Watching and waiting: Chris Franklin’s predictions

Chris Franklin
WWL-TV meteorologist
St. Catherine of Siena Parish, Metairie

What’s the long-range forecast for the 2019 hurricane season?

Everything is pointing to a near-average season. The big prediction everyone talks about comes from Colorado State, and they’re calling for 13 named storms, five hurricanes and two major hurricanes, which means Category 3, 4 or 5. Of course, as we know, it only takes one storm to pick things up.

Have hurricane forecasts improved in recent years through better science and better data?

If you’re looking at the seasonal outlooks, they haven’t gotten much better or worse. They’ve stayed about the same. But what has improved tremendously is the ability to forecast the track. We’ve seen the error margin of those forecast trajectories shrink a little bit. We’re a lot more accurate as to where the storms will go. There still needs to be a lot of work on predicting the intensity of the storms. Hurricane Michael (in 2018) was forecast to be a Category 1 making landfall, and it was actually a Category 5. But the forecast landfall was fairly accurate – it always was looking like the Florida panhandle.

Why the difference between forecasting path vs. forecasting intensity?

It all comes down to the overall weather that steers and guides tropical systems. It’s just a little bit easier to forecast as opposed to the actual mechanisms and the minute changes in storms that are almost impossible to observe in real time and can drastically weaken or strengthen a storm. The steering currents around a hurricane are easier to track, so the path is more accurate.

What does that mean for  New Orleans?

If New Orleans is in the crosshairs – even if it’s looking like a Category 1 – we need to be prepared, in the back of our minds, to evacuate. We just can’t trust and rely that it’s only going to be a Category 1. These can really blow up or weaken. Florence, along the North Carolina coast, weakened rapidly (in 2018). They anticipated a Category 5, and it was a Category 1.

Is there any cutting edge science coming that will make forecasts more accurate?

They’re actually discussing the possible use of drones to monitor storms. Right now, the hurricane hunter airplanes drop instruments into the storm. Computer models always work better when they have as much data as possible. Drones might be able to collect more information.

Chris Franklin and his wife are parishioners of St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Metairie, where their daughter attends school.


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