Hurricane Season: Dr. William Gray's Final Forecast

Posted by Darrell H. Nicholson at 04:05PM - Comments: (1)

Courtesy of BoatUS
Courtesy of BoatUS

The destruction caused when Hurricane Isabel raked the Chesapeake Bay in 2003 demonstrates why all bets are off when a Category 5 hurricane bears down on an exposed marina.

About ten years after Jimmy Buffet first sang about the futility of reasoning with hurricane season, Dr. William Gray was figuring out how. Tomorrow, the scientists at Colorado State University will carry on a tradition begun by Gray more than 30 years ago when they release their annual prediction for the North Atlantic hurricane season. The forecast predicts the number of named storms, the number of hurricanes, the number of major hurricanes, and the number of days that at least one named storm will be roaming the region this year.

I’ve been covering hurricane season for nearly as long as Gray has been predicting them. The first forecast by Gray that I reported on was 18 pages long, typed in courier font with, probably on an old Smith-Corona. Gray and his team, mostly graduate students, did pretty well that year. They said eight storms would form and seven did. Three became hurricanes, when Gray had predicted five.

In the years that followed, Gray’s knack for parsing out statistical patterns from the chaotic sea of weather data was uncanny. He wasn’t perfect (1997 was a notoriously bad year) but most years his predictions were solid, if not incredibly accurate. In recent years, Gray’s hurricane season forecasts have become to the Atlantic seaboard what Punxsutawney Phil is for our northern neighbors—a bell-weather for how bad things will be. It was a business that Gray took seriously, but always in good humor. In the years leading up to his death this spring at the age of 86, he’d come to starting each presentation with a paean to doom-saying:

Society’s progress can continue only as long as
its old men persist in decrying that everything is going to hell.

In the last decade, I’ve identified with Gray more and more. My job here at Practical Sailor, though implicitly to enable the fulfillment of a long-held dream, involves no small amount of doom-saying. We routinely lament the state of marine equipment manufacturing. And though some criticize what might be perceived as a negative bias, I’ve a notion that our readers get nearly as much smug satisfaction being informed that Product X is a piece of junk, as they do learning that Product Y is a PS Best Choice.

Although I never met Gray, his reports had become so ingrained in my annual routine as a maritime writer that I felt an implicit connection. One always hates to see a fellow curmudgeon go. But the timing of his death seemed fitting, almost as uncanny as his own insight into storm season. Just two days before he died, the April prediction of 2016 was hot off the press. It was as if he hated to leave any work unfinished.

And so I will close with the final forecast signed by Dr. William Gray—who has done as much to raise public awareness of these deadly storms as he did to elevate the art of forecasting. According to Gray, and Dr. Phil Klotsback, his long-time apprentice, who has been the lead author of the report since 2006, this is what the 2016 storm season bodes: 12 named storms, five hurricanes, and two major hurricanes.

An average storm season lies ahead, so says an above-average man.

If you haven’t given hurricane season a thought yet, you might want to start with our July 2008 report, “Lines, Snubbers, and Other Gear for Battening Down Ahead of Storms.” Technical Editor Ralph Naranjo’s first-hand account of his storm preparations “Tropical Storm Dos and Don’ts” and “How to Help Your Boat Survive A Major Storm” should also be required reading. The upcoming July 2016 issue of Practical Sailor offers tips on how to secure your boat if you have no other choice but to stay in the marina.

Comments (1)

I'd like to add to Dr. Gray's pre-presentation banner something I think he'd enjoy from George Bernard Shaw:
"The trouble with this world is that the ignorant are cocksure, and the intelligent are full of doubt."
RIP Bill, and full speed ahead to Dr. Klotsback.

Posted by: bicycleCharlie | June 1, 2016 8:44 AM    Report this comment

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