The National Hurricane Center’s new director, Bill Read, said this week that they expect an average season, with 12 tropical systems, and around 6 becoming hurricanes, in contrast with last year’s busy season in which there were 19 storms.
Read attributed this likelihood to the fact that sea surface temperatures is forecast to be cooler this year than in 2011.
The hurricane season officially starts in the Caribbean and Atlantic on June 1 and ends on November 30 and the centre is expected to issue a more comprehensive forecast during the second half of May.
On average, the Atlantic-Caribbean hurricane season brings 12.1 tropical storms, with 6.4 of those strengthening into hurricanes. The region is still in the midst of a multi-decade busy period, and 2011 saw 19 tropical storms, with seven growing into hurricanes, including three major ones.
The famed Colorado State University hurricane forecasting team, led by William Gray and Phil Klotzbach, is expected to issue its hurricane season forecast on April 4 but a preliminary forecast released last December showed that they too were predicting an average season.
Their December forecast stated that there was a 45% chance of this season featuring 12 to 15 named storms, seven to nine hurricanes, three to four of those being major ones.
Weather Services International, a private weather forecaster, also released an early pre-season forecast in December predicting a relatively tame 2012 season with a total of 12 named storms and seven hurricanes.
However, all these predictions aside, Read told reporters while attending the March 5 conference with representatives of other federal agencies to discuss hurricane forecasting and warning, that there was very little confidence in a forecast issued this far ahead of the season.
“My guys don’t think seasonal forecasts have any meaningfulness,” he added, saying the Hurricane Center is focused on warning people so they get out of harm’s way.
This is a stance shared by Gray and Klotzbach who stated on their website that the December 2011 forecast would be their last December forecast in future since their seasonal hurricane forecasts of the last 20 years “have not shown real-time forecast skill”.
Read said at the conference on Monday that he was looking forward to the day when science had improved to the point where forecasters could reliably issue forecasts showing where a hurricane would be a week ahead of time.
“We’re two to five years from a seven-day forecast,” Read said, but admitted that the Hurricane Center, which now issues five-day forecasts on the giant storms, did not want to issue a seven-day forecast until there is greater confidence in the predictions.
“No one makes decisions based on that kind of forecast that can kill them,” Read said. “There is plenty of time to recover from a bad decision to play golf on Saturday when it’s Monday; it’s not going to kill you. If you start moving nursing home patients at seven days (ahead) you could kill them.”
But, he said, better forecasts won’t help the public if they ignore them.
“The biggest challenge is to crack the denial. If you haven’t cracked the `it won’t happen to me thought process’ you can do everything else right and they are going to say it won’t happen to me and not do it,” he said. “If you can get past the denial, the rest of it is not as difficult as you think.”