Researchers suggest that weather forecasts should be more consumer-friendly
Thursday, February 13, 2014

Weather forecasts can and should be made more consumer-friendly.

That’s one of the suggestions researchers made in a recent article about predictions of seasonal North Atlantic hurricanes.

Gabriel A. Vecchi of the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory and Gabriele Villarini of IIHR-Hydroscience & Engineering at the University of Iowa made their comments in an article, “Next Season’s Hurricanes,” published in the Feb. 7 issue of the journal Science.

Noting that climate is chaotic and all climate predictions are “inherently probabilistic,” they write: “At the least, users of predictions should demand—and be capable of using—information about past prediction performance and expected uncertainty.”

“The focus of seasonal hurricane predictions needs to move beyond looking at the ‘most likely’ values for a season, toward a more explicit assessment of the odds that should be placed on various possible outcomes—including low probability outcomes, which are always possible,” says Vecchi.

The researchers also note that while hurricane (also known as tropical cyclone or TC) predictions currently are used for conducting disaster evacuations and making insurance risk estimates, they have wider potential application.

They write, “Improved skill and regional specificity of seasonal TC prediction could be useful to water resource, emergency, and energy management efforts. Furthermore, a better ability to forecast seasonal hurricanes can help build a more robust understanding of the ways in which climate controls hurricane activity, perhaps leading to increased confidence in multi-decadal hurricane projections.”

“Now is the time to push our prediction systems from basin-wide to a more regional scale,” Villarini says. “This in turn will provide information that potentially can be used to examine hurricane impacts, such as heavy rainfall and flooding. This is key if we want to improve our readiness and preparedness against these events.”

The article notes that the 2013 season—which was widely predicted to hold above-average activity, but resulted in one of the lowest-recorded incidences of hurricanes—was both humbling and an opportunity to improve the science of hurricane and climate prediction.

“Although we have focused on seasonal hurricane predictions,” they write, “the issues we raise—prediction verification, learning from failed predictions, and correctly describing and communicating uncertainty—apply to all efforts to predict climate and its impacts.”