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Column: Forecasting hurricanes is like trying to predict the stock market
Rudi Kiefer

Hurricanes and the stock market have a lot in common. Lots of people try to forecast what’s going to happen. Some experts are highly credentialed, others a rather self-appointed class of scholars. Many of those who claim a strong record of correct forecasts tend to predict a near-average season. This applies to the hurricane cycle as well as the stock market. And there’s the key to it. Predicting historical average, or somewhere near average, ends up correct more often than not. I can safely predict that Gainesville’s high temperature on October 12, 2020 will be 76 Fahrenheit, give or take a few degrees, because that’s about the average from the last 30 years. 

A British group called already has a forecast in place, predicting near-average hurricane events for the Atlantic Ocean. Even with credentials from University College London, plus tables and charts of ACE (accumulated cyclone energy), this isn’t a true forecast. We can only forecast the weather for 5 days because the atmosphere changes so quickly within that time. Everything beyond that is an outlook, with an accuracy level similar to flipping a coin. 

Another factor resembles the stock market. With all the research done, and all the known factors carefully considered, it still takes only one event to throw off the entire scheme. We’ve just seen it on Wall Street, and it’s been in all the papers. For hurricanes, it’s usually a change in the local wind situation. Let’s say Dolly, one of the 2020 hurricanes to come, is headed for Savannah. But just before she hits Georgia shores, a cold front over the South Central States strengthens, bouncing the storm toward the northeast. And once again, Wilmington, North Carolina is in the cross-hairs, even though memories of Florence (2018) are still fresh there. South Carolina has a similar event in its history, with Hurricane Hugo taking a sudden left turn in September 1989 and hitting Charleston instead of Wilmington.

Stock market experts who abstain from sensationalism advise evaluating one’s portfolio, remaining calm and staying invested. A similar approach works for hurricane season, too. Floodplains, narrow valleys and other low-lying areas are at risk. Don’t buy real estate that’s a drainage route for other lots. If you’re already in a flood-risk location, improvements can still minimize potential damage. The flood maps at provide an excellent overview.

Rudi Kiefer, Ph.D., is a professor at Brenau University, teaching physical and health sciences on Brenau’s Georgia campuses and in China. His column appears Sundays and at