Lessons from Hermine: We got it wrong this time, but we might be right next time

20160916-severe-weather-conference-signA South Jersey meteorologist says one of his biggest fears is that that warnings for the next big storm will be ignored. Dan Skeldon, the meteorologist for the Press of Atlantic City, who co-hosted last night’s Severe Weather Conference in Ocean City, New Jersey says that because Tropical Storm Hermine was considered a dud over the Labor Day Weekend it’s going to be harder for emergency management officials to convince the public to take the next storm seriously.

Tropical storm warnings were issued for most of New Jersey’s shore towns with predictions of heavy rain, high winds and potentially life threatening floods. That never happened. When Tropical Storm Hermine moved up the East Coast she turned East leaving the state largely unscathed.

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“Unfortunately meteorologist are only as good as their last forecast…I really am fearful, because of Hermine, maybe not so much with locals but especially with tourists, tourists that didn’t come down for Hermine and it was a beautiful empty weekend on the beach. The next time (there’s a dire forecast) they are going to come down,” Skeldon said.

Audience members were not asked to identify themselves during the forum. One man asked that forecasters be a little more considerate to the impact forecasts can have on local businesses. He pointed out that on Sunday of Labor Day Weekend in New Jersey the weather was actually pretty nice. “Even as late as Sunday forecasts were, I don’t want to say doom and gloom, they (forecasters) don’t get it….It’s the ‘Boy Who Cried Wolf.”

Joe Miketta, the Warning Coordination Meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Mt. Holly, said he wanted the man to know he understands his frustration. “We get that. We knew when we started seeing what might happen (with Hermine) getting toward the Labor Day Weekend that was the first thing on our mind, what’s happening here with the local businesses. It is difficult because if we have a major storm coming up and you have a Labor Day Weekend you got to get the people out….Our feeling is that is why we need to get better. To get better we need better technology and we need better computer models.”

Miketta says one of the things that is creating pressure on the National Weather Service is that there are more people issuing forecasts. The pressure comes from not wanting the public to get mixed signals from the weather forecasting community. “We’re not an island anymore, the National Weather Service…there are a lot of private sector folks doing these things. It kind of snow balls. We have to respond somehow. We can’t deny that there is not a storm out there. We can’t say it may not be that bad when others are out there saying this is going to be terrible. Then we would be sending a lot of mixed signals and we don’t want to be doing that.”

Meketta says one way he tries to counter dire forecasts coming from other groups is to emphasize that it may be a “worst case” scenario. But he says emergency managers then have to deal with the possibility of severe impact on their communities. “they’re saying it’s Labor Day Weekend we gotta do something here.”

The forum was sponsored by the Press of Atlantic City and the City of Ocean City. The format was the public could ask forecasters and public officials any questions they want. 

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