Forecasters at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predict a “75-percent chance that the 2018 Atlantic hurricane season will be near- or above-normal,” according to an agency press release on Thursday.
NOAA even put out pie charts on the probability of how active the Atlantic season could get, but meteorologist Ryan Maue pointed questioned how useful such figures are to the general public.
How does the average person interpret this pie chart? What is normal? What do the numbers to the right represent? How successful was last year’s forecast? pic.twitter.com/vuINEjF0d8
— Ryan | weather.us (@RyanMaue) May 24, 2018
Indeed, NOAA forecasts can be somewhat abstract and difficult to interpret. What does a 40 percent chance of an above-normal hurricane season mean for the average American anyways? Likewise, what’s all this talk of “named storms” versus “hurricanes.” What’s the difference and why should you be concerned?
To cut past any confusion, NOAA hurricane forecaster Chris Landsea suggested focusing on the number of hurricanes forecast for this season. (RELATED: Is Trump Really To Blame For Rising Gas Prices?)
“That may be a bit abstract for some folks,” said Landsea, a meteorologist. “Perhaps it is best to focus on the number of hurricanes.”
Named storms — subtropical or tropical systems — can cause damage, but are typically not as destructive as hurricanes. Hurricanes are storms with wind speeds of 74 miles per hour or higher. Major hurricanes, Category 3 through 5, have wind speeds of 111 miles per hour or higher.
“The outlook is for 5 to 9 hurricanes. The average season has 6 hurricanes,” Landsea told TheDCNF.
Likewise, Landsea noted the range of predicted hurricanes in NOAA’s forecast. It’s imported to remember the imbedded uncertainty in NOAA’s 2018 forecast, especially in light of the destructive 2017 season.
“So our best estimate is a near average season, but the range goes from slightly below average to a busy year,” Landsea said.
As for Maue’s question on the accuracy of NOAA’s 2017 hurricane season forecast, it turns out the weather agency slightly low-balled the number of hurricanes that actually occurred.
NOAA predicted a 70 percent chance of five to nine hurricanes for the 2017 season, but there ended up being 10 hurricanes that did a record amount of damage to the U.S.
Last hurricane season saw more than $200 billion worth of damage done to the U.S., primarily from three major hurricanes — Harvey, Irma and Maria.
“Last year’s forecast has no bearing on this year’s seasonal outlook,” Landsea said.
Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 to Nov. 30 this year. Already, southeastern states are bracing for subtropical storm Alberto, the first named storm of the year. Model forecasts suggest Alberto could make landfall along the Gulf Coast as a Category 1 hurricane, bringing high winds, heavy rainfall and storm surge.
This year, NOAA’s is basing its prediction on a weak or non-existent El Nino warming event in the tropical Pacific Ocean, near-average sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea and the fact that hurricane seasons have been more active since 1995.
However, Landsea said no matter what the hurricane forecast is families along the Gulf Coast and eastern seaboard should always be prepared for major storms come hurricane season.
“People in hurricane-prone areas need to be ready every year: make sure that your wind/flood insurance is up to date for your home/business, make sure that you have hurricane supplies in case one threatens, and know where you may go if an evacuation is issued for your neighborhood,” Landsea said.
Hurricane-force winds can cause lots of damage, but the vast majority of hurricane-related fatalities are from storm surge and inland flooding, according to NOAA. More than 80 million Americans live in areas at risk from hurricane winds and inland flooding.
More importantly, hurricanes can hit the U.S. regardless of how active a season is. Storms can also cause tremendous amounts of damaging without making landfall. The U.S. went more than a decade without a major hurricane landfall up until the devastating 2017 season.
Hurricane Matthew didn’t officially make U.S. landfall, but it came close enough in October 2016 to cause lots of damage to coastal states before dying off. It’s estimated Matthew killed more than 1,000 in Haiti.
“This year’s seasonal outlook doesn’t change how anyone should be prepared. One has to be ready every year!” he said.
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