Center signs off on its own storm forecasts

Some meteorologists are calling on the National Hurricane Center to launch a rigorous examination of its forecasts -- and they want the work done by scientists outside the National Weather Service.

After each hurricane, the Hurricane Center verifies the accuracy of its forecasts. But in almost every case since 1992, the center has allowed forecasters to verify their own work, The Herald found.

Some meteorologists say it's a conflict of interest, and the Hurricane Center should bring in independent experts to produce detailed studies after storms.

That hasn't happened.

Former Hurricane Center Director Jerry Jarrell, who retired in 1999, said he pushed to keep better track of errors but was pressured to set the issue aside.

''I had stones thrown at me early on,'' he said. ``The Weather Service didn't particularly like to be advertising errors.''

The Hurricane Center's post-storm reports contain only a brief section about forecasting flaws -- and they're almost always written by the same meteorologist who crafted some of the forecasts.

After Hurricane Iris pummeled Belize in 2001, the meteorologist who verified the center's performance authored seven of the 20 discussions issued during the storm's life span.

The report did point out the track forecast was ''unusually large'' and that the storm's strength was underestimated. But the report, along with most of the others, did not answer the most important question: why forecasts go bad.

During Iris, for example, the Hurricane Center did not fly its acclaimed Gulfstream jet to measure the steering currents around the storm, which forecasters and researchers say could have improved the forecast.

Hurricane Center Director Max Mayfield argues that all the reports are passed around in-house for reviews.

He said he'd bring in outside help, but he doesn't have the money.

''There's no incentive there for us to fake it one way or another,'' he said. `` . . . We just want to get it right.''