Energy & Environment

This Hurricane Season, New Maps Highlight Threats From Heavy Winds

The maps show the “earliest reasonable arrival time” of tropical storm-force winds.


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Damage from Hurricane Ike on Bolivar Peninsula near Galveston, TX in 2008

With an above-normal hurricane season expected this year, forecasters are exploring new ways to warn the public about storms.

Knowing about rain, flooding and storm surges is of course important for planning, but National Weather Service meteorologist Melissa Huffman says so is gearing up for the wind.

"You don't want to be be trying to put on your hurricane shutters in the middle of tropical storm-force conditions,” she says.

New forecast maps show when – and where – to expect heavy winds ahead of a tropical storm or hurricane. A rainbow of colors depicts the "earliest reasonable arrival time" of tropical storm-force winds: sustained winds of 39 MPH or more. At that point, the weather service says, it's best to have your storm preparations finished.

Huffman says the maps show how even if you're outside the boundary lines of a storm's expected path, you could still feel the impacts.

"These graphics attempt to show that the storm is just not a single point, and it has the potential to affect a large area,” she says.

An example of new forecast graphics from the National Weather Service. This graphic was released as Tropical Storm Cindy approached the coast.

The maps are still “experimental,” meaning they aren’t guaranteed to show up with every tropical storm or hurricane. Other new forecasting tools being launched this season include storm surge watches and warnings, and advisories for when weather systems could potentially turn into tropical storms or hurricanes.

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