By KHRISNA VIRGIL
Tribune Staff Reporter
TRANSPORT and Aviation Minister Glenys Hanna Martin yesterday said claims that the Department of Meteorology’s Doppler radar was non-operational as Hurricane Joaquin battered the central and southern Bahamas earlier this month were “erroneous”.
Mrs Hanna Martin, who has the Meteorology Department in her portfolio, insisted that the issues with the accuracy of the category four storm’s track had to do with the erratic nature of Joaquin and not with forecast equipment in The Bahamas.
She maintained that the Doppler radar was operating throughout the storm, despite notations in the Meteorology Department’s log book on October 2 which read: “Major storm Joaquin is over The Bahamas and the Doppler radar is not working. The Met lab is not working, no hurricane supplies, no bus, when will we get it right in The Bahamas.”
The radar provides details on rainfall intensity, thunderstorms, and tornadic activity including waterspouts effectively within a 150-mile range, Mrs Hanna Martin said. Therefore, she said, the radar is best used by officials as a supplemental tool to satellite imagery, the lightning detection network and computer modelling from a variety of official international sources.
Mrs Hanna Martin held a press conference yesterday at her office on West Bay Street to refute claims published in The Nassau Guardian that the radar was inoperable on October 2 when the storm inflicted the brunt of its fury on the central and southern islands.
The newspaper published messages that were reportedly between several Meteorology Department workers who expressed dissatisfaction that alerts were not issued in a timely fashion and about the state of the equipment.
“I am advised by the director of the Meteorology Department, supported by the radar’s technician, and further supported by the information technology officer, who manages the software for the radar, that prior to the approach of Hurricane Joaquin and throughout the progress of the storm the radar was operational,” the minister said, flanked by weather officials yesterday.
“I am advised that over the past 12 months, the Doppler radar was non-operational for 10 days for the acquisition of new elevation and azimuth motors in late April and 10 days in the month of July for the installation of software for the radar.”
“I am further advised that the notations in the log book which otherwise state the radar was non-operational are a simple matter of rebooting the computer workstations in the Forecast Office and were not related to the functionality of the radar itself.”
She continued: “This particular hurricane had some very unique characteristics, as affirmed by the (United States’) National Hurricane Centre, which has the jurisdiction as stipulated by the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) for the official tracking of hurricanes in the North Atlantic, Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico region.
“The information provided by the Prime Minister (Perry Christie) under the advice of the minister of transport and aviation as advised by the director of the Meteorology Department is true and correct and there is no misleading of Parliament of this country.”
Mrs Hanna Martin said she strongly believed the untrue claims of issues with the Doppler radar was fuelled when a US Weather Channel reporter incorrectly stated during coverage of the storm that the radar was down because the necessary parts were not available in the country to fix an existing issue.
This was immediately refuted in a statement by the government.
She pointed to a statement by that news agency that expressed “regret” for the allegation.
Mrs Hanna Martin read out a statement from Shirley Powell, the Weather Channel’s executive vice-president and chief communications officer.
“While reporting on Hurricane Joaquin,” Ms Powell said, “one of our on camera meteorologists stated that The Bahamas radar system was not working. In fact it was the system that provides The Weather Channel access to the radar that was not working. We cannot independently verify whether or not the radar itself was functioning at the time. We regret the error.”
Trevor Basden, director of the Met Department, affirmed Mrs Hanna Martin’s statement, adding that the monster storm was outside of the Doppler’s range.
He said: “The radar was working or radiating. One of the challenges we have is that from time to time, the workstation in the Forecast Office might go down, but a simple reboot of the workstation will bring it back up. So the radar would be radiating and sending whatever images might be there but it would not be seen in the Forecast Office on the monitor but a simple reboot would bring it back up and the echoes would be displayed.
“In terms of the accuracy of the echoes and whether or not they would be displayed, please be advised that Joaquin was outside of the effective range of the radar. This is due to the actual physics of the earth. The earth curves so the further you get away from the beam the higher it is from you, meaning that if I am right here in Nassau I would be able to see any weather or any rain bands and I would be able to do so until I reach the area near the Exumas. Anywhere outside of the range I would only be getting the tops of clouds.”
Mr Basden said he was disappointed by the logbook entry, but would not say whether the person responsible for the entry would face disciplinary action.
National Hurricane Centre
According to James Franklin, branch chief in the NHC’s Hurricane Specialist Unit, Hurricane Joaquin posed some very difficult forecast challenges and the NHC’s forecast errors for this storm were much larger than normal.
He made several observations to Mr Basden in an email which was disseminated to the media to substantiate Mrs Hanna Martin’s statement that Hurricane Joaquin was difficult to track.
“When Joaquin formed on the evening of September 27, our available track model guidance called for a west-northwestward or northwestward motion away from the Bahamas and the initial NHC official forecasts followed that reasoning,” Mr Franklin’s email said.
“By the afternoon of the (September) 28, one model (the ECMWF) suggested close approach to the northwestern Bahamas, with the remainder of the typically good-performing guidance still indicating a track well to the north.
“The first NHC official forecast to show a close approach to the central Bahamas was issued at 5pm September 29 and your office issued a hurricane watch for the central Bahamas six hours later. Joaquin continued to move farther to the south than expected, however, passing very close to Crooked Island in the southeastern Bahamas on October 1.”
Mr Franklin said the NHC was still evaluating why the guidance models were so slow to forecast the southward motion of the storm.
He said Joaquin was in an environment of strong northerly shear and the NHC’s initial reasoning was this shear would keep the cyclone weak and that weaker system would move away from the Bahamas with the lower-level flow.