Will those hurricane forecasters ever get it right again? The 2007 hurricane season has wound down, and for the second year in a row, hurricane forecasters have come up short--or should I say long. Once again, they all predicted an above-average season, got all of us worked up with the memories of failed urban evacuations, floating corpses and flattened cities from 2004 and 2005. And once again, that didn't exactly happen, now did it?
But honestly, this is a good thing. Bad forecasts still have the desired effect of accurate ones. They alert the business community and the general public that, oh, by the way, your life might be turned upside down and shook a few times this year. Yes, beyond the hype and the nerdy stardom, hurricane forecasters seem to truly have altruistic motives behind their efforts. And we, the people, need them.
Most Americans have ADHD--Accidents Don't Happen to me Disorder, a combination of self-delusion, shortsightedness and shorter memories.
As bad as Katrina was, since 2005, it's been buried under headlines about Iraq, Iran, global warming, the upcoming presidential election, C-list celebrity dancing, which starlet is getting too skinny, which one is doing too many drugs, and which one is getting too fat during pregnancy, and, most importantly of all, football.
Coastal ADHD sufferers are the worst. They need these forecasts to knock sense into them about impending doom, so they can get their escape plan in order and re-examine their homeowners policies. (Am I being too optimistic here?) In the very broadest sense, the forecasts also act like an annual psychological check on their love for their homes--and a reminder that living by the sea comes with taxes that Mother Nature collects every once in a while. (And, no, your Republican congressperson cannot have this tax repealed.)
Even when inaccurate, seasonal hurricane forecasts can do companies a service too. They give risk managers an excuse to review (or create) their disaster preparedness plan, perhaps even run drills or tabletop exercises to test it, and reconsider their property, business interruption and other coverages.
Sure, skewy forecasts might cause undue expense in terms of mobilizing for a bad season that never materializes. And I've heard the conspiracy that forecasters and modelers are in cahoots with insurers, who use ominous predictions to jack up property insurance rates.
If rates happen to go up at your renewal because of predicted high hurricane activity, though, you have a few options: you could complain to the press, you could find ways to mitigate exposure and convince your carrier that you're a better risk--or you could move your business inland (preferably also not near a fault).
Relocate your headquarters, warehouses, IT centers and any other transportable facility inwards, and I guarantee your property rates will get all mushy with the rest of the soft market. Plus, your move will encourage your ADHD-impaired employees to desert the beaches for greener pastures, which means safer, less developed shorelines for us all.
Why bother, you ask? Those hurricane forecasters probably won't ever get it right again. Well, chances are they will. They are not as hapless as they lately seem. From 1984 to 2006, Dr. William Gray's most famous of forecaster teams out of Colorado State University predicted the number of total named storms within two of the actual final tally in 13 out of the 23 years.
That's a .565 average. Much higher than the .363 that won Magglio Ordonez the MLB batting title this year. And Ordonez didn't even have to deal with La Niña, or African dust clouds and dry air settling over the Atlantic.
So should the scientists keep pumping out the forecasts? Yes. Should we always listen? At least at halftime, if you're done reading People.
MATTHEW BRODSKY is Web editor/senior editor at Risk & Insurance®.
(Read Erin Gazica?s Counterpoint, "Hurricane Forecasts: A Dismal Science.")
December 1, 2007
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