National Hurricane Center Director speaks at Biloxi conference

By Steve Phillips - bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) -  The projected impact of a hurricane's "storm surge" on your home may soon be as close as your computer.

National Hurricane Center Director Bill Read helped wrap-up the 2009 Gulf States Hurricane Conference in Biloxi on Friday. He talked about advances in forecasting and a new "storm surge" prediction model.

Director Read talked about hurricane forecasting techniques and the challenges of a new storm season during his closing session remarks.

He was followed by Congressman Gene Taylor, who sounded a warning about getting prepared for impending disasters other than hurricanes.

"The challenge in the Gulf is pretty much the re-curvature: When is it going to turn? And the timing of that. And that's not always that easy to pick," said hurricane director Bill Read, in his closing remarks.

Read discussed the intricacies of hurricane forecasting and improvements made in predicting where storms may travel.

Surge has been the buzzword since Katrina.

"Some of the Google guys are working with me to figure out a way that they could punch in their address and find out what level of water they would see at different categories of storm, at that address," he said.

Read says of all the tracking models,  the European model was best last season.

"Trouble is, everybody is changing their models all the time. And you have no way of knowing, going into the season, if a model is going to be particularly better."

That's why the center relies on "consensus tracking" or combining information from a variety of models.

The hurricane center won't release this year's "official forecast" for another three weeks.

"I do want to remind everybody we are in that multi-decadal cycle where we're in a higher than normal activity," Read said.

Congressman Gene Taylor reminded the group that, like the year Katrina hit, commitments overseas will again limit the military's storm response.

"And so a lot of shortages we had after the storm; tents, generators, D-morgues, you're going to see again. Not that your nation isn't paying attention, it's just that we're involved with two simultaneous wars, as we're trying to get ready for next hurricane season," said Congressman Taylor.

Taylor also told the group that, unfortunately, storms aren't the only concerns.

"In addition to all your other troubles, I would encourage you to bone up as best you can on what you would have to do should a biological attack occur in your community, which is probably the most likely.  Chemical attack, which is the second most likely," the congressman told the conference participants.

Congressman Taylor said he's not trying to fan the flames of fear.  But he says at a time when so many rogue nations have access to weapons of mass destruction, such a disaster may be more a matter of "when" rather than "if."

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