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Q&A: Could this year's quiet hurricane season be start of a trend?

Hurricane Dennis swirls over the gulf in 2005, an active season following the year Florida was hit by a record four hurricanes.

Getty Images (2005)

Hurricane Dennis swirls over the gulf in 2005, an active season following the year Florida was hit by a record four hurricanes.

The 2013 hurricane season has not lived up to predictions.

With only four weeks left, it will probably go down as the slowest season since 1982.

What happened? Are we entering a slowdown in hurricane activity?

We talked with one of the country's top hurricane experts, Chris Landsea, science and operations officer at the National Hurricane Center.

Why so slow this year?

We're good at explaining things after the fact.

What we saw this hurricane season was more wind shear tearing apart storms, coupled with drier, more stable atmosphere — stable meaning it's hard to get thunderstorms.

And so the combination made for a very quiet hurricane season, one of the quietest on record, as it turned out.

What did this season teach us about seasonal forecasts?

To me, it highlights that these seasonal forecasts — while being interesting and in the right ballpark most years — fail some years.

I think we'll be able to add this to our understanding, and if we can see if there are any signs that we missed back in May and June and July … maybe that will help us for upcoming hurricane seasons to make a better prediction.

Right now, I'm not sure in retrospect if we really missed anything that would have tipped us off that it would have been quiet.

As a forecaster, do you worry that errors in the seasonal forecast will affect public trust?

I would hope that the public realizes that there's a big difference between the seasonal outlooks, that don't say anything about landfall, versus the day-to-day predictions that we make when there is an active hurricane out there and we're predicting the track and the winds and the size of the storm.

Those are very different products, and I think we do a very good job of predicting where the storm is going to go once it forms. … Any time you make a bad forecast, people are going to be questioning the credibility of the next one. But I think our overall track record for forecasting tracks, and how strong they're going to be, is very good.

This seasonal outlook is a bit indirectly related to all of that. Our main mission is just day-to-day forecasting: what's going to happen over the next few days.

The seasonal outlook is something we are co-authors on, but it's really not our main mission here at the National Hurricane Center.

Since the early 1990s we have been in an active phase of hurricane development. Could this season portend a long-term slowdown in hurricane activity?

It might. It's tough to make these longer-term predictions when we even mess up the seasonal forecast, so it's plausible that this could signal the advent of a long quiet period.

We don't know. Ask me again in five years and I'll definitely be able to tell you.

But at this point, it's unknown whether we'll slip back to the busy period or whether this really is the start of a prolonged quiet period.

Your personal feelings about the 2013 season?

As a lifelong Floridian, I'm very happy about no Florida hurricanes this year. We did have one tropical storm with Andrea, and the season's not quite over. So I'm a little disappointed as a forecaster we didn't see this coming, but as a resident I'm very happy about it.

Q&A: Could this year's quiet hurricane season be start of a trend? 11/04/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 5, 2013 10:39pm]
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