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Remarks by U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur L. Ross at the NOAA Hurricane Outlook Press Conference

Introduced by Dr. Neil Jacobs, NOAA’s Acting Administrator.

Thank you, Dr. Jacobs, for the kind words, and for your leadership at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Welcome everyone, and thank you for joining us today for NOAA’s annual Outlook on the 2019 Hurricane Season.

The United States is fortunate to have such dedicated experts at NOAA’s forecasting offices, and at the National Hurricane Center, including the pilots and staff who fly the G-4 Hurricane Hunter aircraft that you see behind me.

NOAA’s Hurricane Hunter aircraft were aloft for 580 hours last year. While they were on the ground, I have had the privilege of meeting many of these men and women. They are consummate professionals. They generate heaps of data used to determine a storm’s intensity and direction. It’s not just the center of a barometric low that is measured and analyzed, but the air for thousands of miles on all sides of it, including the sheer above, and the seas below.

Our NOAA professionals work tirelessly to issue alerts to the public and emergency officials about the potential for hazardous weather. In fact, they work even harder during the offseason, preparing new products they will use the following season. They learn from every storm, and apply that knowledge to future forecasts. I am proud to note, that their predictions are far more precise than ever before.

NOAA has invested heavily in technology and personnel. It has more powerful supercomputers; better software and algorithms; and more precise observational systems such as the microwave sounder. It has state-of-the-art GOES, and Polar Orbiting satellites. And it has the trained people needed to operate these systems and interpret the hundreds of terabytes of data it generates every day. The result is far greater accuracy and timeliness of forecasts.

NOAA has improved the forecasting of hurricane tracks by 30 percent over the past decade. It has improved the lead-time of its forecasts by three days, meaning its five-day-in-advance forecast now has the same accuracy as its previous two-day forecast. Its seven-day track today is what its four-day track used to be. And its system is only getting better, starting in June, when it will transition to a forecasting model with a new dynamic core called the finite-volume-on-a-cubed sphere, or FV3.

It will be the first upgrade to the dynamic core of the global model since 1982. It will be a vast improvement from the current version, which was originally written on punch code.
For the success resulting from all of this dedicated work, and for its role in saving lives, we owe everyone at NOAA a debt of gratitude.

As a Florida resident, I am acutely aware of the tremendous impact that hurricanes can have on lives, property, and businesses. We just had an extremely busy hurricane season. At one point last year, there were four named storms active simultaneously. Like Hamlet’s “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,” the storms that impacted the United States in 2018 caused $50 billion in damage. And we retired two names: Michael and Florence.

The bottom line with the 2019 Outlook is as much about being prepared as it is the number of storms in the estimate. Even people who don’t think they are in the path of hurricanes, might well find themselves stunned, and unprepared. With many strong tropical storms, especially those that persist and stall, the greatest destruction is well beyond coast. The impact of a long-duration deluge is severe and life-altering.

We urge that everyone who can be impacted by deep tropical depressions stay informed, and be ready to heed the warnings of NOAA, and your emergency management community. The Commerce Department stands ready to serve the nation before, during, and after any storm.

Again, thank you for being here, and congratulations to NOAA for all of your worthy accomplishments.

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