Hurricane Sandy Creates Interoperability Problems

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Forecasters from services such as AccuWeather have taken issue with the National Hurricane Center's decision to not issue hurricane warnings north of North Carolina in preparation for Hurricane Sandy's arrival.  They contend that citizens and governments might have taken even greater precautions had the NHC reinforced that a serious hurricane was approaching the mid-Atlantic.  The NHC chose not to issue warnings further up the coast because Sandy technically would no longer be a hurricane once it began to mix with non-tropical air.  Storms classified as non-tropical fall out of the NHC's jurisdiction.  

In the current warning hierarchy, the NHC handles hurricane and tropical storm warnings while local and state officials handle other storms through various less severe warnings (high waters, heavy rain, etc.).  Due to the semantic interpretation of this particular storm, the NHC felt it was most accurate to follow process established by the current classification system.  This, in turn, led to confusing "non-hurricane" messages up the East Coast even though forecasters clearly believed the storm headed for New Jersey was equivalent to a hurricane. 

In the context of interoperability, we can consider the NHC as an entity that needs to be able to accurately exchange information about storms with other key agencies.  The NHC's challenge with Sandy was that their controlled vocabulary lacked the ability to accurately describe this storm.  Had they called it a Category 2 Hurricane (which it effectively was), some organizations might have run into equivalence issues and misinterpreted Sandy's makeup (thinking it was tropical when it was not).  The alternative, however, was to provide warnings that the NHC has now admitted were too weak in tone.  

The ideal resolution to this issue is to create additional vocabulary that the NHC can use to strike a similar hurricane tone, while indicating that the storm, while equivalent in threat, possesses different properties.  Doing so will then allow the NHC more flexibility to exchange storm data with the many different agencies and citizens that need it no matter what the technical makeup of the impending threat.

A good article on the forecaster outcry: