Andrew Enters the Gulf

Bill Read (Part 2)
Former Director, National Hurricane Center

As Andrew was making landfall in Florida, the three-day forecast track had the hurricane moving westward into the central Gulf. Given the forecast uncertainty existing in 1992, we had to start planning for the potential impact on the upper Texas Coast that Sunday. So the management team went to work and mapped out a timeline for ramping up hurricane operations. This included notifying our emergency management officials in 10 counties along and immediately inland from the coast.

Hard to believe, but just 20 years ago this was no small task – we had no Internet, no cell phones and no email notification. In fact, we did not have the capability to conduct conference calls, so we called a checklist of more 25 key officials one by one. This step was repeated every six hours for the new advisory. A handful of the larger EOCs had the Weather Wire or a third-party feed of NHC/NWS products; most did not. So for each call, we basically read the information and added our interpretation on timing and uncertainty. After Andrew, we successfully argued to add conference call ability to our communications capability.

This was the beginning of the modernized era of the NWS. In my area, plans were to close offices in Galveston, Victoria, Beaumont and Waco and consolidate service under Houston/Galveston. Elected officials were skeptical, particularly in Galveston. As Andrew made landfall on the Louisiana coast, the WSR-88D showed the features in pretty good detail even from 200 miles away. We had a number of local officials observing the landfall from our office, including Galveston County Judge Ray Holbrook, one of the most vocal skeptics. Upon seeing the event unfold, Judge Holbrook simply said: “I now see what you are talking about. It will work fine.”

Tomorrow, Bryan Norcross continues as he describes the morning after Andrew and the challenges a destroyed communication infrastructure had on national media fully understanding the scope of the destruction…

 

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