It wasn’t that long ago that hurricanes were a scientific mystery. No forecasting or tracking was possible, no warnings were given, and thousands of people died who could have survived had there been timely alerts. In 1898, President William McKinley called for a hurricane warning network, but it wasn’t established in time to help the people of Galveston, Texas. In 1900, a hurricane virtually inundated their city, causing an estimated 8,000 deaths.
For most of the twentieth century, hurricane forecasting was done through the Miami office of the National Weather Service. That office was given the designation as National Hurricane Center in 1967.
The experts at the National Hurricane Center use sophisticated data, satellite images, and historical trends to predict a storm’s likely path. Sufficient warning is now given of an approaching tropical cyclone, but there are still people who think they can “ride it out,” and cities that don’t take their responsibilities to their citizens seriously enough to make proper preparations.
If you’re ever in Miami, touring the NHC can be quite instructive. You’ll learn about the causes and effects of hurricanes, tour the facility, and see the technology that the Center uses to make its forecasts. The NHC is actually located on the campus of Florida International University, about twelve miles west of downtown Miami.
These days, you don’t have to be near a television to get the National Hurricane Center’s updates (every six hours, more frequently if a storm is threatening land). The NHC website provides excellent discussions of tropical conditions, and provides a wealth of informative graphics as well. If that’s not enough, you can now sign up for e-mail alerts, or have them sent directly to your cell phone.