Even though Colorado is far from the any coast, forecasters at
CSU have been predicting hurricane activity for more than 20 years
and often accurately.
William Gray, a professor of atmospheric science at CSU, has
been the leader of the CSU hurricane forecasting team for the 21
years of its existence.
“I’ve been at CSU for 42 years and been in meteorology for 50
years,” Gray said. “My main interest has been in hurricane
Forty-five of those 50 years have been spent studying
Gray joined the Air Force in 1957 during the Korean War and
spent four and a half years in the service.
“I had good enough grades that I could go into the Air Force,”
Gray said. “I went as a forecaster.”
The forecasting team released its forecast for the 2004
hurricane season last week, predicting 13 named storms, seven
hurricanes and three intense hurricanes next fall.
Last year’s hurricane predictions were very accurate. In
December 2002, the forecast team predicted 12 named storms, eight
hurricanes and three intense hurricanes. The team updated its
forecast to 14 named storms in May 2003. The observed totals for
the season were 14 named storms, seven hurricanes and three intense
“I didn’t think it was ever possible (to accurately predict
hurricanes) but as I was studying I noticed things,” Gray said. “In
El Nina years, we have less hurricane activity in the Atlantic. A
lot of these different global features that are related as
There are many things that go into forecasting tropical storms,
Gray said. One thing the forecast team looks at is how
environmental features compare to previous years.
“Our methodology is one of looking to the past,” Gray said.
“It’s only been the last 10, 15, 20 years that we’ve had enough
global data. As I go along in time I see more and more potential in
this area of global forecasting.”
Global forecasting in this manner also includes predicting cold
or warm summers and droughts, Gray said.
The reason it no longer matters where the forecasters are in the
world is because of the improved technological methods for
Phil Klotzbach, a research associate who has worked with Gray
for about three years, said there are new databases that help him,
especially with forecasting the month of September.
“(The database) goes back to 1950 and gives information
worldwide,” Klotzbach said. “What we do is we look and see what the
conditions were and how similar they are (to now).”
Gray said despite being in a landlocked state, CSU is really a
good place to study tropical storms.
“We can follow weather as well as they can in Florida. We
probably have the best program to study hurricanes here at CSU,”
Gray said. “In order to study the atmosphere on Mars, you don’t
necessarily have to go to Mars.”
Gray is the reason that many graduate students come to study
atmospheric science at CSU.
Klotzbach said he has been fascinated with hurricanes since he
was a child living in Massachusetts. He also did his undergraduate
thesis on Gray’s work before coming to CSU in the fall of 2000.
“I’ve always been interested in hurricanes. I’ve always wanted
to study with Dr. Gray,” Klotzbach said. “It just kind of
fascinated me, the power of a hurricane.”
Eric Blake, a former member of the CSU forecasting team, worked
on what he described as the forecasting committee. In his three
years as a member of the committee, Blake said he focused mainly on
forecast information, looking at charts.
“I looked at weather data from across the world and related it
to hurricane activity,” Blake said. “Just little associations in
the atmosphere that if you have a big enough sample you can relate
Blake said he was mainly interested in the seasonal forecasting
“It’s pretty interesting that you can forecast a hurricane and
not know how much snowfall you’re going to get in Denver,” Blake
His work at CSU helped him get his current position at the
National Hurricane Center in Miami, Fla.
“I think my work with Dr. Gray was instrumental in my getting my
job here,” Blake said. “Still, I assist however I can (with the CSU
Gray pointed out that he could not forecast alone.
“I have a very good team of people I work with. I’ve been very
fortunate,” Gray said. “I started it but I’ve had a lot of