Friday, December 07, 2007

The 2008 Hurricane Prediction Season
Is Upon Us

Unbelievable, in so many ways.

We got a six-day reprieve from the Greek chorus of tropical storm forecasters. Hope you enjoyed it while it lasted. I have a feeling that next year we won't get even that. Despite three years of bad calls, William Gray at the University of Colorado is already back in the saddle. His new prediction amounts to little more than foreseeing our recent average, give or take. In fact, it's not much of a prediction at all: we're in for a "somewhat higher than average season," thanks partly to what will be "fairly warm" Atlantic sea surface temperatures. "Somewhat?" "Fairly?" Have I mentioned how unscientific this area of science is becoming?

Gray and his colleagues include so many caveats (three paragraphs' worth) in their introduction to their "Extended Range Forecast" for 2008 that any sensible reader would put it down after page one and return to looking out the window at actual weather. Here's a sample of Gray's hedging:

We issue these forecasts to satisfy the curiosity of the general public and to bring attention to the hurricane problem. There is a curiosity in knowing what the odds are for an active or inactive season next year. One must remember that our forecasts are based on the premise that those global oceanic and atmospheric conditions which preceded comparatively active or inactive hurricane seasons in the past provide meaningful information about similar trends in future seasons. This is not always true for individual seasons. [Apparently it wasn't true for the last three seasons.--ed.] It is also important that the reader appreciate that these seasonal forecasts are based on statistical schemes which, owing to their intrinsically probabilistic nature, will fail in some years. [As they did in 2005, 2006, and 2007.--ed.]

Mainstream media sources dutifully overlooked all the caveats, mentioned Gray's past failures either in passing or not at all, and churned out a new slew of utterly meaningless and counter-productive hurricane scare-stories. Incredibly, one media outlet even credits Gray with getting it right lately when the truth is the exact opposite:

Gray, who began publishing his forecasts in 1992, has gained widespread respect for correctly predicting a surge in hurricane activity over the past few years.

Gray and his team enjoyed a streak of accurate forecasts (well, "fairly" or "somewhat" accurate, at least) in the late 90s and through 2003, but the assertion that they have gained respect for their performance in the "past few years" is patently false.

To top it off, Reuters has proved me right about the obfuscation of our new storm-counting methods, just seven days after I predicted the NOAA's fudging would result in mainstream media confusion over how many storms actually occurred in 2007. Hey--I'm a better forecaster than William Gray!

Reuters puts this tropical storm count way up near the top of their article:

In the end, the [2007] season saw 14 Atlantic tropical storms, of which six strengthened into hurricanes.

Arrgh! No it did not! The NOAA gave out fourteen names, but the first one, Andrea, went to a sub-tropical storm that never developed into a tropical storm. Any self-respecting meteorologist will tell you that Andrea was not a tropical storm and that the 2007 season had only 13 tropical storms. The pinheads in the mainstream media, however, can't be bothered to study the details. So now we have the genesis of an inflated storm count for 2007.

I knew this would happen.