Earl's Failed Forecast Mirrors Global Warming Predictions
Published September 10th, 2010 on Pajamas Media
By Meteorologist Art Horn
The forecast of how hurricane Earl would affect the northeastern United States this past Labor Day weekend was so bad it left many shaking their heads, not from the wind but from disbelief. Many business gearing up for a profitable end of summer weekend in a recession economy were devastated. It wasn’t the hurricane that did the damage, it was the inaccurate predictions from the National Hurricane Center. From Cape Cod Massachusetts to the coast of New Hampshire and Maine thousands of would be vacationers cancelled their hotel reservations. Hurricane warnings were issued for Cape Cod, Tropical Storm warnings were posted as far north as the coast of Maine. Reacting to these predictions the local television stations sprung into action warning that mighty Earl was on the way! Reporters were stationed along the beaches from New York to Maine waiting for the big blow that never came. Amtrack cancelled train service from New York to Boston. Continental airlines cancelled 60 flights. All for a storm that basically never happened. The strongest sustained wind on Nantucket Island Massachusetts was 41 miles per hour, just above tropical storm strength of 39 miles per hour. The peak wind gust was 54 miles per hour on the Island, far short of the minimum hurricane force of 74 miles per hour. Rainfall totals were 2 to 4 inches. In a part of the country that is accustomed to dealing with Nor’ Easters this was just another windy, rainy Friday night. By Saturday morning Earl was gone and so were the profits for hotels and restaurants across southern and eastern New England.
How could the forecasts be so far off? It’s possible the National Hurricane Center in Miami is guilty of over warning. Remember Y-2K, West Nile virus and the Bird Flu scare of last winter? All brought to you by various branches of our government. Is there a systemic process in government that tends to blow events and potential events out of proportion? Could the same be true of dire predictions from NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and other government funded organizations and research facilities relating to global warming? NOAA claims there has been rapid warming of the earth over the last 50 years. The global temperature data show that the earth’s temperature was falling from 1960 to 1975. The temperature then went up from 1976 to 1998. There has been no warming since 1998. There has only been a 22 year warming period in the last 50 years. This is not consistent with “rapid warming” as claimed by NOAA and other government funded research facilities, colleges and universities. Half of the “global warming” that has occurred in the last 150 years was from 1910 to 1945 when the warming was natural. Is this another example of over warning?
The Hurricane Center did accurately predict the path of the hurricane as it passed south of New England. It was forecast to pass south of Nantucket Island Friday night as it was weakening to a less potent Tropical Storm (maximum sustained winds of 39 to 73 miles per hour). So if they got the storm track right why were the other parts of the forecast so bad?
The winds of a hurricane blow counter clockwise in the northern hemisphere. The strongest winds of a hurricane are to the right of the center of the storm, the eye. The reason for this is because on the right hand side of the storm the forward motion of the hurricane and the winds around the center are generally in the same direction. As a result the speed of the forward motion and the winds in the storm itself add together making the winds stronger on the right hand side. The opposite effect is realized on the left hand side of the storm. As Earl was moving to the Northeast the wind on the north side of the storm was blowing opposite to the storms forward motion. This has the effect of reducing the winds on the left hand side. Long Island New York, Coastal Connecticut and Rhode Island, Cape Cod and the Islands, Coastal New Hampshire and Maine were accurately predicted to be on the weaker side of Earl. In spite of this Tropical Storm warnings (meaning tropical storm forces winds of 39 to 73 miles per hour) would hit Coastal New Hampshire and Maine as Earl passed well to the south Friday night September the 3rd and into the morning of the 4th. Some hotels at Old Orchard Beach Maine lost 80 percent of their reservations when vacationers heard the scary forecasts. Saturday, Sunday and Labor Day Monday’s weather was spectacular on the coast of Maine but many vacationers weren’t there to enjoy it.
I was a television meteorologist for 25 years, 7 of them working at the NBC station in West Palm Beach Florida. I hosted and produced a dozen one hour hurricane preparedness programs while there in South Florida. I worked closely with the National Hurricane Center. I have always had a keen interest in the greatest storms on earth. Today I am an independent Meteorologist. I was monitoring the forecasts from the National Hurricane Center when Earl was coming across the Atlantic. As hurricane Earl approached New England one nagging aspect of the predictions from the Hurricane Center was the overly broad area of tropical storm force winds being predicted.
The Hurricane Center has a large number of dynamical and statistical computer models that they use to help them predict tropical storms and hurricanes. The forecasts they get from these models can have a fairly wide range of solutions both for the track of the storm and its strength. It was a consensus of these various models and the experience of the forecasters themselves that the Hurricane Center based its forecasts for Earl. Concurrently I was monitoring the forecasts of the GFS (Global Forecasting System) model that is produced and distributed over the internet 4 times a day from NOAA. The GFS is not a hurricane model. It was not developed to specifically predict the movement and behavior of Hurricanes as many of the models at the Hurricane Center are. However I have found through the years that the GFS does a credible job at forecasting the track and strength of hurricanes.
As Hurricane Earl was 1,200 miles southeast of Cape Hatteras North Carolina the storm was getting stronger. The maximum sustained winds would reach 140 miles per hour by Wednesday night the first of September. Even this far from New England the GFS model was predicting that the strongest winds of a weakening Earl would be restricted to Cape Cod and the Islands Friday night and early Saturday morning. There was never any forecast that indicated strong winds of tropical storm strength would blow anywhere near coastal New Hampshire or Maine. As Earl moved closer each successive forecast from the GFS continued to indicate no strong winds at all across southern Connecticut, Rhode Island, Northeastern Massachusetts, New Hampshire or Maine. In fact I called my sister who lives in coastal southeastern Rhode Island to tell her not to worry about the storm. I assured her there would be no damaging winds or significant impact from Earl. I talked to a friend who owns a marina in Groton, Connecticut and assured him that his marina would suffer little or no impact from Earl. Interestingly in Maine the Portland Yacht Club, reacting to the Hurricane Centers advisories pulled some 100 boats from the water to prepare for the “tropical storm force winds” predicted for the coastal waters Friday night and early Saturday morning. The winds never happened but boat owners looking to enjoy time on the water during the holiday weekend were certainly impacted. Many costal restaurants, shop keepers, tourist related businesses and hotels also suffered the impacts of the storm that never happened. All at a time when many are struggling just to stay alive.
Over warning by the Hurricane center may help to protect them from lawsuits should deviations in their forecasts occur. However causing business to close and lose money when there were strong indications that tropical storm conditions would not strike is not good forecasting or good policy. Our government is also warning us about future dangerous impacts from global warming some 50 to 100 years in the future. Perhaps we can put these global warming predictions into a more reasonable perspective with our governments inability to predict storms only days and hours away.