Bill Read, director of the National Hurricane Center spoke to reporters at a conference in South Carolina earlier this month, and predicted that the time will come when we will have reliable hurricane forecasts seven days in advance of a storm, but that that time is still two to five years away.
The National Weather Service, Read pointed out, already issues forecasts for daily weather that are about a week out, but so far, no one is doing so with hurricanes, possibly because panicking about a possible storm could do more harm than good.
“There is plenty of time to recover from a bad decision to play golf on Saturday when it’s Monday; it’s not going to kill you,” Read explained. “If you start moving nursing home patients at seven days (ahead) you could kill them.” He added that while the Hurricane Center does issue five-day forecasts on big storms, they’re not ready to begin issuing seven-day forecasts, and won’t be until there is more confidence in their predictions.
Even so, Read stressed, predictions and warnings are useless if people don’t listen. He told the conference members, “The biggest challenge is to crack the denial. If you haven’t cracked the ‘it won’t happen to me’ thought process, you can do everything else right and they are going to say it won’t happen to me and not do it. If you can get past the denial, the rest of it is not as difficult as you think.”
He also said that there is a definite window for using actual storms as teaching tools. Using last year’s Hurricane Irene, which caused $7 billion in damages and killed 41 people, as an example, he said, “We will have about a five-year window when people are teachable from Irene, and if nothing else happens. I used to think if you were hit once you were good for a generation.”
Research has shown, however, that after a mere five years, memories are softened, and storms don’t seem as bad as they actually were.
Meanwhile, while NOAA doesn’t release it’s predictions for the Atlantic Hurricane Season until May, Read says that early indicators point to an average season, with around eleven named storms, as opposed to last year’s nineteen. He added a caveat to that, however, cautioning that a forecast issued this early is likely to be incorrect.
“My guys don’t think seasonal forecasts have any meaningfulness,” Read said, adding that his organization is focused on warning people, not on predicting weather. As well, he pointed out, the relatively quiet season twenty years ago also included Hurricane Andrew, which caused 26 deaths and $25 billion in damage in south Florida.
Our prediction? If you live anywhere near a coastline, you need to spend time BEFORE hurricane season making sure your homeowners insurance and additional endorsements covers you for wind, rain, and flood damage.