Opinion: CT is not Miami, but needs to brace for hurricane season

This satellite image made available by NOAA shows Hurricane Agatha, center, off the Pacific coast of Mexico on Sunday, May 29, 2022.

This satellite image made available by NOAA shows Hurricane Agatha, center, off the Pacific coast of Mexico on Sunday, May 29, 2022.

Associated Press

It seems that each year, hurricane season gets more and more media attention. It could be because the storms are consistently breaking records. Most recently, Hurricane Agatha made landfall in Southern Mexico as a Category 2 hurricane. Agatha was the strongest hurricane to ever make landfall during the month of May in the Eastern Pacific, where hurricane season began May 15. The Atlantic hurricane season began June 1 and goes until Nov. 30. The Atlantic season is also off to an active start with one named storm, Alex, already forming in the Atlantic. The system brought flooding rain to South Florida.

We’re not Miami or New Orleans, so we don’t have to worry, right? While we do not have the frequency of hurricane threats that southern states do, we absolutely need to watch every storm carefully.

The 2021 hurricane season not only washed out our summer but also became deadly, even though we had no direct hits. The state was brushed with four “remnant” storms. In July, Tropical Storm Elsa brought heavy rain and flash flood warnings along with strong wind gusts for parts of the state. August brought Fred, which was a remnant system but still brought heavy rain and even produced a morning tornado in the town of Thompson. Just days after Fred, Henri set its sights on the northeast. While the state dodged a direct hit as Henri made landfall in Rhode Island, we still saw several (more) inches of rain and gusty winds.

The 2021 season was not done with us yet. Hurricane Ida was a catastrophic Category 4 hurricane that made landfall in Louisiana. Its remnants caused destruction with severe flash flooding as it traveled north and east toward Connecticut. By the time its leftovers arrived in Connecticut in early September, rivers and streams were already running high from the previous storms and the ground was saturated.

The water had nowhere to go. The result? A flash flood emergency. This was the first time this type of emergency was issued for parts of the state by the National Weather Service. Ida’s flood emergency turned deadly after a Connecticut state trooper’s cruiser was swept away by the raging water in Woodbury. His body was found hours later.

All of the damage and even death from the onslaught of tropical systems were caused by storms that did not make a direct hit in Connecticut. The lesson we should learn: we need to pay close attention to weather patterns during hurricane season. Last year, a strong (and persistent) Bermuda high-pressure system sat off of the East Coast and funneled the remnants of storms toward the Northeast. Despite the damage we experienced, it could have been much worse if these systems had not weakened over land before making it to the state.

One thing we also experienced last summer was a social media backlash to local meteorologists when the forecast changed track or intensity. Local “mets” were called names and some were chastised for over-warning. even when the forecast was verified. Tropical systems are fickle. The track and intensity vary considerably based on atmospheric conditions behind and ahead of the storms. Small nuances can mean big changes.

As a meteorologist who has been forecasting for more than 20 years, I have just one piece of advice going into the upcoming season (and I reiterate this with snow forecasts, too.) Know your source! There are many people with social media accounts who have thousands of followers, but have no meteorological training. Besides finding good sources to follow, we ask that followers realize that while severe weather may have skipped your town, another family may be cleaning up from damage or worse, dealing with loss of life or injuries to a friend or a family member.

Just as meteorology is not an exact science, emergency messages via social media are still evolving. Social media algorithms can delay messages, severe weather can be (and often is) hyper-local and emergency messages are not one-size-fits-all. We try our best to keep people safe. My motto is to “prepare, not scare.” We get the information out for maximum preparation with the hope that people are not caught off-guard by a storm.

The experts at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) expect another active season. The current forecast calls for 14 to 21 named storms, with six to 10 of those storms to form into hurricanes, and three to six to form into major hurricanes (hurricanes of Category 3 or higher, with winds over 111 mph).

Of course, many of these expected storms may stay out to sea. However, as we experienced last summer, we don’t need a direct hit for damage or life-threatening conditions.

It only takes one storm.

Darren Sweeney is an associate professor in the Department of Journalism at Central Connecticut State University and a meteorologist and reporter at NBC Connecticut.