Some readers know that I bugged out from my blogging location due to Hurricane Matthew.
Call it the least needed bugout in recent history.
We made the call to leave when NWS forecasts showed Mattie centerpunching this location as a Cat 3 storm. We left Thursday morning. Upon our arrival at the bugout location, the track had been updated to Cat 4. We congratulated ourselves on making a good call.
Being a news junkie, I followed storm reports as Matt headed up the Florida coast; some official, some informal blogs, and some in between. I quickly noticed that measured surface winds bore very little resemblance to those reported by NWS. One Florida location was reporting 55 MPH even as NWS claimed 100 MPH (with higher gusts). Wind damage afterwards supported the lower velocities.
But, hey. Winds aren’t exactly the only problem in hurricanes. Think storm surge, particularly with low air pressure in the storm. Matt was reported at 942 mb or thereabouts at the time. (And the location with that wind discrepancy did suffer serious flooding from the surge.)
As the storm cruised up the coast, the NWS variously upgraded and downgraded the storm strength. It began to look like my place would be hit at Cat 2-3. And about that time, Matt developed a double eyewall. Funny thing about double eyewalls: that often indicates that the storm is becoming disorganized and may fall apart quickly.
The NWS upgraded the prediction for my place to Cat 4.
Meanwhile, I was finding ever more discrepancies (40-60 MPH discrepancies) between measured surface winds and NWS reports at ever more locations. One of the most amusing came from a minister in southeast Georgia. As the weather service claimed sustained 60 MPH with 80 MPH gusts, he went out with his smart phone and recorded video. He sarcastically noted the horrific winds as he focused on Spanish moss barely drifting the the breeze. He dutifully reported the torrential rain light sprinkles. Flooding? He showed images of water puddles.
Matthew supposedly hit here at Cat 1. We got 8-12 inches of rain. Much of the town was flooded by the surge. According to NWS.
When we returned home… Some obvious storm damage. Downtown (on the waterfront) did get some storm surge, but it floods all the time. Power had only gone out briefly.
I had a few dead limbs down in the yard, but I had about the same from Hermine barely brushing us as a tropical storm. A neighbor’s roof has had a few loose shingles since before I moved here; those loose shingles were still place.
Rain? The dirt in the lawn was drier than it usually is a couple of days after a thunderstorm.
I checked histories on a couple of local personal weather stations. Max sustained winds in the upper 40s to lower 50s. The highest gust I saw recorded was about 65 MPH. I don’t think either showed a total rainfall in excess of 4 inches.
OK, the storm was dangerous in some areas. But pretty consistently it seemed to be overblown; not just in the media, but in dot-gov official reporting. And it seems to me that has been trending in NWS storm reports in recent years. That’s bad.
Sure, they err on the side of caution. They want to be sure as many people evac as necessary. So they might think that scaring everyone will do that. This time.
But utility companies and individuals planning disaster response need accuracy, not fear. And the folks who were unnecessarily frightened into leaving this time…
…just might blow off the reports next time. And that can get people killed.
Way to go, shepherd boys.