Saturday, April 11, 2009

Outmoded storm scale: If Ike was just a 2, how accurate is storm scale?

Eric Berger in the Houston Chronicle: For this year’s tropics season, the National Hurricane Center won’t abandon the venerable Saffir-Simpson scale, which rates hurricanes on a familiar scale, from Category 1 to Category 5. But the center’s director says any single index cannot begin to capture the local impact of a hurricane, a fact Hurricane Ike — only a Category 2 storm on the Saffir-Simpson scale — made stark to residents of the upper Texas coast.

“If I could wave a wand and make it go away, I would,” said Bill Read, at the National Hurricane Conference in Austin on Friday. “It made sense in the era it was conceived, four decades ago, and now it’s ingrained in the culture.” Attendees at the hurricane center have buzzed about the Saffir-Simpson scale’s inadequacies.

KHOU-TV’s chief meteorologist Gene Norman said it needs to be modified to better account for surge. Greg Bostwick, a meteorologist at KFDM-TV in Beaumont, said his viewers couldn’t believe how “only” a Category 2 storm striking 90 miles away could flood one-third of Orange County.

Some hurricane scientists, such as Mark Powell of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Hurricane Research Division, have been arguing in recent months to replace the Saffir-Simpson scale entirely. Powell said the scale is especially deceptive when it comes to storm surges, and when you review the data there’s simply no correlation between the category of a hurricane and the amount of land it inundates.

Developed in the late 1960s and early 1970s by civil engineer Herbert Saffir and Robert Simpson, then-director of the National Hurricane Center, the Saffir-Simpson scale is simple and has gained wide public acceptance….

That's the house from 941 Magnolia Street in Bolivar, Texas, flipped onto its roof by Hurricane Ike in 2008. A cemetery in the foreground. Shot by  eschipul / Ed Schipul, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.0 License

No comments: