3 lessons from Beryl

1. Dangerous storms can form very close to the coast.
2. The National Hurricane Center was virtually spot on in its forecasts.
3. Some Savannahians spend way too much time watching TV.

Let me elaborate.

1. Dangerous storms can form very close to the coast.

We got the first advisory about Beryl on Friday afternoon. By Sunday evening, Tropical Storm Beryl was coming ashore near Jacksonville at close to hurricane strength.

Tropical Storm Alberto formed close to the coast too, although it never made landfall.

This is a worrisome pair of incidents, although two storms don’t necessarily constitute a pattern. As waters warm through the summer, it’s possible that storms forming in the same location could strengthen much more quickly than either Alberto or Beryl did, leaving coastal residents very little time for preparations.

2. The National Hurricane Center was spot on in its forecasts.

Here’s the actual track of Beryl from Weather Underground:

And here’s the NHC’s initial forecast on Friday night:

The first forecast NHC forecast map for Beryl at 11 p.m. Friday, May 25th

The initial NHC forecast on Friday predicted an even sharper U-turn with Tropical Depression Beryl passing south of Savannah on its way back to the Atlantic, but in fact it went north of us. I’d say it’s amazingly accurate all the way around, however, in terms of position, strength, and speed.

3. Some Savannahians spend way too much time watching TV (and still didn’t seem to know what the storm was doing or was expected to do).

My first post about Beryl was on Friday afternoon, hours before it formed. My blog is largely comprised of things that actually interest me, and I am extremely interested in tropical storms. So Beryl seemed a pretty obvious thing to keep posting about, especially since it became obvious that 1) there weren’t any local websites providing the information I wanted and that 2) regular readers of this blog were hitting it in significant numbers to get updates.

My main source — the National Hurricane Center — is simple to access and incredibly predictable. The NHC typically updates at least every 3 hours (8, 11, 2, 5, 8, etc.) for every named storm. Each update comes with a fresh forecast map, in addition to current advisories and pithy discussion.

The Savannah area was never predicted to get the brunt of Beryl, but the effects were still considerable:

  • some residents lost power off and on for a couple of days, as many as a couple of thousand customers at various points
  • there were some downed trees, power lines, and traffic lights
  • the river was closed for a time to cargo traffic
  • there were periodic special marine warnings, plus other watches and warnings in this part of the state
  • as many as 45 swimmers had to be rescued by lifeguards on Saturday at Tybee
  • the beach was closed to swimmers on Sunday and Monday because of dangerous surf conditions (over a traditional beach weekend holiday, no less)
  • while some areas ended up with far less rain than seemed likely, other areas got a lot — including parts of Bulloch County, with 4 inches of rain plus a tornado warning on Tuesday, and parts of Jenkins and Screven counties, with flash flood warnings for much of Tuesday

I’ve got a word for all this: news. Developments like these are important, and lots of people — business owners, boat owners, those who actually had to work on the holiday weekend, travelers, and so forth and so on — needed regular, up-to-date, accurate information.

I don’t really watch TV, so I can’t say much about the general accuracy of local TV coverage. My cable package doesn’t even include The Weather Channel, so I can’t say much about that either.

But I do know:

  • that I routinely checked Pat Prokop and WTOC’s updates while continuing to consult those NHC updates. I certainly got quality and timely information from those sources.
  • that anyone who was expecting a direct hit from a tropical storm in the Savannah area on Sunday night was either a) not getting their news from accurate sources or b) not actually paying attention to the news that was being broadcast.
  • that I was the direct recipient of snarky comments — and read a lot more such comments online on Monday –about Beryl being a huge bust, even though there were some pretty important local effects (listed above) and even though the most significant local rainfall had been predicted for the previous three days to occur on Tuesday.  

Perhaps because it was a holiday weekend, a lot of people spent a lot more time glued to their TVs than normal. Perhaps because it was a holiday weekend, some media outlets were understaffed and unprepared to cover a weather event that didn’t even become a story until late Friday.

I only witnessed one example of truly erroneous reporting (GPB newscasts continued to say the coast was under a tropical storm warning for at least two hours after the warning had been canceled on Monday morning), but I’m assuming that there must have been other incorrect or hyperbolic forecasts that suckered some people into expecting Beryl to be dramatically worse.

Or maybe it was a cumulative thing: folks who had nowhere to go and were safe inside their own houses might simply have gotten frustrated with regular weather updates, no matter how important those updates were to others who didn’t have so much leisure time.

Either way, televisions are pretty easy to turn off.

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