The outgoing Director of the National Hurricane Center offered up comments on the National Hurricane Center’s (NHC) plans for the future. The annual Hurricane Hunter / Hurricane Awareness Tour wrapped up last week, visiting cities along the east coast of North America. At the tour stop in Orlando, Florida, Dr. Rick Knabb, the then director of the National Hurricane Center stressed that the there is one goal in their organization: improvement. Much like how Bill Belichick, the head coach of the New England Patriots, semi-sarcastically says in seemingly every press conference, “…we need to get better in all three phases of the game”, Dr. Knabb mentioned three areas where they could improve: forecasting, communicating to the public and having the public heed their warnings.
Dr. Knabb applauded the efforts of the NHC to improve forecasts but wants to see the organization become even better. “We can not stop the effort to continue to improve the accuracy of the forecast of the hurricanes themselves, the track, the intensity forecast and all of that,” said Dr. Knabb. “We have seen the track forecasts improve and there is even some optimism that we will see more measurable improvements in intensity forecasts in the years to come as we continue on the hurricane forecast improvement program.”
However, Dr. Knabb has grander goals in mind. “The biggest challenge lies in continuing to innovate in our collection of products and warnings to focus on the hazards and make the forecasts of those things more accurate, the warnings of those hazards more accurate and communicate them in a more effective way so that people actually take action.”
Dr. Knabb brought up a great example of where both communication to the public and the people taking action could of been improved, “As much progress as we have made on the storm surge hazards over the past few years, by having a new potential storm surge flooding map from the the NHC, a new map from the NWS going live here in 2017 on storm surge watches and warnings, we have alot of work to do when it comes to the inland flood hazard that tropical systems can bring or just inland flooding in general. Hurricane Matthew is the latest in a long series of events where far too many people died in inland flooding, and it is my opinion that just one death is too many. Most of the deaths are people in their cars who have driven around barricades and trying to travel on roads that are closed.”
Dr. Knabb feels strongly that both the NHC and NWS need to stress the simple but effective saying “Turn Around Don’t Drown” slogan when it comes to traveling on flooded roadways. But it is a two-way street, as road signs warning of flooding need to be taken seriously by the people out on the roadways. Ignoring barricades and road closures often brings about disastrous results.
Dr. Knabb also more needs to be done about communicating the advantages and limitations of flood insurance. “People are encountering financial devastation after inland flooding events like Matthew, simply because people do not have, or don’t have enough flood insurance. Two main things we need to do about this: to enhance the collection products and warnings that we use in real-time, and give them more visibility, when it comes to the inland flood hazard. And we need to rededicate ourselves on the outreach and education to convince people to ‘Turn Around and Don’t Drown’ as well as to review, get or improve their flood insurance.”
After the Hurricane Hunter Tour wrapped up, Dr. Knabb wrapped up his own tenure at the National Hurricane Center. Dr. Knabb is returning to the cable network “The Weather Channel” to act as their tropical weather expert.