Private Weather Company To Use Different Hurricane Severity Scale

AccuWeather’s Storm Damage Prediction After Florence Made Landfall

The nation’s largest private weather provider, AccuWeather, is going to begin to use a new “scale” for conveying the severity of hurricanes in the future, diverging from the current scale used by the National Weather Service (NWS) and followed by all private weather forecasters and meteorologists.  AccuWeather’s CEO, Joel Myers, claims that the current scale only measures wind, but that recent hurricanes from Sandy to Florence have proved that storm surge and flooding can be quite dangerous or deadly even when a hurricane’s wind is not at the top level of severity.

The new AccuWeather scale has been in the works for a while, with the company examining various previous storms to see how they would rate in the new system.  According to The Washington Post, Accuweather calls the new scale the “RealImpact Scale for Hurricanes,” or RI, and it takes into account a variety of hazards including, wind, flooding rain, storm surge, and economic damage. How do some of the most famous recent storms rate under the RI scale?

  • Hurricane Sandy was not even technically a hurricane when it came ashore in New Jersey in 2012.  It would be an RI 5.
  • Hurricane Florence last year was a category 1 hurricane under the NWS scale, but would have been an RI 4.

The company argues that emergency managers and unwitting members of the public, who were caught off guard when recent storms turned out to be much more dangerous than the forecast hurricane category led them to believe, have called for a better system.  And the NWS has looked at this question but has not changed its scale…yet. Some experts question whether the AccuWeather scale will hold up but it is hard to know since they refused to share with the Post how their algorithm works.  

Why This Matters:  TV weather forecasters who are tasked with communicating the risks of storms are in a jam.  If they were to use the new Accuweather RI scale, while the NWS sticks with its old one, there could be major public confusion and that is just what needs to be avoided in the midst of a weather emergency.  However, the NWS scale should likely adapt to the new climate realities.  The NWS, mired in the midst of a shutdown crisis, needs to be given more resources and a more urgent, climate-focused mission.  But sadly, neither is likely to happen under the current Administration. AccuWeather’s former CEO is the Trump Administration’s nominee to head NOAA, and his nomination has been held for many months due to a fear that he would shrink the NWS and transfer more of its responsibilities to private companies like AccuWeather.  Looks like those fears may be well-founded.

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