After a thoughtful and deliberate review, today NOAA released a report on the National Weather Service’s performance during hurricane/post tropical cyclone Sandy. The report, Hurricane/Post Tropical Cyclone Sandy Service Assessment, reaffirms that the National Weather Service provided accurate forecasts for Sandy, giving people early awareness of the significant storm churning toward the mid-Atlantic and Northeast. The report includes recommendations to improve products and services to fully meet customer and partner needs in the future.
“We found that core partners highly value the National Weather Service and thought the forecasts for Sandy were quite good – forecasters performed well predicting the track of this extremely large and complex storm, which undoubtedly saved lives,” said Peyton Robertson, director of NOAA’s Chesapeake Bay Office and team leader for the Sandy Assessment. “But we also found problems with NOAA’s ability to communicate the impacts associated with storm surge, one of the most significant hazards associated with Sandy.”
The report includes 23 recommendations for service improvements, identifying better storm surge forecasts as the highest priority. Although surge forecasts for Sandy were available two days before the storm, the team found that officials in New York and New Jersey needed information sooner and in more user-friendly, unified formats, including GIS maps and warnings that provide specific local impacts. Among others, the report recommends that NOAA unify public communications of forecast information and expand the use of social science to develop products, services and communication tools to drive public preparedness and response to severe weather.
The National Weather Service has already implemented one of the team’s recommendations and is developing an action plan to ensure that the team’s remaining recommendations become reality. Earlier this year, the National Hurricane Center moved to change its policy to issue forecasts and warnings for dangerous storms like Sandy, even when they are expected to become post-tropical cyclones by landfall. This policy will be in place for the June 1 start of hurricane season.
“I’m committed to implementing these recommendations to give America a National Weather Service that is second to none,” said Dr. Louis Uccellini, director of NOAA’s National Weather Service. “We will achieve better storm surge forecasts, and more accurate and reliable weather forecasts across the board, with increased high performance computing capacity that is planned within the next few years to support improved numerical weather prediction models.”
He explained that the agency’s structure and operations were last modernized two decades ago, and much of the agency’s communications capacity was designed in the 1980s.
This spring Congress passed the Sandy Supplemental Appropriations Act, providing NOAA with unprecedented opportunity to strengthen the National Weather Service. The Act provides $48 million in supplemental funding to the agency’s FY13 budget for Sandy recovery efforts and to improve response and recovery capability for future weather events. The funding will allow the National Weather Service to make critical improvements in high-speed computing, higher resolution weather prediction models and key observation systems, among other projects that will improve the agency’s support to local communities for extreme weather events.
Sandy was a complex storm, resulting in 72 direct deaths across eight states and at least 75 indirect deaths, damages in excess of $50 billion, storm surge in excess of eight feet and up to three feet of snow in some places. At close to 1,000 miles in diameter, it was among the largest storms ever to strike the U.S. The storm caused impacts in 24 states.
NOAA formed a team to assess the National Weather Service’s performance before and during the storm, as it does for destructive or deadly weather events. Team members were selected from across NOAA and other government agencies. The team’s charter called for the review of three key areas: the issuance and communication of watches and warnings during Sandy; National Weather Service’s use of the Internet to communicate with the customers and partners; and the development and communication of storm surge forecasts and information across NOAA.
On the Web:
Sandy Service Assessment Final Report: http://www.nws.noaa.gov/om/assessments/index.shtml