Souped-up satellites, supercomputers, and superior science might soon mean you really can trust the weather report
It was the evening of 26 August 2005, and Hurricane Katrina was barreling toward the Gulf Coast of the United States. Weather models were predicting that the center of the huge and devastating hurricane would slam directly into New Orleans in two and a half days. But New Orleans officials, perhaps recalling false warnings in the past, didn’t order a mandatory evacuation until the morning of 28 August—too late to do much good. The prediction was just 50 kilometers and a few hours off target. It is now painfully clear that an evacuation order ought to have come a lot sooner.
It was an all-too-rare example of a forecasting bull’s-eye. Just a month later, the two- to three-day forecast of Hurricane Rita’s path showed the storm hitting Houston; hundreds of thousands of people evacuated, or at least tried to, but it missed the city entirely. An accurate forecast of Rita’s path would have prevented an enormous amount of disruption and even death—a bus accident during the evacuation killed 23 people.