DISCUSSION: Many people that did not experience the full-force and natural fury associated with the recent U.S.-based landfalls of Hurricane Harvey never fully understood the numbers behind what was left behind in the wake of the recent devastation to a good portion of southeast Texas. Attached below is a great article (courtesy of Meteorologist Gene Norman) which excellently captures the details behind what unfolded with the recent landfalls of Hurricane and then Tropical Storm Harvey in the second of the two U.S. landfalls which occurred.
"I’ve heard that phrase repeated over and over as Hurricane Harvey unleashed historic flooding across southeast Texas and southwest Louisiana. Having lived in Houston for half my life, I am heartbroken to see the people in that great city and the region suffering. So first, I hope that after you read this, you will take a moment to help those in need: http://bit.ly/harvey_help.As a broadcast meteorologist, having assisted people get through the last major storm to hit Houston, Ike in 2008, I have some thoughts on Harvey - specifically on messaging. As in any post-storm assessment, there are things that were done very well and things that can be improved.
We in the weather enterprise are a great group and we should be rightly proud of the advancements made in the science of meteorology to detect, analyze and predict threats. However, we tend to be a largely insular group that speaks a common language, but often “talks to itself”. We can quickly recite past storms based on their category, but the general public might not be making these distinctions in the same way.
For example, while Harvey was technically the strongest storm to hit the U.S since the last Category 4 storm, Charley in 2004, some were confused at this comparison in the light of Matthew (2016), Sandy (2012) and Katrina (2005). For them, a hurricane’s impact has more meaning than its meteorological designation. Perhaps its time to reconsider the use of a single-number index for classifying a tropical threat and focus more on what will likely happen.
If the home page of the National Hurricane Center showed the forecast for the storm along with icons illustrating people on roofs, buildings destroyed and cars floating, that might have conveyed the seriousness of this particular storm. A person in Houston, even a seasoned resident, seeing Harvey’s landfall forecast projection near Corpus Christi, 150 miles away, might not have properly understood that torrential rainfall would fall where they are.
Yes, there were predictions of 15, 20 inches or more of rain that were largely consistent on Thursday and Friday. If you’ve lived in Houston, you know – it floods. In fact, you likely know the “usual suspect” flood locations. Past torrents have made traffic treacherous, even deadly and some homes may have taken on water. Few realized that Harvey’s rains were going to produce flooding practically everywhere and many could end up homeless. This despite the repeated use of the word “catastrophic” in numerous forecasts prior to the first drop falling.
Compounding the issue was timing and this again points to how important it is to clearly communicate. Leading up to the storm’s arrival, the projection most often shown was of a 30+ inch total over a five-day period, from Friday to the following Wednesday. While this was largely accurate in terms of amount (even though some spots saw an astounding 50 inches), it may have been interpreted as an average of 4 to 5 inches a day for the five-day period. That’s why some many residents and even public officials indicated “surprise” when they awoke to 15 to 20 inches or more Sunday morning and a city largely drowning.
Numerous posts from some within the weather enterprise expressed outrage over confusion from anyone about what occurred. We were busy high-fiving ourselves over model forecasts that seemed dead-on, information we assumed the public interpreted the same way. Yet, there was still a disconnect in messaging. Or it could have been something more basic – a simple disbelief. While “we” within the weather enterprise were convinced of the veracity of the forecast based on its consistency, those hearing this information, perhaps including those with public safety authority still might have been slightly skeptical.
When I entered broadcasting some twenty-five years ago, I immediately learned an important lesson – “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Early in my career, I wanted assure people that I knew what I was talking about. Coaches and others encouraged me to work more on connecting with viewers.
Extreme messaging such as the repeated use of the phrases “catastrophic” and “parts of Texas will be uninhabitable” weren’t just hyperbole. Hopefully, lessons learned after Harvey will further move the weather enterprise in a direction that delivers messaging that doesn’t just speak to ourselves but has a greater impact to the end user."
To learn more about other high-impact weather events occurring across North America, be sure to click here!
©2017 Meteorologist Jordan Rabinowitz