Florida Paper Exposes Dangers of Hurricane Forecasting

The Tampa Tribune published an article Monday about how wrong the hurricane predictions were this year, and addressed some of the costs to Florida residents (emphasis mine, hat tip to NB member Full Monte):

With cataclysmic predictions that hurricanes would swarm from the tropics like termites, no one thought 2006 would be the most tranquil season in a decade.

Barring a last-second surprise from the tropics, the season will end Thursday with nine named storms, and only five of those hurricanes. This year is the first season since 1997 that only one storm nudged its way into the Gulf of Mexico.

Here are some of the important statistics (italicization mine for emphasis):

9: The number of named storms this year

17: The number of named storms predicted May 31 by a team at Colorado State University led by Professor William Gray

45 mph: The wind speed when Tropical Storm Alberto hit the Florida Panhandle near Adams Beach on June 13, the strongest winds over Florida all season

56 percent: The average homeowner rate increase Citizens Property Insurance Corp. requested even after no hurricanes struck Florida

27 percent: The Citizens rate increase approved to start Jan. 1

$100 million: Estimated damage in the United States from Tropical Storm Ernesto

0: The number of storms that formed in October, the first time since 2002 that no storms formed that month. Also, no Category 4 or 5 storms formed this year for the first time since 1997.

Take a look at those homeowner insurance rate increases. Extraordinary. How’d you like those hikes to your homeowner's policy in one of the slowest hurricane seasons in ten years?

Unfortunately, something this article didn’t address was the hits to the travel and leisure industry as tourists from all over the world were scared away from Florida this summer due to these forecasts. A deep-sea fisherman based in Islamorada sent me an e-mail message in August stating that his business was down by over 50 percent, which he claimed was representative of other business-owners in the area.

The reality is that long-range weather forecasting is obviously much more difficult than predicting what’s going to happen just days in advance. As we all know, meteorologists aren’t very good at that, either. As such, given the impact on businesses and residents, it seems wise for people in this field to be a bit more conservative with their forecasts, and much less inflammatory.

After all, Floridians have been effectively dealing with hurricanes for many years – my parents have lived there since 1989 – even in the above-average periods of 2004 and 2005. They, and others in the region, should not be continually punished as a result of one devastating hurricane in New Orleans, an area with significantly less experience at managing such natural disasters. 

Certainly, the press are more interested in publishing wild predictions, for it excites readers and viewers. However, the media’s need to titillate their patrons should not come at the expense of the citizenry.

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Noel Sheppard's picture