The Hurricane Center Responds to Criticisms over its Forecasting of Erika

16 09 2015

Dale C. S. Destin |

The U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) has responded to the criticisms over its forecasting of Tropical Storm Erika. On its official blog site called Inside the Eye, the NHC has acknowledged that the forecasting of Erika does not represent its finest hour.

Tropical Storm Erika Over the Eastern Caribbean

Tropical Storm Erika Over the Eastern Caribbean, August 27, 2015. Credit NASA

Like only consummate scientists are given to do, they candidly have accepted that the forecast errors for Erika were larger than usual and have given acceptable reasons for these. Chief among the reasons is the weak and disorganized nature of the storm.

As a member of the meteorological community, I greatly appreciate the challenges of tropical cyclone and weather forecasting. My Antiguan colleagues and I also grapple with many of the issues identified in the article and empathize with the hurricane specialists of the NHC. We also congratulate them for their many years of service of the highest order.

Regretfully though, the article did not address the “800-pound gorilla” in the room i.e. the impact of Erika on Dominica. The aim of the blog seems to be that of only explaining the errors in forecasting Erika in relation to Florida. There was no mention of what happened in the Commonwealth of Dominica and the fact that no watch or warning was issued for that island notwithstanding the country was located within the 105 miles radius extent of stated storm force winds.

Douglas-Charles Airport in the wake of Tropical Storm Erika

Douglas-Charles Airport in the wake of Tropical Storm Erika, August 2015.         Credit

Erika rained catastrophic damage on Dominica. While there may not have been any storm winds, one of the rain-bands from Erika, sat on the island, produced peak rainfall rate in excess of 36.5 mm (1.44 in) per hour and caused a deluge almost of biblical proportion. Most of Dominica had in total over 320 mm (over 12 in) of rain in less than 12 hours, 229 mm (9 in) of which fell in 6 hours. The damage was calamitous: dozens are dead or missing, hundreds of homes destroyed or uninhabitable and over US$245 million in damage (around 50% of GDP), setting the country’s development back, at least, 20 years.

24-hr Radar Rainfall Estimate ending 2 am Sun, 28 Aug, 2015

24-hr Radar Rainfall Estimate ending 2 am Thu, 28 Aug, 2015

Some of the questions on people’s minds are: Did the NHC contact Barbados Meteorological Service, who is responsible for issuing weather bulletins for Dominica, to discus issuing a watch or warning? If no, why not; if yes, why was nothing issued?

In the final analysis, NHC plays a consultancy role in these matters; ultimately, the responsibility rests with the responsible national meteorological service, in this case, Barbados, for whatever tropical cyclone alerts are issued or not issued for Dominica.

To be clear, let me emphasize that I am not pointing fingers at anyone. Given the tens of billions of gallons of water that fell on Dominica in a very short space of time and the rugged terrain of the country, which boast 365 rivers, it is unclear, as to whether a watch or warning would have made a significant difference. But as apart of the further review of Tropical Storm Erika, there are inherent questions that we have to address.

I would like to highly commend the NHC for its continuous and honest self-examination, which all of us in the field can benefit from. There may be such a thing as a perfect storm, but there is no such thing as a perfect forecast. We (meteorologists) do the best we can and try as much as possible to learn from our successes as well as our failures.

Here’s the link to the NHC blog titled, After Further Review: Tropical Storm Erika:

20th Anniversary of Hurricane Luis

5 09 2015

Dale C. S. Destin |

Hurricane Luis at peak intensity on Sept 3, 1995

Hurricane Luis at peak intensity on Sept 3, 1995. Click to see animation

It’s September 5, the 20th anniversary of Hurricane Luis; the most destructive and costly hurricane in Antigua and Barbuda’s history. It was our Katrina.

Luis was a powerful Category 4 hurricane when its centre was nearest Antigua and Barbuda on September 5, 1995 around 8 am.

It formed on August 27, just south of the Cape Verde Islands and by September 3, Luis was a frightening Category 4 hurricane with winds of 150 mph. Gratefully, by the time the centre passed over Barbuda on September 5, it had weakened to a minimal but still a very potent Category 4 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of around 130 mph.

Luis pretty much thrashed Antigua and Barbuda with unrelenting

Track of Hurricane Luis

Track of Hurricane Luis

winds and rains (around 253 mm or 10 in) that lasted for portions of September 4 and 6 and all of September 5. At the end of the torturing ordeal, just about every building was damaged or destroyed.

Luis left a damage-trail across Antigua and Barbuda worth over US$100 million, according to our National Office of Disaster Service (NODS). Other sources indicate that the damage could have been over US$350 million or about two-thirds of gross domestic product (GDP), at that time.

The hurricane was directly or indirectly responsible for three deaths, injury to over 100 and left over 3000 homeless. Many had to remain in shelters for months.

Luis also ravaged the rest of the Leeward Islands, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and the northern Windward Islands.


I hate to refer to this as an anniversary; it’s more a nightmare that I would not wish on our worst enemy.

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