The 2010 Atlantic Hurricane Season, a conversation with Dr. Nicholas Obermeyer

The paradoxical 2010 Atlantic Hurricane Season officially ended yesterday–paradoxical because it gave birth to 19 named storms, tying it for the third busiest season on record, while at the same time, hurling not a single hurricane across the shores of the U.S. In fact, only one tropical storm bothered to make a run at us.

Not only that, but this was the fifth year in a row that the U.S. was not hammered by a major hurricane (one with winds in excess of 110 mph). That’s happened only twice in over one hundred years.

With that in mind, I decided to talk with Dr. Nicholas Obermeyer, the outspoken and occasionally controversial hurricane expert at the Natural Environment TV Network in Atlanta. (If you haven’t heard of Dr. Obermeyer, he’s a character in EYEWALL.)

Me: Thanks for speaking with me, Dr. Obermeyer–

O: Please, call me Obie.

Me: Okay, Obie. What are your thoughts on the hurricane season just ended?

O: A couple of things spring immediately to mind. One, although the seasonal forecasts were generally good as far as predicting an above average number of storms in the Atlantic Basin, it also highlighted the fact that such forecasts are pretty damn useless to the general public.

Me: What do you mean?

O: The average person tends to equate an unusually active hurricane season with a greater threat of landfalling hurricanes in the U.S. Yet this year, nada. Not one. In contrast, the last cat 5 monster to hammer the U.S., Andrew, occurred in a season with only six named storms.

Me: So that’s why you don’t show the seasonal outlooks on-air?

O: Much to the chagrin of management.

Me: You’ve had words?

O: [chuckles] You wouldn’t want to hear them.

Me: Okay, you said you had a couple of thoughts about this season. What was the second?

O: That we were really, really lucky. I mean, in any given year there’s a slightly better than 50 percent probability that someplace along the U.S. coast is gonna get whacked by a major hurricane. Yet we’ve gone five consecutive years now.

Me: So we dodged a bullet?

O: Think of it as someone emptying a Glock handgun at you at pointblank range–and missing.

Me: I’d rather not. But that aside, any thoughts on next season?

O: How often do you think someone will miss at pointblank range?

Me: I catch your drift. But do you have any specific predictions about 2011?

O: You’re trying to bait me, aren’t you?

Me: No, I–

O: [laughs] Shame on you, after what I told you about seasonal forecasts. But here’s something that might help put things into historical perspective. After the last two five-year periods in which no major hurricanes swirled into the nation, 1901-1905 and 1910-14, the following years, 1906 and 1915, each had four landfalling hurricanes including two majors!

Me: That’s your prediction?

O: There you go again. Put your hand out here so I can rap your knuckles with a ruler. [laughs] No. I don’t know what will happen next year. But I heartily recommend you keep the guy with the Glock in mind.

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