Hurricanes: New Public Messaging Policies for the 2017 Season

For the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season, which began on June 1, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) will provide a new service—storm surge watches and warnings—which will alert the public about life-threatening inundation caused by hurricanes and other tropical cyclones. According to the National Weather Service, storm surge flooding caused nearly half of tropical cyclone-related deaths in the United States over the past 50 years. Moreover, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, four people in New Jersey died from storm surge during Hurricane Sandy, which was a post-tropical cyclone at landfall in New Jersey in 2012. Storm surge watches and warnings will be issued separately from hurricane watches and warnings, as storm surge can occur outside of areas under a hurricane watch or warning.

Other changes to the NHC’s suite of hurricane messaging products include:

  • New experimental graphic that illustrates the potential arrival time of sustained tropical storm force winds. The arrival of sustained tropical storm force winds—39 to 74 miles per hour—is the point at which residents and responders should shelter in place, according to the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management. This information was previously available to the weather service and emergency managers, and making it publicly available will complement messaging from local officials.
  • Updating the tropical cyclone forecast graphics. This update changes the graphic’s color scheme so it is easier to read than in the past and illustrates the current position of storm winds to show hazardous conditions outside of the forecast area. Additionally, the storm forecast cone, representing the probable track of the center of a tropical cyclone, was updated based on statistical forecast error over the previous five years.
  • Updated policy for issuing advisories for potential tropical cyclones. When tropical cyclones have not yet formed, but are predicted to form and make landfall, the NHC can now issue its full suite of watch and warning text and graphics, allowing the public maximum time to prepare. Previously, the NHC waited until the cyclone formed, which often did not give enough advance notice to the public.

For more information, please contact NJOHSP’s Preparedness Bureau at