An NBC Miami review of nearly a decade of pre-season predictions of hurricane season shows the two major predicting institutions are right about half the time. In some categories, they fail even more frequently.
Imagine how difficult it must be to predict something so intricate, so constantly transforming as a storm four months in advance. Yet our well-being depends on such factors as wind shear, sea surface temperatures, and pressure systems half a world away.
And this year looks busy. "indeed, we are looking for an 85% chance of above normal activity,” said Jack Beven of the National Hurricane Center. “The forecast is anywhere from 14 to 23 named tropical storms, of which 8 to 14 are forecast to become hurricanes, and 3 to 7 are forecast to be major hurricanes."
The National Hurricane Center, also called NOAA Weather, makes its pre-season predictions using a range. It offers wiggle room in the prediction. This year, 14 to 23 storms, is the widest range in a decade.
On the other hand, Dr. Bill Gray of Colorado State University predicts an exact number. Not a range.
Still, predicting these hurricanes and storms is imperfect to be sure, as our review of the success of those pre-season predictions since 2001.
First, in predicting named storms, NOAA has fallen within its range 5 times in 9 years. Dr. Gray has hit his number just once. But if granted a range like NOAA uses, Dr. Gray has been right 5 times also in 9 years.
Of course, predicting hurricanes rather than storms is even more vital. In that category, NOAA has been right since 2001 just twice. Dr. Gray has been right just once. But, again, granted a range, Dr. Gray has been right 3 times.
In sum, they are roughly equal with a rather poor success rate although one could argue they provide a general idea.
Also equal this year? All the models are leaning toward predicting a very active hurricane season 2010.
"Time will tell if they are right,” adds Beven. “But the fact that they are all saying the same thing for pretty much the same reasons suggests that this year will be a lot busier than what we had last year."