The Greater Miami Chapter of the AMS presents
"Bill Read's Farewell"

Thursday, June 14, 2012 at 6:00 PM.
4600 Rickenbacker CSWY
Miami, FL


Bill Read

former NHC Director

Title :40 years of chasin' 'canes - Lessons taught, Lessons Learned

Join us as Bill Read shares his thoughts and reflections after five years of heading up the National Hurricane Center and dealing with storms both meteorological and administrative.

Meeting Minutes

Bill Read gave a retrospective talk about his life and career on Thursday, June 14th, in the RSMAS auditorium attended by 25 guests. Bill began with tales from his life growing up in New England and the Mid-Atlantic States, including several damaging weather events, among them the Worchester tornado (1953), Hurricane Hazel (1954), and the Ash Wednesday storm (1962). He also grew up hearing his parents' stories of the legendary "Long Island Express" hurricane (1938), which occurred before he was born.

Bill was a self-admitted indifferent student in high school who didn't like to study, but was good at mathematics. When he applied to college, he was turned down by the schools in the Northeast, but Texas A&M offered him admission in 1967. While at A&M, he learned to study, and got a B.S. degree in Meteorology. Upon graduation, Bill was drafted into the US Navy and became a weather officer. He was selected to be a Flight Director with the Navy "Hurricane Hunter" squadron and flew in their newly acquired P-3 aircraft. His first storm penetration was in Hurricane Agnes (1972).

After his stint in the Navy, Bill took a job with the National Weather Service (NWS), where he was stationed at San Antonio, Texas. While there, he experienced several 20+" rain events, including T.S. Amelia (1978) (46" in 24 hrs.), T.S. Claudette ((979) (43" in 24 hrs.), and Hurricane Allen (1980). From 1989-1991, Bill was assigned to the National Weather Service Headquarters, where he worked on the NWS Modernization program. Hurricane Hugo hit the Carolinas 21 September 1989 while he was there.

When his work at Headquarters was finished, Bill was appointed to his “dream” job, Meteorologist in Charge (MIC) at Houston, Texas. In that position, he continued his association with hurricanes and tropical weather, as Hurricanes Allison (2001) and Rita (2005) affected Houston while he was MIC. Bill was also called on assist at the National Hurricane Center (NHC) during 2003 - 2005 hurricane seasons. While on liason duty at NHC, Bill was immersed in the forecast maelstrom during Hurricanes Isabel (2003), H. Charlie (2004), and H. Rita (2005). Bill was named the director of the NHC in 2008 after the tumultuous tenure of his predecessor. He retired in 2012.

Bill illustrated that hurricane track forecasts have shown steady improvement over the last few decades, as a 3-day forecast now is as good as a 1-day forecast in 1990, and he thinks that track forecasts might become as much as 50% better than they are today. The biggest challenge in hurricane forecasting is intensity, especially rapid intensification (RI). Bill predicted that in 20 years time we might have:

A 10-day track forecast
Unmanned aerial hurricane reconnaissance (UAS)
A 48-hr RI forecast.

Even with all this, we still have a problem communicating the threat to the public. There are several aspects of this communication problem. One of them is denial (the "it can't happen here" syndrome), and others are population growth along vulnerable coastlines, urbanization in those areas, and land use (building on barrier islands, for example). The main driver of the forecast improvements is saving lives. About 50% of the US population lives within 50 miles of the coast, and much of the insured property in the nation is also there.

Hurricanes produce flooding both along the coast (Hurricane Ike (2008) flooded much of the Gulf Coast with a 12' storm surge) and inland (Hurricane Hugo (1989) killed more people from inland flooding than the from the storm surge). Of particular concern are the presence of infrastructure in areas vulnerable to storm surge like hospitals, nursing homes, and prisons, whose patients and inmates cannot be quickly evacuated. In spite of this, there are few or no land use restrictions in the surge zone. Much of this comes about because a major hurricane landfall is really a rare event, so society reacts to them rather than being pro-active in favor of mitigation. Bill showed a slide that emphasized that a "100 year" event has a 1% chance of occurrence in any one year, but a 10% chance in any decade. These are not particularly long odds, so preparation and mitigation is the key to surviving these events. Improving forecasts will help, but just recall that H. Charlie (2004) developed, intensified into a major hurricane, and made landfall at Punta Gorda, Florida, in 36 hrs. An accurate 48-hr genesis forecast would have been needed for that storm, and we are nowhere near able to produce such a forecast.

Robert A. Black
chapter vice president/secretary

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