Wednesday, August 22, 2012

I dream of Isaac

We are in our customary spot in Cocoa Beach, Florida. As usual, no map link today in respect of the privacy of our host, Dave. We arrived here fairly late on Saturday, as traffic was a mess getting out of Winter Park. We've been mostly relaxing and catching up on a few chores since we arrived, and thinking about where we might go from here -- now moot, as the weather has supervened.

Monday afternoon we were watching with some concern a disturbance in the Atlantic designated Investigation Area 94L. Respected meteorologists were saying it might become a tropical depression on Wednesday, but when we awoke Tuesday morning, it had already developed into Tropical Depression 9. By the end of the day it had become Tropical Storm Isaac, and it will be Hurricane Isaac before it's all over.

I am on the Leadership Alert Team this month, and so it was no surprise when the Disaster Operations Center (DOC) called yesterday morning to see if I could fly to Puerto Rico or the USVI, probably today. Fortunately, there are non-stops from Orlando, and the bus is well-parked and secured. After talking it over briefly and getting permission from Dave to leave the bus in place for however long it might be, we agreed on a plan that would have involved me flying out to the islands on a pre-landfall team, with Louise joining me there, after kenneling the cats, in the unlikely event that an actual relief operation spun up in the islands.

It happens that I am the only available technology Chief at the moment, and the DOC's initial thinking was to send the big guns to the islands, and station Manager-level personnel here in Florida. Even though Isaac has a much greater probability of doing damage here than in the US interests in the Caribbean, I understand this thinking, because even a glancing blow in the islands can close the airports, and if the leadership team is not already on the ground, there can be no way to get the necessary personnel in place until it's too late. That said, by mid-afternoon they had changed the strategy and I got another call.

It takes a lot of donor dollars to get a 5-person leadership team to the islands, and keep them there for three or four days, if they are not really going to be needed. So by mid-afternoon the decision had been made to hold off another day until the probabilities sharpened up. By late afternoon the decision was made to send a very small handful of technology equipment, along with a manager to set it up and help the local chapter with it. I had a brief caucus with the DOC on whether or not that person should be me, and in the end we decided that it would be better to give someone else the extra experience unless and until the storm actually took a turn in that direction.

That was a good call. I am still on standby to fly to Puerto Rico if need be, but the USVI is already outside the cone of uncertainty for the forecast track, and PR is just on the very edge. Both of these areas will see rain events and strong, possibly storm-force, winds, but neither is likely to require a national-level relief operation.

Florida, on the other hand, is under the gun. The latest track forecast from the National Hurricane Center has Isaac making landfall in the Florida Keys early Monday morning as a category-1 hurricane. Five days is an eternity in forecast circles, and the NHC assigns low confidence to the track prediction beyond day three. It's possible Isaac will miss the Keys entirely to the west, intensifying over the gulf before making a gulf coast landfall, or perhaps it will stay to the Atlantic side and make a landfall further north along the east coast.

With the center of probability being Key Largo, our best strategy is to remain right here in Cocoa Beach while we track the storm and see what the DOC has in mind for staging a relief operation. From here we can easily reach any part of the state, including the Keys, in less than a day, or even as far north as South Carolina. By Saturday afternoon, which will make one full week in this spot, we should have a good picture of where we will be heading, and I expect we will be leaving the land of I Dream of Jeannie as soon as the call comes in.

We are coming into the busy part of the Atlantic storm season, and behind Isaac is Investigation Area 96L, to which the NHC has assigned 100% probability of developing into a tropical cyclone. It's still too early for them to issue a forecast track, but some of the models have it turning back to sea before it even gets as far west as Bermuda, whereas some models show it following Isaac right into Florida. Suffice it to say, we are keeping our eye on that one, too.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Sean - best of luck out there. I finally got things in order here and am on the availability roster, but who knows what that will mean in the long run... Keeping a curious eye out on the storm and DRO beyond that. Best, John L (SF)


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