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Reuters vs. AP – How Bad Will Hurricane Season Be?

By Brian | May 22, 2006 | Share on Facebook

The National Hurricane Center issued its predictions for the 2006 Hurricane season today. Here’s what the Associated Press said (bold text is the headline):

Hurricane Center Predicts Calmer Season

A hectic, above-normal tropical storm season could produce between four and six major hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico this year, but conditions don’t appear ripe for a repeat of 2005′s record activity, the National Hurricane Center predicted Monday.

There will be up to 16 named storms, the center predicted, which would be significantly less than last year’s record 27. Still, people in coastal regions should prepare for the possibility of major storms, said Max Mayfield, the National Hurricane Center director.

OK, not too bad. But here’s what Reuters said:

US predicts active hurricane season

The 2006 Atlantic hurricane season will be very active, with up to 10 hurricanes, although not as busy as record-breaking 2005, when Hurricane Katrina and several monster storms slammed into the United States, the U.S. government’s top climate agency said on Monday.

The 2005 hurricane season spawned an unprecedented 28 tropical storms, of which 15 became hurricanes.


I assume both reporters went to the same briefing, so it’s amazing that these two stories came out so differently. First, there’s the headlines, which give the reader totally opposite impressions. Then, there’s the details: AP says 16 named storms, 4-6 majors. Reuters says they called for up to 10 hurricanes, although the article later explains that only 4-6 of the 10 are predicted to be Category 3 or higher and hence, “major.” You’ve got to read these pretty carefully, I guess. And finally, there’s the history – AP says there were 27 named storms last year, Reuters says there were 28. If memory serves, I think Reuters is correct, because I think I remember them having to use “Alpha” and “Beta” after the 26 names ran out. I could be wrong on that, though. Of coruse, I’m not a staff reporter at a major wire service. Sheesh!

On top of all that, there’s this little nuggest (from Reuters):

NOAA had predicted 12 to 15 tropical storms [in 2005], of which it said seven to nine would be hurricanes [actual number was 15]. Seven of last year’s hurricanes were considered “major,” while NOAA had predicted only three to five would reach that level.

So whatever it was they said today, odds are it’s probably wrong anyway.

At least the sloppy reporting wasn’t about anything important…

Topics: News and/or Media | 7 Comments »

7 Responses to “Reuters vs. AP – How Bad Will Hurricane Season Be?”

  1. Jeff Porten says at May 25th, 2006 at 2:09 pm :
    I’m passing this along to a buddy who does climate change at NOAA (studies, not causes, that is). I’m sure he’ll be able to straighten this out if he comes by. But the short answer:

    1) weather is the definition of a chaotic, hard-to-predict system

    2) monitoring tools for this kind of disastrous weather prediction are underfunded

    3) global warming is fueling storm growth (and might not have been on record as well when the 2005 predictions were made)

    4) reporters are notorious idiots when it comes to difficult science, so probably one of both of these guys didn’t understand what they heard.

  2. Brian says at May 26th, 2006 at 12:33 pm :
    Yeah, science is hard. But when the guy at the podium says “28″ and you write “27,” that’s not science, that’s basic math.

  3. Jeff Porten says at May 28th, 2006 at 4:13 pm :
    “The president decides, and you people in the press type it down.” Very simple.

  4. Jeff Porten says at June 2nd, 2006 at 9:27 am :
    Word back from my NOAA buddy:

    “best thing is to go to the NOAA website and look at the actual 2006 hurricane outlook–on top webpage. Reporters may report stories inaccurately, particularly if they arent science writers–but more likely if they are trying to send a particular msg with their story, ie “the sky is falling, we are all going to die” vs. “what me worry, mate?”. The chief Climatologist for the Weather Channel is here at our meeting today–and she gave the advice that if science is about “truth” (ie objectivity) and media is about “heat” (ie telling a compelling story)–that balancing the two is always a challenge.”

  5. Brian says at June 2nd, 2006 at 9:40 pm :
    Good advice.

    Isn’t it amazing how many of us would rather read someone else’s description of something, rather than the actual thing itself?

    No arguments when we’re talking about the weather, but gets much murkier when someone reads a 200-page book about a two-page Presidential Daily Brief, or ten five-page articles about an 18-page letter from the President of Iran…

  6. Jeff Porten says at June 6th, 2006 at 12:32 pm :
    My gut tells me you’re being a bit glib, but also tells me that I don’t stand much chance of talking you out of it. Take it from a guy who waded through tons of source documents in grad school — sometimes, yes, the 200 page book really is necessary to explain the two page document.

    Which would you rather read: the Torah, the Talmud, or a modern scholar talking about either? (I recommend Isaac Asimov.)

  7. Brian says at June 6th, 2006 at 6:58 pm :
    I’m not downplaying the benefit of commentary. I’m just saying if you’re going to have an opinion about something, and that something is readily available, it’s worth checking it out for yourself. Especially when the cost involved is so small.

    I find the commentary much more enlightening when I can separate the signal from the noise…


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