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Weather Officials Converge On Broward Emergency Management Center Ahead Of Hurricane Season

Debbie Wasserman Schultz
Caitie Switalski
At the annual briefing, national and regional directors for organizations like The American Red Cross and Florida Power and Light, FPL, reported to Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz on what they learned from Hurricane Irma.

In the middle of a meeting about the 2018 hurricane season, Edward Rappaport’s cell phone went off with the official announcement of subtropical storm Alberto. 

“There are no watches or warnings, at least at this point for the U.S.,” he said. “But there will be some tropical storm watches for Cuba and the Yucatan Peninsula,” since subtropical storms have wider wind fields than regular tropical storms. 

Get the latest weather updates at WLRN's Florida Storms Center 

Rappaport is the deputy director for the National Hurricane Center. He was on a panel at the Broward County Emergency Operations Center Friday morning, reporting to South Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz ahead of the official start of hurricane season on June 1.

“Hopefully, it [subtropical storm Alberto] happening on May 25 isn’t an indicator that we’re not going to just have an ‘average to slightly above average’ storm season prediction,” Wassermann Schultz joked. 

Read More: Subtropical Storm Alberto Forms With Holiday Weekend's Arrival

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, has predicted this year’s storms will be in that range of “average to slightly above average” because there are no el Niño or la Nina weather systems active right now. 

But that range still predicts between 10 and 16 named storms, one to four of which could become major hurricanes. A more accurate prediction from NOAA will be released in August. 

In Friday’s reports, officials relived some of the lessons they learned during last year’s Hurricane Irma, while they also touted better forecasting technology.

“Of course, last year was a season for the ages,” Rappaport said. But he noted better models at the National Hurricane Center have led to reduced errors when creating the ‘cone of uncertainty.’ 

“Every year [since 2011] there’s been a reduction in the errors in forecasting intensity,”  said Robert Atlas, dorector of  NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory located in Miami. 

Part of that improvement is thanks to a new model called HWRF, which stands for Hurricane Weather Research and Forecasting. Newer technology like laser radar, ocean glider boat trips, and increased hurricane tracking flights also add to the increased accuracy.

Lori Vun Kannon, acting director for Broward County’s Emergency Management Division, said Broward may not have sustained the hurricane damage from hurricane Irma that Monroe County did - but their resources have been stretched in other ways that aren’t storm related. 

“For us, we have to recognize… between Matthew [2016] and Irma, we had two other [Emergency Operations Center] activations within the county government and we were dealing and helping the community heal,” Vun Kannon said. “After Matthew, we had the Fort Lauderdale airport shooting…Right after [Irma] we had the incident at Marjory Stoneman Douglas.” 

The county’s emergency management opened a family assistance center to reunify families after both shootings.

However, Vun Kannon said while her office will continue to use emergency resources for various Stoneman Douglas related-needs, it will still concentrate on its partnerships to support the hurricane season in front of them. 

Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz reiterated the need to have weather, county, and regional departments communicate with each other during this storm season.

“Particularly given the very active hurricane season that we experienced first hand in the last hurricane season…it proves the point of having this briefing every year,” Wasserman Schultz said. “So we can remind people how critical it is to prepare.”

Caitie Muñoz, formerly Switalski, produces WLRN's midday public affairs program, Sundial weekdays at 1 and 8 p.m. Prior to transitioning to production, Caitie covered news and stories concerning quality of life in Broward County and its municipalities for WLRN News for four years.