AccuWeather's hurricane forecast: "Big"
AccuWeather.com's Joe Bastardi has released his spring hurricane forecast to those of us who won't pay for his company's pricier services, which made it available weeks ago. "It's a big year coming up," he told me in an interview Tuesday morning. Here's the link to the story we posted today. It will run Wednesday in print.
Readers are already yawning at the predictions. "We hear the same prediction every year," they say. Or, "Why should we believe them? They can't even predict the weather for the Preakness on Saturday."
Well, actually, near-term weather forecasts are now quite reliable. Saturday should be sunny for the Preakness. Long-term hurricane forecasts are less so. But the challenge is greater.
And it is true that hurricane season forecasters have been repeating themselves a lot in recent years. That's partly because we are in an active phase of the multi-decadal Atlantic cycle. It began in 1995, and we have seen more active hurricane seasons most years since then, compared with the long-term averages. So we can expect them to call for an "active" season quite frequently until the decadal cycle shifts.
It's also true that the same forecasters found themselves backpedaling on last season's forecasts for another active season. That's because the Pacific was heating up last summer, moving into a moderate El Nino, which tends to suppress hurricane formation in the Atlantic.
So the spring forecasts were too high. In March, AccuWeather.com called for 13 named storms, cutting that to 10 in May as the El Nino numbers came in. In April, the team at Colorado State University predicted 12. WeatherBug said we'd see 11 to 13. And in May, NOAA predicted 9 to 14.
In the end, we saw only 9 named storms, just a shade below the long-term averages. There were only 3 hurricanes in 2009, roughly half the long-term average. Two of those became "major" (Cat. 3 or higher) storms, a bit below the average of 2.3. It was blessedly quiet in the tropics.
Forecasts can miss their target, and Bastardi freely admits it. "In 2007 I was wrong," he said. "I thought it would be a big year in Florida. Instead, all the [storm] tracks went south and east of Florida." He ticked off a couple of other forecast "busts."
Bastardi had the right idea about this past winter, warning last fall we'd see the coldest, snowiest winter in these parts since 2002-2003. And he was right about the snow, except that it was WAY snowier than even his forecast of 25 inches at BWI. (We got a record-shattering 77 inches. Our average at BWI is 18 inches.) And, he expected that the most snow would fall in January and February. He got the February part right, but January saw few flakes, and he didn't anticipate the big December storm.
But hey, these are forecasts. Informed guesses. They are not the TV listings. We shouldn't rely on them for their precision, but consider them fair warning. Bastardi's hurricane forecast, and those that will follow in the coming weeks, should be reminders that these storms are very real, and potentially terrible possibilities. We need to consider them in our planning and preparations (thinking of a September cruise?), and pay attention when real storms appear on the horizon.
And if the direst forecasts fizzle, we should celebrate.
(TOP: AP Photo/ Dallas Morning News; BOTTOM: Smiley N. Pool/AFP/Getty Images)