Written by Staff Writer by By Nathaniel Stark
Editor’s Note: Nathaniel Stark is an experienced photographer, producer and director and has edited a number of high-profile pieces. He is currently working on a feature film with a science-fiction theme.
After a wild season of tornadoes and hailstorms in January and February, the U.S. was just beginning to gear up for a busy summer of tropical storms and hurricanes, given what is forecast for this year.
And this outlook has created a lot of stirs. How predictable are tropical cyclones? What effect do seasonal forecasts have on public perception and the insurance industry?
A recently-published study showed a downward trend in the accuracy of seasonal hurricane forecasts since at least 1982, when there were 21 tropical cyclones in the Atlantic.
Also, since 2008, the number of tropical cyclones in the Atlantic basin has been far higher than average, with more than 60 tropical storms, and the average season runs a little over 16 months.
I asked Nathaniel to talk to us about this fascinating study and what it may mean for hurricane season 2020 and beyond.
CNN: Please tell us about the study and what is expected from this season.
Nathaniel Stark: This report is based on a study of the predicted intensity, chance of landfall, and deviation from the regular seasonal pattern of 30 tropical cyclones (29 named storms, 2 hurricanes, and 0 major hurricanes) and the chances for future global climate events occurring in the period leading up to a full hurricane season, assuming zero season-specific events occur during that period.
It has been published in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s The Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society.
One of the main conclusions that the study makes is that we believe that a trend has developed over the past few decades. The projected later global climate events are one of the main variables behind the projections of global climate change.
However, there are also other factors and we cannot be certain whether we can forecast a global climate change event or if its effect is temporary and will recede after 2020.
The result of the study is that the forecasts for a lower peak intensity are the most probable result of climate change, and global climate events, including climate-related extreme weather events such as Hurricane Florence.
CNN: As always, storm season isn’t completely predictable. What’s your advice for those who want to get a better handle on this unpredictable and dangerous season?
Stark: Forecasting of the Atlantic hurricane season has been significantly under-done over the years.
Many people are not used to looking for these forecasts, and for obvious reasons, they make sense to people who, like to follow the facts. For the general public, weather forecasts are almost everywhere and the majority of them depend on the same highly-modified statistical models used for seasonal hurricane forecast and they rely on one statistical model for all types of weather.
The seasonal hurricane forecast has shown a downward trend since the early ’80s.
They state more accurately. This could be because our statistical models continue to get more complex, or it could be because there is a greater effect of human intervention on the climate processes that we can’t directly measure or control.
It may also be because people have become more conservative about certain events or activities that are thought to be potentially more likely to occur.
In addition, the survey that the study was based on also included people who make their own seasonal hurricane forecasts based on computer models, and there was no difference between their forecasts and the seasonal hurricane forecasts when it came to the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean.
CNN: We now hear a lot about climate change and how it affects the consequences of storms. Do you think there’s a possibility of adding to that debate by concluding from this study that tropical cyclones will become more like the global climate events you’re talking about?
Stark: This survey results would not necessarily affect the discussion around the impact of climate change on the frequency and strength of tropical cyclones.
There’s almost no hope that we can predict the exact route of hurricane or subtropical cyclone strikes on individual communities.
But there is another important question that needs to be asked: How much of a direct impact do each climate event have on communities? Does it take in terms of monetary expenditures to being a significant amount?
This is a sort of ocean-of-ideas question.
It is a question that is beyond the projections of a weather forecast and the statements made by climate experts. There are factors involved beyond calculations of the number of potential hurricanes that are likely to occur.
And there’s a point of diminishing returns — there’s a point where more forecasts can lead to predictions that are almost impossible to fully account for.