Decisions to name storms draw concern (Emphasis added.)
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."
I made mention of this a short time ago (What the hey!?). Several of this year’s named storms were outside the tropics when they formed or far out to sea and quickly moved northward in to the cooler waters of the North Atlantic where they rapidly lost energy. One or two existed for just a couple of days.
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.
Improved technology has allowed meteorologists to make observations outside of shipping lanes and flight paths where they might have missed previously.
A case in point is Tropical Storm Chantal, a short-lived system that formed in late July south of Nova Scotia and moved toward the northeast, out to sea.
Some meteorologists say the storm was never a tropical system at all, because it formed well out of the tropics. Others say it wouldn't have been named before the 1999 launch of the QuikSCAT satellite, which measures surface winds and alerted forecasters to Chantal's organization.
"Without QuikSCAT, Chantal might never have gotten named," said Jeff Masters, a meteorologist and founder of The Weather Underground Web site, a popular resource for tracking hurricanes.
As the technology to observe storms has grown better, the definition of a tropical storm has remained unchanged. Such systems have a center of low pressure with a closed circulation, organized bands of thunderstorms and winds of at least 39 mph. Storms are upgraded to hurricanes when their winds reach 74 mph.
There has also been a change in the procedure for naming storms.
In earlier years before widespread satellite coverage, the hurricane center placed more emphasis on measurements of central pressure than wind speeds in designating tropical storms and giving those systems names, Frank said. Central pressures and wind speed are related, but the relationship isn't absolute.
Frank said he prefers using central pressure, because it can be directly measured by aircraft dropping an instrument into a tropical system.
If a reconnaissance plane had measured a wind speed above 39 mph during Frank's tenure, the system would not automatically have been named. His forecasters might have waited a day to see if the central pressure fell, he said, to ensure that the system really was a tropical storm.
That practice probably would have prevented some systems, such as Tropical Storm Jerry, from getting named this year, Frank said. After being upgraded, Jerry remained a tropical storm for less than a day in the northern Atlantic.
These changes have made comparisons of current numbers with those of the past virtually impossible. Yet those who espouse the Global Climate Change continue to predict increased intensity and frequency of hurricanes and tropical storms as a result of Global Warming. If you don’t know where you’ve been and you change the rules, how do you know where you are going?
The apparent change in the philosophy of naming systems has rankled some longtime hurricane watchers. Jill Hasling, president of Houston's Weather Research Center, said comparing the number of tropical storms and hurricanes today with the historical record is almost impossible.
But Read, of the hurricane center, believes wind speeds are the true indicator of a tropical system's status. Now that more accurate wind measurements are available, it only makes sense to use the best technology to quickly determine if a system has reached tropical storm strength, he said.
Inconsistencies with the data have plagued scientists trying to determine whether global warming has increased the number or intensity of hurricanes.
In fact, there are reasons to believe that historical storms have been overcounted as well as undercounted, said Judith Curry, chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
Before satellites, scientists had few ways to tell the difference between tropical systems and non-tropical storms. As a result, some non-tropical storms probably were named.
"The bottom line is that, yes, we do have errors in tropical cyclone counts," said Curry. "But it is not clear whether this adds a net negative or positive bias to any trend."
It’s a crap shoot folks. As Mark Twain once said, “There are lies, damned lies and statistics.”
When some group or organization starts touting the number named storms as proof of climate change take their data with a grain--no, a shaker--of salt.