'Their finest hour'

Meteorologist Mike Smith, over at Meteorological Musings has a great story to relay. While the source of the quote is from Churchhill, it makes me think of Apollo 13 and Gene Krantz.  Mike writes of the effort put into forecasting hurricane Sandy:

But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss…

Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves, that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, This was their finest hour. 
                              — Sir Winston Churchill, June 18, 1940

I’ve thought of that famous quote from Sir Winston several times since Saturday — when it became completely clear that Hurricane Sandy was going to be the multi-state disaster that had threatened for the previous two days.

While victims and officials are still early in the process of sorting out this huge disaster, it is clear that unprecedented and extremely difficult-to-forecast Hurricane Sandy was meteorology’s “finest hour.”

How good were these forecasts?

Read his full story at: “This Was Their Finest Hour”

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November 1, 2012 6:58 am

Mike has two great books about adapting and maladapting to severe weather.

Dodgy Geezer
November 1, 2012 7:04 am

Umm…. the text says:
“…The U.S. models didn’t do well, at first, taking the storm out to sea. But, human forecasters at AccuWeather and elsewhere put their knowledge and experience to work and leaned on the European heavily to get preliminary warnings and preparatory advice 4.5 days in advance….”
On this evidence, it rather looks as if it was the European’s finest hour rather than ours…

John Marshall
November 1, 2012 7:07 am

At landfall I believe the ”hurricane” label should have been dropped since the steady wind strength was 50Kts rather than the required 72Kts. It was a large storm but previous large storms have made landfall. It might hold a record for cost but inflation and population numbers are large drivers of storm cost.
I feel very sorry for those on the storm’s route and for those who lost their lives, but I know that America will bounce back like it always does.

November 1, 2012 7:10 am

How good were these forecasts?
Here is the European computer model’s forecast made at 2pm last Wednesday. It shows a hurricane near the coast of New Jersey or DelMarVa yesterday evening… The U.S. models didn’t do well, at first, taking the storm out to sea.
That begs the question, why were the US models not as accurate?
Is it possible that US forecasters have become so concerned about forecasting weather 100 years in the future, that they have neglected their responsibility to accurately forecast weather, just 5 days in advance?
You would think, given the hundreds of billions of dollars poured into climate research by the US that their models would be more accurate than EU forecasts, especially about a storm off the US coast.
Is it possible that the public money poured into climate research has had a negative affect on the accuracy of US weather forecast? Is it possible that money that should have been spend on improving weather forecasting has instead been diverted to climate forecasting?

November 1, 2012 7:20 am

Isn’t this really a black eye for US computer models? Aren’t poor computer models a threat to the people’s of the US if they cannot deliver accurate forecasts?
Doesn’t this point to the dangers of allowing politicians like Al Gore to determine which scientists get funding and which scientists do not? Those scientists that support Al’s apocalyptic vision of future climate got funding when Al was in power, which warped US science for a generation, distorting the computer models to the point where the failure of the models themselves is now a direct threat to the safety of the peoples of the US.

November 1, 2012 7:44 am

The Cuban government has a fairly sensible practice of ordering a shutdown of power prior to big storms hitting, which had this been done in New York could have prevented some of the problems and fires. Perhaps being a totalitarian state has some advantages?

Chris B
November 1, 2012 7:50 am

The bigger disaster is money wasted on bogus climate “research” projects, eclipsing all weather related disaster costs combined. At least the properties are rebuilt better after a disaster.

November 1, 2012 7:57 am

I noted the difference between the Euro and GFS on Monday Oct. 22nd (http://yfnwg.blogspot.com/2012/10/hooboy.html). Anecdotally speaking, the GFS model tends to jump energy out front, while the Euro lags behind. As a result, the trough was much more progressive on the GFS early runs pushing Sandy out to sea. Once the timing became more clear, the GFS latched on to a solution similar to the Euro

November 1, 2012 8:06 am

I think the success of the tracking predictions depends upon who’s radar you are watching. Dr. Curry’s company (CFAN) was able to create and then connect the dots early on.

David Ball
November 1, 2012 8:22 am

John Marshall says:
November 1, 2012 at 7:07 am
“At landfall I believe the ”hurricane” label should have been dropped since the steady wind strength was 50Kts rather than the required 72Kts.”
A point I have made on several threads with zero response. Willis E. was blasted ( to no avail, good on ya Willis) for making this point in his thread. Anthony?

November 1, 2012 8:28 am

Storm related costs are ALWAYS inflated. Some of the assumptions are ridiculous, for example the figure quoting airline losses, which assumes, apparently, that either those folks who couldn’t fly into the storm area never will, or will walk or ride a bicycle rather than take the airline. Ditto for losses to retailers. Sales mostly get displaced, not lost forever. And using dollars as a metric for measuring damages is useless. There is a strong tendency, never more apparent than in the Weather Channel’s coverage, to hype any danger and provide only worst case scenarios. Viewership of the Weather Channel expands enormously when hurricanes are coming and Weather Channel personnel are trained to never discount the dangers. Which leads to some absurd situations.

November 1, 2012 8:29 am

Tis caused by global cooling. Keep ur eyes on the T ball.

November 1, 2012 8:47 am

Maybe I an just cynical. Okay, I am cynical about any claims related to meteorology. Given the tools at hand and the investments made, I expected nothing less then what was given. I doubt more or better was possible.

November 1, 2012 8:50 am

If one is duly warned of impending danger and does nothing(or too little) to prepare, is he a “victim”? Of himself only.

November 1, 2012 9:01 am

“But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age, made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.” – Churchhill.

November 1, 2012 9:26 am

The accurate forecast for D-Day was also one of meteorologists, finest triumphs -it also saved many lives.
The “finest hour” speech was given on 18 June 1940. Churchill used the phrase “the whole world, including the United States” as a dig at the isolationists in America. Many of the socialists among them were not motivated by pacifism -an aspect that revisionist historians tend to ignore.
Ever since the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact in August 1939, Stalin’s “useful idiots” in the States, had been doing all they could to help the Nazi war effort. This included agitating industrial unrest, to stem the flow of munitions to Britain. There were four times as many labour strikes in 1940 in the U.S. as the year before.
This all changed after Hitler invaded Russia. And some of those munitions that made it across the Atlantic were then shipped to Russia. Merchant seamen had a higher death rate than any of Britain’s armed services and on the Arctic convoys it was highest of all. On one convoy, 24 of 35 merchant ships were lost. Lest we forget.
The Churchill speech that most springs to mind, when I hear politicians talk about global warming, is the one he gave on 13 May 1940.

We are in the preliminary stage of one of the greatest battles in history…. That we are in action at many points — in Norway and in Holland —, that we have to be prepared in the Mediterranean. That the air battle is continuous, and that many preparations have to be made here at home.
I would say to the House as I said to those who have joined this government: I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering.

We are told that climate change threatens the future of civilization, mankind and the very planet itself. If that were true, sacrifice exhorting speech like that of Churchill would be appropriate. Instead (and incredibly) we are told that the necessary effort won’t hurt a bit: it will benefit the economy and create “green jobs”! Again in the words of Churchill:

A politician needs the ability to foretell what is going to happen tomorrow, next week, next month, and next year. And to have the ability afterwards to explain why it didn’t happen.

Or to paraphrase:
Never in the field of human endeavour has so much bull***t been sold to so many by so few.

November 1, 2012 9:46 am

I’m impressed. I was doubtful of the predicted westward track for such a high latitude storm. You’re all lucky I’m not your weather forecaster!
Hats off to the pros, no telling how many lives they saved.

Bloke down the pub
November 1, 2012 10:13 am

As with many cases, this ‘finest hour’ will only last till they get one wrong (as the odds say they will). Then their name will be mud.

November 1, 2012 10:23 am

From Mike Smith’s blog:
“The damage toll, too, will have been mitigated by companies and individuals taking advantage of the early warning. Lowes, for example, used AccuWeather Enterprise Solutions’ forecasts to insure their stores in the threatened areas had the supplies they needed to get their customers through the storm.”
It is very important to underscore what our nation’s true delivery system is in times of crisis: it consists of shippers and large companies who are able to quickly move supplies to any location in the US. For example, the largest rice grower in the US, Riceland, responds immediately to disasters and also gives rice to schools, churches and other outreaches. No law compels them to do this and it is efficient.
“We Respond: From a house fire that affects one family to tornadoes, ice storms and even large factory closing that affect hundreds; Arkansas Rice Depot’s Disaster Relief program immediately activates, providing emergency relief through our food pantry partners, public schools, direct disaster service events, and even door to door if necessary. Our emergency relief efforts continue as long as there is a need.”

November 1, 2012 12:13 pm

Thanks so much, Anthony, for posting and linking to my “finest hour” posting.
Yes, I am somewhat concerned that the European model got the right answer first but it misses the point: The human meteorologists knew the U.S. GFS model’s “rightward” (in this case “east”) bias and corrected for it. Thus, superb forecasts and warnings.
The day may come when a computer may make a superior forecast without human intervention. That day is not here and won’t be for a decade or more.
Meteorologists had to take a lot of flak in the runup to Sandy’s landfall (“stupid” and “hype” as two examples). The profession deserves the credit it is now getting.
I have a follow up posting here: http://meteorologicalmusings.blogspot.com/2012/11/this-was-our-finest-hour-ii.html
Thanks again, Anthony!

See - owe to Rich
November 1, 2012 1:42 pm

Was it meteorologists’ finest hour that predicted 50mph sustained winds at BWI airport when in fact they were about half that strong??

November 1, 2012 2:07 pm

Dodgy Geezer says:
November 1, 2012 at 7:04 am
“…The U.S. models didn’t do well, at first, taking the storm out to sea. But, human forecasters at AccuWeather and elsewhere put their knowledge and experience to work and leaned on the European heavily to get preliminary warnings and preparatory advice 4.5 days in advance….”
On this evidence, it rather looks as if it was the European’s finest hour rather than ours…

I think you have misread that. The “models” failed. The U.S. (and Canadian?) meteorologists, the “human forecasters” went to work and put together a better forecast that leaned heavily on “the European …” I think that there is a missing word following “European,” – data, models, ?? As I recall, there was mention of a blocking pattern in the north Atlantic that would cause the storm to swing west, making land fall.
The finest hour would be that of the humans. The computer models had fallen down/

November 1, 2012 2:20 pm

What is this all leading to? Could there be a future Nobel Prize for a computer model in the offing?!
IEEE tech alert:
“This year, the NWS’s Global Forecast System was able to move a bunch of algorithms from the research lab into its operational models, just in time for Hurricane Sandy. The new algorithms took temperature, humidity, and wind data collected by aircraft, weather balloons, satellites, and ground stations and extrapolated them onto a much finer grid pattern than was previously possible. This one change improved the accuracy of hurricane prediction models by 20 percent.”

November 1, 2012 2:47 pm

Rich (above), you are factually incorrect. You said the highest winds were half of the predicted 50 mph (sustained). Here is the actual data.
If you go to http://www.nws.noaa.gov/climate/index.php?wfo=lwx and click on “Climate” and select Baltimore for the 29th you will find the following:
Yes, I did forecast a peak gust around 70 mph so I was 10 mph too high. Baltimore-D.C. was one of the few areas where the winds were a bit lower than forecast. But, the actual wind speeds were hardly half of what was forecast.

stephen richards
November 1, 2012 2:52 pm

steveta_uk says:
November 1, 2012 at 7:44 am
The Cuban government has a fairly sensible practice of ordering a shutdown of power prior to big storms hitting, which had this been done in New York could have prevented some of the problems and fires. Perhaps being a totalitarian state has some advantages?
In this small corner of rural france where I live they shut down power in the face of severe thunderstorms to prevent substation and transformer damage. I guess we are technically a long way behind you americans.

george e smith
November 1, 2012 4:32 pm

Well, Churchill’s “finest hour” was also about Hurricanes; Hawker Hurricanes to be specific. Although Spitfires got all the glory, it was the Hurricanes which bore the brunt of the storm.
But I’m a Spitfire junky anyway, so who cares about the Hurricanes ?

November 1, 2012 4:50 pm

I love the weather forecasters. The forecasters were spot on. I checked them a lot. Lifesaving stuff. I trust meteorological forecasts. Great job Weather folks.

kadaka (KD Knoebel)
November 1, 2012 10:23 pm

I question whether the wind measurements were accurate. Local Pennsylvania station WNEP-16, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, reported they weren’t getting reliable wind speed measurements from their “weathernet”, primarily weather stations at schools etc, because the instruments broke.
They showed the TV station’s weather station. I recognized the model instantly, it’s the one on the WeatherShop’s “Monitor your own climate” right-toolbar listing, viewed from practically the same angle.
It too suffered damage. The weather vane (wind direction indicator) under the nose? GONE, location unknown. Next day or so, they said they ordered the replacement.
Replacement weather vane, or replacement station? I thought it was the part, now I’m not certain. Can just the vane be replaced?
In any case, with that much widespread instrument damage, how can they know the readings are accurate? They didn’t just all go dead, some were limping along reporting lower than they should have. How do they sort out which ones were correct and when the ones that weren’t went bad?

Ethan Brand
November 2, 2012 6:08 pm

The part I never see any serious discussion of is the overall predictive accuracy of any of the models….or meteorologists. Taking a single point forecast…ie Sandy…and taking credit for it would be a valid point if the art of weather forecasting were actually shown to be better than guessing. So, for example, what is the actual forecast accuracy of the much credited european model? How about the maligned american models…how about the accuracy of the individual forecasters? The basic problem I see is that weather forecasting, whatever the source, consists of huge amounts of largely useless forecasting data. I admit to watching winter storm forecasts with almost religous fervor, but also realize that my cat probably has as good a chance of predicting a snow storm more than 3 or 4 days out than the pretty graphics on my PC screen. If weather forecasts were accompanied by the underlying demonstrated past accuracy, I expect they would be largely ignored beyond a few days. Now, if you can see some monster weather system to your west (in the US), then you can probably be confident that it is not likely to be dry and sunny a few days hence….so, here’s the challenge to the “we got Sandy” right crowd : Have you demonstrated superior accuracy consistently in the past (with accompanied error prediction).? I see a lot of very intelligent, rational, and accomplished folks post here. Bottom line: What’s the actual state of the art of weather forecasting accuracy?

November 2, 2012 8:43 pm

The problem is that say right now, my rain water tank is empty. For the first time since 2009 when it was a government sponsored water conservation ploy, as I have town water in abundance. But I noticed over the years, when it was raining hard down in the valley just 1 1/2 kms from where I live it didn’t rain where I lived. So predictions are not always complete. Might be OK for one area in the locality but not accurate in another. But with satellite imagery now, it can give some more accuracy than the wall barometer.

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