Do seasonal hurricane forecasts matter? Purpose is preparedness
The pre-hurricane season forecast was released today, and it “suggests” the 2015 hurricane season will be well-below average. I used the word “suggests” because the researchers themselves say this forecast is about probability; it cannot be an exact prediction because atmospheric conditions change like (um) the weather. And, armed with information about what is likely, most people will do…nothing. Too bad.
Using six-decades of historical data and current weather characteristics, the Colorado State University Tropical Meteorology Team forecasts what is likely during the six-month hurricane season that starts June 1. The purpose of the forecast is to prompt preparedness. Unfortunately, many people are prompted only when a hurricane is imminent. Panic and preparedness jell like oil and water. And, a powerful hurricane can happen in a so-called below-normal year, as Hurricane Andrew proved in 1992.
Last week, I attended the National Hurricane Conference in Austin, Texas. Attendance was down, and that may be an unfortunate indication of the level of preparedness as well. As one of the many volunteer organizers for the conference, the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) hosted a session titled: “Seasonal Forecasts: Are They Echoes in the Wind?” The answer to that question seems to be yes. Or, that people are so confused by them that they can’t figure out what to do with the information.
The I.I.I. conducted a nationwide poll to find out how, and if, people in coastal areas reacted to the forecasts. Half of the respondents say the forecasts have no bearing on their decisions to make preparations to protect their homes. That would be a fine response if it meant people prepared no matter what the prediction. But we all know that’s not how most people operate. In fact, our survey asked respondents if they would undertake more or fewer preparations if fewer storms were predicted. About 43 percent said they would make more preparations in a mild hurricane season. What?! Maybe they didn’t understand the question?
Seasonal forecasts are intended to be informational. They are issued because people are curious – and that curiosity should translate into action. But it doesn’t. Our panelists had differing views on the subject, yet all agreed that no matter what the seasonal forecast, people need to prepare for hurricanes EVERY year. That’s far better than wishing they had.