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Florida meteorologist shares science and experience about storm season

The Hancock News of Hancock, Maryland

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Hurricanes in Hancock?

Hurricane season is upon the East Coast and already two named tropical storms have come and gone. What does it take to forecast a hurricane?

The Hancock News reached out to a Florida meteorologist who has covered well over 100 storms since 1994, including one that made landfall just a 30 mile drive south from his television station in 2004.

John Scalzi is an award-winning meteorologist for WWSB, the ABC affiliate in Sarasota, Florida, where he does the forecasts for the station's weekday morning and noon news broadcasts. He is also the cousin of this reporter.

When it comes to forecasting a storm, Scalzi said the process could fill a book.

"Before the storm even forms, you look at the potential energy fields present in the atmosphere to determine if the area is ripe for storm development," he said.

Once a disturbance forms, Scalzi and meteorologists watch it for longevity and evolution, study cloud patterns and computer models, and record data in the vicinity of the storm for clues on its organization if it is close enough.

Once the National Hurricane Center classifies a storm as an "invest," Scalzi said the "game is really on."

An "invest" elevates a storm to a level that allows various forecast agencies to coordinate and begin a higher level of investigation into the storms potential, Scalzi said.

"Depending on the nature of the threat to our viewers, I would at that time decide if the system was a footnote to the forecast or should receive higher prominence," he said. This summer's storms

According to the National

Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), this year looks to be a below-normal hurricane season, with a 70% likelihood of six to 11 named storms, three to six of which could become hurricanes. Experts expect just two major hurricanes to be classified as a Category 3 or higher.

On Monday, June 15, Scalzi forecasted a lower level pressure system in the Gulf of Mexico near the western coast of Texas. A day later, the pressure system became Tropical Storm Bill.

There are many aspects of the atmosphere that can directly or indirectly impact the strength of a storm.

They include upper level and mid level winds, speed and direction of the storm's motion, location of dry and moist air, approaching weather systems, dust in the atmosphere, the "willingness" of the atmosphere to produce thunderstorms, the natural cycle of growth and decay of the eye wall, and the depth of the water temperature.

"Each storm is different and has a unique set of influences," Scalzi said. "To say that storms are nearly as individual as people is not an exaggeration."

The El Nino produces winds that are very unfavorable for hurricane development. Scalzi said dust off the African coast is making the tropical Atlantic Ocean very unfavorable for development of storms, too.

"Slow season or busy season, it only takes one storm impacting your family to make it an active season," said Scalzi.

Effects felt in Hancock

When a storm hits the Hancock area, it is weaker and has less direct impact than a storm that hits Florida or the Carolinas.

In 1996, Tropical Storm Fran, which tracked west of Maryland, dropped heavy rainfall on the area, causing severe flooding along the Potomac River. The flooding damaged over 500 homes and destroyed nearly 450 acres of crops.

Seven years later, Tropical Storm Isabel hit Western Maryland with the center, or eye, passing over Garrett County. According to the September 24, 2003, Hancock News, "Isabel's punch fails to knock Hancock out."

High winds from the storm downed trees and caused power outages along

Pennsylvania Avenue. The outages caused several businesses, such as Pittman's Market and Saputo Cheese hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages. Outages also threatened the town's water supply then-Town Manager Larry Logan told the paper.

There was very little flooding associated with Isabel reported in Hancock. Little Tonoloway Creek flooded Widmeyer Park, but not enough to threaten Main Street. The Potomac River crested at 27.5 feet, which is just below the flood stage.

According to the September 22, 2004 Hancock News, Canal Apple Days and a fly-in were washed out by remnants of Hurricane Ivan.

Ivan also caused flooding along Sideling Hill Creek, basements to flood, a bridge along Tollgate Ridge Road near Kirk Ford and one in Widmeyer Park were both washed out. The one in the park also has safety railings bent and broken.

The flooding came from small streams as the Potomac River stayed within its banks. Several isolated tornadoes were also reported.

In September 2012, Hancock was brushed by Superstorm Sandy, which caused major flooding and damage in and around New York City. The NOAA has since retired the name "Sandy" from future use.

Scalzi noted that the term "superstorm" is made up and popularized by the media, but isn't a real meteorological term.

"A 'superstorm' has no parameters, no requirements, no agreed upon characteristics, basically no physics required. In today's story hungry media, we see many such terms being batted about," Scalzi said.

Next week: Preparing for severe weather

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Original Publication Date: July 15, 2015

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