Forecasting weather not exactly science
Published: Monday, December 17th, 2007
Thank goodness the snow finally arrived in New Mexico and the Colorado mountains. It was only a matter of time before the lack of snow was blamed on global warming. It seems every natural anomaly now gets blamed on this all-purpose bogeyman. Drought hits the Southeast? It’s related to warming. Wildfires scorch southern California? It’s related to warming. But making such linkages begins to seem more like superstition than science when we consider how far off the alarmists have been on their hurricane forecasts. The Katrina disaster had the doomsayers warning it was only a preview of things to come. It was seized on by pundits and politicians to justify regulatory overreactions. But these forecasts have been a flop for two years running. The 2006 hurricane season wasn’t anywhere near as severe as the alarmists said it would be. And this year’s, which officially ended Nov. 30, was much milder than predicted, too. Which raises the question: If the “experts” can’t even accurately predict the next hurricane season, how can they predict climatic trends decades or even centuries in the future? Two of the prognosticators who have a little sea foam on their faces, Profs. William Gray and Philip Klotzbach of Colorado State University, predicted that nine major hurricanes would evolve out of 17 named tropical storms this season, with five of those hurricanes becoming severe. But the season saw just five hurricanes, two of which were severe, growing out of 14 named tropical storms. A forecast by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also was off, predicting 13 to 17 named storms and seven to 10 hurricanes, with three to five of them becoming severe. “The seasonal hurricane forecasters certainly have a lot of explaining to do,” Max Mayfield, former director of the National Hurricane Center, said in one new report. “The last couple of years have humbled the seasonal hurricane forecasters and pointed out that we have a lot more to learn before we can do accurate seasonal forecasts.” A little humility might also be in order for those who confidently predict the calamities to come as a result of climate change. These pronouncements often are made with a degree of certainty more characteristic of soothsayers than scientists. Perhaps scientists should confine themselves to studying and explaining hurricanes, rather than predicting them. But making predictions months in advance of hurricane season increases their national profile, which doesn’t hurt, we’re sure, when it comes to attracting research dollars. And the more sensationalist NOAA can be, the more funding it, too, stands to attract. All the alarmism has been a boon to researchers and bureaucrats. Or are we to believe that they’re never swayed by self-interest? As for apologies or explanations — fuggitaboutit. The experts, when they’re in error, quickly turn the tables. They’re only scientists, they say, not soothsayers. Gerry Bell, NOAA’s lead forecaster, calls the agency’s track record “excellent,” despite two years of off-the-mark hurricane forecasts. One person who isn’t taking the mispredictions lightly is Florida hotel mogul Harris Rosen, who has threatened to sue Gray, claiming the professor’s overly dire predictions are hurting his business by scaring away potential quests. Rosen told an Orlando television station that 70 percent of guests who weren’t returning to his hotels this year cited hurricane fears as the reason. Rosen suspects the predictions have cost the state of Florida billions of dollars. Other Florida businesspeople also are angry, according to reports, including a plywood salesman who overstocked, based on claims this hurricane season was going to be severe. We’re not sure we’d like to see Gray & Co. sued over the issue. We can’t imagine on what legal grounds such a suit would rest. But perhaps this will lower, at least somewhat, the esteem such experts enjoy in the court of public opinion. And that, in turn, might bring a little sobriety to a climate change debate that’s dominated by sensationalist blowhards.
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