In the weeks since Hurricane Barry (or Tropical Storm Barry), whichever you prefer, there’s been a lot of talk about the forecast models and the media reporting before and during the storm. Most media outlets predicted a pretty grim outlook when it came to the storm’s impact – particularly the rainfall and flooding components. And of course, it turns out the storm didn’t dump the cataclysmic rain totals on Louisiana. I knew it stopped being an issue when the local channels broke from coverage to start showing sports and game shows. But other outlets hung on, I guess mainly because they’d flown people in and had to make sure they got the live action shots of the reporters risking their lives. The overall situation led me to ask the following: will Gulf Coast residents listen to the next tropical storm forecast?
According to some, the meteorologists blew it. Some however, explain the forecast vs. actual storm impact by using a lot of complicated weather-speak to explain what happened. And others, like Marshall Shepherd, took a look back at the successes (and failures), in the forecasting in an effort to help improve for the next storm event. I commend him and others for their honest look back at how they can improve forecasting and communicating with the public.
It’s easy to sit back and say storm forecasting is an inexact science. I mean, it is, simply because weather is by nature (see what I did there?) inherently dynamic and chaotic. We also shouldn’t forget that no single chain of events in life is 100% predictable. So yeah, let’s make fun of the weather people for how many times they say “hunker down”.
But let’s focus on what’s most important.
For one thing, let’s not forget there were plenty of areas along the Gulf Coast that were hit pretty hard. Real damage occurred, and many lives were impacted. So I’d suggest we remain mindful of that. And let’s also give thanks that the storm didn’t live up to the forecast strength and severity.
And if you ran out and stocked up on storm supplies, hopefully you’re still ready for next time. Think of it as a fire drill.
My concern though, is the perception that the forecasters “got it all wrong”, and so many Gulf Coast residents will use that as an excuse for not taking the next storm seriously. And the next tropical storm may bring the wind, rain, and flooding we missed this time. I hope I’m wrong, but I’ve seen it happen.
Let’s not get too complacent – there’s still a lot of hurricane season left.