Forecast cone explained: Here’s how you should react in days leading up to landfall

Cone highlights where center of storm could track

ORLANDO, Fla. – The cone of uncertainty is arguably the most iconic thing about hurricane season. Since 2002, it has been the National Hurricane Center’s official forecast for the center of a tropical system.

It is important to know how to react should your location be in “the cone.”

First things the first, the cone represents where the center of the storm could go over the next five days. This is where the highest impacts of the storm will be felt.

It is important to note that destructive impacts in the form of heavy rain, wind and storm surge will be felt outside of the cone.

It is also important not to focus on the center of the cone, as the purpose of the cone is to highlight the forecast uncertainty of the storm. The center of the storm could track on the southern side, northern side or near the center of the projected path.

Time to landfall

Here is a day-by-day breakdown of how you should handle being in the cone.

6+ days - [Too soon for most decisions]

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The cone only goes out five days but if you find yourself just outside of the official forecast, know that it is too early for specific details on local impacts. Most spaghetti plots aren’t reliable.

At this point, avoid the noise of social media and trust your expert meteorologist.

5 days - [Caution with the cone]

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You find yourself in the cone, five days out from a potential landfall. There is a reason the cone is so wide at this point as there is a large margin for error. A lot can change with the forecast, but it is a good idea to start getting things in order that take more than two days, like making sure medications are filled.

4 days [Identify outcomes]

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There is still some uncertainty as to where the worst of the impacts could occur. Confidence is growing but continue to monitor expert meteorologists. Pay attention to the timeline of the storm. Storm preparations may need to start.

3 days [Prepare for impacts]

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Storm preparations should be underway. This is the time where impacts on a local scale start to become clearer.

There is still some uncertainty as where the worst of the storm could go because of wobbles with the center but at this point, impacts are likely. Remember, if your area is outside of the cone, impacts always extend outside of it.

2 days [Deadline day]

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Overall confidence in storm impacts are now high. Monitor local officials and news broadcasts for possible evacuation orders. Watches are now in effect from the National Hurricane Center. Storm preparations should be complete or wrapping up.

Less than 24 hours to landfall [Pay attention]

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There is still a 78-mile margin of error for where the official landfall will take place. Little wobbles with the center of the storm are still possible and are likely with stronger storms. This matters significantly for where landfall and the absolute worst of the impacts occur. Significant storm hazards will happen well outside of the cone and far away from landfall.

Weather conditions will rapidly deteriorate during this period. Outer bands are likely already impacting land. Severe weather is possible. Warnings are in effect from the National Hurricane Center.

Landfall [Inland hazards]

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The worst of the storm is impacting the coast. Significant inland hazards including flash flooding, damaging wind and tornadoes are also likely. These hazards may extend for days depending upon the

While there are certainly tasks to take care of leading up to a storm, being prepared as much as possible prior to a storm threatening is highly recommended. This will help to limit stress and anxiety.


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About the Author:

Jonathan Kegges joined the News 6 team in June 2019 as the Weekend Morning Meteorologist. Jonathan comes from Roanoke, Virginia where he covered three EF-3 tornadoes and deadly flooding brought on by Hurricanes Florence and Michael.