Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Forecasting Hurricanes: A Very Uncertain Business

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Forecasting Hurricanes: A Very Uncertain Business

Article excerpt

FOR meteorologists, hurricane Emily provides an example of both the effectiveness and the limitations of the modern hurricane-forecasting system.

Meteorologists can spot such storms early and track their development for days. They can give timely warnings that allow possibly threatened coastal regions to prepare for a storm. Yet, as the American Meteorological Society warns, it would be a mistake to become complacent with this degree of effectiveness.

In spite of radars, satellites, spotter aircraft, and computers, forecasters still cannot accurately anticipate a hurricane's changes in intensity, speed, or direction. Forecasting, the society says, "remains rather subjective," and as coastal development continues, the society adds, this situation is not satisfactory. For one thing, it results in overwarning, causing costly and sometimes needless evacuations and other disruption. Yet, for now, such extensive warnings are the only safe course.

Weather scientists in the society are concerned enough about the state of hurricane forecasting to formally state these limitations. At the same time, they see ways to significantly improve their forecasting ability in this decade. In brief, they need both a better scientific understanding of hurricanes and a better ability to measure the characteristics of any storm they are tracking.

Hurricanes are the greatest storms on Earth. Because of this, they attract public attention. Yet, meteorologically, they are rare. Only a few of the many seasonal tropical disturbances ever reach hurricane strength. …

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