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Nation/World

May 8, 2013

Hurricane center chief focusing on water hazards

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Last year’s hurricane season drove home some big lessons, the nation’s chief hurricane forecaster said yesterday: Storm surge and flooding are dangerous and difficult to predict, and sometimes it’s even harder to communicate that sense of urgency to the public.

It wasn’t just high winds that posed a threat and caused damage, said National Hurricane Center Director Rick Knabb, who joined Florida’s emergency managers in Fort Lauderdale at the annual Governor’s Hurricane Conference.

“2012 was all about water, water, water. Debby, Isaac, Sandy,” Knabb said. “It was storm surge from the ocean, it was inland flooding, it was river flooding.”

The hurricane center has been working for several years to improve its storm surge forecasts and public warnings about potential flooding risks far from the coastline. The last season has added a sense of urgency to get those upgrades ready by the 2015 season, Knabb said.

Superstorm Sandy brought high winds, extreme tides, drenching rains, flooding and even heavy snow and when it slammed into New Jersey in October, leaving millions without power, wiping out entire neighborhoods and causing the most storm-related deaths in the Northeast since Hurricane Agnes in 1972. It’s the second-costliest storm in U.S. history after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Hurricane Isaac swamped the U.S. Gulf Coast in August, even delaying the Republican National Convention in Tampa.

Much of the damage left by Tropical Storm Debby in June came from river flooding after heavy rains soaked northern and central Florida.

The hurricane center said it would change the way it warns people about tropical storms that become something else, after some critics suggested that Northeast residents underestimated Sandy’s danger because forecasters stopped issuing hurricane warnings when the storm merged with two cold-weather systems and lost its tropical characteristics.

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