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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Quoting 1919. Socalmargie:
Am i allowed to ask a weather question?


What I do, scare you off? I was only kidding. Answers here only cost about 25 cents each.

Correct answers are rather pricy though.
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1933. Patrap
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Quoting 1909. indianrivguy:


They are sending polluted neurotoxic cyanobacteria laden water out two unnatural man made communications endangering everyone in or near the water. Strong winds are not our friend right now.

And why are they dumping it? To protect life and limb south of the lake. I support this. I do not know anyone who does not, but, in order to protect them, we are put into danger from toxic bacteria on both sides of the State.


Ok, some questions:

1. Is the neurotoxic cyanobacteria a by-product of sugar production? Or where is it coming from?

2. Winds a problem. Why, if it's water laden? Is it also an airborne bacteria?

3. I'm assuming the damn/dike is on the lake's south side? Hence the water release that ultimately ends up in the lagoon and tributaries.

4. Both sides of the lake? Toxic water is released on both sides of the lake then?

5. Other than flooding the fields, what are the other alternatives? Seems there's ample support/reason to flood the fields, but won't that eventually reach capacity and just transfer the problem to more areas as well?

TIA! :)


Oh, and MANY KUDOS for your tireless efforts! :)
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Quoting 1901. MAweatherboy1:
If you're looking for something good to track for the next few days, keep an eye on 11W in the West-Pac. It's outflow pattern is excellent for such a young system:



And it is already building a solid core:



With favorable conditions in its path RI is a pretty good possibility, as JTWC has said. They forecast a powerful 120kt peak intensity through 5 days. If this path were to verify it would have a high end Cat 3 equivalent passing over the far northern Philippines within 3-4 days and a Cat 4 bearing down on Hong Kong in 5-6 days:



I second that, TD 11W is likely the next big one.

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Quoting 1918. Grothar:


I don't know, I'll leave that to Marty. I can't even figure out how to save my cactus plant.


Remember, you can prick your finger, but...
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1927. Patrap
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and the GFS says good bye to the Florida storm, exactly why I said dont get excited. Camille, stop trying to scare people.
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very strong hurricane will form with this anticycline and go north to florida where there is big trough!!!
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Quoting 1910. CybrTeddy:
GFS, naturally, trending more north and weaker this run. Typical.


I prefer the 00z and 12z runs as those have more data.
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1923. Patrap
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Quoting 1919. Socalmargie:
Am i allowed to ask a weather question?


How much money you got?
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The pattern that is setting up...looks like yet again...would leave TX out of the picture. With a high over the 4 corners region...weak trough over the mid west...and the Bermuda high...looks like TX may not get one this year yet again...I could be wrong but its what i'm seeing.
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Quoting 1909. indianrivguy:


That's a rather biased way to look at it don't you think.. I could almost hear you sneer when you talked about rich people.. like they are the only ones affected. It affects everyone, poor people feed themselves from it. People not "rich" enough to live waterfront go play in the water. The value of all properties, lost jobs, lost income, BIG money lost, people getting sick.

The number one private employer in Martin County is the Indian River lagoon, and its tributary, the St. Lucie River. They are sending polluted neurotoxic cyanobacteria laden water out two unnatural man made communications endangering everyone in or near the water. Strong winds are not our friend right now.

And why are they dumping it? To protect life and limb south of the lake. I support this. I do not know anyone who does not, but, in order to protect them, we are put into danger from toxic bacteria on both sides of the State.

There is an alternative that endangers no one. We could flood the fields.. for every foot that goes into the EAA, the lake would drop a foot. Why is a sugar crop in a glutted sugar market more important than the safety and well being of the citizens. The State and ACOE are KNOWINGLY sending this poison into our waterways. The FDEP even signed a permit to allow sugar to dewater by backpumping nutrient polluted bacteria food into an ongoing blue/green algae bloom....while they were discharging to us. Floridian Don't Expect Protection. They protect a sugar crop instead of our citizens. Flood the fields, protect ALL the citizens.

I know, they know, and you probably suspect that they would be "sweetly" compensated for their lost crops, even in a glutted market. But they will fight it anyway, it re-establishes that people are more important than the corporate profits of sugar barons. They can't have THAT.



Marty-

Well stated. I am sorry I missed you on NewsChannel 5 as I just got in from work.

We are in a rough spot. It is only going to get rougher this season..and beyond.

Joe
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1918. Grothar
Quoting 1908. mikatnight:


What's the solution, Grothar? I've done work for the Fanjul's (big sugar), they're nice folks but they're a corporation. Corporations are robots designed to make money. They don't see anything else.


I don't know, I'll leave that to Marty. I can't even figure out how to save my cactus plant.
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Quoting 1909. indianrivguy:


That's a rather biased way to look at it don't you think.. I could almost hear you sneer when you talked about rich people.. like they are the only ones affected. It affects everyone, poor people feed themselves from it. People not "rich" enough to live waterfront go play in the water. The value of all properties, lost jobs, lost income, BIG money lost, people getting sick.

The number one private employer in Martin County is the Indian River lagoon, and its tributary, the St. Lucie River. They are sending polluted neurotoxic cyanobacteria laden water out two unnatural man made communications endangering everyone in or near the water. Strong winds are not our friend right now.

And why are they dumping it? To protect life and limb south of the lake. I support this. I do not know anyone who does not, but, in order to protect them, we are put into danger from toxic bacteria on both sides of the State.

There is an alternative that endangers no one. We could flood the fields.. for every foot that goes into the EAA, the lake would drop a foot. Why is a sugar crop in a glutted sugar market more important than the safety and well being of the citizens. The State and ACOE are KNOWINGLY sending this poison into our waterways. The FDEP even signed a permit to allow sugar to dewater by backpumping nutrient polluted bacteria food into an ongoing blue/green algae bloom....while they were discharging to us. Floridian Don't Expect Protection. They protect a sugar crop instead of our citizens. Flood the fields, protect ALL the citizens.

I know, they know, and you probably suspect that they would be "sweetly" compensated for their lost crops, even in a glutted market. But they will fight it anyway, it re-establishes that people are more important than the corporate profits of sugar barons. They can't have THAT.



Even the news too? I noticed the piece you posted on your FB page from ch25 pretty much ignored it (the real problem). It's going to require a political solution?
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Big hurricane coming to north gulf coast next week this not looking good !!
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1915. java162


not sure what to make of these 2 as yet
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1914. Grothar
Quoting 1905. moonlightcowboy:


ROTFL, ok, I understand now! :)


I guess I spent too much time in New York. See, there, if you like someone, you insult them. For instance, if you have a friend who is a lady, you compliment them like this. That's a nice dress, I didn't know that fabric stretched so much. Or, you have such nice blonde hair, why do you dye your roots gray.

With your guy friends, you say things like, When you were born, how bad did they slap you.

Like, GeoffWPB, Rookie, and pott do with me and I to them.
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I see Indian River Guy "Marty" is watching....Thanks friend for all you do
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Gfs will show hurricane opal here!!
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GFS, naturally, trending more north and weaker this run. Typical.
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Quoting 1850. TopOfTheLakeFL:
It is unfortunately a necessary evil.. the lake went over 16 ft today despite all efforts releasing water both east and west.. the level is still rising.. I feel bad for the environment, the fish, and other wildife.. The rich peoples' backyard views have been compromised and they can cannot do any kayaking, wake boarding, or jet skiing.. It is horrible but if the the lake was to get to 17 or 18 ft the dike could fail and 1000s of people could lose their homes and lives would be in danger. I think in this case human life trumps lifestlye and the adverse environmental side effects on the lagoon.


http://www.sfwmd.gov/portal/page/portal/xreposito ry/sfwmd_repository_pdf/lokstg.pdf



http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1928_Okeechobee_hurr icane


That's a rather biased way to look at it don't you think.. I could almost hear you sneer when you talked about rich people.. like they are the only ones affected. It affects everyone, poor people feed themselves from it. People not "rich" enough to live waterfront go play in the water. The value of all properties, lost jobs, lost income, BIG money lost, people getting sick.

The number one private employer in Martin County is the Indian River lagoon, and its tributary, the St. Lucie River. They are sending polluted neurotoxic cyanobacteria laden water out two unnatural man made communications endangering everyone in or near the water. Strong winds are not our friend right now.

And why are they dumping it? To protect life and limb south of the lake. I support this. I do not know anyone who does not, but, in order to protect them, we are put into danger from toxic bacteria on both sides of the State.

There is an alternative that endangers no one. We could flood the fields.. for every foot that goes into the EAA, the lake would drop a foot. Why is a sugar crop in a glutted sugar market more important than the safety and well being of the citizens. The State and ACOE are KNOWINGLY sending this poison into our waterways. The FDEP even signed a permit to allow sugar to dewater by backpumping nutrient polluted bacteria food into an ongoing blue/green algae bloom....while they were discharging to us. Floridian Don't Expect Protection. They protect a sugar crop instead of our citizens. Flood the fields, protect ALL the citizens.

I know, they know, and you probably suspect that they would be "sweetly" compensated for their lost crops, even in a glutted market. But they will fight it anyway, it re-establishes that people are more important than the corporate profits of sugar barons. They can't have THAT.

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Quoting 1893. Grothar:



All Florida needs is more rain. I don't think many people on here are aware of how important the work Marty does in Florida. He is quite well known and works tirelessly. Between Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades, we are close to a critical situation and possible disaster.



What's the solution, Grothar? I've done work for the Fanjul's (big sugar), they're nice folks but they're a corporation. Corporations are robots designed to make money. They don't see anything else.
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Sun is up in the WPAC

TD11

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Looks like GFS is buying what the FIM is selling, at least somewhat. (W Carib)
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Quoting 1903. Grothar:


First line was sarcasm. That is why I showed the image of more rain coming into Florida. My sarcasm isn't that good in the first hour after my nap. I promise I will get better as the night goes on. After I read it, I can see the confusion. I'll go and rephrase it. :)


ROTFL, ok, I understand now! I can be a tad slow sometimes. :)
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1904. Grothar
Quoting 1898. flcanes:

I know. If we were to get another Isaac, Fay, or Debby most of South florida would be doomed.
At the same time, Didn't the GFS develop a cyclone and send it up tampa bay. That in and of itself is another disaster waiting to happen.


The GFS has been consistent with that for a while now.
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1903. Grothar
Quoting 1899. moonlightcowboy:



I'm confused, Gro. I thought the problem sounded like there had been too much water. Straighten me out, will ya? TIA


First line was sarcasm. That is why I showed the image of more rain coming into Florida. My sarcasm isn't that good in the first hour after my nap. I promise I will get better as the night goes on. After I read it, I can see the confusion. I'll go and rephrase it. :)
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that tropical wave its big as hurricane sandy..my god!
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If you're looking for something good to track for the next few days, keep an eye on 11W in the West-Pac. It's outflow pattern is excellent for such a young system:



And it is already building a solid core:



With favorable conditions in its path RI is a pretty good possibility, as JTWC has said. They forecast a powerful 120kt peak intensity through 5 days. If this path were to verify it would have a high end Cat 3 equivalent passing over the far northern Philippines within 3-4 days and a Cat 4 bearing down on Hong Kong in 5-6 days:

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The pattern that is setting up...looks like yet again...would leave TX out of the picture. With a high over the 4 corners region...weak trough over the mid west...and the Bermuda high...looks like TX may not get one this year yet again...I could be wrong but its what im seeing.
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Quoting 1893. Grothar:



All Florida needs is more rain.



I'm confused, Gro. I thought the problem sounded like there had been too much water. Straighten me out, will ya? TIA
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1898. flcanes
Quoting 1893. Grothar:



All Florida needs is more rain. I don't think many people on here are aware of how important the work Marty does in Florida. He is quite well known and works tirelessly. Between Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades, we are close to a critical situation and possible disaster.


I know. If we were to get another Isaac, Fay, or Debby most of South florida would be doomed.
At the same time, Didn't the GFS develop a cyclone and send it up tampa bay. That in and of itself is another disaster waiting to happen.
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Quoting 1875. yoboi:




How long have you lived in the south??????


10 years
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:
Obnoxious orange bar is obnoxious.

I've switched back to classic mode - just replace the "www" in the URL with "classic". I'm in Texas, its August, I know we're under a heat advisory and probably will be until the 1st of Sept. The bar isn't an alert - its like a barking dog following you around, irritating but providing no information
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Quoting 1869. moonlightcowboy:
2013 Bottlenose Dolphin Unusual Mortality Event in Florida



"Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 (as amended), an Unusual Mortality Event (UME) has been declared for bottlenose dolphins in the Indian River Lagoon (IRL) System along the east coast of Florida from January 2013 through the present. Elevated strandings of bottlenose dolphins have occurred in the northern and central Indian River Lagoon system in Brevard County.

Current bottlenose dolphin strandings are almost three times the historical average for the Indian River Lagoon. All age classes of bottlenose dolphins are involved, but the majority of animals are older adults and a few juveniles.

The most significant and unifying gross necropsy finding is emaciation. As part of the UME investigation process, an independent team of scientists (Investigative Team) is being assembled to coordinate with the Working Group on Marine Mammal Unusual Mortality Events to review the data collected and to determine the next steps.

In addition to the increased dolphin strandings, a separate UME was declared by NOAA Fisheries in April 2013 for elevated manatee mortalities in the Brevard County. From July 25, 2012 to June 14, 2013, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWCC) has documented 250 manatee deaths in Brevard County. A cause for these mortalities has not been determined and the ongoing investigation is being led by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and FWCC."


There was a dead one in Bicentennial Park (Lantana) last weekend.
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what is that low in 24 hours with 1010 mb
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1893. Grothar
Quoting 1866. FIUStormChaser:
I think IndianRiverGuy is live on Newschannel 5 talking about the algae disaster.



The last thing Florida needs is more rain. I don't think many people on here are aware of how important the work Marty does in Florida. He is quite well known and works tirelessly. Between Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades, we are close to a critical situation and possible disaster.

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From CWG..
Mid-Atlantic hurricanes, by the numbers
Of the 1,470 named storms impacting the continental U.S. since 1851, the mid-Atlantic has been visited by 270 of these, or 18 percent of the total. Statistically speaking, that’s an average of 1.7 landfalling storms per year.
However, our region can experience long stretches of inactivity. For instance, the seven-year period from 1917 to 1923 witnessed only two landfalling storms. Yet over a similar duration, from 2002 until 2009, we experienced 21 storms. The greatest number of storms in any year was seven, occurring in 2005.

Link
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1891. JLPR2
No wonder the 12z developed it, look at what the 18z run shows...



Simply massive area of convection emerging from Africa.
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Quoting 1862. HoraceDebussyJones:


But...this would not be a neccessary evil if the state would do the right thing regarding Big Sugar and all of the land held by these government supported companies. The state has had chances but continues to lease state owned land, which could be used to restore part of the natural flow of water into the everglades. Add to that all of the harmful chemicals from fertilizers used in this region, that are now in the lake and subsequently being released into the estuaries, and you have a natural disaster that does NOT need to happen. Fact that state has recently agreed to 30 year leases rather than the standard 2 year lease means that this will continue to be a problem, possibly permanent, long into the future. It is a criminal, crying shame!


I agree. And I think TOTL was callous in diminishing what are well documented damaging and life-threatening effects. It may be a necessary evil to protect lives and property since we've left ourselves no immediate alternative, but to make it sound like it's an inconvenience for rich folks is outlandish and wrongheaded.
I thought the state was opening up land to restore the flow of the everglades. Did that change with the latest Governor?
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1888. JLPR2
Let's see what happens, GFS is showing the same low at the same place emerging around 138hrs...

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1887. java162



second low emerges.... interesting to see what happens... very strong ridge of high pressurwe to its north
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Quoting java162:


very broad low.. 108hrs...hasnt moved much


I can't see it bro.
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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