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Two months to the day before the start of the 2014 Atlantic hurricane season and right on schedule a variety of seasonal outlooks have come out in the last few weeks. I’m not a meteorologist but I worked in the global corporate meteorology industry for 22 years so I know how much effort, research and dedication goes into the production of a well thought-out seasonal forecast. And the how much is a LOT.
The primary components of a seasonal forecast are to review the current environmental setup factors and then carefully compare them with similarly behaved seasons over the last 80 to 100 years in order to come up with what are called analog years. Occasionally a sexy new predictive model comes out and from what I observed the seasonal outlooks are sometimes tweaked or otherwise weighted one way or another depending on how much faith is put into the newer models. The shorter, less geeky version of this is that loads of passionate devotion go into the outlooks, not to mention lots and lots of discussion and sharing of experience. There is screaming. People throw things.
And sometimes, more often than not, the outlooks are fairly accurate. The skill of meteorologists and the accuracy of the science have increased dramatically in the last 20 years, even in the last 5 years. But nature is nature and those of us in hurricane country remember last year, which was predicted to be the hairiest, scariest hurricane season in decades. Do you remember any storm names from last year? Neither do I. And I’m a weather geek.
Even more importantly, whereas it’s nice to inform yourself about what might be anticipated regardless of the topic, relying on the seasonals is a waste of time. Because it just takes the one *!@# storm to kill your business. Forever.
My favorite examples of this are the “A” twins, Alicia and Allison. Easy enough to remember because they both impacted my hometown but they did so in two fairly different ways:
- In a very late start to the ’83 season, hurricane Alicia started out as a fairly innocuous cluster of thunderstorms off the coast of Louisiana on August 15th that slammed into the Houston-Galveston area as a major category 3 hurricane just three days later causing 21 direct deaths and $2.1 billion (1983 USD) in damages. Granted, we knew a whole lot less about forecasting hurricanes back then but even now such rapid development of such a powerful storm – one storm – so very close to land would be a major shock. Another hurricane fun fact? ’83 was the least active season of the previous 53 years. There were only four named storms that year.
- 2001’s tropical storm Allison shot right out of the gate starting on June 4th. ‘Only’ a tropical storm with max 1-minute sustained winds of just 60mph, it’s the only storm to have its name retired without ever having reached hurricane strength because of the $5+ billion (2001 USD) in damage and 41 deaths it caused. For days and days it simply would not stop raining. As bad as Ike was in ’08, you still hear plenty of vinegar in folks’ voices when the topic of Allison comes up.
And we’re still hearing about another single storm from the year before last: Sandy.
So yeah, the one storm. The one fire. The one broken water pipe. The one sustained power outage. Be motivated.