Q&A – Accuracy Of Hurricane Projections & Sharpie Gate

Today’s entry - I'm watching all the lambasting of President Trump's weather forecast, thought occurs to me that most of the time weatherman/women's forecasts are wrong, for example, Dorians forecasts in the early stages were for the storm to cross Fla. And track into the gulf. I guess they forgot about that. They were just as surprised by what it did to the Bahamas as everyone else, I guess the spaghetti models missed that one but nobody's talking about that.

Bottom Line: The biggest issue with forecast projections from the National Hurricane Center, in my humble, yet informed opinion is that people see what they want to see. When you have a storm as significant as Dorian, that at some point showed the entire state of Florida potentially in harm’s way if you want to find a certain angle you can. That’s the starting point for the nonsense that became Sharpie gate in which President Trump made the statement that Alabama could be in harm’s way from Dorian and a printed NHC map seemed to have a Sharpie cone extending off of one of the forecasted cones to include southern Alabama in it. So, what about the Alabama prediction? 

It’s true that for a near two-day stretch prior to Dorian having stalled in the Bahamas, much of the modeling suggested that Dorian would enter central Florida and turn north impacting Alabama, in addition to Georgia. In fact, about half of those models showed Dorian entering the Gulf and making a second landfall around Alabama or Mississippi. Sharpie or no Sharpie, President Trump was correct in suggesting Alabama faced a potential threat. Now, here’s the thing. I couldn’t care less about Sharpie gate. I find it unfortunate that President Trump decided to take on the news media regarding this issue. It’s one thing when people aren’t impacted by a storm but it’s so clearly unimportant with the realities that so many face especially in the Bahamas from Dorian. Many in the news media will find some issue to hammer the President about if it hadn’t been Dorian projections, it would have been something else. No need to take the bait in my view. This takes us to the final bigger point. 

I mentioned that we see what we want to see. That often means not paying attention to what the National Hurricane Center’s guidance is. The five-day cone contains an average margin of error of 210 miles. Here’s what that means. If you travel across the state from Fort Lauderdale to Naples, it’s 108 miles. That means that the Hurricane Center’s five-day cone was saying that the margin of error could essentially be as extensive as making a round trip across the state in South Florida. We’re all just inclined to see what we prefer to see, which generally is focused on the center projections at any given time and that evidently included President Trump. That makes him normal in this regard but there are bigger fish to fry. Clearly the federal response wasn’t slowed to the Bahamas as the US Coast Guard was in place immediately carrying out rescue and relief in the Bahamas after Dorian moved on. 

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Photo by: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

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