The former president of the American Meteorological Society has penned an open letter to the National Hurricane Center (NHC) for its advance warning of the devastating storm that has been wreaking havoc across the southern states these past few days.
Marshall Shepherd, a leading international expert in weather and climate, said that the prompt nature of the NHC’s warnings likely “saved lives.” So far, there have been five confirmed fatalities that occured as a direct result of the category four storm, “Michael.”
“In the midst of this tragedy and despair, I write this open “thank you” letter to the National Hurricane Center,” Shepherd wrote at Forbes. “Fatalities are inevitable with a storm of this magnitude, but the ample warnings provided by the National Hurricane Center and all meteorologists saved lives.”
Shepherd noted that the staff at the NHC “work tirelessly providing life-saving information to the public,” and should be receiving thanks for their professionalism and impeccable organization in light of the difficult and time-sensitive circumstances.
My "open letter of thanks" to @NHC_Atlantic and frankly all meteorologists and a little pushback for anyway that may say #HurricaneMichael was a "surprise." Mentions @MJVentrice @RyanMaue https://t.co/v1SNwxXirM
— Marshall Shepherd (@DrShepherd2013) October 11, 2018
“During disasters like Hurricane Michael, we rightfully thank first responders, emergency managers, and volunteers. They do critical work on the front lines of storm recovery and assistance,” Shepherd continued. “However, I am not sure people realize the mental stress meteorologists deal with as conveying life-altering information.”
In his candid letter, Shepherd highlighted a recent job posting for a meteorologist vacancy, which read:
“During periods of threatening weather or rapidly changing weather conditions, the increase in workload and the necessity for rapid dissemination of weather warnings and updates requires periods of acute mental alertness and produces considerable mental stress.”
The combination of an increase in social media usage and a rising panic over the severity of the weather has meant that meteorologists often feel the weight of harsh criticism and unwarranted abuse. Often times, this is because people want someone to blame in a situation which is out of their control. Shepherd, however, implored readers to encourage those meteorologists who are working round-the-clock to try and keep us all safe and informed.
“My point here is that colleagues selflessly serve the nation,” he wrote. “My open letter of thanks to the National Hurricane Center, National Weather Service, private sector meteorologists, and broadcast colleagues is small token of positive affirmation because I know our community hears negativity like the next discussion point.”
It seems many in the weather industry agree with Shepherd’s sentiments on the matter. “Agree 100%,” tweeted Director of Weather Operations for NBC, Nate Johnson. “With Michael, I think we’re fighting both the RI that you mention as well as the recent experience with Florence, which was named for two weeks before approaching the coast. Might have set expectations for lead time unreasonably high for this one.”
“So true Dr, Shepherd,” another Twitter user added. “I read every advisory carefully, passed along a lot of information and lost a lot of sleep knowing people wanted to “ride it out”. I also did a lot of praying. I knew it would reach Cat 4 but that is was almost a Cat 5 really shook me. This was historic.”
Storm Michael, which the National Hurricane Center (NHC) has now downgraded to a tropical storm, has been described by officials as the “worst storm of the century.” A man and a young girl, both in Florida, have been confirmed killed by separate incidents of falling trees. Nearly 700,000 homes have been left without power as a result of the severe weather, with some areas experiencing winds of 155 mph. The storm has packed such a punch that a train was reportedly derailed by the sheer force of the winds.
The damage inflicted by the storm to Florida’s infrastructure is already abundantly clear. Across Bay County, a strict “boil water notice” has been enforced, meaning that officials have confirmed a contamination in the area’s water supply systems.
In addition, The Florida Highway Patrol has closed down an 80-mile stretch of Interstate 10 so that debris can be cleared from the roadway. Spokesman Eddie Elmore said the action was taken to close off the road “due to extremely hazardous conditions,” as reported by WTVY.
“Hurricane Michael is the worst storm the Florida Panhandle has ever seen and one of the worst power storms to ever make landfall in the United States,” Florida Governor Rick Scott said after the storm passed through his state. “We are going to be aggressive with recovery and response over the coming days and will do everything we can to assist our communities that have seen impacts from this devastating storm.”
Pray for all the first responders who continue to work tirelessly to rescue and treat those caught up in this raging storm, and remember also those hard-pressed meteorologists who spend thousands of hours attempting to predict the paths of these ferocious forces of nature.