Why Data Matters: Hurricane Season Forecast and COVID19 Numbers (again!)

Where to start, the screwed up COVID19 testing/hospitalization data, or the much more useful hurricane season outlook (it’s an outlook, not a forecast, for technical reasons)?  The hurricane outlook is far more useful and far more scientifically sound, but it does suffers from a similar problem to the COVID19 data: inconsistent standards over time.  (Of course, the COVID19 data suffers from many more aliments).

Here’s a summary of  the 2020 Atlantic Hurricane Season Outlook from NOAA:

The full release is here.  My quibble with it is that the seasonal statistics it is based on were not compiled in the same way, with the same criteria, that the outlook is.  Saying a season is “above normal” in comparison to seasons in the past, especially before satellites (the release also talks about some of the exciting new data and models coming online this year) is questionable.  As we have better data, the standards and thresholds for what is a tropical storm, hurricane, and especially intensity estimates have gotten a lot more refined.  I never liked storm count scoreboards for that reason.  In any event, what matters is that the ocean and atmosphere are primed for a busy season.  Of course, the total number of storms is irrelevant if it hits you.   So if you live on the coast, prepare.

What can be said about the COVID19 data that hasn’t been ranted before?  Are things getting better or worse in the states that are reopening?  We just don’t know.  Obviously things aren’t turning into a New York style dystopia, but the testing and reporting are so bad and so inconsistent that as noted before we have no idea what the hell is going on (sorry, but it’s time to roll out the profanity).  Lumping in antibody and live virus tests as apparently several states are doing, taking weeks to report hospitalization data, it’s all so screwed up you can make any argument you want based on the numbers floating around.  Or just roll dice and throw darts.  Here’s Georgia’s aggregate hospitalization data, and reported persons in the hospital, for the last five days:

If we had real time reporting, these would match.  If there were a one or two day delay, you would see a time lag but the numbers would match with the number of days delay (in other words, the Thursday aggregate change would be seen in the Tuesday hospitalized change, if there were a two day delay).  These are just different data sets, and I don’t believe either one.

So what does this mean for you?  Try to stay safe.  Hygiene, distancing where possible, masks where not.  Take special precautions for those over 65, and anyone with health problems.  Feel bad stay home.  Unfortunately the CDC main COVID19 site hasn’t been updated since April 19th.  Some reopening guidelines are here.  We’ll see what happens … maybe it will be ok, maybe it won’t.  Without good data, there’s no way to know if it isn’t until it’s too late.  Likewise, people have no confidence to go forward if it is in fact ok, which makes the already catastrophic economic damage worse.  So the confused data and monitoring are hurting either way, and it shouldn’t be a political issue.

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