Right Opinion

Hurricane Florence: How We Got Here

Joe Bastardi · Sep. 10, 2018

If I am right, this will be the most costly disaster for the Carolinas and Virginias on record. In addition, given our winter forecast, we expect the core of the cold and snow, relative to average, to be near these same areas, which for them means this could very well be the most extreme six-month period on record. A hurricane as strong as Hugo or Hazel, flooding rains due to Florence’s slow movement, the possibility of an exceptional winter — you can’t get much more extreme than that.

With Florence, our initial idea came out Sept. 1.

The commitment to it occurred on Sept. 2.

If we compare the Weatherbell.com forecast from last Wednesday with our new landfall and intensity outlook, it has changed little — always aimed for the North Carolina coast.

Sept. 5:

Sept. 9:

You can also see my worry for the western Gulf of Mexico along with my ideas on Isaac and Helene. I believe the Atlantic is going to shut down after Helene.

The National Hurricane Center now resembles our outlook, so there is nothing more for me to add.

Now that everyone is piling on, it will be a race to see who can out-hype who and who can more rigorously blame climate change. If you want to blame climate change for helping to fuel this fire, then what is the explanation for the compensating cold that has shown up in the Atlantic Basin?

I am going to show you how we got to where we are. Recall last year’s “impact red zone” projection:

Here was the reality:

This year’s forecast was very different. It was first shown in April, and we kept it.

Here’s an excerpt from the first outlook we put out in April: “This suggests that a lot of the intensity is going to be near and off the East Coast of the U.S. and into the central Atlantic.”

We calculated that the main development regions would have less storm formations relative to average than areas farther north. In other words, in the spring, we could see the seeds being planted.

Then, on July 18, I penned an article titled “Increasing East Coast Worry,” wherein I wrote:

I am making no secret about my East Coast hurricane worry this year. The more I look at this, the more concerned I am that, in spite of lower ACE [accumulated cyclone energy], the East Coast is vulnerable to a major hit. … Our hurricane forecast in May outlined a worry that, though below average ACE overall, storms would be more intense relative to average farther north. I am even more concerned now. Notice how Chris got strong right in the middle of that area. Beryl fell apart in the main development region farther south. There are a whole slew of “bad things” I am seeing, including the configuration of sea surface temperatures and projected higher-than-normal pressure patterns in Canada and the North Atlantic. The higher pressures in areas most devastated last year are a sign that features there should be weaker, but in-between those two pressure, the overall pattern leaves the U.S. coastline open, particularly the East Coast and New England.

Then came the JMA on Aug. 23, which said that during weeks three and four (the current period), the pattern would light up in the Atlantic Basin.

Look at this from our August 23 tropical outlook:

  • While quiet now, the tropics will come to life.

Cloud shot:

The African wave train will come to life, as we can see the features lining up across Africa:

The JMA’s upward motion patterns show the sinking in the Atlantic reversing.

Week 1:

Week 2:

Weeks 3 & 4:

While this is likely a relatively short-lived period, this forecast is impressive. After all, it’s the peak of the season, and we may see higher-than-normal activity.

Make no mistake: On Aug. 23, the alarm was sounded.

In fact, look at how far in advance we forecasted Gordon (from Aug. 30):

  • An active September is brewing.
  • Gulf of Mexico threat next week.
  • Track will be far enough to the north to prevent a major impact.
  • Atlantic wave train gets active.

Even before it was flagged, we were talking about Gordon.

On Sept. 1, we projected it becoming a tropical cyclone (despite the government’s officially only giving it a slim chance):

Interestingly, I will probably be on TV and radio this week in markets that were given a heads-up. Yet by the time I show up in public, its a done deal — what else can I add? The point here is this didn’t just happen overnight. It was forewarned in the spring, and the Aug. 23 JMA forecast showed there were a couple of wild weeks coming. This wasn’t fortuity.

We jumped on Florence on Sept. 2 based on warm sea surface temperatures pumping the ridge and the fact the computer modeling, especially U.S. modeling, loves to break down ridges too fast.

As far as the climate angle is concerned, this ridge is much more in line with stated worries about abnormal subtropical ridges and warmer water. So unlike Hurricane Harvey, which was trapped by a very cold trough, this time there is a valid point to be made regarding warmer ocean water. However, looking at the past once again reveals counterpoints. The track is unheard of, but what is more unusual — Florence, or Ginger in 1971, which started northeast of Florence’s position later in the year and still hit the North Carolina coast?

These arguments will come out of the woodwork. Climate change was blamed for last year’s tropical onslaught, and yet before the season even began we were able to pinpoint the red zone in which it occurred. This year, that red area is looking equally on the money, so how is it climate change is to blame? That’s the key — claim every answer as your own. By the way, if alarmists know it’s going to happen beforehand, where is their preseason forecasts with drivers that they have identified?

Which gets me to another point. I believe meteorologists and climatologists share a common intersection, but it will require a lot of camaraderie, not “anything goes” attribution. Be you skeptical or not, here is how this works:

The globe is warmer. I certainly don’t deny that. In fact, using the “denier” label should raise red flags, as opportunists are using a false label as the basis for their argument. The questioning of the cause is not denying the actual situation itself. So we develop a forecasting course (I would love to teach it) that meteorologists and climatologists have to take. Every student is assigned to make a forecast by the professor (me). It might be a one-month forecast, a three- to six-month forecast, seasonal forecast, a two-week forecast — whatever I think will require the student to make his forecast; defend his forecast; research the pattern from the past and line it up against the current situation and the modeling; and explain how the state of the climate today may be changing the result against what may have happened 20 or 30 or 50 years ago.

This would require the students to think hard about the physical implications of what they are seeing. They would develop an argument, and guess what? They would have to confront the fact the globe is warmer now than it was during the time of most analogs, but this fact would help climatologists understand the limitations of modeling. After all, a lot of the models a week ago had Florence out to sea. Obviously, for Weatherbell to forecast what it did, we must have seen clues elsewhere.

I think there would be a lot more goodwill across the board if people could see the entire picture, not just what they focus on in their missive. The class would turn in its forecasts on Mondays and class time is spent discussing it. We keep those forecasts and see how they turn out on Friday. Grades are based on best forecasts (we would have to develop a scoring scheme) and best discussions. We don’t have to get into CO2 or whatever; let’s just harness common ground and develop tools for it.

There is common ground, and a common need for it in my opinion.

By the way, you are about to see the opposite of what I am suggesting here occur. The 2018 Climate Ambulance Chaser Hurricane Blamefest is underway. Hopefully, if you have been following along with, you can see that this threat was a long time coming and has perfectly natural explanations. The setup for this started quite a while ago, and so I will keep clients updated and respond when called upon — and also sit back as the noise and fury hit a deafening pitch this week.

But remember the bottom line: Florence was predicted in advance, and the misery this is going to cause should be front and center. Hopefully, the response is ready to meet the challenge, which for the Carolinas and Virginias is liable to be the costliest on record when the flooding is factored in.


Joe Bastardi, a pioneer in extreme weather and long-range forecasting, is a contributor to The Patriot Post on environmental issues. He is the author of “The Climate Chronicles: Inconvenient Revelations You Won’t Hear From Al Gore — and Others.”

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