How to Forecast Hurricanes

How are hurricane forecasts made? Why are some hurricanes easier to forecast than others? Are long range hurricane forecasts reliable? Here are the answers to some common questions about hurricane forecasting.

Hurricane forecasting is heavily reliant on computer models. There are many different forecasts available which are built on different mathematical equations. Because of this, hurricane track and intensity forecasts will differ. One must know which of the hurricane forecast models is performing the best.

Hurricane forecasts are dependent on available observational data. Unfortunately, over the tropics, data is sparse. Sometimes a hurricane will seem to weaken when this was not the forecast. This can be attributed to "unseen" wind shear. The forecasts can be only as accurate as the data wiil allow.

Good hurricane forecasters know how to interpret all of the tools at their disposal. This includes visible, IR, and water vapor satellite imagery. It is essential to be able to correctly analyze wind flow patterns at low, middle, and high levels. Satellite derived winds are also very useful. Buoy data, ship reports, radar imagery and Hurricane Hunter information are also extremely important to interpret correctly.

It is also not wise to jump on a forecast model that deviates significantly from previous forecasts. Watch for trends in the forecast track. Also, do not focus on the forecast track many days in the future. The farther out in time, the greater the average forecast error. Any correct forecast based on a track one week or more in the future would require a great deal of luck.
Hurricane intensity forecasts are less understood than hurricane track forecasts. Sometimes hurricanes deepen or strengthen very rapidly. This process is not well understood yet, but likely occurs when a combination of synoptic and mesoscale features both favor an increase in strength.

In recent years the media has obtained hurricane forecast information without forecasters trained in proper interpretation. This has led to the improper dissemination of information to the public. The most important aspect in hurricane forecasting is experience. Nothing can replace lessons learned after many years studying the eccentricities of hurricanes.

In summary, hurricane forecasters should be experienced and know how to correctly use the tools available to them. Forecasting is also an art. A good hurricane forecaster must know how to assimilate the intangibles.

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