Monday, August 14, 2006

Hurricanes

It's early days in the tropics for hurricanes, yet the oceans seem to be calm here, halfway through August. Only three named storms have formed, then quickly petered out before making landfall anywhere in the U.S. or the Caribbean.

The National Weather Service's National Hurricane Center continues to predict above average activity, particularly between August and October. The latest prediction is scaled back from NHC's first predictions made in May of this year.

That isn't a reason to be complacent, but it points out the difficulty of predicting weather generally, and tropical weather in particular. The "cone of error" for tropical storms ("events", in weatherman parlance) is an example. Even in three days, the cone is often hundreds of miles wide, and the track can perform some odd maneuvers in a short period of time.

Witness the track of Wilma last year. It sprang up in the Caribbean south of Cuba, quickly developed into a category 5, then meandered a bit until taking a fast track throught the mainland as a category 1. Wilma delivered the most destructive punch that Key West has seen in many years, not so much from wind damage as from the storm surge. Some people are not back in their homes yet after that storm. Although Wilma was briefly at category 5 storm, it 'moderated' to "only" a category 2 as it passed about 50 miles west of the island between October 22 and October 23.

I don't mean to be whistling past the graveyard here. There's plenty of 'season' left for hurricanes, even beyond the traditional November 30 "end of hurricane season" marker. As always, we will be ready and we'll be prepared to do the prudent thing, as best we can determine what prudence is from time to time.

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