January 18, 2000 Meeting

The meeting was held at the National Weather Service in Jackson. The guest speaker was Jerry Jarrell, director of the National Hurricane Center.

Meeting Minutes

The third meeting of the 1999-2000 chapter year was held at the Jackson National Weather Service Office on 18 January 2000 in Jackson, Mississippi. The meeting was opened by Chapter President Barbie Bassett with 24 people in attendance. After a brief business session, Chapter Vice President Alan Gerard introduced Jerry Jarrell, director of the National Hurricane Center.

Jarrell’s talk was entitled “Hurricanes: The Issues for 2000 and Beyond.” His first topic concerned the threat that high-rise buildings and higher terrain face in a hurricane. Recent research of hurricane wind profiles has shown that winds increase significantly with height in the lowest 500 ft, thus posing a greater risk for wind damage to the upper portions of taller buildings and higher terrain.

Second, Jarrell discussed surface wind speed in hurricanes and how current techniques may be underestimating them. His discussion later shifted to the dangers of hurricanes and how improved forecasts and preparedness have led to a great reduction in loss of life from storm surge. In fact, according to Jarrell, the percentage of hurricane deaths associated with storm surge flooding has decreased from 90%  to 1% since Hurricane Camille in 1969. Inland flooding has taken over as the hurricane’s deadliest effect, now accounting for 81% of hurricane-related deaths on average.

Although storm surge-related deaths are way down, there have been several cases in the past few years where catastrophic loss of life has been narrowly avoided. Jarrell presented two case scenarios illustrating this point. The scenarios suggest that while emergency preparedness is vastly improved, there is still need for better planning, particularly with major evacuations. Another problem exists with trends in major hurricane paths. As an example, Jarrell used Palm Beach. While no major hurricanes have affected Palm Beach since 1950, there were many major hurricanes that did affect the area in the 1926 to 1950 time frame. Unfortunately, most people living in Palm Beach were not around for those major hurricanes and are likely insensitive to the threat. Jarrell went on to emphasize that in recent history, weaker storms have proven dangerous. Prime examples include Hurricane Mitch in 1998 and Hurricane Floyd in 1999.

As these storms weakened, their threat actually increased due to antecedent conditions and topographical features. In both cases, prolonged heavy rains induced disastrous flooding, particularly with Mitch. So what is Jarrell’s forecast for 2000? He believes that more than 50% of the coastal population will be unprepared.

A question-and-answer session was held with Jarrell after his presentation. The meeting was adjourned by Bassett.

Minutes submitted by Eric Carpenter.