The NWS Forecasts for Katrina

With all of the negative talk and bashing of our government recently (myself included), I just wanted to highlight something that was overlooked somewhat. The NWS and NHC did an AWESOME job forecasting Katrina and what the results would be. They certainly deserve a hand for a job well done. All too often the NWS and forecasters are blasted for incorrect forecasts. In this case they were right on the money, particularly with the "Harshest Statement we have ever seen them issue". They said it would happen to N.O. and it did.

I bring this up because I belong to a TV News forum that consists of producers, execs, anchors, Tom Brokaws, Al Rokers, TWC people, Etc. There was a thread created today in which EVERYBODY recognized the NWS for their awesome forecasts. They continued to go on about the rest of the government being at fault. Interestingly, the "Harshest Statement we have ever seen them issue", if you remember what it said, started the thread over there saying that they were right. The next post said, yes, that is correct, but only 5% of the people there saw that statement because The Weather Channel does not show NWS forecasts anymore. they use their own. So, I know that TWC had a pessimistic forecast...but could their have been another way to get the especially harsh and solid NWS SPS and forecast out to more of the folks in N.O.? That is something that may need to be conisdered. Another means of forecast/impact distribution.
 
"The next post said, yes, that is correct, but only 5% of the people there saw that statement because The Weather Channel does not show NWS forecasts anymore."

The Weather Channel still carries all NWS watches and warnings - the "harsh" wording was not in a forecast. It was in a Non-Precipitation Warning, and that is something nobody carries, just played on the local NOAA Weather Radio (which means nobody hears it.)
 
They really did do an awsome job forecasting Katrina, and keeping everyone up to date. Creating new Forecast Modles, and Forecast Tracks, was essential in this as well.
 
Hear hear -- they pretty much nailed that path. I don't think there's a thing the NWS could have done better. The post-disaster reorganization of responsibilities was also pretty impressive. Awesome job.

Tim
 
The Weather Channel still carries all NWS watches and warnings - the "harsh" wording was not in a forecast. It was in a Non-Precipitation Warning, and that is something nobody carries, just played on the local NOAA Weather Radio (which means nobody hears it.)

Yes. I think there is some validity in the statements that the majority of the public didn't know how bad this was really going to be. Theoretically, had that strongly worded SPS (or other header) had a way to get distributed and disseminated to the MAJORITY of the public somehow, things may be slightly different. I think this is something that needs to be considered. IMO, when such a confident and descriptive statement is issued, it needs to get out there to all of the people. Not just the Hurricane Warning. The people that figure out how to accomplish this, of course, will be doing a great public service. And hopefully more people will heed the warnings.
 
I'm sure the media down there got it, and if they felt it matched up with their forecast it was passed on... There's not much else that can be done to get NWS info right to the public if the public doesn't make any effort to get it!
 
True. I suppose that's the million dollar question. How do we get this detailed info. to the rich, poor, homeless, etc... And if/when we ever figure out a way to do it...it can obviously be incorporated into TOR's also. Thank you for your current and future comments. I'm sure some of this praise will get back to the NWS and the higher ups.
 
True. I suppose that's the million dollar question. How do we get this detailed info. to the rich, poor, homeless, etc... And if/when we ever figure out a way to do it...it can obviously be incorporated into TOR's also. Thank you for your current and future comments. I'm sure some of this praise will get back to the NWS and the higher ups.

How do you get it out to the majority of the public, especially those that don't have NOAA Wx Radio? This is where the media steps in. I think most would say that, for the majority of folks, the first source for weather information is from the media, particularly for the "low-income" families who are less likely to have wx radios and high-speed internet. I'm sure the local TV stations did a fabulous job gettting the word out, which is one of the primary, life-saving benefits the industry. Unfortunately, once the media gets the information out, the action taken (or lack of action taken) lies with the audience.
 
I too was impressed with the forecast/warnings issued by the NWS hierarchy - they did an excellent job top down of trying to sound the alarm. Unfortunately - I think the tendency of the media to try and make lesser events more 'newsworthy' for ratings hurts in terms of desensitizing the general public. That said - clearly the majority of folks got the message - as indicated by the 80% evacuation rate for New Orleans. This is actually better than expected in some of the natural disaster planning documents I've read. Unfortunately - communicating with the poor is multi-faceted, and this part of the country is particularly poor. Few likely knew of the actual hazards they would face, or how to 'survive' like most of the rest of us would. It would be great if the NWS were able to more directly communicate with the public - but most Americans get information from private sources - and those sources have unique external pressures, autonomy and often several layers that can cloud the actual delivery. While the NWS statements were overdone - they served a purpose of trying to stimulate the private communication layer to action. Unfortunately it seemed not all got the message, or were not aware of their actual risk. Outside of this, how many people even know if they live in a flood plain or not? Education, prior to the event, is probably the best solution - but difficult to implement among the poorest segments of society. The burden of responsibilty is difficult to assign to the weather service - but maybe that is the best route if local communities can't reliably get the messages out.

Glen
 
While the NWS in New Orleans has the ability and responsibility to issue statements, I'm wondering why the strongly worded NPW language (which scared me) wasn't used in that form in the HLS, which might get a little more airplay. Just curious.

Also, I think the NWS' actual spokesman for a hurricane is Max Mayfield. And from all I could gather, he did a fine job. He was a calm personality, his words measured.

But maybe we didn't need that, but instead someone like Jefferson Parish sheriff Henry Lee who, during a press conference carried on all local television stations that "everyone should haul a** and get out now."

I don't think we'll ever come to tuesday with this Monday morning quarterbacking.
mp
 
Morgan,

I think you have the right idea. When a forecast is this confident and calling for such disastrous effects, the stronger, more convincing wording needs to be conveyed to the public. I personally think our responsibility as Meteorologists and storm chasers is to critique and play Monday morning quarterback and perhaps make some reccommendations to government as to how they (and we) can do things better the next time. With all of our combined experience, we might use this opportunity to give some consensus feedback to the NWS or OEM. The trick is figuring out what can be done do get the word out to everybody next time...including the "strong wording". It very well may be required, forceful evacuations? We might reccommend to the TWC that they air the NWS statements on their local crawls even if it doesn;t fall under the "Hurricane Warning" bulletin. Reccommendations like these and working with the government/Emergency Management, if nothing else, would sure improve public perception of who we are, what we do and that we're not just crazy storm nuts (at least not "crazy") but people who also care about what happened to our fellow Americans.
 
Ok...what about that emergency alert system that is tested every Wednesday morning (at least in my area)??? Why can't some of the local and some of the national stations use that and broadcast the warnings out. Use the siren to get attention, then have the announcer say,"Mandatory Evacuations have been ordered. Please stand by for more information." Then, they would have the actual evac order read, then possibly another item. I believe that the networks, both local and national, need to stop worrying about ratings in storms like Katrina and get the people out. No one really cares if you have a cool new radar gadget that is working oh-so-spectacularly, GET THE PEOPLE OUT OF THE WAY!!!

Jason
 
I don't understand your question... Are you saying that the TV stations should interrupt their wall-to-wall coverage telling people to get out, and run a computerized voice with non-specific information telling people to get out? Doesn't make sense...
 
I too was impressed with the forecast/warnings issued by the NWS hierarchy - they did an excellent job top down of trying to sound the alarm. Unfortunately - I think the tendency of the media to try and make lesser events more 'newsworthy' for ratings hurts in terms of desensitizing the general public. That said - clearly the majority of folks got the message - as indicated by the 80% evacuation rate for New Orleans. This is actually better than expected in some of the natural disaster planning documents I've read. Unfortunately - communicating with the poor is multi-faceted, and this part of the country is particularly poor. Few likely knew of the actual hazards they would face, or how to 'survive' like most of the rest of us would. It would be great if the NWS were able to more directly communicate with the public - but most Americans get information from private sources - and those sources have unique external pressures, autonomy and often several layers that can cloud the actual delivery. While the NWS statements were overdone - they served a purpose of trying to stimulate the private communication layer to action. Unfortunately it seemed not all got the message, or were not aware of their actual risk. Outside of this, how many people even know if they live in a flood plain or not? Education, prior to the event, is probably the best solution - but difficult to implement among the poorest segments of society. The burden of responsibilty is difficult to assign to the weather service - but maybe that is the best route if local communities can't reliably get the messages out.

Glen

I agree with Glen. The NWS did a great job and are commended for their work. Max Mayfield was the usual calm head in the room telling it how it is and not hyping the situaion. The Media did a good job in this situation my concern is that with alot of less obviously devastating Hurricanes they also make out total devastation. So if you are poor, hear on the news that a CAT 2 is coming in and the media hypes it to much and you scrape your money together and evacuate, only to return to your home unschathed. Im pretty sure those people can get de-sensitized by that. Im not sure how you can address this without addressing the millions of poor in our country.
 
" It very well may be required, forceful evacuations?"

I don't think that would work very well. Would you break into everyone's home to see if they left? Would you arrest tens of thousands of people. Would they be evacuated to a shelter or out of city? Im more for education, emphasis on the dangers, providing transport to the shelters, etc.
 
I heard either all or parts of the NWS statement being read and discussed by numerous local and national TV and radio anchors across the country. Nearly every non-weather message board I read on a regular basis had people posting about it. I think as far as NWS statements go, this may have been the most widely distributed, read, heard and talked about statement in NWS history. I'd think this would have been especially true in the areas in the path of the storm.
 
But was it talked about in the media ahead of time? Or was the strong wording dismissed? I know Geraldo read it on Fox news after the fact.
 
" It very well may be required, forceful evacuations?"

I don't think that would work very well. Would you break into everyone's home to see if they left? Would you arrest tens of thousands of people. Would they be evacuated to a shelter or out of city? Im more for education, emphasis on the dangers, providing transport to the shelters, etc.

No you couldnt make them leave if they really want to stay but it would be made very clear that they do so at their own peril and will NOT be rescued or supplied by the government during or after the storm. You stay..you pay!! dont call 911 and ask for the FD to come save ya. Dont get on your roof afterward and wave down a coast guard chopper. you wanted to stay so you take care of yourself. There are consequences to your choices so choose wisely!!
 
" It very well may be required, forceful evacuations?"

I don't think that would work very well. Would you break into everyone's home to see if they left? Would you arrest tens of thousands of people. Would they be evacuated to a shelter or out of city? Im more for education, emphasis on the dangers, providing transport to the shelters, etc.

No you couldnt make them leave if they really want to stay but it would be made very clear that they do so at their own peril and will NOT be rescued or supplied by the government during or after the storm. You stay..you pay!! dont call 911 and ask for the FD to come save ya. Dont get on your roof afterward and wave down a coast guard chopper. you wanted to stay so you take care of yourself. There are consequences to your choices so choose wisely!!

Im not sure I'd agree with that either, perhaps in a perfect world where everyone understood the impact of Hurricanes and money was not an issue. If this was the case then you'd get to watch tens of thousands of people die on the news in NO instead of making an effort to rescue them.

It's not like people didn't 'pay' as many nearly lost their lives and perhaps thousands did.
 
You stay..you pay!! ...you wanted to stay so you take care of yourself.

This is all pretty easy to say from an outside perspective - but reality is that no amount of stubborn resolve on the part of the victims should be held against them in terms of at least offering some level of compassion for human life. This has the same logic of refusing to help someone in a car accident because when you found them afterwards they were not wearing a seatbelt.

Regardless, there are going to be some folks who will refuse to evacuate. The real question to ask is what, if anything, would have made some of them change their mind to leave sooner. I suspect either the individual threat was not known or the probability of the scenario as it played out was poorly known. Clearly, lots of folks are wanting to leave now, so I suspect they would have been more likely to do so earlier had they known then what they now know. Of course, if you thought the Supedome / Convention Center situation was bad, imagine if 2-3 times that many people had shown up. The government at all levels appeared to be poorly prepared to handle that scenario - perhaps because some statistician calculated the odds and came up with an 'acceptable' risk score.

Glen
 
Interesting article from Drudge:

The TIMES-PICAYUNE published a story on July 24, 2005 stating: City, state and federal emergency officials are preparing to give a historically blunt message: "In the event of a major hurricane, you're on your own."

Staff writer Bruce Nolan reported some 7 weeks before Katrina: "In scripted appearances being recorded now, officials such as Mayor Ray Nagin, local Red Cross Executive Director Kay Wilkins and City Council President Oliver Thomas drive home the word that the city does not have the resources to move out of harm's way an estimated 134,000 people without transportation."

"In the video, made by the anti-poverty agency Total Community Action, they urge those people to make arrangements now by finding their own ways to leave the city in the event of an evacuation.

"You're responsible for your safety, and you should be responsible for the person next to you," Wilkins said in an interview. "If you have some room to get that person out of town, the Red Cross will have a space for that person outside the area. We can help you."
 
NOAA also did a magnificent job modeling storm surges and water levels, both for the many prescient studies on the consequences of a NO hit, near-real time while the storm was on the way, and rolling out satellite imagery while K's trailing cloud field was still obscured some of the landscape. I hope to heaven the Prez and Congress find it in their hearts and pocketbooks to throw a tiny fraction of the $50B NOAA's way.

On the off-topic discussion... I agree with what Glen said. TTI I saw a lot of cowardice and precious little can-do from the higher levels of government. I believe the agencies who could and should have gone in early and in force were worried about their own butts more than saving desperate fellow-americans. A sad picture that I hope we find the wisdom and will to never repeat.
 
More props for the Weather Services

http://www.esa.org/pao/PolicyNewsUpdate/pn...04/07162004.php
http://www.ucar.edu/oga/html/budget/fy05_noaa.html

The NWS budget approved for FY '05 was $710.7 million, down from $722 billion. Its parent organization, NOAA, got $3.89 billion, which is supposed to be a 1.3% cut.

I think that the NHC is part of NOAA, so its budget would come from the appropriation for NOAA in general.

The Federal Government's weather agencies further distinguished themselves in the art of running bureaucracies the last three weeks. There has been much criticism of jurisdictional snafus between FEMA and Homeland Security, to say nothing of confusion between state and local governments and NGOs. No such bureaucratic bickering was apparent from the NWS and the NHC, who worked together so seamlessly that casual observers cannot tell where one's responsibility ends and the other's begins. And the "10 am Advisory of Doom", controversial even on a board with many NOAA fans, was both surprisingly forthright and uncannily accurate.
 
The NWS budget approved for FY '05 was $710.7 million, down from $722 billion.

Better check your illions. No way was the NWS budget .722 trillion dollars. I'm sure you meant $722 million.
 
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