The summer doldrums have arrived, towing in their wake what steadfast right-side surfers consider “The Horror.” Hordes of metropolitan and suburban vacationers will swarm the flat breaks of the East Coast like bird flu infested pigeons on kid-killing long boards. In Cape Cod its JFK impersonators dolled up in pink cable knit sweaters draped over matching pastel shirts. For Long Islanders the roar of ostentatious Manhattanites in grocery-getting Hummers will drown out any whispers of bucolic normality. Department stores on the Jersey Shore will sell out of wife beater three-packs as the Bada Bing’s finest dominate video poker and ski ball on the boardwalk. And the coastline south of the Mason Dixon will be overrun by the profanity laced lips of overbearing Yanks. But staunch East Coast surfers hold the course. There is more to look forward to than the mountains of cash that will flow into your local economies from this summer exodus. The Atlantic is poised to unleash its fury as another solid hurricane season is on the horizon.
The good news comes thanks to the experts at the Colorado State University Atmospheric Science Department. Started in the early 1950’s by world-renowned tropical meteorologist Herbert Riehl, the department at CSU has remained at the forefront of hurricane prediction under the tutelage of one of Riehl’s researchers, Dr. William Gray. This year, though, the baton has been passed to Gray’s prodigy, Phil Klotzbach.
Klotzbach doesn’t surf, but he’s always been enamored by the engenderment of waves. “I have been fascinated with storms since I was young,” says Klotzbach. “I grew up in Plymouth, Massachusetts and Hurricane Gloria came through when I was five years old (in 1985). Even at that point, I was very interested in the weather, and to experience the power of a hurricane really got me interested in trying to better be able to understand how hurricanes form and develop.”
Klotzbach’s childhood infatuation with hurricanes built the foundation that has landed him at the vanguard of hurricane predictors during a poignant time in history. The Atlantic basin has been in an era of extreme hurricane activity since 1995 due to increased ocean temperatures. Although the rise in temperature has coincided with the burgeoning threats of global warming, Klotzbach and his team are quick to squash any relationship. “Vertical wind shear in the tropics has been reduced and mid-level moisture has been greater. These conditions lead to more active hurricane seasons… not global warming.” In Klotzbach’s “Extended Range Forecast of Atlantic Seasonal Hurricane Activity for 2006” he points to a valid example. The extremely active period of hurricanes between 1950 and 1964 coincided with an era of global cooling; there is little difference in the frequency and intensity of hurricanes in comparison to the present 15-year period.
Klotzbach utilizes similar historical references as his clairvoyant barometer. “We use statistical prediction techniques to come up with our forecasts. Basically, we look at the past, and find out what conditions were present in the atmosphere and ocean before active seasons in the past, and then we look at inactive seasons in the past and see what conditions were present in the atmosphere and ocean before these years.”