The following item is a blog posting by Eric Berger, science writer and blogger for the Houston (TX) Chronicle. It deals with the possible demise of well-known forecaster Bill Gray's seasonal hurricane forecast project.--Bryce
Although there were 13 named storms this year, Atlantic hurricane seasonal forecasts were a complete bust in terms of overall activity.
Many seasonal forecasters predicted that overall activity — measured in terms of the number of storms, their intensity and their duration, would be as much as twice as high as average levels. Instead activity was only about 30 percent of typical levels, or one of the five quietest years in the last half century of Atlantic hurricane seasons.
Now comes word that the dean of seasonal forecasting, William Gray and his co-author Phil Klotzbach, of Colorado State University, may be ending their forecasts. It has nothing to do with their poor forecast this year, they say.
Gray and Klotzbach write:
"The Tropical Meteorology Project has been issuing forecasts for the past thirty years. These predictions have served as a valuable information tool for insurance interests, emergency managers and coastal residents alike. While these forecasts were largely developed utilizing funding from various government agencies, recent attempts at obtaining continued grant funding have been unsuccessful. Funding from several insurance companies enabled the continuation of these forecasts in recent years. However, the forecast team has recently lost some of its financial support from industry. Consequently, new sources of revenue are required to keep the forecast going."
My take on this is pretty simple.
Seasonal hurricane forecasts do have some predictive skill — for example more often than simple chance would predict they do correctly state whether a season will be more, or less busy that normal. However, as this season demonstrated there are still a lot of unknowns in predicting hurricane season activity months before the peak of the season. And it’s possible to be spectacularly wrong.
There’s also the issue of the value, if any, of these seasonal forecasts. For starters, they’re simply not reliable enough to use to make informed decisions. Secondly there is no skill in predicting where the majority of storms are likely to occur before a season begins. And finally, does it really matter if you live in Houston and it’s a quiet season like 1983, when there were just four storms, but one of them was Hurricane Alicia?
I’ll answer that last one for you: No.
With all that being said, I’d like to see Gray and Klotzbach continue to issue their forecasts. Why? Because this is science. It’s messy, and in the case of seasonal forecasting, it’s in its infancy. The only way to improve these forecasts is to continue to do them, and then continue to carefully assess what works, and what does not work, after each season. By all accounts Gray and Klotzbach are doing so with scientific rigor. So I hope they find some funding to keep going.
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