Friday, May 29, 2009

BRACE YOURSELVES! 2009 Hurricane Season Starts June 1. (2009 Hurricane Hype Already Active.)

Disclaimer: The snarky sub-head is in no way meant to diminish the danger of tropical systems. If nothing else, being prepared early saves money and time if you find yourself in the crosshairs of a Katrina, Wilma or just a [yawn] Erin (the cute little cat one that somehow still managed to condemn my apartment in 1995). So go ahead and cut your plywood, fill the water jugs and stock up on double D batteries for the radio (or any other appliances you and the old lady might find handy if you’re locked in doors for a couple weeks without power). Then sit back and watch the tidal surge of SCARY HYPE spew forth from talking heads on every network from The Weather Channel to TMZ as they try to predict the most unpredictable weather systems on the planet.

Of course, these days, we don’t have ‘psychic friend networks’ – we have psychic friend ‘experts.’ Plural. Once the sole domain of Dr. William Gray’s climate team at Colorado State, it seems everyone wants a piece of the tropical season prediction biz: Accuweather, (13 named storms and eight hurricanes), WSI Corp (13 named storms, seven hurricanes) and the Weather Research Center (seven named storms, four hurricanes). Even NOAA – those noble scientific stewards that once only discussed a storm’s future in the vaguest of details (aka what it MIGHT do within hundreds of miles over the next 12 to 120 hours) has decided to go all Nostradamus on us, unveiling their own long term forecast. (Their call? Fourteen named storms, 4 to 7 becoming hurricanes, 1 to 3 of which will be major Cat 3s or more. )

Nevermind, that all the services pull from the same data and global patterns that CSU does. (Which explains why they all sound so similar.) Or that even after two decades, Gray’s team almost always gets it wrong. (2005 had 28 tropical and subtropical storms; they predicted 15.) Or that not one of these tropical tarot-readers saw that the first depression of 2009 would develop on May 27 around noon. (The type of specific info that might be useful for more than driving ratings and Home Depot sales.) If you print some hurricane hype (tip: use the phrase ‘period of heightened activity’), they will come.

So, since everyone else is doing it, here’s what’s swirling inside my 2009 Tropical Crystal Ball:

1. 88% of the swells won’t live up to their hype.
2. Every surf media outlet will use the headline “Happy Hollow-Days” at least once.
3. TWC’s Jim Cantore will continue his Gollum-like, physical transformation into CBS’s Paul Shaffer.
4. Somebody in the Mid-Atlantic’s gonna get creamed

I’m dead serious about the last one. How do I know? Like everyone else: a little voodoo, a little science – my broken wrist is starting to ache – and a touch of past experience. Last year saw barreling bounty like no season since 1995—arguably the best year ever for surf — when Felix did a two-week tango, kicking off a conga line of five storms in August alone, including a rare Fujiwara square dance by Humberto and Iris. One season later in 1996, Southern NC got smashed by Cat 2 Bertha and Cat 3 Fran within two months of each other. So, considering how sick the surf was in 2008, 2009’s corresponding beating must be somewhat solid.

Of course, I could be wrong. But as I said, better to be prepared than impaled by flying debris. And if we don’t get solid waves or an evacuation to keep you busy, guaranteed you’ll be entertained by all the weathermen getting blown away. Now that’s storm coverage you can trust.

While you’re staying glued to your fancy weather predicting machine, don’t just worry about the swell’s behavior, make sure you know what the storm’s doing, too. Two obvious picks: NOAA. (Every 12 hours, 5am and 5pm, they turn real data into a projected path). Shortly after, Dr. Jeff Masters Wunderblog will distill all that fancy scientific talk into clear, believable, terms.

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