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Zen and the Art of Hurricane Forecasting

Predicting where hurricanes will strike has come a long way. How long, exactly?
Related: Earth

Tropical Storm Leslie as it passed over Bermuda Sunday, Sept. 10. (NASA)

We just published a list of the most devastating hurricanes in U.S. history. The worst, it turns out, was a Category 4 storm that barreled through the Caribbean in September 1900. After the storm hit Cuba, American forecasters predicted it would sweep northeast up the mid-Atlantic coast. Instead, it headed west and slammed into Galveston, Texas. Few had evacuated, and roughly 8,000 people were killed.

Since then, hurricane prediction has come a long way. How long, exactly?

Writes Nate Silver in The New York Times:

A quarter-century ago, for instance, the average error in a hurricane forecast, made three days in advance of landfall, was about 350 miles. That meant that if you had a hurricane sitting in the Gulf of Mexico, it might just as easily hit Houston or Tallahassee, Fla. -- essentially the entire Gulf Coast was in play, making evacuation and planning all but impossible.

Today, although there are storms like Hurricane Isaac that are tricky for forecasters, the average miss is much less: only about 100 miles.

Silver's new book, "The Signal and the Noise," looks at forecasting across a range of fields, from sports and weather to economics. Compared to other kinds of predictions, he found, weather forecasts are surprisingly accurate.

RELATED ON SKYE: The Most Devastating Hurricanes in U.S. History


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