It's that time again. No, not hurricane season, it's hurricane-predictin' season, partner. So get out yer slide rule and a room full of supercomputers. Grab the nerdiest guy you can find and shelter in place because this is going to be a wild ride.
Every year in April, the forecasters begin laying out their predictions for the coming hurricane season, which begins on June 1. I wrote about a couple that came out last week, but yesterday Bill Gray and Phil Klotzbach of Colorado State University released their seasonal forecast. The pair of scientists is considered the best in the business.
Not surprisingly, they called for a very busy season: 18 named storms including nine hurricanes, four of which will be major storms. This is right about in the middle of the prediction pack, though the number of named storms is higher than most. But what can predictions this early in the year and this far from the heart of hurricane season actually tell us? Here are five things to consider.
5. It's difficult to forecast this far out. Duh! Weather a few days out is almost impossible to predict, so months away with constant shifts in climatology and atmospheric conditions make it a near impossibility. Still, the sophisticated computer models used by these forecasters can at least get in the ballpark and give everyone some sense of the kind of year we should expect.
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4. Where they hit is more likely to be accurate than how many or how big. One area where forecasters do tend to be somewhat more accurate than others is in where storms are expected to go. Every year presents its own set of variables when it comes to upper level steering patterns that drive hurricanes in a particular direction. In most cases, the most important question is how far west will storms go on average. Storms always try to move poleward, but the degree of their westward movement determines how many will threaten land and how many will stay out to sea. This year, it appears the favored track is northward between the Carolinas and Mississippi, but there is a long season ahead. 3. The NHC is still the king. When it comes to predictions, the National Hurricane Center still appears to be the most accurate of the bunch, probably because they factor in other computer model data into their forecasts. Their forecast won't actually come out until next month, which also helps as the prediction is closer to the actual hurricane season.
2. Considering the variables, it should be considered remarkably accurate. The very fact that predictions made months before the actual peak of the season are often not that far off -- sometimes by just a couple of storms -- is frankly incredible. It was less than 50 years ago that people along the coast even got decent warning a storm was approaching. Now, we can make very educated estimates months in advance. For all the complaining about weather forecasts, this is a remarkable fact.
1. One storm is enough. No matter what the forecasts predict, one storm that hits in the right place at the right time withe right amount of strength is more than enough to leave a serious mark on any hurricane season and the lives of those living along the coasts of the Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean. Bottom line: be prepared.