First hurricane season outlooks are out, but just how accurate are they?

GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) – The first seasonal hurricane outlooks are out and, one thing’s for sure, this season looks to be more active than last year’s, but by how much is still up in the air.

“The two big pieces of information that they’re looking for are the upcoming La Nina forecast and what the temperatures are going to be like in the Atlantic,” said Scott Curtis, an atmospheric science professor at East Carolina University.

Long-range forecasters are giving La Nina a 50% chance of arriving by the fall. The cooling of the ocean waters in the Central and Eastern Pacific leads to less winds in the Atlantic that can tear tropical systems apart.

While the phenomenon’s arrival by fall is still a 50-50 shot, sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic will also play a role.

“If the temperatures are warmer, obviously that connected with the La Nina would lead to a very active hurricane season most likely,” Curtis believes.

Tropical systems feed off warm ocean waters so a cooler Atlantic would tend to suppress storm formation.

Hurricane season runs from June 1 through November 30. With the first outlooks coming out months in advance of the season, one may be wondering: just how accurate are they?

Well, as it turns out, they aren’t very accurate.

A 2013 study referenced in the Washington Post found that between 1995 and 2012, Colorado State researchers were off by two or more storms in their pre-season prediction for hurricanes over 70% of the time.

forecast vs actual major hurricanes

The same study found they were off by two or more in their prediction for major hurricanes nearly 40% of the time.

forecast vs actual major hurricanes

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration doesn’t escape scrutiny either.

Between 2004 and 2013 their predictions for tropical storms and hurricanes were off by over 3 storms.


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