Preparing the public for a busy hurricane season

As the weather warms and municipalities along the Jersey Shore rush to get Sandy-damaged facilities ready for the summer season, meteorologists are preparing for another hurricane season – one that many experts are predicting will have an above-average number of storms.

Hurricane Season officially begins June 1, but Gary Szatkowski, meteorologist in charge at the National Weather Service’s office in Mount Holly, N.J. is already thinking about how his office can better prepare the public for future storms.

“Obviously, Sandy was a very difficult and traumatic event for the region and that was just one storm,” said Szatkowski. “All it takes is one major storm event to cause serious problems.”

Superstorm Sandy and its super-sized impact on shore residents has made Szatkowski focus on publicizing the severity of upcoming storms in ways the public can better understand.

“What we tried to do during Sandy and what we’ll try to do more of is make sure people focus on the impacts,” said Szatkowski. “People need to understand that each storm brings with it a set of threats or impacts that aren’t always the same.”

With all storms, there’s wind, rain, and flooding, said Szatkowski. But during Sandy, the storm surge was particular devastating. Hurricane Irene in August 2011 made its presence felt more through in-land flooding.

So in the future, “we’ll try to make sure people know what to expect where,” said Szatkowski.

Short-term forecasting has greatly improved in recent decades, thanks to advances in the understanding of weather science and in technology, such as computing power and modeling of atmospheric conditions.

The progress mirrors the path the medical industry has made over the past few generations, said Szatkowski.

“Not that long ago, most diseases couldn’t be cured,” he said. “Meteorology is climbing that same rapid growth curve.”

NOAA won’t release its predictions for the upcoming hurricane season until late May, but early predictions from other forecasters indicate a busy summer.

“A wild season is on the way,” writes Joe Bastardi, the chief forecaster WeatherBELL Analytics, a meteorological consulting firm. 

WeatherBELL predicts 16 names storms and five major hurricanes.

There’s a 72 percent chance a major hurricane (category 3 or higher) will make landfall along the U.S. coastline, according to a forecast from Colorado State University.

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