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Why Didn't We Predict Katrina in Time?

The National Hurricane Center has failed dismally at predicting which tropical storms will become hurricanes, despite the input of millions of dollars by the US government. The NHC uses buoys, weather balloons, radar, ground sensors and airplanes to track tropical storms and warn us if they threaten to make land and turn into hurricanes. Despite all this sophisticated equipment, they have failed to correctly forecast half of the hurricanes that have hit land since 1992.

In the Miami Herald, Debbie Cenziper quotes meteorologist Pablo Santos as saying, ''It's almost like we're forecasting blind.'' The NHC has told us that hurricanes that started out weak, then gained power (like Katrina) would be no problem, so no one was prepared for the storm. They've also overreacted, evacuating cities where no storm hit. They have wrongly tracked the courses of these storms.

The HFC blames these errors on the limitations of science and the unpredictability of the weather. But an investigation by the Miami Herald shows that many of these problems are caused by NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), which oversees the HFC.

The jet plane that was tracking Katrina landed in the hours just before the hurricane hit the gulf coast, the time when it should have been monitoring the storm the most, and the two government planes with the most equipment on them never took off in the first place.

The Weather Service has failed to repair or upgrade its hurricane weather-observing equipment. Many buoys and weather balloons are broken. Their radar tends to die during severe weather. The measuring devices that hurricane hunters risk their lives to drop into the eye of an active hurricane, at $600 each, have been malfunctioning.

Perhaps investigative reporters should take a close look HFC director Max Mayfield, to see if he's an inexperienced political appointee, like Michael Brown was at FEMA.

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