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NOAA Releases 2009 Hurricane Outlook

By Ed O'Keefe

Government forecasters predict a near-normal Atlantic hurricane season, with one to three major storms reaching as high as category five strength and as many as 14 named tropical storms. Despite the predictions, administration officials warned Americans to prepare now for the 2009 season, which starts June 1.

"Today more than 157 million people live in coastal areas of the U.S. and some 35 million live in areas most threatened by Atlantic hurricanes. Having an accurate and advanced warning is vital for those in harm’s way," Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said at a news conference announcing the hurricane predictions. Locke was joined by NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco, FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate, National Hurricane Center Director Bill Read and other government and military officials.

The initial outlook calls for a 50 percent likelihood of a near-normal season, a 25 percent probability of an above-normal season and a 25 percent probability of a below-normal season. NOAA will issue a revised seasonal forecast in early August.

The government's traditional kick off to the hurricane season mostly served as a reminder about the need to develop emergency preparedness and evacuation plans.

"Think about it, our country literally spends hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars … to give you the best possible forecast," Fugate said.

Hurricanes will make landfall in the United States. Hurricanes will destroy homes. People need to heed the preparedness message and be ready to act," he said.

Officials took several questions regarding the government's own preparations for hurricanes. Fugate said his agency's performance will rely on the strength of its partnerships with state and local emergency response personnel.

Lubchenco said NOAA has what it needs to track this year's storms, but noted President Obama's proposed 2010 budget includes requests that would help forecasters better determine the intensity of tropical storms, building on their current ability to predict storm tracks.

"We can always make very good use of additional aircraft and additional instruments. It’s always a balancing act that we have the minimum that we need, understanding that more could always be put to good use," she said.

Officials also provided tours of government and military aircraft that fly into and around tropical storm systems and feed weather data back to the National Hurricane Center in Miami for storm analysis and forecasting.

Watch video of the event above (including Locke's verbal goof) and check back soon for the video of those aircraft tours. Also -- for the dirty weather details, check The Post's Capital Weather Gang blog.

By Ed O'Keefe  | May 21, 2009; 12:57 PM ET
Categories:  Agencies and Departments  
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Wow, that is some awesome analysis...basically coming out and saying it is a 50-50 shot...why do we pay these guys out of tax dollars??

You could pay a 6th grader to make similar assumptions, and they would generally work for gummi bears and a skateboard.

Posted by: netminder71 | May 21, 2009 2:23 PM | Report abuse

The ignorance that the comment below displays with regard to the challenges and uncertainties associated with modeling long-term weather patterns is astonishing.

Wow, that is some awesome analysis...basically coming out and saying it is a 50-50 shot...why do we pay these guys out of tax dollars??

You could pay a 6th grader to make similar assumptions, and they would generally work for gummi bears and a skateboard.

Posted by: oldguy2 | May 21, 2009 2:53 PM | Report abuse

The difficulty in forecasting hurricanes even a few months in advance is immense! What makes you think we can forecast the global climate 50 to 100 years from now?

They do it because they know few if any people today will be around to verify what they claim. Think about it!!!

Posted by: Jimbo77 | May 21, 2009 4:29 PM | Report abuse

Wow, I am amazed yet again. It seems as if some people just watch a movie and think that is how it is. Weather is not an exact science. Thing's happen. Storms get bigger, smaller, change direction, etc. Does it matter whether or not there is a 50/50 chance of the hurricane being worse than usual? The point of the matter is that everyone knows hurricane season begins June 1, everyone knows that Hurricanes make land fall each year, and yet people STILL DONT PREPARE! So, complain all you want about the millions in tax dollars going to waste, it is the taxpayers fault for not using the resource they are funding. While it may not be perfect, it does still provide warning for them. I also do not understand this forecasting in the future comment? Where did this come from? I have never seen a weather man say, "bundle up, its going to be cold in 50 years."

Posted by: capsfan55 | May 21, 2009 4:51 PM | Report abuse

NOAA is not trying to "forecast hurricanes." As I understand it, they look at overall patterns for winds, sea temperatures, and other factors that influence hurricane development (e.g. La Nina/El Nino events), compare the profile at this time of the year to representative years in the past, and use the results to estimate the overall incidence and intensity of tropical cyclones based on similarities to past hurricane seasons. It is not an exact science, which is why the level of confidence (50%) is relatively low. And I doubt that it's of much use to individuals; it's likely more valuable to governments and insurance companies, in trying to figure out what they may need to anticipate in terms of emergency planning, budgeting for cleanup, payments to displaced homeowners, etc. Unfortunately, this article provides little perspective on the value of such forecasts, which leaves the results open to misinterpretation and ridicule (by those who do not understand them).

This is also not related to long-term climatological modeling on a global scale, which is what the 50- or 100-year models attempt to predict. Comparing hurricane season estimates to predicting climate change is like comparing apples to snowballs.

Posted by: oldguy2 | May 21, 2009 5:14 PM | Report abuse

What's the deal? NOAA spends $18.6M to help a few fisherman in New England but only $13M on hurricanes that affect millions of people along our coasts? Seems like NOAA needs to re-prioritize.

Posted by: Postde-subscriber | May 21, 2009 8:54 PM | Report abuse

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