Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Heroes That Made Sandy a Predictable "Freak" Storm

I have always been interested in weather. For as far back into my childhood as I could remember, the first thing I'd turn to in the newspaper was the weather map. I actually had a favorite weatherman--Tex Antoine.

So I got particular enjoyment out of writing my latest Objective Standard blog post, The Heroes who Enabled Advance Warning of Sandy. It's about the scientists and inventors behind today's weathermen who gave them the greatly improved means to forecast weather.

As late as the mid-Twentieth Century, AccuWeather's Meghan Evans notes, "there were no weather satellites or radar images to give meteorologists the big picture of weather patterns across the globe."
   Meteorologists painstakingly plotted weather data from widely scattered observation sites and analyzed weather maps by hand.
   It was a labor-intensive process, according to Dr. Charlie Hosler, who first became a meteorologist while in the Navy during World War II. Since then, Hosler worked at Penn State as a professor of meteorology, the head of the meteorology department and the dean of the Earth and Mineral Science College.
   "It was really tough," Hosler said of the early days of meteorology. "You really had to understand the structure of the atmosphere and its dynamics and physics. I had a lot of imagination because you had very few data points. It was like an elephant standing behind a barn and all you can see is its tail and you've never seen an elephant before so you'd have trouble describing the elephant."
And we shouldn't short-change the weathermen who must make judgements based on all of the data modern technology makes available to them today. Steve Politi writes of the chief meteorologist who oversees the New Jersey, Delaware, and Philadelphia region, forecasting storms and their impact on the region:

   "Do I want to do this?"
   Gary Szatkowski had his finger on his mouse — the panic button, essentially, for an entire region — ready to send an emergency briefing about a storm that didn't look like much of a threat in many ways.
   This was Tuesday morning, a full six days before the newly-named Hurricane Sandy touched ground in New Jersey. It was still 300 miles south of Jamaica and drifting south. Most computer models had it moving harmlessly out to sea, and while a few had it curving into the New Jersey coast, no storm in modern history had ever done something like that.
   Still: The potential was too much to ignore. The chief meteorologist at the local National Weather service office in Mount Holly considered what might happen in a worst-case scenario — the wind, the flooding, the historic damage. How could he not put everyone on notice?
   "Our region could be close to the path of a very dangerous storm," he wrote in his briefing on the morning of Oct. 23. "This storm system will bring multiple potential threats to the region."


Gary Szatkowski
Age: 55
Town: Hainesport, Burlington County
Profession: Chief meteorologist at the Mount Holly office of the National Weather Service
Fun fact: Took an interest in weather as a first grader, reading the forecast maps in an afternoon newspaper in Chicago.
Act of heroism: His accurate forecasts, along with his strong warnings and personal pleas to evacuate the coast, likely saved lives.

   He clicked to send it, hoping he had done the right thing. And hoping the storm would prove him wrong.

Sadly, he was dead on.

Related Reading:

NY mostly ignored reports warning of superstorm--AP

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