Potential Tropical Cyclone designation brings earlier warning, confusion

GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) – Even before Tropical Storm Cindy became the third storm of the 2017 Hurricane Season on June 20, the storm already had a name. It was one of the first to be designated a Potential Tropical Cyclone.

“If they feel that there is enough confidence that it’s gonna form and affect land, we can go ahead and issue tropical storm watches or warnings,” explained Rich Bandy, the meteorologist-in-charge at the National Weather Service in Newport.

The idea is to give people a heads up sooner, something that is possible now thanks to better forecasts.

“Now it’s warning on forecasts rather than warning on detection so the warnings can come out earlier because we have some more certainty in the forecast going forward,” explained Scott Curtis, an atmospheric science professor at ECU.

Potential Tropical Cyclones will follow the same numbering system that tropical depressions currently do. The advanced warning is great for meteorologists and emergency managers. But the new designation has come with some confusion.

“It’s the first time they’ve used this and so there’s a lot of uncertainty about it,” said Curtis. “A lot of people don’t understand what exactly it means. I think the point is they’re trying to say this has potential to grow into this family and whether it stops at a tropical storm or stops at a hurricane all depends on what happens. But it’s going to enter into this realm of a tropical system.”

And communicating that potential earlier falls right into NOAA’s mission to protect life and property.

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