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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1136. Grothar
Quoting 1127. GeorgiaStormz:
What is this, the 10" of rain a day show?



since 4 yesterday, areas south of the main swath of 10" rain yesterday are catching up on their rainfall amounts as well, so we can make sure ALL of southern missouri is underwater.



Have you seen the news on the flooding in Missouri? I don't know why there isn't better coverage. That is right where I was stationed at Fort Leonard Wood. There is a little town right next to it called Waynesville. Not much of a town, but I heard it was under water.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
Quoting 1120. Grothar:
I believe a civilization should be judged by the television shows they watch.

Right now: #1 Dancing with Starts
#2 Real Housewives of New Jersey


I say we have come a long way since 1958 when "Friday Night Wrestling was the #1 show.

One of the first Hurricane Hunters aircraft, the Douglas Havoc



Now, the WC-130J Hercules:



So how would the Mayan Civilization be judged then? Maybe if they had TV they would have known about their impending doom, which was probably a huge hurricane.
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This tweet from last Sunday by one who is in the South Florida building says it all.


Eric Blake %u200F@EricBlake12 1min
Models starting to build an upper-level ridge across the Atlc w/less shear. My guess is the 3rd week of Aug won't be as quiet as the 1st!
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Quoting 1126. wunderweatherman123:
morning folks, 6z GFS at the end of its run shows a mini wave train, interesting
Also has a weak system approaching the SW FL. coast.

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Quoting 1106. AtHomeInTX:
I could always go for a cool dip in the gulf... Oh :) Wouldn't anyway, been watching shark week all week. Can't imagine the heat would improve their disposition any. Lol.

My daughter and I were on our way to the beach last night and she said....Wait, we can't go to the beach now....it's shark week.
We swam until dark. :)
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1130. Grothar
Quoting 1122. mitthbevnuruodo:


Very nice, I wish I had your green thumb and know how with the plants. I'm only good at taking photos of them, not at growing them, though am trying LOL


Ah, we have something in common. Mrs. Grothar said I should write a book called "How to kill any Plant in One Easy Lesson". (a special chapter on Orchids)


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Quoting 1120. Grothar:
I believe a civilization should be judged by the television shows they watch.

Right now: #1 Dancing with Starts
#2 Real Housewives of New Jersey


I say we have come a long way since 1958 when "Friday Night Wrestling was the #1 show.

One of the first Hurricane Hunters aircraft, the Douglas Havoc



Now, the WC-130J Hercules:





Yeah, but then the rest of us get lumped into being treated as part of that! And I've not even had a tv for about 6 or 7 years! LOL I always thought, if you could do sat or cable, where you can choose just exactly what channels you wanted, I would maybe bother. But I can't be bothered to pay for a load of stuff I don't want...especially when you have to pay the tv licence here on top of it LOL

Oh, and nice plane!


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What is this, the 10" of rain a day show?



since 4 yesterday, areas south of the main swath of 10" rain yesterday are catching up on their rainfall amounts as well, so we can make sure ALL of southern missouri is underwater.

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morning folks, 6z GFS at the end of its run shows a mini wave train, interesting
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The "Herc" is one of the best air frame designs of the 20th Century; the C-130 has been in service (with the same basic design) for over 50 years now all over the world in every conceivable scenario (including the attack Spectre gunship model).

That is one wicked air plane.............
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From the Miami NWS Disco

TODAY`S PRECIP COVERAGE WILL BE LIMITED BY SUBSIDENCE AHEAD OF THE
LOW, WITH SCATTERED AFTERNOON COVERAGE CONFINED TO INTERIOR AND
WESTERN COLLIER COUNTY AND WESTERN GLADES AND HENDRY COUNTIES. BY
FRIDAY, TSTMS WILL INCREASE IN COVERAGE AND INTENSITY AS DEEPER
MOISTURE ON THE BACK SIDE OF THE LOW AND COOL MID-LEVEL
TEMPERATURES (CHARACTERIZED BY 500 MB TEMPS OF -8 TO -10C) ACT TO
ENHANCE CONVECTION. INCREASING SE WIND FLOW WILL FAVOR
SHOWERS/TSTMS JUST ABOUT ANYTIME OVER EASTERN SECTIONS AND
PRIMARILY IN THE AFTERNOON/EVENING INTERIOR AND GULF COAST. TIMING
OF THE DEEPEST MOISTURE APPEARS TO BE FRIDAY NIGHT AS THE
MID/UPPER LOW MOVES AWAY FROM THE AREA. THIS MAY SLIGHTLY
MITIGATE THE TSTM COVERAGE ON FRIDAY, NEVERTHELESS SHOULD BE A
FAIRLY ACTIVE DAY OF CONVECTION WITH OCCASIONAL LIGHTNING ALL
AREAS AND STRONG STORMS A POSSIBILITY OVER INTERIOR AND GULF COAST
DURING MAX HEATING IN THE AFTERNOON WITH GUSTY WINDS AND SMALL
HAIL POSSIBLE. SHOWERS AND A FEW TSTMS WILL LINGER INTO FRIDAY
NIGHT, ESPECIALLY SE FLORIDA.

SATURDAY LOOKS TO BE A TRANSITION DAY OF SORTS AS THE BACK EDGE OF
THE MOISTURE FIELD ASSOCIATED WITH THE MID/UPPER LOW MOVES
THROUGH SOUTH FLORIDA. THIS IS REFLECTED BY LOWER POPS, ESPECIALLY
EASTERN AREAS, BUT STILL FAIRLY HIGH OVER SW FLORIDA IN FAVORED
E/SE FLOW.
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Quoting 1100. SouthernIllinois:

Oh no! I don't think that!! lol. Thank you. Yeah the tulip poplar grows rapidly with a long straight bole. It is my pride and joy, especially when it flowers in Spring.

Geez. It seems like it has been like that all month for you. No break in the humidity in NOLA that's fo sure!


Very nice, I wish I had your green thumb and know how with the plants. I'm only good at taking photos of them, not at growing them, though am trying LOL
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Carb still unfavorable may change ina few days.
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1120. Grothar
I believe a civilization should be judged by the television shows they watch.

Right now: #1 Dancing with Stars
#2 Real Housewives of New Jersey


I say we have come a long way since 1958 when "Friday Night Wrestling was the #1 show.

One of the first Hurricane Hunters aircraft, the Douglas Havoc



Now, the WC-130J Hercules:



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Quoting 1107. MisterPerfect:
The ULL is on its move and into the Bahamas already.

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Quoting 1117. GTstormChaserCaleb:
Good morning everyone.

FIM-7:



FIM-8:



FIM-9:


Anywhere from Brownsville to FL needs to watch
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Good morning everyone.

FIM-7:



FIM-8:



FIM-9:

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Quoting 1106. AtHomeInTX:
I could always go for a cool dip in the gulf... Oh :) Wouldn't anyway, been watching shark week all week. Can't imagine the heat would improve their disposition any. Lol.



Sharkcatnado?

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Quoting 1110. Tropicsweatherpr:
Good morning pottery,DDR. Did you felt a 4.1 quake yesterday over there?

Link
...did you "feel" a 4.1....
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Good Morning!

6:48 am (10:48 GMT)

Looking across the Intracoastal Waterway in Lantana, Florida.


When Dex meets up with the Johnson's, he's lavish with the kisses for everyone. Here he is trying to lick my ear via my right nostril.

Morning shower yesterday dropped 0.04" in the gauge. Today's supposed to be the driest day of the week, I hope so - I've got to change an electrical panel out. Which means I gotta get going.
Have a great day all.
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Good morning pottery and DDR. Did you feel a 4.1 quake yesterday over there?

Link
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AN UPPER LEVEL LOW...OVER EAST BAHAMAS...IS EXPECTED TO MOVE ACROSS
THE GULF OF MEXICO FRIDAY THROUGH EARLY SUNDAY. THIS FEATURE MAY NOT
SHOW A STRONG INFLECTION AT THE SURFACE AND GENERALLY REMAIN
CONFINED TO THE UPPER LEVELS. THEREFORE...ONLY A SLIGHT INCREASE IN
WIND SPEEDS UP TO 10 TO 15 KNOTS IS EXPECTED. A LITTLE BIT OF SWELL
THAT COULD ENHANCE WAVE HEIGHTS UP TO 3 TO 4 FEET BY SUNDAY AS FETCH
FROM EAST GULF TO NORTHWEST GULF WILL DEVELOP. 18/FZ

Not much to look at & that little blob in the S.E. Carib.
requires a magnifying glass to see the t-Storms..alas
its early yet...
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Quoting 1085. StormTrackerScott:
Look at the vorticity with this wave about to exit Africa. Yikes!


wow!! I see a white color to
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I could always go for a cool dip in the gulf... Oh :) Wouldn't anyway, been watching shark week all week. Can't imagine the heat would improve their disposition any. Lol.

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Quoting 1100. SouthernIllinois:

Oh no! I don't think that!! lol. Thank you. Yeah the tulip poplar grows rapidly with a long straight bole. It is my pride and joy, especially when it flowers in Spring.

Geez. It seems like it has been like that all month for you. No break in the humidity in NOLA that's fo sure!

No Nat, no break. But hey that's every year..you know the ol dog days of summer. It's worth it when I can wear shorts and flip flops on Christmas day
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Quoting 1089. SouthernIllinois:

I know! Tell me about it!!
Do either of you live in FL?
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How many of you guys look up memorable events in your area in the weather history here? I think it's interesting seeing the actual data from the storm.
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Quoting 1094. biff4ugo:
looks like my cloudless gyre is heading for the Bahamas today. Lots of spin but no big storm. Why is it cranking so fast?


You mean that ULL
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Quoting 1093. SouthernIllinois:

Don't worry Pro. The pic will come back. :) Don't have any plans to go to my friend Alyssa's pool...not with all this rain!! And the forests will be loving this rain....so I thought my 140 foot Tulip Tree (Yellow Poplar) pic would be appropriate today!!

Ugh. 92 heat index THIS EARLY????? Thats sticky icky! Haha. Nope it's Thursday, I promise. Drought Monitor should be out now.

Oh EDIT. At Home In Texas just posted it. Thanks At Home!!


I'm not really a lecherous old man lol. I was just picking at you, the tree is magnificent. It is horribly sticky, air temp at 83-86 by 0600. Humidity is literally so thick you can cut it with a knife and the knife gets wet lol.
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very.large.amplitude.tw..29w
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looks like my cloudless gyre is heading for the Bahamas today. Lots of spin but no big storm. Why is it cranking so fast?
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COG,

There have been large advances in solar energy collection efficiencies from Australia.
There's an app for that... is taking our mobile devices in many directions at once from navigation, to gas price optimization, to the sum total of human knowledge, searchable and at our fingertips practically anywhere and time. I'm not sure what you are looking for in terms of advances but wireless communication across India and China was HUGE! Driverless cars are on the road out west. If China and India can go Solar instead of to coal, that would be big. China is already leading the way in wind.
NOAA is exploring the bottom of the ocean in new ROV's. It seems like we are doubling our exploration of the average depth of the earth surface.
We have flying drones that could deliver pizza, lasers that can see around corners, early versions of invisibility cloaks (though they do look a little green to me). Molten salt energy storage... what were you saying about no advances?
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Quoting 1087. SouthernIllinois:
Getting going.




Heyyyy, wait a minute. That's kinda unfair. You get nice cooling rains and I have a heat index of 92 at 0530. Plus the bikini pic went away. Is it Monday all over again? LOL
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Quoting 1063. aislinnpaps:
Good morning, afternoon and evening, everyone. A 100% humid 75 degrees with 75 degree dew point and feels like 81 already. High expected of 98 and no rain in sight. Even with all my watering my garden is beginning to suffer.

Breakfast's on the sideboard: fruity granola and yogurt parfait, baked eggs and spinach, broccoli & cheddar omelet, bacon and grill cheese sandwich
baked egg in an avocado with and without crumbled bacon, egg white or full egg cheese wrap,
andouille sausage and shrimp over cheesey grits,cheese danishes, yogurt, fresh fruit and orange, apple or pineapple juice. Enjoy!



UGH! Sorry Aislin, now y'all are catching the drought.

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it all starts from a small cloud walt. fascinating
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1086. flcanes
Quoting 1081. Waltanater:
My long range model shows a major hitting FL the week of Nov. 4th...but that is a long way away.

??????????
What long range model?
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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