Weekend Rewind: The truth behind 2020’s above average hurricane projections

The truth behind 2020’s “above average” hurricane projections

Bottom Line: With hurricane season under two months away, it’s that time of year, hurricane projections. The value of these projections is questionable to begin with due to a mixed history of success, but even more so due to advances in technology. AccuWeather and Colorado State University are out with their initial 2020 hurricane season projections and surprise, surprise we’re hearing about above average seasons. Why do I say surprise, surprise? Because in context the only surprise would be if we had forecasting that called for even an average season. I’ll explain. 

The average Atlantic hurricane season has produced 12 named storms. That becomes the baseline for whether a season is considered above or below average. Here are what the first forecasts are calling for. 

  • AccuWeather: 16 (midpoint)
  • CSU: 16 

That would suggest a season that’s about 33% more active than average...without context that is. I’ve studied and covered storm detection based on improvements with technology over time. Not surprisingly every time there was a leap in technology used by scientists, there’s been an increase in detection of storms. We’ve had official tracking of the Atlantic Hurricane season since 1851. Clearly, we didn’t have advanced radar back then. 

The first hurricane hunter aircraft took flight in 1944. The first satellites were used to detect tropical cyclones in 1967. Satellite technology has steadily improved with time. The result, not surprisingly, has been an increase in the number of detected storms. Overlapping radar limitations of late 1960’s technology, eight of the named storms in the 2019 hurricane season wouldn’t have been detected. Based on pre-1967 satellite technology it appears nine of the storms wouldn’t have been detected. But it’s not just about what changed decades ago. We’re frequently hearing about satellites being deployed by SpaceEx. Many of those satellites are continuing to improve our understanding of what happens in the mid-Atlantic far away from population zones. Four of 2019’s named storms likely would not have been detected as recently as five years ago. 

Context is key and unfortunately is often lacking. “Above-average” hurricane seasons are the new normal because of technology independent of any meteorological factors. But rather than attributing the increase in named storms to improved technology and detection – it's buried by the political interests within climate science. There are two sides to stories and one side to facts. These are the facts.

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