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Safety Recommendation Details

Safety Recommendation M-17-008
Details
Synopsis: The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is providing the following information to urge the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Weather Service (NWS; a component of NOAA), and the US Coast Guard to take action on the safety recommendations in this report. The recommendations address, in the interest of mariner safety, the development of tropical cyclone information and its availability to mariners. The recommendations derive primarily from factual information gathered during the NTSB’s ongoing investigation into the sinking of cargo vessel El Faro on October 1, 2015. The factual data revealed that critical tropical cyclone information issued by the NWS is not always available to mariners via well-established broadcast methods. The data also suggest that modifying the way the NWS develops certain tropical cyclone forecasts and advisories could help mariners at sea better understand and respond to tropical cyclones. Further, factual data on the official forecasts for Hurricane Joaquin and other recent tropical cyclones suggest that a new emphasis on improving hurricane forecasts is warranted. The NTSB has yet to determine the probable cause of, or contributing factors in, El Faro’s sinking. Nevertheless, based on the meteorological facts gathered thus far, plus discussions with the NWS and the Coast Guard, the NTSB makes ten recommendations in this report. Two recommendations are addressed to NOAA, seven to the NWS, and one to the Coast Guard.
Recommendation: TO THE NATIONAL OCEANIC AND ATMOSPHERIC ADMINISTRATION: Develop and implement a plan specifically designed to emphasize improved model performance in forecasting tropical cyclone track and intensity in moderate-shear environments.
Original recommendation transmittal letter: PDF
Overall Status: Open - Acceptable Response
Mode: Marine
Location: 36 NM Northeast Crooked Island Bahamas, AO, United States
Is Reiterated: No
Is Hazmat: No
Is NPRM: No
Accident #: DCA16MM001
Accident Reports: Tropical Cyclone Information for Mariners Sinking of US Cargo Vessel SS El Faro Atlantic Ocean, Northeast of Acklins and Crooked Island, BahamasSinking of the US Cargo Vessel El Faro: Illustrated Digest
Report #: MSR-17-02
Accident Date: 10/1/2015
Issue Date: 6/29/2017
Date Closed:
Addressee(s) and Addressee Status: United States Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Open - Acceptable Response)
Keyword(s):

Safety Recommendation History
From: United States Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
To: NTSB
Date: 7/14/2019
Response: -From John D. Murphy, Chief Operating Officer, NOAA National Weather Service: The NWS continues to make great strides improving model performance in forecasting cyclone track and intensity. The most concentrated effort within the Hurricane Forecast Improvement Project (HFIP) has been and remains improving our ability to accurately predict hurricane intensity, especially when intensity rapidly increases. Vertical wind shear hinders the development and intensification of tropical cyclones. Storms in higher shear environments are less likely to intensify than those in little-to-no shear environments. Moderate shear environments, falling between those scenarios, are less correlated with intensity increases. Predicting the effects of shear on storm formation and/or rapid intensification in these cases is even more challenging. It must be emphasized that the accurate prediction of intensification is what HFIP is pursuing. Understanding the role of shear and how it impedes intensification falls under that focus. The plan to improve model performance in shear environments involves three interrelated approaches that identify environmental characteristics present when storms rapidly intensified despite shear; identify the evolution of those characteristics in modeled predictions; and identify how and the degree to which those characteristics overcome the effects of shear on an intensifying storm. Although not designed specifically to study moderate shear environments, because they present the greatest challenge, the plan is applied to those environments when rapid intensification occurs. Examples of implementing the approaches include: • Recent examinations of satellite data have found that shear in rapidly intensifying tropical cyclones was confined to upper troposphere. Satellite data has also provided signatures of periodic convective pulses that have, through modeling studies, been associated with reducing local shear. • Post storm examinations and reanalysis of predictions of rapidly intensifying storms in sheared environments identify other or accompanying near storm environmental factors that can offset and/or protect from the effects of shear. • Simulation studies using ensembles of rapidly intensifying hurricanes in shear environments highlight differences in characteristics between members that intensify and those that do not. Such a study performed for Hurricane Edouard found a correlation between convection propagating left of- and up-shear in the members showing intensification. A recent study of an ensemble of idealized simulations in a moderate shear environment demonstrated a relation between strong convection and rapid intensification in such environments. These studies are providing guidance on how to improve hurricane model performance in low-, moderate- and high-shear environments. They also provide guidance for the development of statistical post-processing techniques to improve their performance for the difficult situation of tropical cyclones in moderate shear environments by identifying other observable features that can be used to discriminant between those that will and will not intensify. Based on the research conducted to date HFIP will develop diagnostic products to be tested by NHC for potential transition to operations. This would include a new tool to estimate tropical cyclone forecast error that would use environmental predictors, including vertical shear, sea surface temperature, and model spread to estimate the error bounds. This application will help forecasters anticipate difficult forecasts, including those in environments with moderate vertical shear. At the HFIP meeting in early FY20, a Tiger Team will be assembled to design the product to be tested during the 2020 hurricane season for possible implementation in FY21.

From: NTSB
To: United States Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Date: 4/22/2019
Response: We note that, to decrease overall model tropical cyclone track and intensity errors, the National Weather Service (NWS) is updating the Hurricane Forecast Improvement Program (HFIP) Project Plan, which outlines research and development activities. This update will revise track and intensity prediction metrics to differentiate demonstrated, overall model performance improvements by environmental condition, including vertical wind shear. Although we believe that the NWS’s plan is responsive to this recommendation, we point out that this recommendation is about moderate-shear environments, which was not specifically mentioned in your letter. Pending implementation of a plan that also considers moderate shear environments, Safety Recommendation M-17-8 is classified OPEN--ACCEPTABLE RESPONSE.

From: United States Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
To: NTSB
Date: 7/15/2018
Response: -From Andrew Stern, Director, Analyze, Forecast, and Support Office, NOAA/ National Weather Service: I would like to bring to your attention increased support that NWS is providing to the U.S. Coast Guard with respect to improving dissemination of hazards in the oceanic domain. Starting last week, the NWS Ocean Prediction Center, in coordination with the National Hurricane Center and the NWS National Operations Center began providing weekly PPT briefings to USCG District 5. Note in the attached Memo from OPC to the NWS Chief Operating Officer that the actions fully support safety recommendations from the NTSB El Faro report. The second attached file, called "Briefing Slides.pdf", contains briefing slides from last week. The first two slides were presented to the USCG on July 9 and highlighted hazards associated with cyclones Chris and Beryl. The 3rd and 4th slides show updates to NWS leadership regarding oceanic impacts from Hurricane Chris. Slide 3 shows AIS data and ship avoidance maneuvers in advance of Chris - leaving a mostly ship free northeastward slot. Slide 4 shows a tanker who appeared to move close to or through the eye wall. OPC later reported that the tanker turned northwest and headed toward the NY Bight once the storm had passed. The NWS continues to improve decision support services with our core partners in support of transportation safety. Thought that you would be interested.

From: United States Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
To: NTSB
Date: 6/22/2018
Response: -From Andrew D. Stern, Director, National Weather Service, Analyze, Forecast and Support Office: In progress. In response to the Weather Research and Forecasting Act of 2017, Section 104, NOAA is revising and updating the current Hurricane Forecast Improvement Program (HFIP) Project Plan. The major goals that the updated HFIP plan continues to address are to decrease overall model tropical cyclone track and intensity errors. These are the two primary metrics being tracked by HFIP. The updated HFIP Project Plan outlines a set of directed research and development activities designed to better understand model performance and sources of model error classified by environment conditions, including vertical wind shear. Additionally, NOAA will update HFIP metrics for track and intensity prediction to differentiate demonstrated overall model performance improvements by environmental condition, including vertical wind shear.

From: United States Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
To: NTSB
Date: 4/18/2018
Response: -From Jill Walker, Executive Officer, National Weather Service, Science, Technology, and Integration Office (STI): In response to the Weather Research and Forecasting Act of 2017, Section 104, NOAA is revising and updating the current Hurricane Forecast Improvement Program (HFIP) Project Plan. The major goals that the updated HFIP plan continues to address are to decrease overall model tropical cyclone track and intensity errors. These are the two primary metrics being tracked by HFIP. The updated HFIP Project Plan outlines a set of directed research and development activities designed to better understand model performance and sources of model error classified by environment conditions, including vertical wind shear. Additionally, NOAA will update HFIP metrics for track and intensity prediction to differentiate demonstrated overall model performance improvements by environmental condition, including vertical wind shear.

From: United States Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
To: NTSB
Date: 4/5/2018
Response: -From Andrew Stern, Director, Analyze, Forecast and Support Office, NOAA/ National Weather Service: Thank you for sending the documentation for Recommendations M-17-08 and M-17-09. I am responding to let you know that NOAA's National Weather Service has received and understands these recommendations, and will gather a team of subject matter experts to provide NTSB with a detailed proposal for addressing them within the next 60 days. These recommendations align with work already planned and underway through the Hurricane Forecast Improvement Program, as authorized by Section 104 of Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act of 2017. This will also be a topic of discussion at the meeting discussed with NTSB, tentatively planned for May 2018, and we will ensure the appropriate subject matter experts are in attendance to discuss these issues with NTSB in detail. Thank you also for today's discussion. If you have any further questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me. We look forward to continued coordination with NTSB on these important actions.

From: NTSB
To: United States Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Date: 6/29/2017
Response: On June 20, 2017, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) adopted its safety recommendation report Tropical Cyclone Information for Mariners, related to the October 1, 2015, sinking of cargo vessel El Faro. Additional information about this accident and the resulting recommendations may be found in the safety recommendation report, which can be accessed at our website, www.ntsb.gov, under report number NTSB/MSR-17/02. As a result of this investigation, we issued seven recommendations to the National Weather Service, one recommendation to the US Coast Guard, and the following two recommendations to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.