The Intersection

As I was traveling through various airports yesterday, I couldn’t help hearing about Tropical Depression, and then Tropical Storm, and now what may possibly become Hurricane Alberto. Or not. We just don’t know yet, but a reading of the National Hurricane Center’s archived discussions of the storm shows that so far, it has surprised forecasters and intensified when they didn’t expect it to do so. And as forecaster Pasch put it at 11 AM EDT today:

GIVEN THE UNCERTAINTIES IN PREDICTING INTENSITY CHANGE WE MUST NOW ALLOW FOR THE DISTINCT POSSIBILITY THAT ALBERTO COULD BECOME A HURRICANE.

This underscores a common theme that I heard repeatedly at hurricane conferences this fall: The computer models are pretty good at predicting storm tracks, but when it comes to modeling storm intensity, they’re just not there yet. This leaves the distinct (and dangerous) possibility that a storm may be weak when people go to bed at night and a CAT1 or 2 hurricane when they wake up in the morning–just before it makes landfall. In this light, perhaps it’s no surprise that parts of Florida are being evacuated as Alberto approaches.

What does any of this say about global warming? Why nothing, of course. No one storm tells us anything about global warming. But if Alberto comes ashore as a hurricane tomorrow morning, thereby becoming the earliest such storm in 40 years to hit the US, don’t be surprised if some (rightly or wrongly) start murmuring about such things…