Henry Evades Assumptions and Predictions – Lowell Sun


The story of Tropical Storm Henri illustrates the limits of accurately predicting the trajectory of these atmospheric wonders, even when armed with all the sophisticated tools endemic to the digital age.

While forecasters can now track an emerging hurricane a few days before any potential landing, figuring out that exact location still seems like more art than science.

Friday at noon, with Henri still two days apart and hundreds of miles away, Massachusetts began to prepare for the worst.

With current computer models predicting Southeast Massachusetts or Cape Cod as the storm’s likely landing zone, Governor Charlie Baker and his emergency management team have taken to the airwaves to sound the alarm bells.

Check your batteries, fill the gas tank, make sure the generator is running, and secure or move boats out of danger.

And come Sunday, stay home and squat.

We understand the need for the governor to implement these precautionary measures. However, issuing static commands in the face of an evolving situation runs the risk of an ex post facto overreaction.

We assume that prevention is better than cure would be the administration’s response, a position that is perfectly understandable.

But over time, Henri’s trajectory followed suit. At the end of Saturday, eastern Long Island appeared to be the entry point for the Category 1 hurricane.

However, the then tropical storm did make landfall in Westerly, RI shortly after noon on Sunday. But instead of meandering through that state and into the interior of Massachusetts, it turned westward through Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New York, without the strong impact on much of central and l western Massachusetts that had previously been predicted.

This does not mean that Henri did not get excited. It caused heavy rains, power outages and strong winds – with gusts of 70 mph on Block Island and in the mid-1960s along the Rhode Island coast – before losing steam on land .

Other regions that had prepared for the wind and rain were pleasantly surprised by their good fortune.

“We are in excellent shape and we are touching wood,” Chicopee Mayor John Vieau told the Boston Herald in the late afternoon after dodging heavy rains initially forecast to hit that area.

This same situation took place in Worcester. “It sprinkles a bit. We had a little wind that hit a few branches on the power lines, and we have a downed tree, and that’s it, ”Charles Goodwin, the city’s emergency management director, reported late Sunday. afternoon.

But Henri was not done with us yet. It reversed course and took an easterly turn in Massachusetts on Monday, leaving considerable precipitation in some spots.

In Henri’s wake, some news outlets, in their quest to link this tropical cyclone – a normal event in the middle of hurricane season – to climate change, have sought expert advice to substantiate their case.

WBUR enlisted the help of Kerry Emanuel, professor of atmospheric sciences at MIT and an expert on how climate change affects extreme weather conditions.

And after setting out the reasons why global warming and other man-made factors could boost the frequency and strength of hurricanes, the professor came to this conclusion: “Having said that, when we look at the number of tropical storms around the world in recent decades. , it hasn’t changed much.

This is certainly the case in Massachusetts and New England in general.

In fact, Massachusetts’ worst hurricane season happened more than six decades ago, in 1954.

Two Category 3 hurricanes, nicknamed “the twins,” Carol and Edna, hit the state weeks apart on August 31 and September 11. Carol caused sustained winds of 80 to 100 mph in eastern Massachusetts, destroying thousands of homes due to wind or storm surges.

Edna crossed the Cape and the Islands with sustained winds of up to 95 mph, causing extensive coastal erosion and severe urban flooding.

In all, 21 people have died across New England.

Assigning topical reasons to tropical cyclones produces the same precision as locating the path of a hurricane.

Both will likely miss the mark.

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