It’s the end of summer and as is typically the case along the Gulf Coast the conversation turns to the tropics as we approach the peak of hurricane season. Timelines are filled with images of weather models, anxiety builds, and everyone becomes an expert. The information age hasn’t just brought an overwhelming amount of information it has also brought on plenty of misinformation. So as we wrap up August and head into September here’s some tips and tricks to make sure you’re appropriately prepared and informed without being panicked and confused.
How To Follow a Forecast
Tropical systems rarely come out of nowhere, while they can certainly intensify quickly you usually have a few days to see it coming. In the course of those days, however, there can be a lot of changes to a forecast. Shifts in the forecast track and intensity can be common, especially with certain storms, and with model runs coming in every six or so hours it can be hard to trust one forecast from another. That’s why it becomes important not to latch on to a single model run, image, or even tweet and assume it’s set in stone. Instead look for trends in the forecast, have you noticed a slight shift west, or a few forecasts that show strengthening or weakening. Paying attention to trends will tell you much more about the direction/intensity of a storm then one single model image.
Not All Models Are Equal
Meteorologists look at models all day, they post images of models, write about models, wait for new models runs, they are an important part of forecasting. Where meteorologists (myself included) struggle is sometimes communicating what all of this means. “Model” has become a catch all term that gets tossed around a lot but the word itself has a lot of ambiguity surrounding it. In fact there is not just “a model” out there that we look at and it magically gives us a forecast. There are many models that can be used to help forecast, some are better then others, and all will specialize in different aspects of weather.Think of the famous spaghetti charts most of us are familiar with, a picture with lines scribbled all over it. Each one of those lines represent a different model solution for that one storm, so you can see the variety and number of models that are being used.
It’s important to keep this in mind when you’re shown a single picture of a Category 5 storm hitting Vermilion Bay, that might just be the solution of one out of several models. These single model images can be misleading especially when they’re not given any context. Instead you want to look for consensus and consistency from a multitude of models, if several of them have a picture of a big storm hitting Vermilion Bay that would be cause for concern. Remember consensus and consistency build clarity.
Models have come a long way over the years and can be a very important tool to use, but even now they still have their limitations. The further out you look the worse the model will do, so be on the look out for descriptions and pictures of weather in the next seven to ten days. It’s impossible for models to know exactly what will happen that far out, at best they can give an indication that something is a miss and an area should be watched a little closer. This goes back to watching the trends of a forecast.
Who to Trust
Social media has done a lot for weather awareness, life saving information can get out to a lot of people quickly, the inverse of that, is a lot of bad information can get out quickly and to a lot of people. Misinformation isn’t always nefarious most of the time it is with the best of intentions from people who love to talk about weather. I would never discourage anyone from talking about weather, and it can be fascinating to watch meteorologists discuss forecasts. The trouble with social media is these discussions aren’t taking place behind closed doors, sometimes they’re taking place in front of thousands of people via Facebook or Twitter. All it takes is one misguided retweet or shared post and that misinformed sensationalistic forecast is out there, and there’s no getting it back.
So before sharing or retweeting weather information make sure it is coming from a source you trust and that it is given proper context to avoid confusion. If you see a doomsday scenario from Bob next door but haven’t heard any local meteorologists even mention it, chances are it’s all hype with little substance. This also isn’t to say I’m the only person you can trust, any of the meteorologists at KATC all are degreed and know what they’re talking about. The National Hurricane Center or National Weather service are also reliable sources of information with great forecasters.
This time of year can cause a lot of anxiety in this part of the country, but you can help with that anxiety by staying well informed and prepared.