Tuesday, June 13, 2006

2006 Hurricane Predictions

Here comes hurricane season 2006. So what should we expect for the Atlantic basin? Or more likely your question may be, "what do we expect for the U.S.," or maybe, "will my town/city get hit by a hurricane this year?" Well those are popular questions these days, but unfortunately none are easy to answer!


Let me start with the first and easiest question, namely overall Atlantic basin activity. Some seasonal forecasters have been doing this for many years and the "father" of seasonal tropical cyclone forecasting is Dr. Bill Gray. The Weather Channel usually reports on his forecasts as he updates them into the peak of Atlantic hurricane season. His skill in forecasting above or below activity has been well beyond guessing or random chance. The latest forecast by Dr. Gray and his colleague Phil Klotzbach, which was issued in April (an update is coming next week), was for 17 named storms, including 9 hurricanes and 5 major (Category 3+) hurricanes.


NOAA's outlook, which came out a few days ago, is similar, for 13 to 16 storms, with 8 to 10 becoming hurricanes, of which 4 to 6 could become major hurricanes.


Much of this might be gleaned from inspection of averages for the past 11 Atlantic hurricane seasons starting in 1995 that began an active tropical cyclone era. As an example, averages for the past eleven years are: 15 named storms, 8 1/2 hurricanes and 4 major hurricanes. This compares to the long-term average of 10 named storms, 6 hurricanes and 2 major hurricanes. Hence we have "averaged" about 150% of the long term average the past 11 years. With no strong El Nino in sight (strong El Ninos are typically associated with suppressed hurricane activity in the Atlantic) one might decide a good starting point for this season would therefore be 15, 9 and 4.


With a large portion of the tropical Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico warmer than average (though not quite as warm as a portion of it was at this time last year), that might spur a seasonal forecaster to tweak their numbers a little. But no model or person will forecast 28 storms (27 tropical, one subtropical) as we had last year; extremes tend to be outliers, and are routinely out of the range of statistical forecast techniques. As an example Dr. Gray's forecast at this time last year was for 15 named storms. Regardless, though, it appears we are in for another busy hurricane season in the Atlantic Basin.


But that doesn't necessarily equate to an active U.S. landfall season. For example let's compare two of the recent active years, namely 2004 and 2001. There were 15 storms in 2001, the same (counting one subtropical storm) in 2004, with 9 hurricanes in each year. However there were no U.S. hurricanes and no U.S. major hurricane landfalls in 2001, but there were 5 U.S. hurricane landfalls (plus a direct hit by Alex) and 3 U.S. major hurricane landfalls in 2004!


The bottom line, it is not how many we get in the Atlantic Basin that should be of interest to you, rather how many that make landfall, where they hit and how strong they are when they make landfall. One other note: in the first 9 of the last 11 active years the U.S. was more fortunate than average with hurricane and major hurricane strikes. That changed in 2004 and 2005.





I see you -- there you sit on the coast nervously waiting for hurricane season and "hoping" you won't get hit. But it only takes one, so do not fret over these seasonal forecasts. Instead do something about it.


If I were the great fortune teller of hurricanes and was never wrong, and I told you your city would be hit by a Category 3 hurricane on August 1, what would/could you do? Well, you could try to sell your home and move away, but buyers would have heard about the great fortune teller's forecast too, so good luck selling!


You would make sure you were safely out of town on August 1st. But that still leaves your home.


So if you were smart you would immediately beef up your home's ability to withstand high winds. That would include window shutters/coverings or hurricane windows; reinforcing the garage door; adding very strong roof/wall/floor tie-downs; trimming the trees near your roof; strengthening walls that might not hold up in that Category 3; and making sure roof shingles/tiles are all well intact. If you built on the beach you might even consider raising your home on hurricane-proof piles so it sits well above surge and wave threats. You would probably make copies all your irreplaceable items and put those copies in waterproof containers and send them to Aunt Martha's house in Iowa for safe keeping in case you lose the originals in that hurricane.


That is about all you could do: MITIGATE against the onslaught of the impending hurricane!


Unfortunately, I do not have a crystal ball, nor does anyone else! So what are you waiting for? If you live on or near a hurricane-prone coastline, you should know you have the potential to be struck by one in ANY year. Forget worrying about these seasonal forecasts, and get busy preparing for the worst. Fortunately most years will be false alarms, and you will be just fine in your particular location. But you will be ready when your fortune runs out!



For the cats,


Carole Baskin, CEO of Big Cat Rescue

an Educational Sanctuary home

to more than 100 big cats

12802 Easy Street Tampa, FL  33625

813.493.4564 fax 885.4457

http://www.BigCatRescue.org MakeADifference@BigCatRescue.org

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