Here’s what goes into making an accurate hurricane forecast

Improvements continue to be made to provide forecasts

ORLANDO, Fla. – Hurricane forecasting continues to improve. The notorious cone of uncertainty has gotten smaller and evacuations have become more efficient.

Forecasts last year were pretty much spot on in both track and intensity for individual storms. Here is a look at the improving forecast accuracy and what you need to know about the official forecasts issued by the National Hurricane Center.

“It’s one of the more aggressive forecasts we’ve ever issued,” NHC hurricane specialist Michael Brennan said.

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As the disturbance that became Hurricane Ida started to take shape in the Gulf of Mexico, forecasters at the National Hurricane Center spotted the signs of a major hurricane in the making.

“Yeah, I mean, obviously didn’t end up being enough but it got the message out there initially that it was, you know, hey, this is going to be a significant storm, right?” Brennan said. “Potentially major hurricane right out of the gate.”

Ida became one of the most powerful hurricanes to hit the U.S., taking nearly 50 lives and causing billions in damage from Louisiana to the Northeast. It also continued a recent trend of storms rapidly intensifying before landfall, making accurate forecasts even more critical to saving lives.

“I like to tell people, track models don’t have any conscience, they shift around and jump back and forth. But the human forecaster really can impose some continuity on the track and keep that message very consistent,” Brennan said.

Model forecasts continue to improve, but they need good data. That’s why hurricane hunters fly into and around storms. The data they collect can make the models as much as 20% more accurate.

“And it’s especially important to get the aircraft into the developing systems. Because if you don’t know where the center is or if the center is jumping around or reforming, it can really change the forecast not just the track but the intensity,” Brennan said. “So getting the data in there for both just the forecaster to use and to get into the models. And that early stage can really help with the forecast as well.”

The key here is to not pay attention to just the first forecast and to watch the trends. The forecasts with these storms are going to change as more data becomes available. It’s also important to not fall victim to the windshield wiper effect of the spaghetti models plastered over social media.

The Pinpoint Weather Team will always keep our messaging consistent.

About the Author:

Jonathan Kegges joined the News 6 team in June 2019 and now covers weather on TV and all digital platforms.