Which Hurricane Forecast Model Should You Trust?

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 1:05 PM GMT on August 07, 2013

The National Hurricane Center (NHC) set a new record in 2012 for accuracy of their 1, 2, 3, and 4-day Atlantic tropical cyclone track forecasts, but had almost no skill making intensity forecasts, according to the 2012 National Hurricane Center Forecast Verification Report, issued in March 2013. The new records for track accuracy were set despite the fact that the season’s storms were harder than average to forecast. The average error in a 1-day forecast was 46 miles, and was 79 miles for 2 days, 116 miles for 3 days, 164 miles for 4 days, and 224 miles for 5 days. The official track forecast had a westward bias of 10 - 17 miles for 1 - 3 day forecasts (i.e., the official forecast tended to fall to the west of the verifying position), and was 38 and 75 miles too far to the northeast for the 4- and 5-day forecasts, respectively.


Figure 1. Verification of official NHC hurricane track forecasts for the Atlantic, 1990 - 2012. Over the past 15 - 20 years, 1 - 3 day track forecast errors have been reduced by about 60%. Track forecast error reductions of about 50% have occurred over the past ten years for 4- and 5-day forecasts. Image credit: 2012 National Hurricane Center Forecast Verification Report.

NHC Intensity Forecasts: Little Improvement Since 1990
Official NHC intensity forecasts did better than usual in 2012, and had errors lower than the 5-year average error for 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5-day forecasts. However, 2012's storms were easier to predict than usual, due to due to a lack of rapidly intensifying hurricanes. These rapid intensifiers are typically the source of the largest forecast errors. The skill of official NHC 24-hour intensity forecasts made in 2012 for the Atlantic basin were only about 15% better than a "no-skill" forecast; 2, 3, 4, and 5-day intensity forecasts had no skill.


Figure 2. Verification of official NHC hurricane intensity forecasts for the Atlantic, 1990 - 2012. Intensity forecasts have shown little to no improvement since 1990. Image credit: 2012 National Hurricane Center Forecast Verification Report.

Which Track Model Should You Trust?
As usual, in 2012 the official NHC forecast for Atlantic storms was almost as good as or better than any individual computer models--though NOAA's GFS model did slightly better than the NHC official forecast at 12, 24, and 48-hour periods, and the European model forecast was slightly better at 12-hour forecasts. Despite all the attention given to how the European Center (ECMWF) model outperformed the GFS model for Hurricane Sandy's track at long ranges, the GFS model actually outperformed the European model in 2012 when summing up all track forecasts made for all Atlantic named storms. This occurred, in part, because the European model made a few disastrously bad forecasts for Tropical Storm Debby when it was in the Gulf of Mexico and steering currents were weak. For several runs, the model predicted a Texas landfall, but Debby ended up moving east-northeast to make a Northwest Florida landfall, like the GFS model had predicted. However, the best-performing model averaged over the past three years has been the European Center model, with the GFS model a close second. Wunderground provides a web page with computer model forecasts for many of the best-performing track models used to predict hurricane tracks. The European Center does not permit public display of tropical storm positions from their hurricane tracking module of their model, so we are unable to put ECMWF forecasts on this page. Here are some of the better models NHC regularly looks at:

ECMWF: The European Center's global forecast model
GFS: NOAA's global forecast model
NOGAPS: The Navy's global forecast model (now defunct, replaced by the NAVGEM model in 2013)
UKMET: The United Kingdom Met Office's global forecast model
GFDL: The Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory's hurricane model, initialized using GFS data
HWRF: The intended successor for the the GFDL hurricane model, also initialized using GFS data
CMC: The Canadian GEM model
BAMM: The very old Beta and Advection Model (Medium layer), which is still useful at longer ranges

If one averages together the track forecasts from the first six of these models, the NHC official forecast will rarely depart much from it. As seen in Figure 3, the HWRF and UKMET were well behind the ECMWF and GFS in forecast accuracy in 2012, but were still respectable. The simple BAMM model did well at 3, 4, and 5-day forecasts. The GFDL and CMC models did quite poorly compared to the ECMWF, GFS, UKMET, and HWRF. The Navy's NOGAPS model also did poorly in 2012, and has been retired. Its replacement for 2013 is called the NAVGEM model.


Figure 3. Skill of computer model forecasts of Atlantic named storms in 2012, compared to a "no skill" model called "CLIPER5" that uses just climatology and persistence to make a hurricane track forecast (persistence means that a storm will tend to keep going in the direction it's current going.) OFCL=Official NHC forecast; GFS=Global Forecast System model; GFDL=Geophysical Fluid Dynamic Laboratory model; HWRF=Hurricane Weather Research Forecasting model; UKMET=United Kingdom Met Office model; ECMWF=European Center for Medium Range Weather Forecasting model; TVCA=one of the consensus models that lends together several of the above models; CMC=Canadian Meteorological Center (GEM) model; BAMM=Beta Advection Model (Medium depth.) Image credit: National Hurricane Center 2012 verification report.

Which Intensity Model Should You Trust?
Don't trust any of them. NHC has two main statistical intensity models, LGEM and DSHP (the SHIPS model with inland decay of a storm factored in.) In addition, four dynamical models that are also use to track hurricanes--the GFS, ECMWF, HWRF, and GFDL models--all offer intensity forecasts. With the exception of the GFS model, which had a skill just 5% better than a "no-skill" intensity forecast for predictions going out 36 hours, all of these models had no skill in their intensity forecasts during 2012. The ECMWF and HWRF models were the worst models for intensity forecasts of 3, 4, and 5 days, with a skill of 20% - 60% lower than a "no-skill" forecast. The LGEM model, which was a decent intensity model in 2011, tanked badly in 2012 and had near-zero skill. The only model that was any good in 2012 was the IVCN "consensus" model, which averages together the intensity forecasts of two or more of the intensity models such as LGEM, GFDL, HWRF, and DSHP.

Some Promising Models From the Hurricane Forecast Improvement Project (HFIP)
Last year was the fourth year of a ten-year project, called the Hurricane Forecast Improvement Project (HFIP), aimed at reducing hurricane track and intensity errors by 50%. The new experimental models from HFIP generally performed poorly in 2012. However, the new FIM9 15-km global model was competitive with the ECMWF and GFS models for track, and the new CIRA Statistical Intensity Consensus (SPC3) model for intensity performed better than many of the traditional intensity models.

For those interested in learning more about the hurricane forecast models, NOAA has a 1-hour training video (updated for 2011.) Additional information about the guidance models used at the NHC can be found at NHC and the NOAA/HRD Hurricane FAQ.

Sources of Model Data
You can view 7-day ECMWF and 16-day GFS forecasts on wunderground's wundermap with the model layer turned on.
Longer ten-day ECMWF forecasts are available from the ECMWF web site.
FSU's experimental hurricane forecast page (CMC, ECMWF, GFDL, GFS, HWRF, and NAVGEM models)
NOAA's HFIP model comparison page (GFS, ECMWF, FIM, FIM9, UKMET, and CMC models.)
Experimental HFIP models

Quiet in the Atlantic
There are no tropical cyclone threat areas in the Atlantic to discuss today, and none of the reliable models for tropical cyclone formation is predicting development during the coming seven days. I plan on having a detailed update on Friday to discuss the latest long-range forecasts for the coming peak part of hurricane season.

Jeff Masters


The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.

Reader Comments

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1536. nigel20
Quoting Civicane49:
Impressive...


Yes indeed! Do you think that Henriette's intensity is steady or slightly stronger?
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
Quoting 1529. opal92nwf:

For some reason I thought you were in P'cola. Yeah there are lower parts in this area. I think the difference is up here in the Twin Cities area where I am, there are a lot of "sandhills" which of course keep the water from pooling. There are several large watersheds and streams, the hills slope down to over here. But now that i think about it, Ft. Walton is pretty flat.


When you say Twin Cities are you referring to Niceville and Valp?
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
Quoting 1521. Envoirment:
96W in the WPAC



Organising quite quickly! OSCAT got a pass of it earlier



CMC and GFS both bring it up to Typhoon status.






Just kidding, but I think that is the attitude of some.
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1533. Patrap
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
Quoting 1522. 69Viking:


I've had water pooled in my front yard for over a month. Even those of us in Fort Walton Beach will be in trouble if we get rains from a Tropical System. The aquifer is full so water doesn't have anywhere to drain to.

For some reason I thought you were in P'cola. Yeah there are lower parts in this area. I think the difference is up here in the Twin Cities area where I am, there are a lot of "sandhills" which of course keep the water from pooling. There are several large watersheds and streams, the hills slope down to over here. But now that i think about it, Ft. Walton is pretty flat.
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1528. ncstorm
and just like clockwork in the next frame for the Euro..nothing..
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Quoting 1497. StormTrackerScott:
If the GFS is correct then it is possible that we may have a rapidly developing hurricane in the SE Gulf heading towrd the west coast of FL come mid next week.

Notice the anticyclone over where the center is so shear won't be an issue.


Moisture won't be an issue




Wouldn't anything in the Gulf move West with the steering the way it is?
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Quoting 1513. Sfloridacat5:
Aug.11, 1994


You mean 2004
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1523. Gearsts
Quoting 1512. CybrTeddy:



1) Go on wikipedia.
2) search up "2010 Atlantic hurricane season."
3) look at the date Hurricane Danielle formed.
4) look at the latest GFS run
5) enjoy
100+
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Quoting 1490. opal92nwf:

Ahh, so you moved to Florida at almost the height of the real estate/economic bubble? Shortly after moving to Illinois in 2004, the realtor called and said he could sell our house (that we were renting at the time) for like double or more than the amount we got it for in 2000. I also remember visiting South Florida a lot around 2004, and yes, that was a booming time for Florida.

I always welcome rain at my house, I love it! Now I know that P'cola has had some flooding problems, but over here in the Fort Walton area, it can rain all it wants on this sandy soil and it will never pool anywhere, unless it's an urban area with poor drainage.


I've had water pooled in my front yard for over a month. Even those of us in Fort Walton Beach will be in trouble if we get rains from a Tropical System. The aquifer is full so water doesn't have anywhere to drain to.
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96W in the WPAC



Organising quite quickly! OSCAT got a pass of it earlier



CMC and GFS both bring it up to Typhoon status.




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Well now we just hit the other extreme^^^^
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1519. ncstorm
96 hours on the 12z Euro..always dissipates the low..lets see if this run is different.

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Quoting 1513. Sfloridacat5:
Aug.11, 1994

Fun
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1517. nigel20
Kingston Jamaica weather station
( updated Thu, 08 Aug 2013 12:00 pm EST )

32°C
High: 32°C | Low: 26°C
Partly Cloudy

Sunrise: 5:46 am
Sunset: 6:36 pm
Visibility: 9.99 km
Feels like: 32°C
Humidity: 62%
Wind: 32.19 km/h
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
Quoting 1512. CybrTeddy:



1) Go on wikipedia.
2) search up "2010 Atlantic hurricane season."
3) look at the date Hurricane Danielle formed.
4) enjoy

Hey Cybr Teddy, did you catch my reply to your comment on the last page?
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1515. nash36
Quoting 1510. PortoJuan:
seriously, this years starting to be annoying. All the activity's been in the E Pac, and the E Pac storms are always very boring. They never really do anything cool. The Atlantic really needs to step up quickly or this may be one of those crappy inactive years with less than 14 storms that are weak and have no impact


What "impact" are you wanting here?? A landfalling major hurricane that destroys lives, property, etc...????

Judging by your narrative, I believe that is what you want.
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Aug.11, 1994
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
Quoting 1510. PortoJuan:
seriously, this years starting to be annoying. All the activity's been in the E Pac, and the E Pac storms are always very boring. They never really do anything cool. The Atlantic really needs to step up quickly or this may be one of those crappy inactive years with less than 14 storms that are weak and have no impact



1) Go on wikipedia.
2) search up "2010 Atlantic hurricane season."
3) look at the date Hurricane Danielle formed.
4) look at the latest GFS run
5) enjoy
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Quoting GTstormChaserCaleb:
I've been diagnosed with Tropical Depression.


Honestly, I am too, I have a headache just sitting around having to do obligatory things in my life like getting ready for college, going to doctor appointments, and life going on as usual. I want a Cat 4 so I can have a break.

Sarcasm Flag: On (for the most part) (:
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1509. nigel20
Quoting GTstormChaserCaleb:
I've been diagnosed with Tropical Depression.

That's pretty funny, Caleb...good one.
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Quoting 1504. Civicane49:
Impressive...


"Most impressive"
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Quoting 1477. GTstormChaserCaleb:
I've been diagnosed with Tropical Depression.
A good ztorm to track will rid you of that, no?
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Thanks to a fellow blogger she gave me the idea to add a graphic of Precip totals forecast 84hours out to my website...HAVE FUN!
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Impressive...

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One thing is for sure the GFS has been consistant now for several runs in showing a system developing in the Gulf.
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1502. Patrap
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
Quoting 1450. Felix2007:


I don't really lurk or post around here except during hurricane season, lol. I mean I use the site and all, just not really the blogs. You know I'll be around plenty during the next few months as the tropics heat up!


Nice! See ya back in tropics talk when we start heating up?
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This whole year has been on the whole......wet......cool......boring......



Which all combines to.......miserable.

Even the tropics are.....boring
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1499. nigel20
Quoting JLPR2:
Impressive TCHP in the Western Caribbean, it's actually the highest in the area at this date since the record of the images start on 2005.


It's very high to the west of Jamaica. This would not be good if a slow moving storm with favorable conditions moved over the area.
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Quoting 1489. StormTrackerScott:


My Grand parents said they have witnessed many hurricanes come thru Orlando with most of those occurring in 2004 and the 1960's. Orlando is in the perfect spot for hurricanes and seabreeze collisions.

Although they usually aren't terribly strong when they reach Orlando. The best direction a hurricane could take to hit Orlando at full force would be for it to make landfall near Cocoa Beach. That is the thinnest portion of land between Orlando and the ocean.
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If the GFS is correct then it is possible that we may have a rapidly developing hurricane in the SE Gulf heading towrd the west coast of FL come mid next week.

Notice the anticyclone over where the center is so shear won't be an issue.


Moisture won't be an issue


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Quoting 1461. MississippiWx:


They usually peak in September.


I concur, typically the first couple weeks of September we have the warmest water where I live. Then sometime in September cold fronts start making far enough South to bring cool fall air into the GOM and that is when our water starts to cool.
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1494. 62901IL
Well, earlier, when the storms moved thru, we got some rain. The thunder, unfortunately, was not consisting of sonic booms. May get some more later, per this hourly forecast.
Link
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1493. pcola57
Quoting 1460. MississippiWx:
Kind of weather related, but this is really cool. Check out how engineers convert humidity in the air into drinking water. Sorry if this has been posted another time. I've often thought I could drink the air here in South MS.



Very interesting post MississippiWx..
Thanks.. :)
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Back to 0%.



1. CLOUDINESS AND SHOWER ACTIVITY ASSOCIATED WITH A WEAK LOW PRESSURE
SYSTEM OVER THE SOUTHEASTERN CARIBBEAN SEA HAVE DECREASED.
ENVIRONMENTAL CONDITIONS ARE NOT CONDUCIVE FOR DEVELOPMENT WHILE
THE LOW MOVES WESTWARD AT 10 TO 15 MPH DURING THE NEXT SEVERAL
DAYS. THIS SYSTEM HAS A LOW CHANCE...NEAR 0 PERCENT...OF BECOMING
A TROPICAL CYCLONE DURING THE NEXT 48 HOURS...AND A LOW CHANCE...
NEAR 0 PERCENT...OF BECOMING A TROPICAL CYCLONE DURING THE NEXT 5
DAYS.

I guess for now we'll just have to wait for Erin to form next week.
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Quoting 1488. prcane4you:
Nobody cares about it.


I do.
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Quoting 1462. CybrTeddy:


Lived there in 2003. Lived in Florida since 2004.

Ahh, so you moved to Florida at almost the height of the real estate/economic bubble. Shortly after moving from Florida to Illinois in 2004, the realtor called and said he could sell our house (that we were renting at the time) for like double or more than the amount we got it for in 2000. I also remember visiting South Florida a lot around 2004, and yes, that was a booming time for Florida.
Quoting 1476. 69Viking:


I bet I get more than you before the day is over! These storms off the Gulf can dump 3" in less than an hour! Really wish I could send them North to you and West to Texas, enough already!


I always welcome rain at my house, I love it! Now I know that P'cola has had some flooding problems, but over here in the Fort Walton area, it can rain all it wants on this sandy soil and it will never pool anywhere, unless it's an urban area with poor drainage.
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Quoting 1451. Jedkins01:


This map must be fairly old, they forgot Jeanne and Wilma

Interesting though to say the least. My house in Pinellas county is under the eyewall path of 2 old strikes strikes.


My Grand parents said they have witnessed many hurricanes come thru Orlando with most of those occurring in 2004 and the 1960's. Orlando is in the perfect spot for hurricanes and seabreeze collisions.
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Quoting 1453. opal92nwf:
A lot more humid than in days past here on the Gulf Coast


We've been in deep moisture and think humidity since the end of May here in South and Central Florida, lol.


Water temps in the gulf are 88 to 90 so there you go.
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1486. JLPR2
Impressive TCHP in the Western Caribbean, it's actually the highest in the area at this date since the record of the images start on 2005.

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Cat 6 lead authors: WU cofounder Dr. Jeff Masters (right), who flew w/NOAA Hurricane Hunters 1986-1990, & WU meteorologist Bob Henson, @bhensonweather