We asked Meteorologist Dr. Matt Sitkowski about his experience with Hermine and his take on the storm now that it’s no longer impacting the eastern coast.
What was the formation process of Hermine like?
We started watching this system in mid-August when it came off the coast of Africa. The National Hurricane Center declared the system ‘Invest 99L’ on the afternoon of August 18. This just means they track the system more closely and start to run more storm-specific computer models. It stayed an invest for over a week. At times, the organization around the storm’s circulation suggested intensification was imminent only to fall apart hours later. For several days there were many ups and downs until finally there was enough sustained thunderstorm activity and organization on August 28th, when Tropical Depression 9 formed. It would later become Tropical Storm Hermine on the 31st and then a Hurricane on Sept. 1, right before landfall on the Florida Panhandle.
Why was it “the storm that never quit”?
While an Invest (99L) over the Atlantic, the circulation that would eventually become Hermine never went away. Thunderstorms would blow up, which you need for tropical development, but would fade away for a few hours. The storm was also fending off shear, winds changing speed and direction with height, which kept thunderstorms from staying over the same spot to lower the pressure and increase surface winds. But there was enough pulsing of thunderstorms, enough pockets of light shear, and there was always plenty of warm water that helped keep the circulation going. It truly was amazing watching this storm…I felt like it tried just as hard to intensify as it did weaken – prior to entering the Gulf of Mexico.
How will this storm be remembered?
I’m sure for millions of people, they will remember this as the storm that caused damage to personal items, knocked out their power, or spoiled Labor Day Weekend plans. If you live in Cedar Key, Florida you will remember this as the storm that produced (preliminary) record surge – bashing waves that prove once again the power of moving water. If you are a meteorologist that tracked this storm for 20+ days, you will remember the tough forecasts (there were plenty of those), the fascinating formation process, the quick intensification to hurricane status as the storm approached Florida, and the beast of a post-tropical cyclone this thing became off the Northeast coast. Hermine was exhausting. Toward the end of the marathon came the trickiest part of the entire forecast. Large, slow-moving transitioning storms (tropical to post-tropical) that interact with other disturbances in the atmosphere tend to do what they want, and Hermine was no exception.
In your opinion, did state and local governments take the necessary precautions to keep people safe?
I know there were cancellations, voluntary evacuations, and expensive measures undertaken as Hermine approached and meandered up the Northeast coast. It’s a tougher pill to swallow during a holiday weekend, but these precautions are necessary. The National Hurricane Center does not put up warnings unless they are warranted. I think most forecasters couched this as a tough forecast, too. I assure you there were some computer model runs that would have been devastating, especially some for the Jersey Shore. So while there may have been less people on the boardwalk this holiday weekend, it’s a better scenario than having to build a new boardwalk completely.
Have we learned anything from Hermine that we could apply to future hurricanes/tropical storms? If so, what?
With every storm comes opportunities to learn and I am sure many people have learned some important lessons from this storm. But I think for many more people this storm served as a huge reminder. This was the first hurricane to make landfall in Florida since Wilma (2005). People forget how strong 60+ mph winds are…they forget the power of storm surge and the damage it can do. During the past 3 weeks, I was reminded that my 5-day and 5-hour forecasts can be wrong. That I need to choose words carefully when people are hanging on them to make decisions. That there is so much I (and the meteorologist community) need to better understand about hurricane forecasting. And finally…that I am surrounded by brilliant people that each bring something to the table. The team here at The Weather Channel works well together. Through all the long hours we respect, listen to, and support one another. And whether it’s a meteorologist, television producer or camera operator, we all know the end goal is to communicate the forecast in such a way it better prepares people and ultimately saves lives.