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August 5, 2008

Hurricane forecasters: Who gets it right?

Posted: 11:58 AM ET

Tropical Storm Edouard came ashore this morning, a less-than-impressive storm that hopefully won't cause much more than inconvenience to the Texas Gulf Coast.

Also this morning, William Gray and Phil Klotzbach, the Colorado State University hurricane forecasters, issued their updated prediction on how this year's Atlantic hurricane season will turn out, raising their earlier estimates to a total of 17 named storms.

Hurricane paths from the record-setting 2004 season.

ALL OVER THE MAP: Hurricane paths from the 2004 season.


Both the Colorado State team and NOAA's Climate Prediction Center issue annual predictions, and update them throughout the season. Let's take a look at how good a job they've done over the years. The numbers we're using here are the predictions issued each spring before the season gets underway. The teams predict how many tropical storms, hurricanes, and major hurricanes they expect:

In 2007, Dr. Gray predicted 17 named storms, NOAA called for 13 to 17. The actual number was 15. Gray said 9 of those storms would become hurricanes last year; NOAA said 7 to 10. We got 6.
Gray said there would be 5 major hurricanes of Category Three or higher; NOAA predicted 3 to 5. We got 2.

Both were fairly close with their 2007 forecasts. There were a few years - notably the monstrous 2005 season - when they weren't close at all. Here are the previous six years' predictions, and realities:

2006: Gray: 17 named storms; 9 hurricanes; 5 major hurricanes
NOAA: 13 to 16 named storms; 8 to 10 hurricanes; 4 to 6 major hurricanes
Real Life: 10 named storms; 5 hurricanes; 2 major hurricanes

2005: Gray: 13 named storms; 7 hurricanes; 3 major hurricanes
NOAA: 12 to 15 named storms; 7 to 9 hurricanes; 3 to 5 major hurricanes
Real Life: 27 named storms; 15 hurricanes; 7 major hurricanes

2004: Gray: 14 named storms; 8 hurricanes; 3 major hurricanes
NOAA: 12 to 15 named storms; 6 to 8 hurricanes; 3 major hurricanes
Real Life: 15 named storms, 9 hurricanes, 6 major hurricanes

2003: Gray: 12 named storms; 8 hurricanes; 3 major hurricanes
NOAA: 11 to 15 named storms; 6 to 9 hurricanes; 2-4 major hurricanes
Real Life: 16 named storms; 7 hurricanes; 3 major hurricanes

2002: Gray: 12 named storms; 7 hurricanes; 3 major hurricanes
NOAA: 9 to 13 named storms; 6 to 8 hurricanes; 2 to 3 major hurricanes
Real Life: 12 named storms; 4 hurricanes; 2 major hurricanes

2001: Gray: 10 named storms; 6 hurricanes; 2 major hurricanes
NOAA: 9 to 12 named storms; 6 to 8 hurricanes; 2 to 4 major hurricanes
Real Life: 15 named storms; 9 hurricanes; 4 major hurricanes

Peter Dykstra Executive Producer CNN Science, Tech, & Weather

Filed under: hurricanes • meteorology • Severe weather • Weather

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Franko   August 5th, 2008 11:06 pm ET

Lower stratosphere, (15 km), is cooling, while ocean little change.
Difference in temperatures is increasing, bigger or more hurricanes ?
Heat engine efficiency = 1-t2/t1 more randrops moved above your head ?

Nick   August 6th, 2008 8:38 am ET

The picture with this article is the 2004 season, not 2005.

pdykstra   August 6th, 2008 11:37 am ET

Nick is right, my mistake. This is the 2004 season.
Thanks for the sharp eyes

Franko   August 7th, 2008 2:28 am ET

Ocean heat is the driver, moist warm air is lighter, rising to rain and cool off.
One great big complicated vortex, sucking in the cold air from above.

Good links and diagrams:

Franko   August 7th, 2008 2:35 am ET

Ocean heat is the driver, moist warm air is lighter, rising to rain and cool off.
One great big complicated vortex, sucking in the cold air from above.

Ocean circulations are blocked by continents, causing Ice Ages, and hot spots.
Improve circulation to reduce hurricanes.

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