Hurricane forecasting improves, but preparedness still paramount, officials say

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Hurricane forecasting and warning systems have greatly improved in recent years, providing residents with valuable time to plan, but preparedness remains paramount in south Louisiana as another tropical storm season approaches, federal and state officials said at the start of a national conference in New Orleans on Monday.

The National Hurricane Conference for emergency preparedness officials comes ahead of the June 1 start of hurricane season — and with climate change leading to an intensification of storms. While Louisiana was spared in 2022, it was hit by a string of storms in the 2020 and 2021 seasons, including hurricanes Laura and Ida, two of the most powerful to ever make landfall in the state.

Over the past 20 years, the National Hurricane Center has lowered its track and intensity errors by up to 45% and increased lead time to 12 hours for watches and warnings. And since 2017, it has cut in half the range of error during rapid intensification of storms, said NHC director Jamie Rhome.

But Rhome said that while messaging leading up to major storms has been improved, residents must also be conscious of how they prepare.

“For the most impactful storms’ average lead time, you’re only going to get 3 days,” Rhome said. “When the forecast changes, you have to dynamically change with it.”

Rhome pointed to Hurricane Ian, which hit Florida in 2022. Ian changed trajectories right before landfall, devastating many underprepared communities and becoming the third-costliest weather disaster on record.

Casey Tingle, director of the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, recalled Hurricane Andrew in 1992, when he was a freshman at LSU. As a North Louisianan, he didn’t know what to expect from a hurricane. When the whole floor of his dorm evacuated, he stayed.

“I just kept thinking to myself, this was a huge mistake,” Tingle said. “Why didn’t I do what all of the other students in the hall did and go back home?”


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