By: Monica Tassoni
The summer season is right around the corner, and more people are packing up the car and heading to the beautiful beaches of the Gulf Shores. The white sand and warming water temperatures attract visitors from across the country. However, the warming water temperatures are stirring up more than just crowded beaches, they are literally stirring up hurricanes. June 1st marks the beginning of a six month long Hurricane season for the Gulf and Atlantic.
Dating back to 1986, Colorado State University (CSU) has issued a hurricane seasonal outlook every year that predicts the number of named storms, hurricanes and major hurricanes. The Tropical Meteorology Project is headed by Colorado State University's Dr. William Gray and has received international attention. However, it has received little attention from vacationers. Some of the most successful years for the Gulf Shores have fallen on the same year as an above average forecast from CSU. This fact may raise a few eyebrows, but research shows that CSU's hurricane season forecast is not all that dependable.
Figure 1 shows that since 1999, CSU has missed 60 named storms, whether from overestimating or underestimating. To test this error, we compared the observed named storms each year to the 14 year average number of named storms, which calculated to 15.7.
Figure 2 shows that if we were to assume every hurricane season was going to have an average of 15.7 named storms, 45 storms would have been missed. This proved to be a more accurate forecast than CSU's forecast.
When you consider the amount of effort and research that goes into CSU's forecast every year, it is surprising to see its inaccuracy. Paying close attention to a forecast for an already formed disturbance is a good idea and technology has allowed for more accurate hurricane forecasting within 4 to 5 days of the predicted landfall. However, using the seasonal hurricane outlook to plan summer vacations is unreliable and may be disappointing.