Don't Be Mad at the Weather Man Because Irene Fizzled

So Hurricane Irene was a major letdown to some people. Why did that weather dude make you evacuate, anyway?

Here's why you should give him a break: It's impossible, even with all of the fancy technology at their disposal in this day and age, for meteorologists to precisely predict what a hurricane will do. Mainly that's because there's no gadget that can survive being inside the most intense part of a hurricane to take measurements.

Some instruments, like a dropsonde, CAN go inside of a hurricane. Scientists describe it as a "Pringles can with microprocessors and parachutes." They drop it from an aircraft into a hurricane to take readings on humidity, barometric pressure, and Doppler shift. The device sends the information back to a the aircraft—but it does so from 10,000 feet, too high to get readings on the most intense part of the storm.

"There's some internal dynamics of the storm that we don't completely understand," Todd Kimberlain, a hurricane specialist at the National Hurricane Center in Miami, told the New York Times.

One theory as to why Irene pooped out is because the storm may not have completed a typical hurricane cycle, Kimberlain said. That's when the inside band of spinning clouds, or the "inner eye wall," dissipates and is replaced by a contracting outer band, which makes the storm more intense. Or, Irene may have passed over Atlantic waters that were shallower and cooler than expected—a hurricane needs deep warm water to get vicious.

Meteorologists are good, however, at predicting the path of a hurricane—they knew Manhattan would get hit, they just didn't know how hard. And because Irene was relatively huge, extremely slow-moving, and headed for dense populations, forecasters had every reason to believe the damage could be tremendous.

Still not convinced to give the weather dudes a break? Think of it this way: you're not as bad off as folks in Houston in 2005. Officials ordered evacuations, and Rita completely missed the city. Plus, you would have been more than irritated if your windows got blown out and you were still home because no one called an evacuation. Oh, and if you're mad at us, or the media in general for over-reporting the story? According to this numbers-heavy New York Times analysis, the coverage matched the severity of the storm in comparison to previous hurricanes.

And don't worry, forecasting will only get better with new satellites coming online and increased super computing power - unless budget cuts put all that on hold.

[The New York Times]


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