The 2011 Atlantic Hurricane Season outlook

Since Colorado State University recently released its 2011 Atlantic Hurricane Season outlook, I thought I’d go back to the Natural Environment TV Network and speak with Dr. Nicholas Obermeyer, its controversial hurricane expert.

When I talked with Dr. Obermeyer a couple of weeks ago, he termed seasonal hurricane outlooks “pretty damn useless to the general public.” I wanted to see what he thought about the most recent prediction.

Me: Good to see you again Dr. Obermeyer.

O: You’re a slow learner, aren’t you Mr. Bernard? It’s Obie.

Me: Sorry. Good to see you, Obie.

O: Thank you. And Merry Christmas.

Me: And to you, too. But cutting right to the chase, Drs. William Gray and Phil Klotzbach have just issued their hurricane outlook for 2011. They’re forecasting another very active season–above average in terms of the number of hurricanes and tropical storms.

O: Good for them.

Me: But you don’t agree?

O: I don’t agree or disagree. I simply don’t care. Look, we just came through one of the most active years on record in the Atlantic Basin [19 named storms, tied for third busiest], and not a single hurricane hit the U.S. So as far as the general public is concerned, it was a dud of a hurricane season, even though the predictions were pretty good.

Me: So, do you think U.S. coastlines will be spared again in 2011?

O: I don’t have a clue. Let me put it this way. If you have a home in Southampton [on Long Island] or on Hilton Head [S.C.] or Sanibel Island [Fla.], would you prepare any differently for a season in which 26 storms are forecast than you would for one in which six are predicted?

Me: Well, I might be a bit more proactive in the 26-storm-forecast season.

O: Then I would remind you that the two most powerful hurricanes on record in South Florida, Andrew in 1992 and the Keys Hurricane in 1935, both occurred in years with only six tropical storms and hurricanes. And the Great New England Hurricane in 1938 swirled in in a year with just eight.

Me: Point taken.

O: Here’s another anecdotal way of bringing statistics to life. One of the least likely coastlines to be hit by a major hurricane [one with winds over 110 mph] is Georgia’s. The statistical probability is about one percent. That is, The Peach State might get whacked by a big one once every 100 years. Yet in the 1890s, two major hurricanes slammed into Georgia, one near Savannah, the other near Cumberland Island.

Me: So, as in the past, you won’t be broadcasting seasonal hurricane predictions.

O: No.

Me: I understand this has put you at odds with your executive vice president of production, Robbie McSwanson.

O: Yes.

Me: I also have heard that you and he have a bit of a history, going back to Houston a few years ago.

O: You mean the Hurricane Rita incident?

Me: Yes. Perhaps we could talk about that sometime?

O: Perhaps. Maybe after Christmas. [smiles] Let’s keep the holidays happy.

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