[Satellite photo of major Hurricane Irma on Sept 8, 2017. Credit: NOAA]
Millions of people were affected by hurricanes last year. Their perceptions have now been reset, but some don’t line up with reality. Social science may be the answer to fixing it.
When a hurricane is approaching, many people prepare based on previous experience, but they’re not always right. As we approach the peak of hurricane season, here is a sampling of common misperceptions from Dennis Feltgen of the National Hurricane Center:
“I live outside of the cone, so I am safe from feeling the effects.”
The cone has nothing to do with impacts, only the average track error of the past five years. 2017’s Irma went up Florida’s west coast, but its wind field grew in size and pushed storm surge onto Florida’s east coast.
“It’s never flooded here before.”
It’s not easy to picture 60 inches of rain, but it was one of the biggest stories of Harvey. There’s no historical record of that amount, so it’s difficult to imagine what it will do.
[Storm surge inundation (feet above ground level) based on Irma’s actual track versus forecasted track. The wiggle to the east spared the coastline from Naples northward to the Cape Coral area from storm surge inundation greater than 9 feet above ground level. Image Credit: NOAA]
“I got hit last year and it was a one hundred year storm, so I’m in good shape for the next one hundred years.”
All a hundred year storm means is that you have a one percent chance of it happening to you every single year. That’s the same as a 25 percent chance of flooding in a typical 30-year mortgage. You can get hit in back to back years or even in the same year.
“A very slight wiggle in the track doesn’t matter.”
That could be true over the middle of the ocean, but not for land. Hurricane Irma proved that. Its wiggle of 30 miles along Florida southwest coast meant the difference between getting only a few feet of storm surge versus 9 feet.
“We went through a Cat 4 and nothing bad happened”
Many people in Key West will tell you Irma was a Cat 4 there. The reality is they only got Cat 1 winds. You had to go 20 to 30 miles away to find the Cat 4 winds. The reality is that you’ve got to understand exactly what you went through and that you may not have seen the strongest part of that storm.
How do we line up perception with reality? The answer lies in social science. A project will soon begin at NOAA’s National Hurricane Center to find ways to better communicate the risk from the hurricane hazards, find out how people are interpreting our products and to make sure everything is actionable. We have to plan for what COULD happen, not what has happened in the past. It’s a life and death proposition.
Edited for WeatherNation by Meteorologist Mace Michaels
HAPPENING NOW - Flash Flood Warnings continue across Oklahoma through the afternoon with rain reports from today ne… https://t.co/n5fAlLQkUf42 minutes ago by WeatherNation
RT @NWSNorman: 12:50 PM - flash flood threat increasing across the OKC metro area. Please don't drive into areas where water covers the roa…2 hours ago by WeatherNation
We're tracking showers and storms across the nation... Find us live on TV or one of our apps for the latest:… https://t.co/ZnDEbC96di4 hours ago by WeatherNation
TO THE RESCUE - Our cameras were there as soldiers continue to help supply water and aid to those in need after the… https://t.co/aAhbqz2HN65 hours ago by WeatherNation
Severe weather risk from Illinois to Maine today. If you live in the ORANGE are be extra aware, you have the highes… https://t.co/jRYxf3fOC85 hours ago by WeatherNation
It's the last day of summer! Using a gif, how do you feel about the return of fall? https://t.co/OmfsuKgiGr7 hours ago by WeatherNation
It's not just the Carolinas, flooding threats continue to rummage across the U.S. from the Upper Midwest to the sou… https://t.co/01Zkm7r2V68 hours ago by WeatherNation
ICYMI - Strong Storms ripped across the upper Midwest with reports of several tornadoes as well. Today, that same t… https://t.co/2rDXmdoVi09 hours ago by WeatherNation