Another hurricane season forecast (and why you shouldn't care)
Posted May 24, 2009
It's nearly here. Hurricane season starts in about a week, and the US has already had a close call with a tropical disturbance in the Gulf of Mexico.
The government has already issued its official hurricane season forecast, predicting 9-14 named storms with 1-3 of them becoming major hurricanes -- that is, with sustained winds above 110 mph. They're not alone in putting out a forecast, either. Researchers with NC State, Colorado State, and other universities publish their own predictions. Numerous private companies also make forecasts which are not released to the public.
With all those forecasts out there, it might surprise you to know that Bill Read, director of the National Hurricane Center, doesn't put much stock in any of those forecasts. During a recent interview, he told me that these seasonal forecasts are "a nice reminder that we have a hurricane season and that [we] need to be prepared for it" but that in the end, the exact numbers in those forecasts don't matter much.
The problem in the seasonal forecasts is the state of the science. Even the most accurate seasonal forecast will only tell us how many storms there will be in the entire Atlantic basin. They say nothing about what we really want to know: exactly where and when a storm will strike and how bad it will be. We're simply not there yet.
Case in point: 1992. It was as quiet a year as we ever have in terms of named storms with only 6. However, the first of those named storms -- Andrew -- was the worst hurricane to strike the United States in decades and still ranks among the costliest and deadliest in our history.
So, regardless of what the seasonal forecasts may be, we need to plan like this is our year. Are you and your family ready if another Andrew, Hazel, Fran, Floyd, or Hugo takes aim at our coast? It only takes one storm, and as Fran and Floyd showed, the devastation doesn't just stop at the coast.