2012 Hurricane Season Ends: NOAA Prediction WRONG AGAIN!

Worse: FOIA Documents Revealed Today for the First Time Suggest NOAA May Have Cheated to Win “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader” Hurricane Forecast “Bet” Against Elementary School Students in 2011

Washington, D.C. – The 2012 hurricane season officially ends today with yet another loss for the federal government’s official hurricane predictors at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which continues to be wrong more often than right. NOAA predicted no more than eight hurricanes in 2012; there were nine.

But the National Center for Public Policy Research is revealing today for the first time that its recent analysis of over 800 pages of NOAA documents obtained through a FOIA request reveals that NOAA may have “cheated” in 2011 to improve its forecast by going to excessive, possibly improper, lengths to officially upgrade a tropical storm into a hurricane…

…And it may have done so to beat a hurricane prediction contest against two fifth-graders.

In 2011, the National Center for Public Policy Research challenged NOAA to a “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?” hurricane prediction contest by pitting a forecast made by two fifth graders (press release and video here) against the multi-billion-dollar NOAA’s prediction.

The fifth graders forecast 3-8 hurricanes; NOAA forecast 7-10.

By mid-November, six hurricanes had occurred. Score one for the fifth graders. And then, two months after the fact, NOAA reclassified early September Tropical Storm Nate into “Hurricane Nate” – resulting in seven hurricanes for the season and a tie in the contest.

Curious about the belated re-classification of Nate, the National Center for Public Policy Research made a FOIA request resulting in the National Center’s examination of 800 pages of related NOAA communications.

The National Center found that NOAA went to extraordinary lengths to find data that would allow it to increase the official count of hurricanes, with significant internal debate within the agency.

To justify the reclassification, NOAA needed to find new data, as hurricane hunter aircraft and satellite imagery did not support classifying Nate as a hurricane. To obtain that data, NOAA sought to persuade Petroleous Mexicanos (PEMEX), Mexico’s state-run oil company, to provide them with wind speed data from an oil rig that might support reclassification.

“We are having a bit of an office debate of whether Nate was a hurricane or not,” wrote Eric Blake, a hurricane specialist at NOAA in an email to PEMEX’s Fabian Romana Vazquez. “…[We] need something more concrete if we decide to do it…”

Communications between PEMEX and NOAA suggest the Mexicans were reticent about providing the data.

“The documents make clear that the Mexican oil rig data was unconventional data. The Mexican government made the data available ‘unofficially’ and only after receiving assurances from NOAA that certain data, such as the longitude and latitude of the oil rigs, would be kept strictly confidential,” said National Center General Counsel Justin Danhof, who reviewed the FOIA documents. “The Mexicans consider this data sensitive national security information. NOAA wanted it badly enough that it was willing to let Mexico’s security concerns take a back seat.”

“The Mexicans’ security concerns appear to have been well-founded, as NOAA posted Mexico’s confidential data online and it remained there for seven hours before NOAA realized its error and took it down,” continued Danhof. “Mexico’s security was compromised to help NOAA claim its annual forecast was accurate. Making matters worse, third parties can’t even say it was accurate with certainty, as this data can’t be independently verified.”

“We can’t say for sure that NOAA went to great lengths to find a seventh hurricane specifically because it didn’t want to lose to our fifth graders,” said Amy Ridenour, chairman of the National Center, “but we know it went to extensive lengths to find data that resulted in its forecast being right, just like the kids’.”

“NOAA’s hurricane forecasts are so often incorrect not because its forecast team is unprofessional, but because mankind’s knowledge of Earth’s immensely complicated climate is still in its infancy,” Amy Ridenour added. “We should remember this whenever anyone claims it is worth it to kill very many jobs – invariably, other people’s jobs – to impose expensive policies based on computer climate predictions that, so far, aren’t coming true.”

“Our needling of NOAA for its forecast accuracy through issuance of our own less-than-scientific ‘Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader’ predictions is intended to make a larger point about our current understanding of climate and government policies intended to influence it,” said David Ridenour, president of the National Center. “If we can’t rely on six-month hurricane forecasts from NOAA even half the time, we shouldn’t be imposing economically-ruinous carbon taxes or regulations that are based on the forecasted effect of rising carbon concentrations on our climate 25, 50 and 100 years from now.”

The National Center for Public Policy Research, founded in 1982, is a non-partisan, free-market, independent conservative think-tank. Ninety-four percent of its support comes from individuals, less than 4% from foundations, and less than 2% from corporations. It receives over a quarter-million individual contributions a year from over 96,000 active recent contributors. In 2012, zero percent of its contributions have come from the fossil fuel industry or related foundations.

Contributions to The National Center are tax-deductible and greatly appreciated.


The National Center for Public Policy Research is a communications and research foundation supportive of a strong national defense and dedicated to providing free market solutions to today’s public policy problems. We believe that the principles of a free market, individual liberty and personal responsibility provide the greatest hope for meeting the challenges facing America in the 21st century.