Be Wary Of Long Range Hurricane Forecasts

With this week’s release of the official 2007 Atlantic hurricane season forecast from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), came the usual bevy of news reports about what we should “expect” this summer and fall in the tropics. To summarize, the good folks at NOAA are looking for 13 to 17 named storms, with 7 to 10 of those becoming hurricanes and 3 to 5 of those hurricanes strengthening to category 3 or higher (winds above 110 mph). This seems like a good forecast, and I think those tropical weather experts at NOAA do a fantastic job of keeping us up-to-date on the latest trends in tropical weather, but let’s remember this is a long range forecast, and long range forecasts frequently bust. We only have to look back to last year’s hurricane season forecast to find a big-time forecast bust…a season that was supposed to be “very active” ended up less than average. In fact, over the past 5 hurricane seasons NOAA has correctly forecast the number of hurricanes just once (2003) and the number of named storms only twice. The three predictions NOAA makes each May are: named storms, hurricanes and major hurricanes. Their forecast has missed for all three categories in each of the past two seasons. Here’s a summary of the May hurricane forecasts issued for the past five years:

It is extremely difficult to forecast anything in the world of meteorology beyond a few days, so trying to predict what will happen across the vast area of the tropical Atlantic and Caribbean for the next six months is a monumental task, to say the least. And, in the end, it really is not the number of named storms or hurricanes that matters, it’s where those storms track that is most important. It only takes one storm, making landfall in a highly populated area, to create a dangerous situation.

Tom Tasselmyer


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