Friday, August 10, 2007

About Those Hurricane Forecasts

We've said it before: issuing seasonal hurricane predictions is a mug's game. They're about as useful as reading tarot cards.

The whole world learned a few days ago that Phil Klotzbach (NEE: Dr. William Gray) has lowered Colorado State University's annual hurricane forecast. Open up (or click on) any newspaper, like the Dayton Beach News-Journal, and you can read all about it.

Yesterday, NOAA's Hurricane Research Division did the same, as the Miami Herald reports:
On Thursday, government forecasters slightly narrowed their full-season prediction of activity.

NOAA forecasters now expect 13 to 16 named storms that grow into seven to nine hurricanes, including three to five that become intense, with winds above 110 mph.

Before the six-month season began June 1, they predicted 13 to 17 named storms that become seven to 10 hurricanes, three to five intense.

To be sure, the most intense part of the tropical storm season is only now beginning. Vigilance and advance preparations are always the order of the day for coastal dwellers. But can we not appreciate this without media-hungry meteorologists demeaning themselves every few months by pretending to be fortune tellers instead of scientists?

Others are sufficiently embarrassed by "the Dr. Gray School of Hurricane Analysis and Tea Leaf Reading" that they've started to put some distance between themselves and the charlatans:
Experts note that full-season predictions tend to be less accurate than real-time ''operational'' forecasts of an actual storm, which are produced by a different team of scientists.
It's obvious to anyone with a memory longer than 12 months that specific storm warnings are more reliable than fortune telling. What's interesting about that sentence is the care taken to point out real-time storm forecasts "are produced by a different team of scientists."

Also, lucky for NASA, astrologers don't launch the space shuttle.

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