Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Weather Witches Hit a Home Run

We told ya so,
We told ya so!

The Weather Bureau has access to all kinds of data, from satellite photos to ocean temperatures to computer models. But in recent years their long-range predictions of hurricane activity have been wrong as often as they have been right. Years ago farmers, fishermen, and just plain people who spent much of their time outdoors would develop an intuition about the weather, which often worked its way into local folklore.

Earlier this year we tried an experiment to see how the predictions of the "weather witches" would hold up, compared to the forecast of the experts.

We took a non-scientific poll of old timers, both male and female. There are some that will say the number of hurricanes is related to the relative abundance of land crabs. Others will say it has to do with the migration of land turtles across the road (from Ocean to Gulf, mind you), or the temperature of near-shore waters. And there are others who just seem to have an inchoate sense of knowing.

So here is this year's prediction: there will be two strong storms, both of which will probably miss us. Conditions will be reminiscent of 1979, when Hurricanes David and Frederic threatened the Keys, but passed us by.
Now that the 2008 hurricane season is (we hope) basically over, let's see how they did. Yes, two strong storms did threaten the Florida Keys this year, Gustav in August and Ike in September, and they both missed us. (Now, what happened with Ike in Cuba and Texas is a different story.) Hurricane Fay did pass right over Key West, but it was a dud. Last week's freak rainstorm did more damage than any of this year's hurricanes.

So what's the conclusion? Well, obviously sometimes the experts are wrong, and Aunt Gabby is right. "The Ark was built by amateurs," she would say. "The Titanic was built by experts." Now if we could just apply the same principles to the stock market, or the real estate market, for example....stay tuned.

PS: The original prediction, made in June 2008, is here.

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