Florence: Jonathan Stacey reflects on experience covering hurricane

Meteorologist tracked the hurricane for weeks, then covered it on the ground


JACKSONVILLE, Fla.Meteorologist Jonathan Stacey three main takeaways after forecasting Hurricane Florence from the studio, then reporting on the ground in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, from Thursday through Saturday.

National Hurricane Center's Florence track forecast accuracy

Hands down, the meteorologists with the NHC did an outstanding job forecast this storm from beginning to the end. In fact, the center's five-day forecast was around 2 miles away from the actual point of landfall. That landfall was near Wrightsville Beach at Friday 7:15 a.m. 

Considering the hundreds of daily model (EURO, GFS, etc.) runs available to the center along with the tons of helpful data gathered by the Hurricane Hunter flights, their meteorologist remained constant - the storm would hit the North Carolina coast. This is a phenomenal meteorologist accomplishment considering the number of variables that could have impacted the storm's trajectory including the two large high-pressure ridges that sandwiched the storms from the east and west, and the warm waters of the Gulf Stream.  

While different storms have different characteristics and elements that make forecasting a landfall particularly difficult, the center's increased accuracy over the past few years and specifically with Florence should give you a greater sense of confidence in the National Hurricane Center's forecast.

Diligent response from the Carolinas

Government officials and emergencies agencies in North Carolina and South Carolina did an excellent job warning and preparing for their residents for what was forecast to the catastrophic storm. Their timely evacuation orders and other mandatory measures served their residents even outside of the cone forecast.

Case in point, when we arrived in South Carolina Thursday afternoon, my photographer and I made our first stop in Charleston,  an area that wasn't directly impacted by Florence. But the city was prepared, with no tourists roaming the historic streets; no non-essential businesses open.

Most of the people I spoke with were well aware of the latest forecast and the storm's potential impacts to their area. 

While many would suggest, that many people reacted out of fear since the storm was projected to originally make landfall as a Category 4 storm -- their actions were likely a response to the consistent and firm instructions given from their governing authorities and emergency agencies - early preparation and early evacuations. 

The day before the storm hit, emergency officials in Horry County, South Caroline (Myrtle Beach) reported they'd experienced a 75-80 percent compliance with three counties in evacuation zones. That's unprecedented and the response of those residents likely saved many including the lives of rescue workers. Florida should certainly take a look at the Carolinas preparedness.

The impact of storms

While Florence's landfall forecast was rather consistent and ultimately quite precise, the intensity forecast not so much. As I mentioned earlier, a Category 4 landfall appeared to be in the cards early on. But within a 36-hour period prior to its landfall, the storm was downgraded from a Category 3 to Category 1 storm -- an intensity shift many are indeed grateful for.

However, many people tend to use the strength of a storm to gauge their response to surviving the storm. That's not a good plan or strategy. The Saffir–Simpson hurricane wind scale is simply that a "wind" measurement, and it is not a tool that considers any other weather phenomenon.

All tropical cyclones have certain elements could end up having a greater impact on life and/or property no matter how strong or weak sustained winds may be. In the case of Florence, it was flooding, the same with Irma in Jacksonville and Harvey in Houston.

That said, in other instances, it is storm surge or even tornadoes outbreaks. To that end, that's why local meteorologist are essential. Our responsibility is to take the models and the forecasts developed by the National Hurricane Center and break them down to our specific area and report to you what the local impacts are/will be of a given storm.

So as we continue in this hurricane season, hanging your hat on the threat levels of certain impacts rather than the category number.