Do Predictors Forget?

I make weather forecasts every day. My forecasts only go out a week or so, but the first few days are the most important and the ones people remember. I don’t make long range forecasts.

When I’m wrong, especially on critical days, people remember. When you make long lead forecasts people tend not to remember as much.

AccuWeather press release: “The Northeast is staring down the barrel of a gun,” said Joe Bastardi, Chief Forecaster of the Hurricane Center. “The Northeast coast is long overdue for a powerful hurricane, and with the weather patterns and hydrology we’re seeing in the oceans, the likelihood of a major hurricane making landfall in the Northeast is not a question of if but when.”

Did AccuWeather’s release affect anyone? It came out 3/20. On 4/2 USA Today printed this AP article:

What Hath AccuWeather Wrought

I was scrutinizing Drudge last night when I saw the headline.

I began to get upset. Then, I read AccuWeather’s release, which was headlined:

Threat of Major Hurricane Strike Grows for Northeast Warns That “Weather Disaster of Historic Proportions” Could Strike as Early as This Year

The release went on to quote Joe Bastardi, one of AccuWeather’s meteorologists as saying:

“The Northeast coast is long overdue for a powerful hurricane.

That’s like saying a slot machine is overdue because it hasn’t paid out in a while. In statistics, the likelihood of a 100 year event doesn’t increase just because you’ve gone 99 years without seeing one.

I went to the weather bulletin board where I sometimes post and left this:

I read the AccuWeather release and my blood boiled. As far as I know, there’s no such thing as “overdue” in statistics. I’m assuming all their meteorologists, including Joe Bastardi, took statistics courses.

When people come up to me in the supermarket and say we hype the weather – they’re talking about stuff like this.

What AccuWeather missed – the real story – is, a Hurricane of ’38 scenario would create a civil catastrophe before it struck! Though they mention Providence as the storm’s focal point, the center actually struck nearly 100 miles west, in Milford, Connecticut.

The biggest damage was that far east because it was no longer a classic tropical system. First, it was moving at better than 60 mph (I’m doing this off the top of my head – allow a little leeway). It had also been over colder water and was probably transitioning to extratropical.

How would we warn for a storm which went from the Bahamas to New England in about a day, and whose damage would be so far east of the center? Hurricane Warnings from Atlantic City, NJ to Portland, ME? It boggles the mind.

Would we evacuate all of New England? Could we? Where would they go?

As it is, on a Sunday evening the Mass Pike backs up for miles at the I-84 exit. I-95 through most of Eastern Connecticut is 2-lanes in each direction, and the area just east of New Haven will be under construction for much of the next decade. That’s without all of Boston and Providence heading west.

But, back to AccuWeather. Is this like yelling fire in a crowded theater? I don’t know. I certainly wouldn’t have put out the statement they put out, but that’s their choice to make.

I believe they’re honorable people. Joel Meyers certainly has a long and storied reputation and has been honored for his contributions to the public’s well being and safety.

I know folks at AccuWeather read this. I would like to see Joel personally revisit this particular statement. If this is how he really feels, fine.

My hope is, he’ll provide more specifics and less hyperbole.

So, there you have it. Yes – New England is vulnerable, but no more vulnerable today than it was last year at this time.

We need solid action to prepare, not hyperbole and scare tactics.