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By Joan Farrell | Agent in Ocean City, NJ
  • Tracking Irene in Ocean City...lessons for the next hurricane

    Posted Under: General Area in Ocean City, Quality of Life in Ocean City, How To... in Ocean City  |  August 29, 2011 4:15 PM  |  572 views  |  1 comment

    Weathering a highly-publicized storm like Irene was a great learning experience.  I was lucky enough to have power, cable and internet access throughout the storm, and this is what I learned:

    1)   The Weather Channel has high entertainment value and can also provide a source for warnings and tips, but its primary function is to attract viewers, not to educate.

    2) Local news stations can fall victim as well to the entertainment trap.  It is disconcerting to watch a reporter lean into the wind and talk about how hard it is to stand up while someone is riding by behind him on a bicycle.

    3)    It is invaluable to have access to two specific websites:  The National Hurricane Center (NHC) at http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/ and the National Data Buoy Center (NDBC) at http://www.ndbc.noaa.gov/ .   I narrowed the map on the NDBC  to cover only our region and bookmarked that to make reference easier.  Both of these sites are manned and maintained by the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration (NOAA), a federal agency whose roots go back to 1807  http://www.noaa.gov/.  Their data is the most important source for weather forecasters covering coastal areas.  Their sites are easy to use and you can just explore and learn all kinds of things.

    4) While the Weather Channel was predicting 75 mile per hour winds in our area with higher gusts, its internet site, www.weather.com  was calling for winds at 40 mph, rising to 50 - 60 mph during a three hour window as the eye approached.  At the same time, the NDBC offshore buoys that record and transmit wave height, water temperature, air temperature, pressure and wind strength and gusts, were showing wind speeds of no more than 35 knots anywhere from north Jersey to Virginia Beach six hours before the eye of the storm was expected to reach us.  At the NHC, the wind probability data was showing that Atlantic City could expect winds of 34 knots or more (about 40 mph), it was highly unlikely that it would see winds over 50 knots (57.5 mph).  

    5) Because hurricanes are classified by wind speed, everyone focuses on wind.  The danger of a huge storm like Irene is that the bigger the storm, the more moisture it holds. Radar during the storm was showing extreme bands of rain to the north and west of the eye, yet the media stayed focused on the what-ifs at the shore and in New York City, not emphasizing the risks of severe flooding to the north. Check out rainfall maps from the storm and you can see that New England had by far the worst flooding, with roads and bridges destroyed in many locations.

    6) No one seems to know how to measure a storm surge.  The television media kept referring to the surge as "above ground level" while my understanding was that it was measured from mean sea level.  Turns out I had it right. You then add the surge to the predicted tide to get an idea of how high the water will be (the storm tide).  If the land you are on is at risk of flood at a normal high tide, then it is safe to say that the storm surge would be "above ground level."  

    7) The projected track was highly accurate.  I just got my Saturday Atlantic City Press that had a map of the projected storm track, printed Friday night.  Bingo.

    8) Real data from my home weather station:  Maximum wind speed: a single gust at 62 mph, well below what we have seen in some winter storms.  Highest winds from about 4 pm to 9 pm Saturday, with relatively steady 20 - 40 mph following that.  More than 9 inches of rain.  Having had a station for about six years, I would not want to live near the shore without a good one.

    9) TWC (the Weather Channel) is not a good thing to watch if you are in the storm being covered.  AMC (American Movie Classics) is much better for the blood pressure and sanity.

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