on Aviation, Range, and Aerospace Meteorology, Matthias Steiner of NCAR will explore some of the key issues related to lightning safety at airports (Wednesday, 4:30 p.m., Room 17A).
Along with changes in behavior, education and information are cited as important factors in reducing lightning fatalities, and some of the latest developments in this area will be explored in Austin. NOAA’s new lightning fatality database collects data from media sources, local NWS offices, and local officials to compile information on U.S. lightning deaths–including various demographics and the activity of the victim at the time of the strike–that can help us understand lightning fatality patterns and educate the public on what situations are most dangerous. Private meteorologist William Roeder will present a poster on the new database and its applications to lightning safety education (Exhibit Hall 3).
The conference will explore numerous ways that lightning data can be used to understand related severe weather phenomena. For example, the Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM) on the GOES-R spacecraft (scheduled for launch in 2015) will be able to continuously map total lightning activity throughout the day and night, which should prove valuable in forecasting tornadoes, storm intensification, and other severe weather. NOAA’s Steven Goodman will discuss the GLM’s capabilities on Wednesday (8:30 a.m., Ballroom G). In the same session (9:30 a.m., Ballroom G), Daniel Cecil of the University of Alabama will present an algorithm for using proxy GLM data to identify lightning jumps, which are sudden increases in flash rate for a convective cell and therefore can also provide advance warning of severe weather. Another example is the use of the pseudo-Geostationary Lightning Mapper (pGLM) product, which was created for the Hazardous Weather Testbed (HWT) Spring Experiment/Experimental Warning Program. Kristin Calhoun of CIMMS and NOAA will explain how the pGLM used total lightning data to detect VHF radiation from lightning discharges, and subsequently to forecast storm modes (Wednesday, 8:45 a.m., Ballroom G).
This is just a small sampling of lightning-related research to be presented in Austin–a promising sign that continued reductions in lightning tragedies are still possible in the future.