South Spent Millions on a Hurricane Season That Wasn't

By Peter Whoriskey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 19, 2006

MIAMI -- Anticipation of the 2006 hurricane season turned countless families here and in a vast swath of the Southeast into survivalists.

Households stockpiled ready-to-eat meals. They scarfed up emergency radios, propane stoves, satellite phones, shutters, candles, canned goods. Hordes plunked down $500 and up for home generators.

The predictions of another scary storm season and the memory of last year's record-setting disasters inspired fear and a spending spree of hundreds of millions of dollars.

"The main uncertainty in the outlook is not whether the season will be above normal, but how much above normal it will be," National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecasters announced in May. That forecast called for eight to 10 hurricanes and noted that the year might be "hyperactive."

Now comes a humbling moment for prognosticators: Those predictions were wrong.

Although the season doesn't end officially until Nov. 30, the peak time has passed, and meteorologists concede that its totals will almost certainly fall far short of the dire predictions issued as the summer began. In fact, the year's storm totals probably will not even reach the averages of the past 10 years.

"I think everyone agreed it was going to be an active season, but we were all wrong," said Philip Klotzbach, co-author of well-known predictions issued by a Colorado State University team.

He began a recent presentation with a rueful quotation from 19th-century mathematician Francois Arago: "Never, no matter what may be the progress of science, will honest scientific men who have regard for their reputations venture to predict the weather."

"Anyone who makes forecasts about the weather gets picked on all the time," Klotzbach said. "There's an art to it."

The NOAA forecast at the beginning of the season called for eight to 10 hurricanes, but so far there have been five. It said there would be four to six "major" hurricanes -- that is, Category 3, 4, or 5 strength -- but so far there have been only two.

The forecast from the Colorado State team was in general agreement with NOAA's predictions. But it went further and offered that there was a 95 percent chance of a hurricane making landfall in the United States.

None did, however, making the year seem especially quiet in the portion of the country known as Hurricane Alley.

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