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Do we name too many storms?

Even though we just had a second consecutive relatively quiet hurricane season, some people think this one should have been quieter still.

With another hurricane season set to end this Friday, a controversy is brewing over decisions of the National Hurricane Center to designate several borderline systems as tropical storms.

Some meteorologists, including former hurricane center director Neil Frank, say as many as six of this year’s 14 named tropical systems might have failed in earlier decades to earn “named storm” status.

“They seem to be naming storms a lot more than they used to,” said Frank, who directed the hurricane center from 1974 to 1987 and is now chief meteorologist for KHOU-TV. “This year, I would put at least four storms in a very questionable category, and maybe even six.”

Most of the storms in question briefly had tropical storm-force winds of at least 39 mph. But their central pressure — another measure of intensity — suggested they actually remained depressions or were non-tropical systems.

Any inconsistencies in the naming of tropical storms and hurricanes have significance far beyond semantics.

The number of a season’s named storms forms the foundation of historical records used to determine trends in hurricane activity. Insurance companies use these trends to set homeowners’ rates. And such information is vital to scientists trying to determine whether global warming has had a measurable impact on hurricane activity.

The rest of the story, as well as the accompanying SciGuy blog post, is interesting and informative in its discussion of the science and data of hurricane tracking, but I still came away a bit disappointed. The reason for that is that the only mention of how this affects insurance rates is what you see in the paragraph above. Even then I wouldn’t pay any mind, except that the potential cost of this hurricane inflation was highlighted everywhere – in the print edition, on the Chron index page, where the headline reads “Rush to name storms may be costing you money”, and on the story page, where the subhead is “As season ends, some say center rushes to classify, which costs you”. That’s an awful lot of emphasis on cost for what we got in the story, which raised the subject then never explored it. I think a followup article is needed here to make up for that.

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One Comment

  1. Support Science to Reverse Global Warming, which Al Gore says is still possible says:

    Do we create too many storms? Yes.