This year's seasonal hurricane forecast was wrong in a big way

The hurricane season that ends this week has been one of the mildest in decades, though many experts had predicted an active year.

A new seasonal summary released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says this season had the fewest hurricanes since 1982.

Many experts, including one from the National Hurricane Center, say this year shows coastal residents should pay little attention to the seasonal forecasts, because they reveal little information that's useful to the public.

As the season began, forecasters from Colorado State University predicted an active hurricane season: 18 named storms, 9 hurricanes and four intense hurricanes.

That prediction turned out to be spectacularly wrong.

Instead, there were 13 named storms this year, only two hurricanes and no intense storms.

Hurricane forecasters have to start somewhere, says Dr. James Franklin, branch chief of the National Hurricane Center's Hurricane Specialist Unit in Miami. So forecasters start with overall activity for a year, but Franklin says this year shows doing even that can be difficult.

"I think it shows that there's an awful lot that we still need to learn about forecasting seasonal activity," Franklin said. "It's just something we'll keep working on."

The difference this year was drier than normal air over the Atlantic that prevented severe storms from forming.

"We think that high pressure over Europe was much stronger than normal and that pushed a lot of the dust from Africa out over the Atlantic Ocean for a longer period of time, even beyond July into August and September as well," said WPDE NewsChannel 15 First Warning chief meteorologist Ed Piotrowski.

Ed says seasonal forecasts are great for science, but not for the public.

"You really need to take those numbers with a grain of salt because it takes one (hurricane) to make it a really bad season."

Dr. Franklin says he hopes the failure of this year's seasonal forecast will convince people to not pay too much attention to it in the future.

"It doesn't predict how many storms will make landfall. Certainly doesn't tell people where along the coast these storms might come ashore, so it's not something that a homeowner or resident or a visitor can use to plan in any way," Franklin said.

Horry County's Emergency Management Director says the seasonal forecast serves a purpose by raising awareness about hurricane season, but that's about all.

"Does it mean that this upcoming season is going to be the one that we get a direct hit on? No one knows," said Randy Webster. "Does it tell us that we should get prepared for the upcoming season? Absolutely."

So, if experts recommend that the public shouldn't pay attention to the seasonal forecasts, why do NOAA, Colorado State University and other agencies bother to put them out?

Dr. Franklin says the question he gets asked the most is about how busy the season will be, so the agency puts out the seasonal forecast, even though it doesn't tell the public much.

Colorado State won't put out a seasonal hurricane forecast next year, not because this year's forecast was wrong, but because they ran out of funding.