It happens every year. It doesn’t come as a surprise. Anyone who has spent more than a few years in NOLA has experienced it. We should all be prepared, and yet it seems to stress everyone out. We can all use hindsight and realize a sense of level-headedness would have come in handy, but human nature dictates we act in the moment of uncertainty and trepidation with panic and recklessness. When the season approaches, we should all know what our Mardi Gras costume will be. Wait … no … I mean Hurricane Season!
I approach the outlook on hurricane season with a sense of humor not because I underestimate the power of nature, but because I do understand the imperfect knowledge we have of the weather. Our intelligence of meteorology has progressed by light-years in just the past 20 years, let alone since the advent of our science in the 18th and 19th centuries. However, allow me to let you in on a little secret … our science is based on observation, the laws of physics, climatology, and the limited abilities of computer processing. Ours is one of the few sciences, based on public impression, rate its successes on predicting the future. Little emphasis is placed upon our knowledge of chemistry and physics, our observational, investigative, and prognosticative abilities, our understanding of fluid dynamics, and other physical atmospheric processes. The most common question meteorologists are faced with are usually of a personal, and dare I say selfish nature … Will my party get rained out? I’m planning a beach trip, what does next weekend look like in Destin? Where’s the hurricane going? Few are truly interested in the “why” of weather. That always surprises me, because it’s the mystery of weather that got me into the science to begin with. Also, I was scared to death of storms and I thought learning about it would cure my fear! It worked!
I apologize if I’m not answering those pressing concerns about your upcoming weekend vacation but, here’s what we could expect from the 2021 hurricane season, based on the NOAA forecast … 13 to 20 named storms, 6-10 hurricanes, 3-5 become major category 3, 4, or 5. More likely than not we will see an above normal season, the “normal” being the 30-year average from 1991-2020 of 14 named, 7 hurricanes, and 3 major.
Here’s the why … for those interested … 1. We are currently in an ENSO (El Nino Southern Oscillation) neutral to the possibility of a return to a La Nina toward the end of hurricane season. A neutral to LA Nina allows for more growth and development of thunderstorms in the Caribbean and tropical Atlantic due to a lack of wind shear, which helps “rip” apart storms. 2. The likelihood for warmer-than-average temperatures in the same region. And 3. An active west African monsoon season which are the systems which come off of Africa later in the season and account for many of the long-tracked hurricanes.
Here’s what we don’t know … where any storms which do develop would go? What impacts, if any, we would potentially experience. What I always advise is you should prepare for every season exactly the same, no matter the forecast. 1965 was below average with 10 – 6 – 1 (10 named, 6 hurricanes, 1 major). The 1 major was Betsy. It doesn’t matter what the forecast is or just how active the season, it only takes one.
That is something I strive to communicate at the start of every season as I now begin my 17th hurricane season as a meteorologist in New Orleans. I’ll mention the forecast on air, even share on social media. However, I see the seasonal outlook as more of a very rough starting point for the season. It gives a little bit of insight, but I prefer to take it one storm at a time. I find those who get a bit more excited about upcoming active seasons and spend a little too much time diving into the minutiae of season computer model forecasts tend not to have a vested interest along the coast and those zones directly impacted by tropical weather. With regards to social media, I also strive for viewers to be very cautious and be selective with those you follow. There are many, many “social media-rologists” those who treat meteorology as a hobby and will suffer no repercussions from hype, only look to get “clicks,” and know just enough jargon to be dangerous.
Social media has become a double-edged sword. It has become an invaluable method to relaying timely and sometimes vital information at a moment’s notice, usually reaching more people and reaching them sooner than on air. Unfortunately, we are also competing with amateurs and “click” hounds also relaying information. Some are innocent fun and others cause public distrust. Sometimes it’s difficult to find a balance between the benefit and the harm of social media … but that’s a separate post for another time! Aside from my work “at work” and I refer to all the responsibilities to WWL-TV, I have the added pressure of the constant barrage of information, updates, and always feeling as though you are lagging behind with providing vital information on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and …TikTok?? Okay, I still don’t understand that one!
There are so many days when I attempt to balance enjoying my time with my wife and children, but also find myself engrossed on my phone with tropical analyses, forecast models, and social media posts in desperate need of clarification and explanation. In fact, there is a great level of guilt. Guilt that I’m not updating the public enough to either calm fears, answer questions, or provide information necessary to make decisions. But also, a guilt for my family. There are many times my children simply want my attention and yet I am caught up in forecast maps, recent posts from other meteorologists, or a simple curiosity. In the days before the internet and certainly before the weight of social media, once a meteorologist was “off duty” and at home, the day was done. Without the complex computers and equipment need to track storms, ignorance was truly bliss. And now…not only do we have access to the necessary information, we have access to the junk and misleading information to ignore, weed through, and correct. It can become a burden if you allow it. Follow the accounts you trust, don’t become overwhelmed with the data, take hurricane season one storm and one day at a time, and sometimes you need a day or so to unplug … and so do I!
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Chris Franklin is Chief Meteorologist of WWL-TV and WUPL-TV. He can be reached via email at [email protected] as well as through his social media accounts on Facebook: Meteorologist Chris Franklin, Twitter: @cjohnfranklin, and Instagram: @c.j.franklin