Hurricane Audrey, 50 years later

Dr. Jeff Masters has an excellent post on today’s 50th anniversary of Hurricane Audrey, a Category 4 storm which killed approximately 550 people in southwestern Louisiana, making it “America’s deadliest hurricane disaster between the time of the New England Hurricane of 1938 (682 killed) and Hurricane Katrina of 2005 (1833 killed).”

Audrey hit much the same area that Hurricane Rita did two years ago, with similar force. But Rita only killed one person in southwest Louisiana. Why?

The answer is preparedness. Rita was a massive Category 5 hurricane several days before landfall, giving people plenty of time to receive the warnings and evacuate. Warning systems are much better now than in 1957, and Cameron was deserted when Rita hit. But Audrey did something hurricane forecasters still fear could cause a high death toll in the future, despite our better warning systems–rapid intensification with a sudden forward speed increase overnight, bringing a much stronger hurricane to the coast far earlier than expected. If this nightmare scenario happens to one of our major cities in the future, another Audrey-like death toll could easily result.

Of particular interest, and concern, is the rationale people used to stay put: “Many residents had heeded calls to evacuate from Audrey’s 100 mph winds and predicted 5-9 foot storm surge that afternoon. But the old timers, familiar with how the surrounding dunes had protected Cameron in the past, stayed put. It was, after all, June, and severe hurricanes in June were almost unheard of. Besides, the storm was not expected to hit until the following afternoon, so there was still time to evacuate in the morning if things looked bad.” Of course, that turned out not to be the case, and many of those “old timers” died. Alas, even with better forecasting technology and warning systems, you still hear that sort of thing today.

Luckily, we’ve got nothing to worry about in the Atlantic at the moment. Margie Kieper writes: “Large amounts of dust continue to sweep off the coast of Africa with the waves of SAL that have accompanied each tropical wave. This pattern shows no sign of changing. The large amount of stable dry air will likely prevent anything from getting started in the Atlantic for quite awhile.”

That said, I really find the headline on this LiveScience article, “Where are All the Hurricanes?,” offensively stupid. The article itself is ultimately fairly accurate, pointing out that it’s only June, but the headline — echoed by InstaPundit, and by others no doubt — and the lead paragraph (“with just two storms to date, and neither one a hurricane, you might wonder where all the action is”) are just completely ridiculous. A website called “LiveScience” shouldn’t be misinforming the public in this way. Not to put too fine a point on it, but anyone who “might wonder where all the action is” is completely ignorant of the climatological reality. (And yes, the article says “Be patient, history suggests” in the second paragraph — but that weak rebuttal doesn’t make up for premising the whole article on a faulty, scientifically invalid question!)

Two tropical storms, and no hurricanes, as of June 27, makes for an unusually active season so far, not an unusually inactive one! (On average, there is approximately one tropical storm every two years prior to June 30.) That’s not to say it won’t ultimately be a below-average season — there are some indications that might well be true, as I wrote on Sunday — but “Where are All the Hurricanes?” is, at this point, completely and utterly the wrong question. It would be like asking, on November 1 in New England, after two small October snowstorms, “Where are All the Blizzards?” It just makes no damn sense.

P.S. If you think I’m overreacting to a mere headline, and a lead paragraph that’s sorta kinda corrected/clarified by the rest of the article, look at how other some bloggers are responding to the story (via Technorati and Google Blog Search):

Irrational Optimism: “Live Science reports that the season is, so far, off to a late start.”

Yeah, Right, Whatever: “Wasn’t this supposed to be another global warming-induced high hurricane year?”

Patrick: “[The media] must be pretty sad. How can we push Global Warming if the planet won’t work with us?”

Misstuned: “Scientists predicted a big hurricane season this year. So where are they?”

Dogwood Pundit: “Where Are All Of The Hurricanes? We’re waiting.”

Moonage SpaceDream: “Andrea and Barry…fell apart pretty quick and no harm was done. But, the weird thing is, that’s been it. Since late May, we’ve had none. No warnings, no false alarms, nothing. I thought I was the only person noticing this, but Livescience finally had to ask what happened to all those storms.”

Tiscendorf: “this is year three that hurricane predictions have been the worst ever and have fizzled. Must be all that damn global warming…you know…causing bad science…not bad weather.”

This is all despite the fact that it’s totally inaccurate to suggest that the “lack” of hurricanes through June 27 is in any way unusual, or somehow suggestive of a slow season to come. (Again, it may ultimately be a slow season, but the fact that we’ve had “only” two tropical storms and no hurricanes so far is not evidence to support that position!)

Incidentally, this article was, of course, pushed by that clear-headed, unbiased science expert, Matt Drudge. And he too echoed the headline — “Where Are All The Hurricanes?” To which I answer, Nowhere, yet! Just like you’d expect, if you knew what the hell you were talking about! ARGH!!

One Response to “Hurricane Audrey, 50 years later”

  1. Tbone says:

    I’m glad you raise this issue, Brendan. I had the same reaction when I followed Insty’s link. It’s a ridiculous non-story, and I’m surprised Glenn fell for ity.