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Hurricane Preparedness Week continues through Saturday. And organizations like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Weather Service are using each day of the week to focus on a specific aspect of disaster readiness.

Hurricane Preparedness Week: Forecast Process

courtesy: NASA

The early arrivals of Tropical Depression Beryl and Tropical Storm Alberto put their unique emphasis on Hurricane Preparedness Week. 

As our special series on storm readiness continues, WHQR’s Rachel Lewis Hilburn examines Thursday’s focus:  how forecasters understand developing storm conditions.


Satellite imagery – pictures taken from space – are some of the most useful tools meteorologists have when analyzing how a storm system might behave and its potential path.  The so-called “spaghetti” track models are another.  

But National Weather Service meteorologist and hurricane expert Terry Lebo says those models are sometimes useful, sometimes not. 

“It comes down to the skill of the forecasters at the hurricane center as well as the local offices to make the ultimate decision on which model is potentially correct… sometimes none of them are.”  

In those cases, says Lebo, forecasters rely on their own experience. 

Another technique for gathering data:  hurricane hunters fly into a storm – or just over it – and drop radio sondes.  These cylindrical devices record information such as wind speed, temperature, pressure, humidity – all those factors that give experts clues on how the system might evolve. 

But Lebo points out the resulting predictions are only valuable if the public actually receives them.  One of the most important ways people can protect themselves during dangerous weather, says Lebo, is by keeping up with changing conditions and having a good alert system.  If something happens overnight, the only effective way to alert the public is through emergency weather radios. 

“What those radios do is whenever we send out a watch or a warning whether it’s hurricane-related, severe weather-related, a tornado, for instance, that will go over the radio.  And the radios can be set to tone alert.  So it’ll wake you up in the middle of the night if there’s a tornado warning put out at 2 am.” 

And this part of the country, says Lebo, is particularly prone to nocturnal tornadoes. 

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Rachel hosts and produces CoastLine, an award-winning hourlong conversation featuring artists, humanitarians, scholars, and innovators in North Carolina. The show airs Wednesdays at noon and Sundays at 2 pm on 91.3 FM WHQR Public Media. It's also available as a podcast; just search CoastLine WHQR. You can reach her at rachellh@whqr.org.