More Hurricanes Than Usual Are Forecast for 2017


The upcoming hurricane season is shaping up to be a nasty one, The Weather Channel reports. New data from The Weather Company (owners of The Weather Channel and Weather Underground) projects that 14 named storms—including seven hurricanes and three Category 3 (or stronger) hurricanes—will form over the Atlantic in 2017, bringing the total number of storms for this hurricane season well above the average.

According to 30 years of statistics analyzed by Colorado State University [PDF], the Atlantic sees 11 named storms, four hurricanes, and two major hurricanes (Category 3 or above) in an average year. These numbers are starting to skew higher: In 2016, a total of 15 named storms, with seven hurricanes and four major hurricanes, hit the area. Scientists blame rising sea-surface temperatures for the volatile weather. Above-average temperatures have already been recorded in the Atlantic, and the ocean surface is only predicted to get warmer as the year progresses.

El Niño, a climate cycle in the Pacific that impacts weather around the world, is expected to be less aggressive than usual this year. A more active El Niño would put a damper on the formation of hurricanes in the tropical Atlantic.

Hurricane season officially begins on June 1, but this year it got off to an early start. Tropical Storm Arlene, which appeared in April without making landfall, marked the first named storm of 2017. The season runs through November, with peak activity occurring between mid-August and mid-October.

[h/t The Weather Channel]

How Waffle House Helps Measure the Severity of a Natural Disaster


There are a lot of ways the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) assesses and addresses the severity of a natural disaster. Meteorology can predict movement patterns, wind gusts, and precipitation. Resources are dispatched to areas hit hardest by torrential weather.

But when the agency needs an accurate, ground-level gauge for how a community is coping during a crisis, they turn to Waffle House.

Since 2004, FEMA has utilized what former administrator Craig Fugate called the “Waffle House Index.” Because the casual dining chain is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, tracking to see if a location is closed or working with limited supplies can help inform the agency as to whether affected areas are ailing or taking steps toward normalcy.

“If a Waffle House is closed because there's a disaster, it's bad,” Fugate told NPR in 2011. “We call it red. If they're open but have a limited menu, that's yellow ... If they're green, we're good, keep going. You haven't found the bad stuff yet.”

For FEMA, the ability to order a plate of smothered and covered hash browns is an important analytic. If a Waffle House is having trouble getting stock, then transportation has been interrupted. If the menu is limited, then it’s possible they have some utilities but not others. If its locations have locked their doors, inclement weather has taken over. The chain’s locations would normally stay open even in severe conditions to help first responders.

The company has opened a Waffle House Storm Center to gather data in anticipation of Hurricane Florence, a Category 2 storm expected to touch down in the Carolinas this week. But not all locations are taking a wait-and-see approach. One Waffle House in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina has already closed due to the looming threat, making it the first red dot on the Index.

[h/t CNN]

See What Hurricane Florence Looks Like From Space

NASA via Getty Images
NASA via Getty Images

As Hurricane Florence continues to creep its way toward the Carolinas, it’s repeatedly being described as both "the storm of the century” and "the storm of a lifetime” for parts of the coastlines of North and South Carolina. While that may sound like hyperbole to some, Alexander Gerst—an astronaut with the European Space Agency—took to Twitter to prove otherwise with a few amazing photos, and issued a warning to “Watch out, America!”

According to the National Weather Service, “Hurricane Florence will be approaching the Carolina shores as the day progresses on Thursday. Although the exact timing, location, and eventual track of Florence isn't known, local impacts will likely begin in the afternoon hours and only worsen with time throughout the evening and overnight period.”

On Tuesday, Wilmington, North Carolina's National Weather Service took the warning even one step further, writing: "This will likely be the storm of a lifetime for portions of the Carolina coast, and that's saying a lot given the impacts we've seen from Hurricanes Diana, Hugo, Fran, Bonnie, Floyd, and Matthew. I can't emphasize enough the potential for unbelievable damage from wind, storm surge, and inland flooding with this storm.”

Gerst’s photos certainly drive that point home.