OCEAN SPRINGS, MS – According to National Weather Service meteorologist Ken Graham, predicting hurricanes is an evolving science.
“I think we’re doing a pretty good job of where the hurricane is going to go,” said Graham, who is the Meteorologist in Charge in the National Weather Service’s Slidell office. “The challenge is intensity. It’s very, very difficult.”
It’s a simple message about hurricanes that could have a huge impact on your survival.
“Subtle changes in the hurricane movement, strength and path can make massive changes in the impact of the hurricane,” Graham said.
Graham said the effects are so dramatic, a shift of even five miles or a tiny change in a storm’s speed could be the difference between light rain and devastating flooding.
Take Hurricane Ivan for example. Graham said the orginal prediction had the storm destroying much of Mobile. He said the storm changed its path by only a few miles just before landfall.
“In Pensacola, [they said] “Hey I’m safe.” Well guess what?,” asked Graham. “That little bit of a move, they got a lot of water.”
He said those tiny shifts are difficult to predict.
“Can we forecast that last minute jog? Maybe, but it will be at the last minute,” Graham said.
Shifts in storms may be out of our control, but Graham said it’s still critical for coastal residents to understand it. One of the reasons he said it’s so important to know is technology is because he believes certain websites could give people a premature sense of security.
“You can go online; you can find websites where you can get down to the block whether you’re going to flood or not,” Graham said. “The problem is the science isn’t there yet. So, small movements in the hurricane or intensity could change things completely. So the decision made to stay could be fatal.”
He says the best way for South Mississippians to weather hurricane season is to listen to emergency officials instead of assuming they’re safe. He said it’s also important to pay attention to the margin of error in forecasts as the storm approaches. You may know it as the cone of probability or uncertainty.
“It’s so critical that everybody doesn’t pay attention to that exact hurricane forecast, that line,” Graham said. “You have to pay attention to the entire cone, because with that kind of error if you’re in that cone, you’re in danger.”