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Impact Weather: Your Weather Department

Chris Hebert
Chris Hebert,  ImpactWeather’s lead hurricane forecaster
With a B.S. in Meteorology from Texas A&M University and more than 27 years of forecasting experience, Chris is ImpactWeather’s lead hurricane forecaster. For a detailed bio…

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Report From the AMS Hurricane Conference in Tucson, AZ
May 12th, 2010
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The American Meteorological Society’s 29th Conference on Hurricanes and Tropical Meteorology is currently being held in Tucson, AZ. This biennial event attracts top researchers and operational meteorologists from around the world. This year’s conference takes place from May 10th-14th. Yes, I know, you’re thinking that Tucson doesn’t get hurricanes, and that’s true. However, since probably a good 60% of all attendees are traveling from Asia or Australia, a western U.S. conference location shortens the travel time for those folks a little. I have to admit, it’s a little strange writing about the conference while looking out my window at a hill full of saguaro cactus.

I arrived at the conference last Sunday afternoon. The first person I ran into on my way to pick up my registration packet was Bill Read, director of the National Hurricane Conference. He has a travel schedule you would not believe. Just one more trip to the Texas hurricane conference next week and he’ll be heading back to the hurricane center for the season. We chatted for a while about the expected busy hurricane season then parted ways. A short while later, I ran into Dr. Phil Klotzbach. Phil, as he prefers to be called, has been working with Dr. Bill Gray for a number of years in the production of the seasonal hurricane outlooks. As of last year, Phil took over the seasonal forecasts so that Dr. Gray could concentrate on his work related to the global warming debate. Phil and I were talking about how remote this JW Marriott Starr Resort was. There’s really nothing near the hotel – no restaurants, no grocery stores, nothing. Being frugal types, we plotted how we could get to a grocery store to buy some supplies for the week. We just can’t justify spending $20 for breakfast, $20-$30 for lunch and $30-$50 for dinner each day at the hotel restaurants That’s when I recalled that Bill Read mentioned he had a rental car. It didn’t’ take any convincing to get Bill to go along with our plan, as he’s the frugal type, too. So we all headed off to Safeway for breakfast cereal, bananas, milk, lunch meat and bread.

This was the perfect opportunity to corner Phil and get some insight as to his latest thinking about the upcoming hurricane season. I’d just heard that the Atlantic sea surface temperatures in the main development region between the Caribbean and Africa had reached a record 1.36 degrees Celsius above normal. That’s quite a bit warmer than prior to the 2005 season in May. I think that Phil’s response was “wow!”. When the subject of what would happen if the European model’s prediction of such low pressures for peak season across the Basin would verify came up, Phil’s response was more like “holy cow!”. Now don’t quote me on Phil’s response, but I think that’s the gist of his what he was thinking. Phil did admit that his April forecasts of 15 named storms, 8 hurricanes with 4 major Category 3-4-5 hurricanes is probably a little conservative if the current seasonal forecast parameters do actually pan out. The only hesitation I heard in his voice was when he mentioned a little-known factor (little known to me, too) called the “Indian Ocean Dipole”. I’m not really sure how that impacts the Atlantic Basin hurricane activity, but Phil says that is the only thing which could theoretically reduce the projected number of storms in the Atlantic this year. So barring any change in that new parameter, I think that Phil will be increasing his projected number of storms in his June 2nd forecast update.

As for the conference itself, I’ve been busy listening to all sorts of highly technical presentations for three full days now, seeing so many complex equations that my head is spinning. I try to seek out the presentations that deal more with operational forecasting issues, but these types of talks are unusually hard to come by at this conference. I did attend a discussion of model improvements this afternoon. The good news is that there have been some significant improvements to many of the models that we use to predict hurricane tracks. The improvements look to be substantial when the models are re-run with archived data from past storms. But it remains to be seen how they’ll perform with this season’s storms. I’m looking forward to Dr. Gray’s presentation in the Hurricanes and Climate session on Friday morning. He’s a great speaker. Put him in a room with a bunch of anthropogenic (man-made) global warming proponents and there are sure to be fireworks!

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