Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Lack of Correct Sandy Classification Led to Lack of Preparedness

Julian Omidi discusses the National Hurricane Center’s inability to classify super storm Sandy as a hurricane before the event, thereby inadvertently causing residents of the North East to fail to recognize the severity of the storm. Julian Omidi looks at the consequences this miscategorization may have had for those on the East Coast.

Even though we refer to super storm Sandy as a Hurricane, by the time it made landfall on the East Coast it was, technically, a post-tropical cyclone, according to the forecasters at the National Hurricane Center. While this may not seem like a tremendous difference to those of us who are unacquainted with meteorological events, the agency and local officials were very concerned that the downgrade would cause residents to fail to take the dangers seriously, according to a recent report in the New York Times.[1]

The National Hurricane Center takes its forecasts extremely seriously; accuracy of the classifications of various storms supersedes even the desire to protect the population from underestimating potential hazards.  By inaccurately referring to the storm as a hurricane, NHC agents could have harmed the credibility of the center, possibly causing the public to disregard future warnings.  Nonetheless, emergency management centers virtually begged the NHC to continue to call Sandy a hurricane – even though it wouldn’t have been strictly accurate.

Once a storm has been downgraded from hurricane to post-tropical cyclone, the NHC no longer has the authority to issue advisories due to a long and convoluted series of rules and regulations.  Local emergency management officials were left largely on their own to warn the public of the catastrophe, which may have caused the public to take the storm less seriously than it might have had advisories been given by the NHC directly.

On October 27, two days before the storm hit, the NHC officially downgraded the hurricane to a post-tropical cyclone, and left local emergency management agencies to issue specific warnings about the dangers to life and property.  Although cyclones might not seem a terrifying as hurricanes, they are more than capable posing a significant threat to human life, and this certainly proved to be true in Sandy’s case, since a total of 147 lives were lost in the United States and the Caribbean, and billions of dollars worth of property was destroyed.  

The NHC is currently working to modify its storm advisory rules so that official advisories about any tropical storm that poses a threat to life and property can be issued.  Currently, the parent agency of the NHC, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, has the authority to deliver advisories regarding tropical storms that are not officially classified as hurricanes, so long as these storms have the potential to cause momentous hazards.

Of the 147 deaths that occurred as a direct result of the super storm, 72 occurred in the North East region of the United States. More than 8 million residents were left without power for weeks afterword, and approximately 650,000 homes were either damaged or completely destroyed.

By Julian Omidi 

[1] Santora, Marc: Hurricane Center Seeks Expanded Authority to Issue Warnings New York Times 2/12/2013 http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/13/nyregion/reducing-hurricane-sandy-to-a-tropical-storm-undercut-warnings.html

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