Lessons Learned: Dorian

Tracking the Tropics

Dorian was the storm of the 2019 hurricane season. An absolute monster of a storm, it was the most powerful hurricane recorded in the open Atlantic with max sustained winds of 185mph. 

Lesson 1: Sluggish Storms

More frightening than its strength was its speed, or lack thereof. Without any steering currents from the upper atmosphere, the Category 5 storm battered the Bahamas for a truly nightmarish 48 hours before mercifully crawling north. Stalling storms like this aren’t unheard of- Florence and Harvey also come to mind. According to NOAA meteorologist Jim Kossin, sluggish hurricanes may become the new norm.

“We did a follow up study on tropical cyclones over the continental United States. What we found was a significant slowdown of 17% of hurricane’s forward motion from around 1900.”

Jim Kossin, NOAA Atmospheric Research Scientist

That number may seem insignificant- but it certainly is not, “On average it’s about 17%, but reality is Dorian. Reality is Harvey. These are storms that are practically not moving…they’re responsible for a fair chunk of that 17%.” 

His research boils down to one statement: slower, stronger, wetter hurricanes like Dorian are happening more often as the currents that drive these storms westward weaken.

We should be prepared for impacts to be possibly drawn out for days…and in general, longer lasting tropical systems. 

Lesson 2: The Waiting Game

Two weeks would pass between Dorian’s formation in the eastern Atlantic (Aug 24) and landfall on the Outer Banks (Sept 6). Much of that time was spent anxiously watching…and waiting.

This prolonged period caused justifiable anxiety as this system begged for our attention for days on end. Uncertainty grew as conflicting forecast models didn’t offer any concrete answers to where it would go. The longer you had to wait, the more antsy you got to seek out answers from any source.

This problem has become worse as forecast models have become widely available to anyone. Information from a single weather model run can be taken out of context and shared on social media- where it spreads like wildfire. Help us combat misinformation throughout this season by following and sharing forecasts only sources you can trust. 

Be wary of posts that don’t communicate the inherent uncertainty in forecasts-which we illustrated to you in the days leading up to its impact. 

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