Hurricane prediction challenge: Can a monkey beat famed forecaster Dr. William Gray?

Boo.

There. Now I've officially done my part, as a member of the media, to try to scare the pants off you for hurricane season.

Every year we do it — largely with the help of alleged "forecasters" such as Dr. William Gray, who supposedly look into their crystal ball and predict the number of storms we'll get.

Usually they're wrong. Often very wrong.

In fact, a few years ago, I got to thinking a monkey could do just as well. So I decided to test that theory.

I got a couple of monkeys from the Sanford zoo to make predictions — along with my then-4-year-old son. The monkeys beat Gray and my preschooler in a couple of categories. But Gray won the tie-breaker.

So, with Gray and the rest of the weather community screaming barometric bloody murder again this year, I thought it was time to stage another hurricane-prediction contest.

I went back to my favorite monkey. But this time, I also sought help from a local psychic and Chase's big sister, because … well, I was informed it was her turn.

Generally, when it came to picking storm numbers for 2010, Gray went high and the monkey went low. The psychic and little Maxwells were smack in the middle.

Here are the specifics.

The forecaster

In some years past, Gray's predictions have been as many as three times too high. Last year, he was much closer — off by only about 130 percent when it came to named storms, for instance. (Congratulations, Doc!) One of Gray's tricks to "forecasting" is to constantly change his forecast when it's clear that he's wrong. He does this by calling them "updates." Last year, Gray "updated" his original forecast of seven hurricanes all the way down to four — and was still too high. Here's what Gray & Co. picked this year from their laboratories in the heart of hurricane alley … Fort Collins, Colo.

Named storms: 18

Hurricanes: 10

Major hurricanes: 5

Hurricane days: 40

The monkeys

The first monkey we met spit at me. Which seemed rude. But then that monkey also showed his rear end to everyone who passed. So I guess it's all relative. Fortunately, I then met Zsa Zsa — a lovely 10-year-old spider monkey, a Florida native who has actually lived through hurricanes …unlike the scientists in Fort Collins. Jayme, the helpful primate keeper at the Central Florida Zoo, would hold pieces of paper with numbers up against the cage, and Zsa Zsa would slap her favorite. Each pick was celebrated with a grape, an armpit scratch and a quick howl. The monkey celebrated as well.

Named storms: 8

Hurricanes: 5

Major hurricanes: 3

Hurricane days: 14

The psychic

Here's what I like about Lake Mary psychic Jamie Southworth: She didn't even wait to hear my questions before providing her answers. I was halfway through explaining the rules when Jamie blurted out: "Three! Nine! Thirteen! And I'm seeing a very clear twenty-three." Jamie, a mother of five, says she gets very clear messages from her spiritual "guides." Her picks were mostly in the middle — except for her high prediction of nine hurricanes. That prompted Jamie to say something you probably don't hear a psychic say very often: "I hope I'm wrong."

Named storms: 13

Hurricanes: 9

Major hurricanes: 3

Hurricane days: 23

The kids

The Maxwell kids took a tag-team approach to predicting. Chase, 7, and his big sister, Cameron, 10, would each pick a number and then compromise in the middle. (Unfortunately, this method led to one prediction that's very unlikely to actually come true — the chance that precisely 3.5 major storms will form this year.) As for their methodology, the little Nameses relied upon the most scientific of techniques … like favorite numbers. At one point, Cameron chose the number 3, explaining: "Three's my lucky number" — to which Chase blithely responded: "There's nothing lucky about hurricanes." Touché, Chase.

Named storms: 16

Hurricanes: 6

Major hurricanes: 3.5

Hurricane days: 23

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
Comments
Loading