November 14, 2012

Wichita-based critic leads Sandy panel

The National Weather Service is turning to a prominent critic to assess its performance during Hurricane Sandy.

The National Weather Service is turning to a prominent critic to assess its performance during Hurricane Sandy.

Mike Smith, an AccuWeather senior vice president based in Wichita, has been named co-chair of the panel reviewing what went well, what went poorly and potential changes in the weather service’s products and procedures.

“For the next few months, I’m going to be extraordinarily busy,” Smith said via e-mail.

Convening an independent panel is a departure from standard practice. The weather service has traditionally relied on internal reviews of agency performance during major events such as the Joplin tornado.

In a Nov. 2 post on his weather blog, “Meteorological Musings,” Smith described the agency’s service assessment program as “badly broken.”

“The Joplin tornado SA (service assessment) was a complete joke,” Smith wrote. “It never mentions its own mis-location and misreporting of the tornado’s location and direction of movement. The SA report issued in the wake of the April 27, 2011, tornadoes in the South omitted several crucial issues.”

Smith insists he is a big fan of the weather service, “but I also believe we have to be scientifically honest in order to continue to improve as an applied science,” he wrote in the blog post.

He then posted a series of questions that any report on Sandy should examine:

• To what extent did this decision influence Mayor Bloomberg and others to delay evacuations and/or make the evacuations less extensive than they should have been?
• Did this decision contribute to the drownings on Staten Island and elsewhere when the hurricane’s storm surge overtook the island and the coastline?
• What was Sandy’s real intensity? At least three independent meteorologists have come to the conclusion it was category 2 before landfall. I believe they may be right. The NWS has a long history of “adjusting” hurricane intensities after the fact (Hurricane Andrew, that many of us believed was a Cat 5 at the time, wasn’t named a Cat 5 by the NWS until the tenth anniversary of the storm). This does not inspire confidence we are getting the accurate story now.
• We have made relatively little progress in forecasting hurricane intensity. Is it time for a different approach to that problem?

“Its decision not to issue a hurricane warning as a hurricane was approaching the coast was, in my opinion, disastrous,” Smith said of the NWS. “That is just my opinion. We need objective facts.”

No timetable for completion of the panel’s review has been announced.

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