Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Fearless Hurricane Forecasters Try To Get It Right

We like to make fun of all the hurricane forecasts breathlessly reported in the media because it usually turns out they're wrong. Sometimes way wrong--like last year where everyone said it would be an unusually active season, but turned out to be not much of anything (due to an "unforeseen" El Nino--well, we expect to forecasters to foresee these things).

So we were quite surprised today to see the Post's story, reporting predictions of an active hurricane season, accompanied by a chart comparing NOAA's past predictions with what actually happened. (We'd show you the chart, but we couldn't find it in the online version of the story.)

Since 1999, NOAA's fearless forecasters have been on the money only once--in 2003. (They were only one off in 2000 as well.) In 2005--the year of Katrina and a year that broke many hurricane records--NOAA was way off, underpredicting the number of storms; then, in 2006, they were way off in the other direction, overpredicting.

All of which is to say that our best weather minds--our most expert hurricane forecasters--really don't have a clue. They were smart enough this year to broaden their range, predicting between 7-10 hurricanes, which gives them a greater opportunity to be correct, even if by chance.

Will it be a busy year? Probably--the regions of the Atlantic responsible for producing hurricanes are unusually warm. In fact, the folks in southern Florida wouldn't mind a smaller tropical storm or hurricane right about now, to end, or at least mitigate, the drought they've been through. Problem is, it's hard to get a little hurricane when you need one!

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