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Florida faces hectic hurricane season. Can science say who will get hit in coming months?

Alex Harris, Miami Herald on

Published in Weather News

MIAMI — The bottom line of every preseason hurricane forecast this spring has been sobering, even a little scary. Meteorologists and their computer models all agree that it’s going to be a super busy and perhaps record-breaking season — and that with so many expected storms, it’s very likely that somebody, somewhere is going to get smacked this year.

But exactly who and where?

That’s been a question many scientists have long considered impossible to answer months ahead of any storm forming.

But an increasing number of experts are starting to take a crack at it. This year, for instance both AccuWeather and Colorado State University included landfall chances in their advance forecasts for hurricane season 2024, which officially starts on Monday and runs through November.

Their odds will only add to Florida’s seasonal hurricane anxiety: CSU, for instance, predicts a near-lock that the state will be impacted somewhere by a tropical system and a roughly one-in-three chance that South Florida will see a hurricane. Accuweather predicts four to six direct hits somewhere along the United States coastline this season.

Meteorologists stress considerable uncertainty remains in such long-range forecasts but that they also reflect a sign of evolving science and constantly improving understanding of tropical weather systems.

 

“No matter how bananas the hurricane season, the odds of any one spot getting hit are low,” said Philip Klotzbach, a meteorologist and researcher who oversees the closely watched Colorado State University forecasts. “But when you have an environment as amped up as it is in 2024, the odds of it being a quiet season for everybody are extremely low.”

Looking to past to predict the future

There are lots of reasons why forecasting landfalls is much more daunting than seasonal numbers. The global forces that brew up storms, such as hot Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico temperatures, can be measured and tend to change slowly. But many of the forces that steer them can be regional and mercurial, such as weather fronts sweeping across the Southeast United States that can push storms back out to sea. That’s why the National Hurricane Center predicts storm tracks out only five days — and even those increasingly accurate plots can shift in the last days or hours before landfall. There are plenty of recent examples.

Two years ago, Hurricane Ian’s eye shifted about 80 miles south in the last day, barreling into Fort Myers Beach and becoming one of the deadliest storms in Florida history, killing 149 people. Two decades ago in 2004, Hurricane Charley had been forecast to swamp downtown Tampa but also jogged east on the last day, slamming into Port Charlotte some 100 miles south.

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