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No Hurricane Damage Yet, but Trouble Could Be Brewing

However, oddly and somewhat surprisingly, a hurricane or other storm can be predicted consistently for several days and then disappear from the forecast altogether for no apparent reason. Just as strangely, the storm can reappear in the model forecasts a day or two later. How and why this happens from time to time is a matter of conjecture. One possibility is that our ability to measure weather disturbances over the oceans is simply not as good as over land areas. We have better data over the 30 percent of the Earth that is land. It’s possible we miss small but important weather disturbances over the oceans from time to time, resulting in inaccurate predictions.

Since the middle of September, computer models have been forecasting the development of a hurricane somewhere in the central Caribbean towards the end of this month. The prediction has been very persistent. The GFS (Global Forecasting System) model is run by the National Centers for Environmental Prediction four times a day. Every run of this model since September 15 has forecast this hurricane to develop -- this fits the definition of persistence of prediction.

If the hurricane does develop, the problem then becomes where and if it will strike. Subtle changes in how well we measure the atmosphere can have dramatic effects on how the computer models resolve the future movement of a storm. With this particular prediction, the model forecasts have ranged from a landfall in Texas, to Louisiana, to Florida. Knowing if a hurricane will develop is important, but knowing where it will strike is just as significant.

If this late month prediction is not a computer dream, and a major hurricane enters the Gulf late this month, the financial implications for companies like BP and others could be substantial. After the calamitous hurricane season of 2005, the price of petroleum products soared. That season, two category 5 hurricanes swept through the Gulf within three weeks of each other, causing enormous damage to rigs and equipment.

A large portion of this stormy hurricane season is still ahead of us, and the economy has been weathering its own storm for more than two years. With the damage that’s been inflicted, we can little afford to have a hurricane blow gasoline and heating oil prices through the roof. Anyone interested in the infrastructure of the Gulf of Mexico petroleum industry and the price of oil should be watching tropical developments daily with extra scrutiny. The nearly 4,000 rigs in the Gulf of Mexico have so far escaped the ravages of this turbulent hurricane season, and the supply of petroleum has been unaffected by hurricanes since 2008 -- when Ike struck the northwestern Gulf and the Texas coast.

There is another six weeks of the most active part of the season left this year. Stay tuned.