The Weather Front that Made History

Before becoming Director of the National Hurricane Center, Bill Read served as Meteorologist in Charge of the Houston/Galveston NWS Forecast Office.  Bill recounts the approach of Andrew and the weather phenomenon that brought great weather to Houston for the 1992 Republican National Convention but steered Andrew directly to South Florida.

The month of August 1992 was keeping me quite busy as Meteorologist in Charge of the Houston/Galveston NWS Forecast Office. We had just finished installing the first WSR-88D radar on the Gulf Coast (fifth in the nation) and were ramping up staffing at the office to execute the modernization of weather services. Several staff were away in Norman, OK for training on the new radar. The Republican National Convention was held in Houston from August 17 to August 20.

During planning meetings prior to the event the big sweat was the potential for a hurricane making landfall during the convention on the upper Texas Coast, and the potential for extreme rainfall and flooding that accompany tropical events in Houston. As it happened, an unusually strong cold front for August went through Texas and Houston resulting in record low temperatures and amazingly low humidity during the week of the Convention. This same frontal system was to play a role in steering Andrew. The system moved off the eastern seaboard with a strong high pressure in its wake. This high pressure effectively blocked Andrew’s northwestward movement and turned it west towards the Bahamas and Florida.

Tomorrow, Bryan Norcross returns to continue his Andrew story and gives us a behind the scenes look at the news station on the last night he and his colleagues would get any rest before Andrew struck…

Bryan Norcross’s Hurricane Andrew Story (Part 1)

Bryan Norcross
Hurricane Specialist, The Weather Channel

 Bryan Norcross, as described in 1992 by People magazine was, “the man who talked South Florida through.” Bryan’s four part story will offer his unique perspective as chief meteorologist for Miami’s NBC station WTVJ during the biggest weather event in the city’s history. Highlights include the initial forecast and his recollections of decisions he made on air throughout the night that possibly saved thousands of lives across South Florida.

In 1992, computer models arrived in our TV weather office on the slowest printer-like apparatus you could ever imagine. Friday afternoon I waited and waited for the forecast upper-air charts from the relatively new AVN model covering the next three days. The information in those maps would guide my message that afternoon. How big a threat might Andrew be, and what action should we be ready to take over the weekend?

When the maps finally arrived, I could see that the high-pressure system to our north was not just going to stay in place; it was forecast to strengthen and move west over the path of the storm…an ominous trend.

That strengthening high meant that there was some chance that Andrew would stay south, and that could mean trouble for us. The model didn’t forecast the path of the storm; it only forecast the general pattern and upper flow.

I made a judgment based on the upper-air pattern the AVN model was presenting that the risk was high enough that we needed to raise the possibility that Andrew could become a serious problem.

So, at 3:30 pm I went to Sharon Scott, who was in charge of the news at WTVJ-TV, and told her we needed to “raise a red flag” beginning on the 5 pm news. I wanted people to know that there was a chance that we might have to deal with Hurricane Andrew over the weekend and it could be significant.

The late afternoon advisory from the National Hurricane Center did not cause a big concern. The new official forecast kept the storm reasonably far away from South Florida. The other television stations more or less conveyed the message that Andrew wasn’t a threat for the weekend, while we were running hurricane preparedness stories and expressing concern about the potential threat.

By the 11 pm news, the possibility of Andrew affecting South Florida was more widely discussed on the various broadcasts, though the Hurricane Center forecast still showed the storm bending north.

Tomorrow, hear from Bill Read, Former Director of the National Hurricane Center and his experience with Andrew while serving as Meteorologist in Charge in the Houston/Galveston National Weather Service Forecast Office…

Hurricane Andrew: Twenty Years, Twenty Stories

August 24 marks the 20th anniversary of Hurricane Andrew. Andrew’s devastation was undeniably profound as was its effect on the lives of everyone in its path. To mark the anniversary, FLASH team members, partners and friends will post personal recollections of Hurricane Andrew that will recall how the storm not only changed our lives, but shaped the modern disaster safety movement.

Read about “where they were” when the devastating Category 5 hurricane hit South Florida on August 24,1992, killing 65, causing $26.5 billion in U.S. damages and destroying 25,524 homes. Among those sharing their memories will be former Director of the National Hurricane Center; Bill Read, David Halstead, former Deputy Director, Florida Division of Emergency Management; Bryan Norcross, hurricane specialist, The Weather Channel; and FLASH team members Leslie Chapman-Henderson, Bruce McCullen, Tim Smail, Zoe Boyer, Barbara Harrison and Trenise Lyons.

Our hope is that you learn a bit more about FLASH, the movement, and why we are inspired do what we do. The stories will continue through the 20-year anniversary on August 24 and beyond so it is not too late to submit your story to us at flash@flash.org for publication. Also, we encourage you to add your thoughts in the comments section.