Friday, November 30, 2007

2007 Hurricane Season Ends Quietly

The 2007 hurricane season ended quietly on Friday without a tropical storm, disturbance or hurricane in sight. For all intents and purposes, the season really came to a close in late October when Hurricane Noel swept through the Caribbean and briefly threatened Florida.

The National Hurricane Center reports 14 storms formed this year, above the long-term average of 10 tropical storms. Still, most of the 14 were weak, short-live systems that were only a concern for shipping.

Only six hurricanes developed in 2007 with three, Dean, Felix and Humberto, making landfall. Dean and Felix reached rare category five status before slamming into Central America and Mexico. Humberto was a weak category one hurricane when it struck the southeast coast of Texas.

For the second consecutive year Florida was not hit by a tropical storm or hurricane. While Noel did get our hearts beating a little faster back in October, the storm’s biggest impact was significant beach erosion along the coastline.

Overall, folks in hurricane country along the United States coastline are more than happy with the 2007 hurricane season.

For the hurricane research community, however, 2007 will be remembered for the loss of two legends in tropical meteorology. Late last week, Herb Saffir, the man who helped create the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale, died in his Miami home.

In early August, Dr. Robert Burpee, a past director of the National Hurricane Center and one of the top researchers in tropical meteorology, passed away in Miami following a long illness.

Of the two, Saffir is probably the better known thanks to the creation of his hurricane scale back in the late 1960’s. Working with Robert Simpson, the director of the hurricane center at the time, Saffir came up with a system to rank the destructive capability of a hurricane based on its wind speed and storm surge.

“Dividing hurricanes into categories was an idea whose time had come,” former hurricane specialist Mile Lawrence told the Miami Herald. “It was a wonderful way to collapse the information into a way that was easier to understand.''

Saffir also worked to strenghten building codes in South Florida and was instruemnetal in the implementation of a new state-wide building code considered the strongest in the nation.

“Driving around south Florida I can see the engineering work I have done,” Saffir told the Georgia Tech Alumni Magazine. “It’s there in the shape of buildings and bridges. It is there in the fact that the building code we use. I think I’ve left a little mark.”

There is no doubt among hurricane researchers that Dr. Robert Burpee also left “a little mark.” While he was director of the National Hurricane Center for two years from 1995 to 1997, it is in the research field that Burpee will be best remembered.

“Bob was one of those unsung heroes, a pioneer and scientist that helped shape the data we use today,” said Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Craig Fugate.

A veteran of more than 250 flights into hurricanes, Burpee was among the first who proposed using a jet to obtain environmental data around a hurricane. By sampling the atmosphere near the storm, forecasters had a much clearer sense of where the hurricane might be headed next. Max Mayfield, the former director of the hurricane center, says Burpee’s work added an additional “10 to 15 percent improvement in track forecasts.”

In 1995, Burpee helped formed the NOAA/FEMA Hurricane Liaison Team, which integrated emergency managers and hurricane forecasters to provide residents with important information. Burpee was part of countless research projects and the author of dozens of papers.

Both men’s contributions to hurricane research and safety will long be remembered as countless other top scientists build on the work of Herb Saffir and Bob Burpee.

Posted at 7:43 AM