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Busted: Cristobal’s hurricane-hyped 2,500 mile track error

Hurricane Katrina approaches the northern Gulf coast on August 28, 2005. (NASA)

Early last week, an ominous forecast was making the rounds: that a monster hurricane, Cristobal, was going to hit the Gulf Coast on the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s landfall. Not only did this hurricane-hyped forecast go viral on social media, it also got picked up by Drudge Report, which has millions of visitors per day.

Fortunately that forecast didn’t pan out. In fact, with a 2,500 mile error, one could say it busted pretty hard.

Today marks the nine year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s landfall on the Gulf Coast, and Cristobal not only stayed far offshore here in the U.S. over the past week, but is now no longer a hurricane.

Here was the location of Cristobal on Friday morning:

Location of Post-Tropical Cyclone Cristobal on Friday morning (red "x"). (NHC)
Location of Post-Tropical Cyclone Cristobal on Friday morning (red “x”). (NHC)

CWG’s Ian Livingston helps us out with a little Google Earth action:

Needless to say, this turned out to be a pretty big difference, and serves as a great reminder of the massive grain of salt one needs to take with the track forecast for a hurricane that hasn’t even developed yet. Without a fully formed tropical cyclone for initialization, the track forecasting skill of weather models is incredibly low.

We think the National Hurricane Center put it best:

Nearly every disturbance poses some potential to become a dangerous hurricane. … The bottom line really is: be alert, be prepared, but also be wary of long-range projections that go beyond what the science can offer. And make the NOAA National Hurricane Center your calm, clear, and trusted source for official forecast and warning information on tropical cyclones.

(Story hat tip: Mike Smith, Meteorological Musings)

Angela Fritz is an atmospheric scientist and The Post's deputy weather editor.
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Jason Samenow and Angela Fritz · August 29, 2014

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