I was reading Doyle Rice in the USA Today about the end of Hurricane season, which ends Tuesday Nov. 30th. He correctly pointed out that, “For the first time in recorded history, 12 hurricanes formed this year in the Atlantic basin without a single one making landfall in the United States, according to experts at Colorado State University.” The season was indeed active if you look at the number of storms, but what I’ve been saying and what we are seeing is that the number of storms in the Atlantic has been too much of the focus in seasonal forecasts. We had 19 named storms, (4 never should have IMO) yet for the second season in a row there were no U.S. landfalls. There has not been a U.S. landfall of a hurricane since Ike in 2008. Now to be fair this is a very United States centric observation because Central America and the Caribbean got hit hard. Even so most of the destruction and deaths in those regions were due to fresh water flooding and landslides not storm surge or wind. There are always other factors in less developed regions of the world than just the weather. What we are learning is that the number of storms in a season is a meaningless number unless you know where those storms are going. For instance Hurricane Andrew struck the U.S. in 1992 as the first storm of the season and is still the second costliest hurricane behind Katrina. The year Andrew hit there were only a total of 6 named storms in the Atlantic. Imagine the headlines before that season if we had a seasonal forecast calling for 6 named storms? People might have thought what a weak and calm season when the average number of named storms is 10. This leads to a huge confusion with the public when the seasonal forecasts come out. Some of this is due to the headline writers in the media who mistakenly confuse an active season with a bad season. That’s not always the case because in 1992 I’m pretty sure the people of south Florida and Louisiana would argue that was a bad season even though it was an low activity hurricane season. It only takes one storm and one storm hitting the wrong stretch of coastline to make a bad season. We could have 20 storms that stay out to sea and never make landfall which makes for great conversation among Meteorologists on how active the season was. Though to the general public and those living on the coast they come away with the sense that it was a good hurricane season. In the future I believe as seasonal forecasts become better and better our explanation of those forecasts and the impacts on the public need to improve accordingly.
2010 Atlantic Hurricane Season Stats
P.S. To be fair to the great seasonal forecasters of CSU, NOAA, WRC, Accuweather etc.… They do a great job forecasting numbers, steering currents and potential impacts. They too though use the “numbers” to gain attention and headlines and bear some responsibility on polluting their own well intentioned message. To quote Stu Ostro of the Weather Channel from the USA Today article, "Early indications suggest odds are for an active season in 2011," Ostro says. "But keep in mind that regardless of how many storms there are, all it takes is one to bring disaster to a particular location."