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Weather service changes warning system after Sandy

2:28 PM, Apr 4, 2013   |    comments
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by Doyle Rice, USA TODAY


The fact that the National Weather Service did not issue hurricane warnings as deadly and devastating Superstorm Sandy roared ashore last October caused public confusion, and at one point led New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to downplay the storm's ferocity as it neared the coast.

It's also caused a bit of a furor in the weather and emergency management community since then.

But the weather service announced Thursday that starting with this hurricane season, "the definitions of hurricane and tropical storm watches and warnings will be broadened" to allow these watches and warnings to be issued or remain in effect after a tropical cyclone -- or hurricane -- transitions to become post-tropical, when such a storm still poses a significant threat to life and property.

In addition, the weather service says the new system will "ensure a continuity of service by allowing the National Hurricane Center to issue advisories during the post-tropical stage. These changes were motivated by the special challenges posed by Hurricane Sandy, which was forecast to evolve from a hurricane to a post-tropical cyclone prior to reaching the coast."

The National Weather Service and the National Hurricane Center are part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The problem with Sandy had mostly to do with its unusual meteorological structure, and not with ts power: Since Sandy was technically forecast to hit land as a "post-tropical cyclone" and not a hurricane, the hurricane center did not issue its usual hurricane watches and warnings as the storm approached the coast, instead relying on several local weather service offices to issue "high wind warnings," "coastal flood warnings" and other watches and warnings.

Two days before the storm hit, Bloomberg said at a news conference the storm "will be less dangerous" than Hurricane Irene, which had hit the year before. It turned to be far from it: While Irene did some serious damage, Sandy's catastrophic storm surge devastated coastal communities from New Jersey to Connecticut, causing billions of dollars in damage.

Up until now, the hurricane center had always only issued warnings for hurricanes and tropical storms, while local offices issues warnings for most other weather phenomena.

"Our forecasters now have more flexibility to effectively communicate the threat posed by transitioning tropical systems," said Louis Uccellini, the new director of the weather service. "Sandy's forecast was remarkably accurate and under a similar situation in the future, forecasters will be able to choose the best option to underscore the urgency involved."

"I would like to thank everyone for their open and candid feedback on this proposal," said Rick Knabb, director of the hurricane center. "Keeping communities safe when a storm threatens is truly a team effort and this change reflects that collaboration."

The Atlantic hurricane season officially starts June 1 and lasts until Nov. 30.

Copyright 2013 USATODAY.com

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