With the official hurricane season now over, we now have a better idea of what 85%+ forecast certainty meant: Wrong 100% of the time.
In August, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) forecast a 85% probability there would be an "above normal" hurricane season.
This is the second year running the government hurricane forecast was wrong. This 0-2 record may tell us something about other similarly "certain" forecasts, such as those issued by the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
If forecasters can't get hurricane projections right during hurricane season, why should we trust their forecasts for a hundred years from now?
NOAA had predicted 7-9 hurricanes and 3-5 major hurricanes, but there were just six hurricanes, only two of which were "major." There are "normally" six hurricanes, two major, and 11 named storms.
The sixth hurricane came only three days before the official end of the hurricane season, when NOAA's National Hurricane Center (NHC) quietly upgraded tropical storm Karen to hurricane status. The timing of the re-designation - at the moment hurricane season post-mortems were already running in newspapers throughout the country - may have struck some as a bit suspicious.
But National Hurricane Center spokesman Dennis Feltgen insists that the timing was purely coincidental.
"Its re-classification was not related to any particular time of the season," Feltgen told me. "NHC specialists are consummate professionals and would never name (or not name) a tropical cyclone for the sole purpose of verifying a product."
He was not able to cite another example, however, when such a re-classification came so close to the end of the season.
Even with Karen's change in status, the hurricane season was unusually quiet. The Accumulated Cyclone Energy (ACE) Index, which measures storm duration and intensity, was just 70.54 this year, more than 20% below the median and a little over half of what NOAA predicted. Hurricanes Lorenzo and Humberto both had lower ACEs than any tropical storm in 2006, and the season's overall ACE - including the two category 5 hurricanes - was still less than the ACE of 2004's Hurricane Ivan all by itself.
NOAA did get the number of named storms right: There were 15 this year, four above what the agency considers normal and in the middle of the range projected. Unfortunately, "normal" doesn't mean a great deal.
For one thing, NOAA has changed the criteria for naming storms - most recently in 2002, when subtropical storms were named for the first time.
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