Hurricane Hype Needs to End, Especially For Houston

Nerves are frayed enough thanks to memories like this one. The last thing we need are headlines overhyping early-season hurricane forecasting.
Nerves are frayed enough thanks to memories like this one. The last thing we need are headlines overhyping early-season hurricane forecasting. Photo by Meagan Flynn
Last Thursday, Phil Klotzbach and Michael Bell of Colorado State University released their early season predictions for the 2018 hurricane season which opens June 1. This is obviously of particular interest to those of us along the Gulf Coast who are vulnerable to tropical weather and especially given Hurricane Harvey's devastation last year in the Houston area.

Because this forecast is very early, it should be taken with a grain of salt. It is a decent guide of what we can expect for general weather patterns, but it should in no way be taken completely literally. We are only in April and it is nearly impossible to predict the weather two weeks from now, let alone at the peak of hurricane season in August and September.

Their forecast calls for a range between average and slightly above average tropical storm formation and potential impacts throughout the Atlantic Basin. They also believe there will be relatively little impact from a weak La Niña (which tends to increase storms in the Atlantic). For now, suffice it to say they think 2018 could be similar to 2017. That, of course, means nothing. There have been years with numerous named storms that never made landfall and years like 1983 when one of the few storms to affect the United States was Hurricane Alicia, which smashed into Houston. In essence, be prepared either way.

But that hasn't stopped news outlets from over-hyping these forecasts. Take Time Magazine, for example:

Not only is this headline horribly misleading, it's downright inaccurate. Forecasters didn't say 2018 "will be worse than usual." They said that it could be slightly more intense than an average year during our current Atlantic Multi-decadal Oscillation, which is the period of increased storm activity (thanks mostly to higher sea surface temperatures) we've seen since the early '90s (a pattern that has waxed and waned as far back as forecasters have records).

That of course is no predictor of if any storms will hit land, how large they will be if they do and what parts of the U.S., Mexican, Central American or Caribbean they might strike, if they strike at all. And even the number of storms could range from 11 (just below normal) to 17 (well above). Again, this is a prediction, not a guarantee.

As good as the folks at Colorado State are at forecasting hurricanes, even they can't provide any real certainty about what will happen, which is exactly why Houstonians shouldn't freak out. This is especially true given the recent report that stress levels in Houston post Harvey are unusually high. The last thing we need around here are hyped reports about what might happen six months from now.

Houston is affected by tropical weather nearly every year. But, in terms of major storms or devastation, we have only seen that a handful of times in the last 50 years. Hurricane Alicia (1983), Tropical Storm Allison (2001), Hurricane Ike (2008) and Hurricane Harvey (2017) are most notable among them. It can be scary, but so were the Tax Day Floods or the Memorial Day Floods. Weather in Houston is what it is, there is no need to make it worse by scaring ourselves.

It's why we have local resources like Space City Weather and great meteorological organizations like the people at Colorado State to rely on for accurate and reasoned information. Stick with the rational information and ignore the hype. Oh, and go ahead and plan for hurricane season like you do every year because it will be here before you know it.
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Jeff Balke is a writer, editor, photographer, tech expert and native Houstonian. He has written for a wide range of publications and co-authored the official 50th anniversary book for the Houston Rockets.
Contact: Jeff Balke