Meteorologists fight 'fake forecasts' amid record storms Irma, Harvey

With the unprecedented strength of Hurricane Harvey, and now Hurricane Irma, the question arises: are storms getting stronger?

According to the National Hurricane Center, Irma is now the strongest storm on record in the Atlantic Ocean, and it's just the latest example of the growing challenge facing forecasters.

Meteorologist Jacob Beitlich with the National Weather Service says even with up to the minute satellite imagery and information sharing like never before, relaying the danger associated with the recent storms is difficult.

"It's tough to communicate record events," Beitlich said.

Tough because, at a time of misinformation, even the National Weather Service is having to warn of fake hurricane forecasts being spread on social media, including the myth that Irma is a Category 6 storm.

"The highest that it goes is Category 5, so anything above that is still going to be a category 5 hurricane," Beitlich said.

Regardless of category, with 185 mile per hour sustained winds, Irma is beginning to defy description, and it follows Harvey, which already forced the National Weather Service to add a new color to its rain fall maps indicating rain totals exceeding 30 inches.

"It was off the charts, never before seen," Beitlich said.

But as the records fall, he says the NWS and other agencies are using imagery and other tactics - like comparing hurricane winds to tornados - to strike a delicate balance with the public. 

"Try to figure out how can we best communicate risk to get people to act calmly," Beitlich said. "Not cause a false sense of alarm, so to speak, but have people take the risk seriously so they'll take the action seriously."

Because in a time of unprecedented storms, he says forecasts are measured differently.

"Even if (the forecast) is accurate, unless people take that information and decide to evacuate, maybe solidify their homes, do things like that, it doesn't really have much value," Beitlich said.

© 2017 KARE-TV


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