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SPECIAL REPORT: Hurricane Harm

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ORANGE BEACH, AL (WSFA) -

It's that time of year again when our attention shifts from the spring threat of thunderstorms and tornadoes to summer's meteorological menace, hurricanes.  The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June through November.  Every April, Colorado State University releases a preseason forecast, and not everyone is a fan of those predictions.

"The predictions are the silliest thing I've ever heard of," said Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon. 

According to Kennon, 95% of his city's revenue comes from tourism.  He feels early predictions of a bad hurricane season can negatively impact tourism.

"The consequences of those types of predictions do hurt us." 

Forecasts of an active season can sting, but it stings even more if those forecasts aren't accurate.

"I could put a dart board up there with the numbers 8-15 and throw a dart every year and be darn close," added Kennon. But not everyone agrees with Kennon's views on the predictions.  

"There actually is some skill toward predicting the hurricane season numbers and so on and so forth," said Dr. Keith Blackwell, Associate Professor of Meteorology at University of South Alabama.  

"Skill with landfall isn't good. But skill with numbers, it's better than flipping a coin," said Blackwell.

Since 1999, the average Atlantic Hurricane season has produced 15.7 named storms.  We took that number, 15.7, and used it in place of Colorado State's April numbers.  That simple average of 15.7, which used no scientific data, was actually more accurate. 

WEB EXTRA: Hurricane Harm - fact checking the predictions

It begs the question; are these forecasts potentially doing more harm than good? Mayor Kennon wants to know that answer.

"I need to understand why did [Colorado State] spend the money, what is the benefit and what do we really get out of it?"

It's unclear whether these preseason predictions actually have a tangible effect on local tourism. Since 2000, some of the most profitable years in the Orange Beach, Gulf Shores and Fort Morgan areas were connected to predictions of an active hurricane season.

"Most people that live along the coast don't pay much attention to it," said Herb Malone, member of the Orange Beach Tourism Board. "I really don't think our visitors and guests pay much attention to it. I never hear them comment about it."

That's the mentality of Dana Adams, a tourist we interviewed.  Adams said, "I don't start buying anything until they say it's got a pretty good chance of coming our way."

While hurricanes can be devastating, there are ways to keep you and your family safe. 

"Hurricanes don't sneak up on you," said Mayor Kennon. "If you get hurt by a hurricane, you're probably not very smart."  

The National Hurricane Center can target a landfall within roughly 100 miles, 3 days in advance. Several months out, however, they have a long way to go. So if you have an August beach trip planned, check the forecast in August. Otherwise, you just may be better off flipping a coin.

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