Gauging the 2011 Hurricane Season


Now is Not the Time to Relax

The July issue seems like a good time to introduce Seaworthy's "Relax-o-Meter," which is a contrarian technique that can be used to predict hurricane activity. Rather than relying on measurements of rainfall in sub-Saharan Africa or the whereabouts of El NiƱo, the recently developed technique tries to gauge how relaxed people are prior to hurricane season; if they're too relaxed, the possibility of a hurricane coming ashore increases.

Skeptical? Consider that after a long string of quiet hurricane seasons, 1994 was also predicted to be "below average" with only three hurricanes. The absence of storms meant that the Relax-o-meter had fallen to 1 ("Barely a pulse"). One of the hurricanes turned out to be Andrew, which at the time was the costliest hurricane in U.S. history! Remember the 2006 hurricane season? Everyone was still reeling from the disastrous 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons.

The Relax-o-meter was at 10 ("We're moving to Canada") and nothing much happened. Incidentally, the Relax-o-meter is the brainchild of Seaworthy editors, which means none of this involves much math.

To understand what the meter is saying about the 2011 hurricane season, you have to start with the dire predictions for 2010. People on the East and Gulf Coasts had been bracing for a "very active" season (Relax-o-meter jumped to 8) when a bit of meteorological good luck — a displacement of the Bermuda high coupled with a persistent trough of low pressure in the upper atmosphere — combined to push all 12 hurricanes out to sea. Once again, the meter's accuracy was uncanny! It means, however, that a major hurricane hasn't come ashore in the U.S. since Ike in 2008 — almost three years ago. People with short memories have started to relax.

Uh-oh!

Seaworthy contacted Steve Letro, the meteorologist in charge of the National Weather Service in Jacksonville, Florida. Steve doubts that the same favorable conditions that kept storms offshore last year will be repeated two years in a row. In the meantime, Dr. William Gray and Philip Klozbach, the well-regarded hurricane prognosticators at Colorado State University, are predicting a "well above average" number of hurricanes in the upcoming season with 16 named storms and nine hurricanes. If their prediction is correct, and their predictions are at least always close, this could be among the most active hurricane seasons ever.

Hopefully, that makes Seaworthy readers — you! — nervous enough to go to www.BoatUS.com/Seaworthy/hurricane and start reading up on hurricane prep.