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Volume 8, Number 23 -- June 13, 2008

NOAA Predicts the 2008 Hurricane Season to Be an Active One

Published: June 13, 2008

by Timothy Prickett Morgan

In case you haven't noticed, the global economy is about as crazy as the world climate and the state of the Internet. That's probably a coincidence, even if it might not feel like it.

The Western economies are under pressure thanks to financial shenanigans and the price of energy while Eastern economies are exploding as they have become the manufacturing engines for the world; the Internet is a collection of tens of millions of servers, just this side of controlled chaos and doing great things for us personally as well as for our employers. But the Internet is rife with malware, viruses, phishing, hack attacks, and myriad other nasties. Throw in climate change, and we are weathering a lot of different kinds of storms--economic, electronic, and meteorological.

With the beginning of hurricane season, businesses anywhere near the open waters are facing a literal confluence of these three kinds of chaos, where a hurricane can potentially wipe out their systems and their business. So how bad is this hurricane season going to be? That's always hard to predict, despite all the supercomputing iron that Uncle Sam throws at the problem every year.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which predicts and tracks hurricanes under the auspices of the U.S. Commerce Department, has released its initial predictions for the hurricane season, which has its official start on June 1.

Those projections have a 60 percent to 70 percent probability range for the following predictions: from 12 to 16 named tropical storms, with from six to nine of them generating sustained winds sufficient to be called a hurricane, and with from two to five of these storms being called major hurricanes. (Those major hurricanes have a rating of 3, 4, or 5 on the Saffir-Simpson scale of hurricane strength.) A normal hurricane season in the Atlantic basin has 11 named storms, six hurricanes, and two major hurricanes. When a tropical storm has sustained winds that reach 74 miles per hour, it is upgraded to a hurricane, and it becomes a major hurricane when sustained winds hit 111 miles per hour.

According to the NOAA projections, there is a 10 percent chance that the 2008 hurricane season will produce a lower than average number of storms, with a 25 percent chance for it to be normal and a 65 percent chance for the season to have an above normal number of storms.

In the Eastern Pacific basin, hurricanes have been suppressed since 1995 by something called the multi-decadal signal, which is good news for the Western coast of the Americas, but this same phenomenon (which makes the Pacific colder and the Atlantic warmer) is inducing more hurricanes in the Atlantic waters. NOAA is projecting that, given the same 60 percent to 70 percent probability, the Eastern Pacific region will have from 11 to 16 named storms, five to eight hurricanes, and from one to three major hurricanes.

While NOAA makes predictions about storm count and storm strength, the one thing it does not do is project how many storms will actually make landfall. As we all know from watching the weather on the Internet and on television, the supercomputers that track and model hurricanes have a tough time coping with the complexity of hurricanes, which are by definition turbulent and therefore not exactly predictable.

The important thing for any company that is anywhere near a coast--or has partners or key customers that are--is to get a contingency and disaster recovery plan in place for IT operations specifically and for the business in general.


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