NOAA Policy Changes After Hurricane Sandy

Hurricane Sandy was the most destructive weather phenomenon to affect the United States in 2012, causing approximately $65 billion in damages. As the Superstorm approached the New Jersey coast late in the day on Oct. 29, the biggest disagreement among meteorologists wasn't over Sandy's track or impacts but, rather, what to call Sandy as the storm made landfall. Determining whether or not Sandy was a hurricane or post-tropical system had big implications on which branch of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) would issue watches and warnings. If Sandy would have maintained its tropical structure as a hurricane while making landfall, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) would have issued Tropical Storm and Hurricane Watches and Warnings ahead of Sandy. However, it was determined that Sandy would no longer possess tropical characteristics when making landfall in southern New Jersey; therefore, the local National Weather Service (NWS) offices were given the responsibility of issuing all applicable watches and warnings for their coverage areas (Hurricane Watches and Warnings were not a part of the local NWS's lexicon). The plan to have the local NWS offices issue products on Sandy stemmed from an "understanding of the preference of the emergency management community that the warning type not change once watches and warnings were initiated, because that would cause an unacceptable level of confusion and disruption during critical periods of preparation that included evacuations."

After criticism from various media outlets about no tropical storm or hurricane watches and warnings being issued, as well as discussion from within its own agency, NOAA got together in November 2012 and started drafting a proposal for storms like Sandy that presented unique challenges. Below is a summary of the main points that were approved:

1) The definition of tropical storm and hurricane watches and warnings will be broadened to allow these watches and warnings to be issued or remain in effect after a tropical system makes a transition into a post tropical system.

2) The NWS would ensure a continuity of service by allowing the NHC to issue advisories during the post tropical stage.

For the complete definitions on what define tropical storm and hurricane watches and warnings, see this link.

With these two new changes in policy, the director of NOAA's NWS, Louis Uccellini, Ph.D., stated that "our forecasters now have more capability to effectively communicate the threat posed by transitioning tropical systems".

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