Early death toll reports in Florida

May 10, 2007
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Here's a quote from the Lee County, Florida, sheriff on ABC Thursday morning:
“While I don’t have the confirmed numbers, I definitely know the fatalities are in the hundreds,” the sheriff said. “There are thousands of people that are waiting to be rescued and, again, cannot give a true assessment until we’re actually on the scene, assessing each scene, and we can’t access people, that’s the problem.” The quote was pretty widely reported initially, but not very much by late afternoon. News media having some doubts, perhaps?

Then the president came along later in the day with this:
"This could be the deadliest hurricane in Florida's history"
This was very widely quoted by the news media and used in some headlines. I didn't see anyone question whether this could be true. But, the historical record shows that the hurricane that struck Palm Beach and the Lake Okeechobee area in September, 1928 killed between 2500 and 3000 people. Does anyone believe that Ian's death toll could be this high?

Undoubtedly the death toll will continue to rise for days. It's possible that some people could have been washed out to sea and will never be found. But we certainly need to hope that the estimates that were quoted above will end up being grossly exaggerated.
 
Sep 26, 2022
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i REALLY hope it is another case of media over-hype. they do this EVERY time a major hurricane or tornado outbreak impacts the US. they risk desensitizing people to the danger of hurricanes if they keep on acting like every hurricane is a Katrina level event.
 
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Jul 5, 2009
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i REALLY hope it is another case of media over-hype. they do this EVERY time a major hurricane or tornado outbreak impacts the US. they risk desensitizing people to the danger of hurricanes if they keep on acting like ever hurricane is a Katrina level event.
To that point, it is also worth noting that with every hurricane, the media loves to reference Katrina and draw comparisons to it, while seeming to ignore the fact that what made Katrina so horrible was the breaking of the levees. That made Katrina a unique event and therefore not an appropriate apples-to-apples comparison for other hurricanes. Of course the failure of the levees was related to Katrina’s severity, and she was a strong Cat 3 at landfall, but still not an appropriate reference point as an objective comparison of another storm’s forecasted or actual impact, especially for other areas that are unlike New Orleans - i.e., not in a bowl surrounded by levees.
 
May 10, 2007
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North Little Rock, AR
To that point, it is also worth noting that with every hurricane, the media loves to reference Katrina and draw comparisons to it, while seeming to ignore the fact that what made Katrina so horrible was the breaking of the levees. That made Katrina a unique event and therefore not an appropriate apples-to-apples comparison for other hurricanes. Of course the failure of the levees was related to Katrina’s severity, and she was a strong Cat 3 at landfall, but still not an appropriate reference point as an objective comparison of another storm’s forecasted or actual impact, especially for other areas that are unlike New Orleans - i.e., not in a bowl surrounded by levees.
And lest anyone forget, the most widely quoted toll for Katrina was 1800 to 1850 deaths.
 
Sep 26, 2022
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To that point, it is also worth noting that with every hurricane, the media loves to reference Katrina and draw comparisons to it, while seeming to ignore the fact that what made Katrina so horrible was the breaking of the levees. That made Katrina a unique event and therefore not an appropriate apples-to-apples comparison for other hurricanes. Of course the failure of the levees was related to Katrina’s severity, and she was a strong Cat 3 at landfall, but still not an appropriate reference point as an objective comparison of another storm’s forecasted or actual impact, especially for other areas that are unlike New Orleans - i.e., not in a bowl surrounded by levees.
adding on: another reason is unlike now, (politics alert) the government had GOD-AWFUL response to add on to the mess. yes, Ian will be deadly, but remember people: it struck an area that literally gets hit by hurricanes of this size every few years. they know how to handle a major hurricane. (most of the time) it is nothing new, especially now.
 

rdale

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skywatch.org
the government had GOD-AWFUL response to add on to the mess
Lee County waited quite a bit to issue evacuation notices, and did not evacuate their jail.

it struck an area that literally gets hit by hurricanes of this size every few years. they know how to handle a major hurricane.
It LITERALLY does not happen there every few years.
 
Feb 19, 2021
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The hurricane with the highest death toll in Florida history is 4,100+ in the 1928 Great Okeechobee Hurricane of Sept. 26, 1928. The "plus" sign is due to the fact that hundreds, and maybe thousands, are buried in mass graves with no death certificates, etc. See: Commentary: The Lack of Understanding of America's Storm Warning System

The worst hurricane in U.S. history is Galveston with 8,000 to, perhaps, 12,000 killed. We don't know for sure.

Interestingly, both Okeechobee and GLS were Cat 4, not 5, hurricanes.

I was on the Jim Bohannon Show Wednesday night ( Sept 29, see: Jim Bohannon Podcasts ). In it, I discussed deaths from the storm and estimated they would be a relatively low number. Based on what we have now, a death toll of 21 ( Hurricane Ian death toll hits 21; unknown number of human remains in 1 home ), it seems the warnings were effective. If we went back to the "no warning" era of 1928, there would have been thousands -- perhaps 10,000+ dead as the population of the area affected by Ian was far larger than in the 1928 storm.

While I have real concerns about the direction of the tornado and hurricane warning system (see: Hurricane Ian's Forecast Fiasco ), the fact is that thousands and, in a bad year, tens of thousands of lives are saved each year by weather science. That is a fact that is underappreciated by American society.
 
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Feb 19, 2021
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Wichita
To that point, it is also worth noting that with every hurricane, the media loves to reference Katrina and draw comparisons to it, while seeming to ignore the fact that what made Katrina so horrible was the breaking of the levees. That made Katrina a unique event and therefore not an appropriate apples-to-apples comparison for other hurricanes. Of course the failure of the levees was related to Katrina’s severity, and she was a strong Cat 3 at landfall, but still not an appropriate reference point as an objective comparison of another storm’s forecasted or actual impact, especially for other areas that are unlike New Orleans - i.e., not in a bowl surrounded by levees.
While the above is true, it is worth pointing out that there were about 250 deaths in southwest Mississippi due to the storm surge. By modern standards, that is a high number that was overshadowed by the catastrophe in MSY.
 

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Jul 5, 2009
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Newtown, Pennsylvania
From the Wall Street Journal (Hurricane Ian Survivors in Fort Myers Recount Day of Terror)

”Mr. Heydrich, 69 years old, a retired Renaissance fair jouster, was among the residents of this once-beautiful beach town left stunned by the devastation of a hurricane whose power they didn’t anticipate.

Absolutely ridiculous proposition. This hurricane was very well forecasted and the threat should have been obvious. Yes it hit further south than anticipated. Another case of people not understanding the cone of uncertainty? I think it’s always made very clear by NHC and the weather enterprise - not just the uncertainty in the cone, but the fact that the track represents only the center and the impacts can go far beyond. I think the storm surge itself was very well forecasted and highlighted.
 
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Feb 19, 2021
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Jim,

It isn't just Mr. Heydrich. Please see below. In the story people were quoted as saying they didn't realize how bad it would be.
Screen Shot 2022-09-30 at 1.00.16 PM.png

As I previously posted, I disagree as to the quality of the forecasts: Hurricane Ian's Forecast Fiasco So does Dr. Cliff Mass. There is a link to his piece in mine.

In my 50+ years of doing this, I have learned that we meteorologists follow this minute-by-minute. The public does not. To 90% of the public, weather warnings are nothing but a huge inconvenience. Once they are told they are not in the warning area, they stop paying attention. That was certainly the case S of TPA. They were told the Florida Panhandle would be hit with even the MIC of NWS MSY tweeting to pay attention to the storm, as if their area was threatened.

The same thing happened in the 2011 JLN tornado. They sounded the sirens in JLN for a tornado warning that did not include JLN. People turned on their televisions and learned, "the tornado warning does not include Joplin." So, people went about their business. Minutes later, when the TOR for JLN was issued, the sirens were not sounded. So, the tornado struck almost everyone unaware. Thus, the highest death toll in the tornado warning era -- which was not surprising since the warnings were terrible.



From the Wall Street Journal (Hurricane Ian Survivors in Fort Myers Recount Day of Terror)

”Mr. Heydrich, 69 years old, a retired Renaissance fair jouster, was among the residents of this once-beautiful beach town left stunned by the devastation of a hurricane whose power they didn’t anticipate.

Absolutely ridiculous proposition. This hurricane was very well forecasted and the threat should have been obvious. Yes it hit further south than anticipated. Another case of people not understanding the cone of uncertainty? I think it’s always made very clear by NHC and the weather enterprise - not just the uncertainty in the cone, but the fact that the track represents only the center and the impacts can go far beyond. I think the storm surge itself was very well forecasted and highlighted.
 
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Jul 5, 2009
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@Mike Smith I read your blog post that you linked to above, “Hurricane Ian’s Forecast Fiasco” Hurricane Ian's Forecast Fiasco

While the Euro certainly had the ultimately correct forecast early on, I seem to remember that on Monday 9/26 the GFS and Euro just about switched places - the GFS started bringing it back toward the west coast of FL, while the Euro was keeping it offshore longer. Am I wrong about that?

In any event, isn’t it unfair to blame NHC for focusing too much on the GFS? They make use of many more models than just the Euro and GFS, so it doesn’t seem as if they naively followed one outlier model.
 
Feb 19, 2021
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Jim,

Until about the 1970's, there was very little accountability in medicine. That changed with M&M conferences, etc. When a doctor screws up, he/she owns up to it at the conference, explains, and everyone learns from it.

The accountability imposed by the National Transportation Safety Board has made railroading much safer and made fatalities in commercial aviation nearly non-existent. Would you feel better or worse if air traffic control had no accountability?

Why is it we think accountability in meteorology is a bad idea? The NWS doesn't even do its lame "service assessments" anymore. Taxpayers support NHC having human forecasters in the loop because their mission is to be better than just the models. If they fail, there should be an independent examination as to why.

Perhaps my conviction about this is because my experience was in the private sector of meteorology (where there is very high accountability) that I see what weather science is lacking. Keeping accuracy stats, having review conferences when we made a mistake, and sending detailed reports about those mistakes to our clients kept us sharp. We even had a visit from the Federal Railroad Administration and the NTSB after a major Amtrak derailment in Arizona in '98 (we passed with flying colors) -- again -- that forced us to stay sharp. Having a National Disaster Review Board (NDRB) would do for us, Red Cross, FEMA, and everyone else involved in disasters what the NTSB does for transportation.

Provided we keep politics out of the NTSB (located anywhere but DC), an independent agency, etc., I see no reason it cannot be equally successful as the NTSB.

We need to be aware that there are real issues in storm warnings these days. Tornado warnings have become less accurate in the last decade. See: https://www.washingtonpost.com/weather/2021/05/21/joplin-tornado-warning-improvement-nws/ We are now missing EF-3's, some of which caused fatalities, that would have been obvious a decade ago.

If you have a better suggestion than a NDRB, great! I'm truly all ears.

Otherwise, these issues will only get worse.

As to Monday's ECMWF, it is attached. It was much better as to position and strength than the GFS. Even better was the UKMET almost the whole time. The Saturday UKMET is attached. It was amazingly good in this case. No, I don't believe NHC "naively followed one outlier model." But, this was a poor set of forecasts. While I'm sure there will be an internal discussion at NHC, I've always found a fresh set of eyes to be helpful.

Thanks for the respectful interaction.

Mike



@Mike Smith I read your blog post that you linked to above, “Hurricane Ian’s Forecast Fiasco” Hurricane Ian's Forecast Fiasco

While the Euro certainly had the ultimately correct forecast early on, I seem to remember that on Monday 9/26 the GFS and Euro just about switched places - the GFS started bringing it back toward the west coast of FL, while the Euro was keeping it offshore longer. Am I wrong about that?

In any event, isn’t it unfair to blame NHC for focusing too much on the GFS? They make use of many more models than just the Euro and GFS, so it doesn’t seem as if they naively followed one outlier model.
 

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Jul 5, 2009
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Newtown, Pennsylvania
Mike, just to clarify, it’s really two different issues albeit related. We can easily debate NHC’s forecast performance with Ian, but that’s not the same as me saying that accountability, such as via an independent review board, is a bad idea. In fact, I didn’t even realize NWS was no longer doing service assessments, so if that’s the case then that would tend to convince me that your proposal has merit,
 
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May 10, 2007
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North Little Rock, AR
The hurricane with the highest death toll in Florida history is 4,100+ in the 1928 Great Okeechobee Hurricane of Sept. 26, 1928. The "plus" sign is due to the fact that hundreds, and maybe thousands, are buried in mass graves with no death certificates, etc. See: Commentary: The Lack of Understanding of America's Storm Warning System
For those unfamiliar with the Okeechobee Hurricane, there is somewhat of a similarity between it and Katrina regarding the huge death toll.

In the month leading up to the Okeechobee Hurricane, rainfall was far above normal, causing Lake Okeechobee to be quite a bit higher than normal. Then the hurricane came along, dumped some more rain, and the combination of wind and water caused the lake to greatly overflow and breach some small dikes on the lake [does this sound familiar?]. The result was hundreds of square miles being inundated, most of which was farm land.

Migrant farm workers were working this land, particularly since it was September, and the workers were the main contribution to the death toll. Of course, it was hard to know exactly how many workers were in the area to begin with, much less how many of them might have died with no one noticing. And this is the main reason that the death toll from the hurricane varies considerably from one source to another.
 
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The nhc forecast wasn't perfect, I think they should have stuck closer to the EC when it became clear that was the better forecast (and it was probably clear before Ian was even in existence lol) but a ~60 mile error 24 hour in advance is pretty darn good, and I thought the usual wording to not overly focus on exact track was pretty clear to all parties. Monday morning quarterbacking is what it is....

More interesting to me from a political standpoint is the insistence by the media that Ian was borderline cat 5 at landfall. I have not seen any sustained wind ground level measurements anywhere near high cat 4 (a couple gusts of 140+) and most seems to indicate high end cat 3. But even if solid cat 4 is never 'uncovered' (kind of like 11,000 votes...) Ian will remain in history as a cat 4, not because of ground measurements but from radar and flight data. All of the serious damage was from surge--ive seen comparatively little wind damage.
 
Feb 19, 2021
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Going back to the original topic about the number of deaths in Florida. We are seeing a number of stories about the delay in evacuations south of Tampa.
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My hypothesis is that NHC's late inclusion of Lee County in a hurricane watch, late alone a hurricane warning, played at least some role in the slow evacuation order. Local officials aren't going to order an evacuation for a tropical storm watch. This situation is exactly why we need a National Disaster Review Board.
Ian, No hurricane watch 48 hr before landfall, Ian, 2p Mon. 9-26-22.png