VERIFY: Are Hurricane Season Predictions Accurate?

Verify: How Accurate Are Hurricane Forecasts?

Each year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) releases hurricane season predictions for the Atlantic Basin, which includes the Atlantic, Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico.

For 2017, the season begins June 1 and runs through November 30. NOAA predicts 11 to 17 named tropical storms, five to nine of which are expected to become hurricanes. Two to four of the predicted hurricanes could be major, rated as a Category 3, 4 or 5.

Question:

Over the last 12 years, how many times were the hurricane season predictions correct?

Process:

News 2 pulled data from 2005 to 2016 from NOAA. We compared the forecast prediction to the number of actual storms, hurricanes and major hurricanes that formed.

If the number of actual storms, hurricanes and major hurricanes fell in middle of the prediction range or hit the range exactly, we counted the prediction as accurate. If the actual amount fell well below or well above the prediction, we counted it as inaccurate.

For example, in 2014, NOAA predicted 8-13 named tropical storms, 3-6 hurricanes and 1-2 major hurricanes. The actual number was eight tropical storms, six hurricanes and two major hurricanes. This counts as an accurate forecast.

Overall, NOAA’s predictions were accurate nine out of 12 years.

The three times the predictions missed the mark were 2005, 2012 and 2013. (See graphic below.)

How are the predictions made?

To be fair, forecasting the hurricane season is difficult. In fact, each time a hurricane season prediction is released, NOAA tells you why that season may be a challenge to determine.

“They look at three specific things,” said News 2 Chief Meteorologist Tim Buckley, “Water temperature, is it warmer or cooler than average? Also, El Niño or La Niña. Do we have one of those setting up? El Niño can actually prevent a lot of hurricanes from forming in the first place whereas La Niña can make it a lot easier and you’re more likely to have a bad season.”

Should you pay attention to the forecasts?

Unfortunately, the forecasts do not predict when a hurricane will form, where and how strong a storm will be. For example, you won't know that a Category 5 hurricane will hit North Carolina in August.

“It’s really tempting to read too much into a seasonal forecast,” said Buckley. “Just because we’re going to see more hurricanes than average, none of them might come toward the coast or all of them might come toward the coast and it’s impossible to know way ahead of time. Bottom line, it only takes one storm to be really bad. Think about Hurricane Matthew in North Carolina last year. We could have a season where there are very few storms, but a Category 5 could head right toward our coast and for us, it would be the worst season ever.”

Buckley added,” You shouldn’t be worried about how many storms there will be overall. You should be ready for that one storm that could hit your home on the beach every single year. You just got to be ready.”

SOURCES:

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Colorado State University

WFMY News 2 Chief Meteorologist Tim Buckley

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© 2017 WFMY-TV


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