We need something seasonable to cheer us up, not contemplating Republicans in Congress, narcotics, guns, gun apologists, and – far the worst – the faces of small children. So let’s take a short trip down memory lane to your friendly ex-hurricane:
Source: NASA via The Telegraph, approximate scale bar added by me
Where is the silver lining? Two actually. The first is the fact that Sandy was about the smallest storm still large enough to shift public and élite opinion on the reality, now, of climate breakdown. If you pay attention to the plague of frogs, you just may escape the cull of the firstborn. The second is much less widely known outside the weather forecasting trade, and a reminder of just how important it is.
The NOAA´s own computer model, GFS, predicted that Sandy would stay out to sea. [Update : link to article by Andrew Freedman at Climate Central added.] Very fortunately for the USA, it wasn´t the only game in town. An intergovernmental European weather forecasting organisation, the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts with the handy acronym ECMWF (Soviet Russia could not have done a worse branding job), has its own model of the Atlantic weather patterns. It needs to, because these determine European weather a few weeks later. Their model correctly predicted that Sandy would turn inland, and be violent. A contemporary insider blog post by Fred Campagna on October 23, six days before Sandy made landfall, shows that the different perspectives were well known in the trade at the time:
If there is one model to blame for all the Sandy hype, it’s the ECMWF. This model has been consistently bringing a major storm, 950mb or lower, to the Northeast. … The ECMWF has been consistent, but it is still farther west than most other models. The critical juncture for determining whether it is correct will likely be Friday or Saturday when the storm is in or leaving the Bahamas. While I think the GFS is too far east, I think the ECMWF may be too far west, and I’m nearly certain it is too intense with the storm.
FEMA went with the European forecast in its thorough planning. 125 lives were lost in the USA, with about $63 bn of property damage. The disproportion between the two figures indicates that lifesaving precautions, including evacuation, worked well. Hundreds, possibly thousands, of lives must have been saved. There will also have been some reduction in property damage from the warning; a modest 5% would still mean $3bn.
European taxpayers (including me) and international officials and scientists at the EC.. (let´s just call it the Reading Centre) are therefore owed a very pretty Christmas card of thanks from Bloomberg, Christie, Fugate and Barack Obama.
We do not expect a billion-dollar cheque. Europeans need the Atlantic forecasts for our own purposes, and you are welcome to the spinoff benefits. It´s called comity; decent people help each other out. We are also rather chuffed that our model is better than yours. Come and have a look.
You can do one thing, for all of us. The Reading model uses data from American weather satellites. (Thank you, US taxpayers.) One of these, a polar satellite called Suomi NPP, is running out of time for replacement. Reading have run a simulation of the model without the polar satellite data – and it gave the same wrongly optimistic prediction as the American one. They are too scrupulous to say that this would always happen. Still, disaster planning is all about the precautionary principle. There´s far too much at stake to do without the satellite. It shouldn´t wait to 2017 as currently planned.
Meteorologists can´t predict hurricanes years in advance, but they have already given them names. Here´s the list of the potential North Atlantic tropical cyclones to 2017:
Andrea, Barry, Chantal, Dorian, Erin, Fernand, Gabrielle, Humberto, Ingrid, Jerry, Karen, Lorenzo, Melissa, Nestor, Olga, Pablo, Rebekah, Sebastien, Tanya, Van, Wendy
Arthur, Bertha, Cristobal, Dolly, Edouard, Fay, Gonzalo, Hanna, Isaias, Josephine, Kyle, Laura, Marco, Nana, Omar, Paulette. Rene, Sally, Teddy, Vicky, Wilfred
Ana, Bill, Claudette, Danny, Erika, Fred, Grace, Henri, Ida, Joaquin, Kate, Larry, Mindy, Nicholas, Odette, Peter, Rose, Sam, Teresa, Victor, Wanda
Alex, Bonnie, Colin, Danielle, Earl, Fiona, Gaston, Hermine, Ian, Julia, Karl, Lisa, Matthew, Nicole, Otto, Paula, Richard, Shary, Tobias, Virginie, Walter
Arlene, Bret, Cindy, Don, Emily, Franklin, Gert, Harvey, Irma, Jose, Katia, Lee, Maria, Nate, Ophelia, Philippe, Rina, Sean, Tammy, Vince.
I´m glad that my name isn´t on the list. If yours is, cross your fingers that your homonym won´t be the first Big One coming to town. Which coastal city will it strike? Miami? Savannah? Norfolk? Boston? Or New York again?
A cheery and grounded Christmas (or other midwinter festival of your choice) to you all.