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Cloudy with a Chance of Disaster

tl;dr: "incorrect" short-term predictions do not negate long-term accuracy

Hurricane Fiona, a very mild Category 1 storm, made contact with Puerto Rico early Sunday morning. This is only the sixth named storm of the season, and we only have about a month and a half left to go. 2022 is a La Niña year, which means that combined with global warming, we were supposed to have a much more active tropical storm season. It is rather unusual that we are only at F in the naming convention in the middle of September. Perhaps all of this gloom and doom is blown way out of proportion, right? I mean, the scientists got it all wrong! This is all a bunch of malarkey.

Well, if it were only that simple. It's possible that we have been spared this year by...dust. Saharan dust, to be specific. See, almost all hurricanes are born in Africa. West Africa, to be specific. The Cape Verde Islands if you want to get really nerdy about it. Why there? Well, it seems that this location is the Netflix and Chill equivalent to baby hurricane making because of two things, hot water temps and air coming over it. The dust from the Sahara Desert comes blowing in from the east and it does two things that suppress tropical storms. The first thing it does is lower the ocean temperature. This prevents more moisture from entering the atmosphere. The second thing dust does is dry out the air even more than normal, which means that far more moisture would need to accumulate in the atmosphere to get to the humidity levels necessary for storms to form. If that does happen, then wind shear takes over, and you get some nice thunderstorms rolling across the Atlantic. This trip across the ocean allows more moisture to feed the storm and it gains size and momentum. We're not going to get super meteorological on you, so all you really need to know about wind shear is that it is different speeds and directions over a small space. Wind shear can be horizontal, but the vertical one is what really makes a difference in whether or not a depression can become a named hurricane.

There aren't many topics that get more derision about their accuracy than weather forecasting. Countless times a day, someone throughout the world is thinking that the easiest job on the planet is being a weatherperson, because you don't even need to be right the majority of the time. I mean, who the hell gets paid lots of money to fail more than they get it right? Surely weather people are just incompetent people, the science is crap, and this year being a light one for hurricanes is just proof of that. Name one other profession where you can be this wrong and still get paid the big bucks. Well, I'll name you one.

Professional athletes are some of the most glorified and beloved people on the planet. The greatest hitter in baseball history gets on base way less than fifty per cent of the time. In fact, the current average success rate of all baseball players in MLB getting a hit when at bat is 25%. The average salary to fail 75% of the time? About four and a half million dollars. If a player has a bad year, do we wonder why they are even playing the sport? Well, sadly, for some fans, the answer is actually yes. Thankfully. the majority of people understand that they aren't going to get it right all the time.

What is this irrational demand for borderline perfection when it comes to climate forecasting? Does one missed prediction negate the overall trend? No, it doesn't and it shouldn't. The evidence is overwhelming that tropical storms will increase in frequency and ferocity. There is no reason to dispel long-term trends because one year isn't as bad as we thought it would be. In reality, we should be breathing a sigh of relief that we are so fortunate in the US to not have storm after storm batter our country. If we can have a year with no storms being a Category 4 or higher, it's a huge win for everyone. Anyone who has directly experienced a severe hurricane knows that it is far from a fun experience and never again might be too soon. Just from 2016-2021, tropical storms have cost the US economy over half a trillion dollars. That's a lot of expense for something that isn't a thing, right?

Instead of relief, we get scepticism about the forecast. Let's ignore the facts that there has been an unquestioned uptick in activity, that storms are getting stronger and larger, and that the ENSO ( El Niño Southern Oscillation) cycles are completely disrupted. The stark reality is that hurricanes need warm water to develop. It is also undisputed that ocean temperatures are rising. So, yeah, the weather forecast is most definitely cloudy with a chance of disaster, and just because we are blessed with a relatively mild season this year doesn't mean that the overall forecast is wrong. We can either be preparing for this or dismissing it because the timing was off. To finish this with a sportsball analogy, an off year doesn't mean that you give up being a fan of your team. Just ask Red Sox fans, Cubs fans, and current Cleveland Browns fans about belief. If only we were this ardent in our support of climate change experts.

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