June 1 is the start of hurricane season every year. From then through to the end of October, we all watch as hurricanes rumble north up the Atlantic Ocean from the Caribbean in what we here believe is an attempt to hit the eastern end of Long Island broadside.
I know this is a Not in My Backyard kind of thinking. The rest of the east coast has its concerns too. But as the storms come north, we are the only place where land sticks out into the Atlantic west to east for more than a hundred miles. I’ve come to think of Long Island as a baseball bat. Zeus fires curve balls. He lives on the coast of Africa, where hurricanes first form. They cross the Atlantic toward the Caribbean, then do that scary curve. It depends where it makes the curve.
If it happens early, it just rattles up the Atlantic and out to sea without hitting anything, and we, the batsman, can just watch it go. If it happens too late, it can get caught in the Gulf of Mexico and bounce into Texas or Louisiana. So we can breathe a sigh of relief about that. But if it makes the turn just right, then we know it has us in its crosshairs. It can veer off and hit the coast to the south of us or the north of us, a ball inside or outside. But that direct hit is possible. STRIKE. It hasn’t happened in a while. That’s the way we see it, anyway.
Well, in this past week, several weather forecasting operations have made their initial predictions. They don’t venture to say where the ball will hit. But they do predict how many pitches will be thrown.
This year, all are predicting there will be a total of 12 to 14 named storms, which is slightly more than the historical average. However, they are predicting only five to seven storms will become of hurricane strength, which is fewer than average. Overall, therefore, they say the season will be “close to normal.” One more storm than the average and one fewer of the strong ones—what more could you want?
Well, I’d like to say to these predicting services—AccuWeather and Colorado State University with their new arrangement with the Barcelona Supercomputing Center—hey, how about getting it right?
Did anyone at any of these operations a year ago this spring give any clue that two enormously powerful superstorms—Florence and Michael—would cause such damage to the coastal cities south of us? Both these storms were epic. More than 55 people died in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia when Michael hit. Florence flooded and flattened homes in the Carolinas. We here escaped unscathed except for flash flooding. Two bullets, we dodged. Yet the predictions in 2018, even the later ones, were that there would be fewer storms than in 2017.
Dan Kottlowski, who is a hurricane expert at AccuWeather, told NJ.com that he gets it. “It only takes one,” he said, referring to a monster that can throw the predictions out the window. Last year, there were two.
All of these predictors, by the way, have observed some of the same weather developments already underway that result in the not-too-hot and not-too-cold prediction they give for this year.
The water temperature is cooler than normal in the tropics and warmer than normal in the North Atlantic. This means the hurricanes could make the turn further south and be less likely to be of great strength when they get up north. Out in California, they have noticed that El Nino, a swirling weather pattern that sometimes shows up off Southern California, has made an appearance. When it makes a strong appearance, it means fewer hurricanes in the Atlantic, and when it shows up either not at all or is weak, it means more hurricanes in the Atlantic. Currently it is here, but on the weak side and now gaining strength. If that trend continues into healthy strength, it will mean fewer hurricanes in the Atlantic.
But that could change.
You know what? Over the years, I have been reporting on these predictions and, though I haven’t made a full study of it, my memory of it is that it doesn’t mean a hill of beans. There are three things they can say. More than average, average and less than average.
I think they give out one of those three answers, and once in three tries they get it right. So two out of three, they get it wrong. This is, statistically, what you would get if you pointed at one of the three answers at random.
Well, these predictions are always a good thing to know anyway. And now you do. So the real good advice is that anytime between June and the end of October, if you see a really angry dark cloud with lightning flashes heading toward us here on Long Island in hurry-up fashion, get down in the basement and batten down the hatches.
A storm is coming. Or maybe not.