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New Storm Surge Map Right On Time For Tropical Storm Colin

storm surge, Tropical Storm Colin

New scientific advances made possible by super-computers are leading to improvements in hurricane predictions. Federal leaders in Washington say their five-day track forecast is now as accurate as the three-day forecast was twenty years ago. And that means residents will now have access to a new storm surge map.

Hurricanes are nothing new to Floridians, who don’t really have much of a choice other than them as part of life. Here’s Democratic Senator Bill Nelson talking about coming to terms: 

“When I was a kid, a hurricane was an excuse to get out of school. When I was a bachelor, a hurricane was an excuse to have a party. But now we know these things are deadly," he said.

Now the senator and other federal officials here in Washington are hopeful that new advances in science and technology could improve the future of hurricane predictions. It’s a brave new world of super-computers cranking out sophisticated models using new research into cyclones and advanced hurricane analysis.

“One only needs to look at Hurricane Katrina to look at how dangerous storm surge can be. And not heeding storm surge warnings could be the difference between life and death," said Republican Senator Marco Rubio.

Those warnings about storm surge are the latest advancement in hurricane predictions. This year, leaders at the National Weather Service are rolling out a new map — one that will highlight where storm surges could inundate areas and estimate how high the waters could reach. Richard Knabb is director of the National Hurricane Center. 

“This map shows, in a game changing way I believe where the storm surge flooding could occur, how far inland from the immediate coastline the flooding could go. That could be miles in some locations and some scenarios."

Knabb testified before a Senate panel about the latest development in hurricane forecasting, advances that he says will improve track accuracy by 50 percent in the next decade. After the hearing, he said this is not just an academic pursuit. 

"So what does this mean to a resident who lives in a hurricane prone area? It means we are going to show you in real time where the storm surge flooding could occur."

And, significantly, where it WON’T occur. One of the key forecasting improvements is reducing necessary evacuations of coastal areas. Knabb says he hopes that increased accuracy will translate to a heightened sense of urgency when emergency managers call for folks to leave. 

“And if you see you are in an area vulnerable to storm surge, maybe the light will go on and you’ll say, ‘OK, now I see why my emergency manager might be telling me to evacuate."

The increased storm surge map isn’t the only thing the folks at the National Hurricane Center are working on. They’re also using an experimental drone they can send into a hurricane to collect data that could help track its movements. It’s called the “coyote."