Tuesday, December 12, 2017
Tampa Bay Weather

Modern forecasting got start with 1993 no-name storm

Even on the clattering low-tech machines we used 20 years ago, it was clear this was no ordinary spring storm.

It was March 1993, and I was chief meteorologist at the NBC station in Austin, Texas.

The weather world was much different then. Few television stations had live radar. We got our weather forecast models on paper. They were spewed out of a noisy fax printer in the weather office.

Most National Weather Service offices had radars built in the 1950s. Only a couple had new Doppler radars.

So we relied on bulletins. And in this case, they had our attention.

Several days out, the main U.S. computer model showed a large and intense storm developing in about five days.

The model never changed. It showed the same impressive storm, day after day, run after run.

Two days out, it became obvious to meteorologists. This massive superstorm with blizzard conditions and severe thunderstorms over Florida was actually about to take place.

Florida was about to get the third punch in a triple whammy: Hurricane Andrew in August 1992; the Pinellas County tornadoes in October 1992; and now the so-called no-named storm in March 1993.

I believe it was the beginning of modern weather forecasting.

Today, we have instant communications with emergency managers and the weather service over a secure chat room.

Today, different regions of the country routinely are alerted days in advance of a major storm, such as Superstorm Sandy.

No-name was a change agent that helped us realize the need for improved forecasting.

It was a storm whose intensity took many by surprise, in spite of accurate forecasts.

No one had ever experienced a winter storm in the Gulf of Mexico with a storm surge high enough to cause so much death or damage.

Of course, even in the most extreme situation such as a blizzard, flood or hurricane, you can make a forecast and many people simply will not believe the storm will be that bad.

Human nature, it seems, is to think we already have experienced the worst. The warnings of a massive storm surge coming in from the gulf could have been better, but how many would have ignored such a dire prediction?

Weather forecasting has come a long way in two decades.

"Advances in weather technology over the past 20 years have significantly improved our ability to not only better detect severe storms, but to also warn the public prior to devastating impacts with dual-polarization radar, high-resolution models and local expertise," said Brian LaMarre, meteorologist-in-charge with the weather service in Ruskin.

It is tough to know, but a storm like the March 1993 superstorm might only come around once in a lifetime.

As I like to say during hurricane season, take the weather five to seven days at a time.

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