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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to much dry air yet!!
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:

okay sufficiently tired to call it a day.
adios amigos
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Quoting 870. moonlightcowboy:


"Chick"ens RULE! :)

Just funnin'! Pink is the dust! Orange is more about dry air than dust in the CIMSS graphic. And, hot, dry air is more detrimental to cyclogenesis than dust. You know this, otherwise you wouldn't post those great water vapor loops! ;)

no, I didn't know that with respect to the SAL satellite pic. Michael's blog says the SAL creates the dry air, so guess what's there is from the big dust cloud he describes.
Though WV doesn't look all that dry near Cape Verde
as they're coming off the continent

by the time they get to central ATL there's plenty of dry air to choke development.



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Quoting 876. yankees440:
I am still in Awe from Superstorm Sandy




I felt its rage on that Monday evening... never to forget it.
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All this pressure now! haha well it's coming, hopefully before our next named storm!
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880. SRQfl
While there are currently no cyclones to track in the Atlantic Basin, I wonder...
What models have statistically handled cyclone-genesis with the most skill?
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Quoting 873. KEEPEROFTHEGATE:
I was waitin on a red x but not even that comes up I could of fixed it seems he figured it out we may get to see it yet


We've been doing some background, black opps sort of thing. Pic is COMING! :)
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Had a strange job today. To a Nudist Resort in Central Florida. If I decide to become one now I know where to go.
Any funny business going on in the tropics.
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Quoting 866. beell:


To that, I was gonna say "but at least I've never been convicted of a felony" but then everybody might think I have some sort of inside knowledge of whether you have or have not been convicted of a felony-which I don't. So I decided not to say that.

;-]



Nope, no felonies, no jail time served! LINK. But, prolly been too close a couple times! ;P

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I am still in Awe from Superstorm Sandy


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875. beell
Quoting 854. Chicklit:


Link Michael's Weather Blog

Is it the chicken or the egg that comes first? ;-)


psst...the rooster.
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Quoting DDR:
Good evening
over 4 inches of rain in Trinidad today with some flash flooding around noon,it should a wet 2-3 days here,really welcomed relief.

BAH !!
4mm here....

Plenty in Brasso Seco though, the road was like a river.....
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Quoting 867. Grothar:


Wouldn't it be easier if one of us posts it for him? I'm on borrowed time here.
I was waitin on a red x but not even that comes up I could of fixed it seems he figured it out we may get to see it yet
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Quoting 867. Grothar:


Wouldn't it be easier if one of us posts it for him? I'm on borrowed time here.


ROTFL! ;) You're aight, Gro!
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Seems like I have heard the word NEXT alot, trust me the NEXT wave will be the one, trust me by NEXT week we will have something brewing. Lots of excuses going on here with the LULL, we need to just say, none of us expected this.
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Quoting 854. Chicklit:


Link Michael's Weather Blog

Refresh my memory, please Cowboy.
Is it the chicken or the egg that comes first? ;-)


"Chick"ens RULE! :)

Just funnin'! Pink is the dust! Orange is more about dry air than dust in the CIMSS graphic. And, hot, dry air is more detrimental to cyclogenesis than dust. You know this, otherwise you wouldn't post those great water vapor loops! ;)
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Quoting 778. GTstormChaserCaleb:
18z NAVGEM:



welp..I remember like it was just yesterday when I posted a about the Navgem showing a 1015 mb low moving up towards Hispanola and I said watch the trends and then some blogger accused me of wanting a Cat 5 to hit NC and then reported me..good times that day..always remember every TC starts with a weak low..




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10% maybe going back to 0% soon
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Quoting 861. KEEPEROFTHEGATE:
in that case he got to upload it to a host then copy and paste that url into the box


Wouldn't it be easier if one of us posts it for him? I'm on borrowed time here.
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866. beell
Quoting 844. moonlightcowboy:

Beell, you're such the troublemaker! ;P


To that, I was gonna say "but at least I've never been convicted of a felony" but then everybody might think I have some sort of inside knowledge of whether you have or have not been convicted of a felony-which I don't. So I decided not to say that.

;-]

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Quoting 862. weatherlover94:


SAL should not be too big of an issue for the new African wave

sez who?
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Thanks Skye, just did that
Quoting 850. Skyepony:


You can upload them to your WUnderPhotos. I got pics of them too. I'll be back with them.

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Quoting 849. TropicalAnalystwx13:

I'm not aware of one off the top of my head. I know waters should be 28-29C on average though.


I am aware.


I went in the ocean today for the first time since last year. It is really like bath water (or jet fuel). Almost as warm as our pool which is about 94 deg. I think the surf temperature read 87 deg.
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Quoting 843. Chicklit:

nuthin


SAL should not be too big of an issue for the new African wave
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Quoting 839. beell:


The pic is on the poster's computer-not on the internet-no URL.
in that case he got to upload it to a host then copy and paste that url into the box
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well good night folks..Aussie I brewed a new pot of Tea for when you get here..enjoy.
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Quoting 852. TropicalAnalystwx13:
This time last year, Hurricane Ernesto was close to attaining its peak intensity as a Category 2 before making landfall. Still can't believe how bad it trolled us in the central Caribbean...looked like a hurricane, was barely a tropical cyclone.



I was an Ernesto fan! haha He was a cool storm to track, though I do like the trickier ones! :P
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My apologies, Beell. I know full well you can read (interpret) better than me. Always enjoy your DISCUSSION TRANSLATIONS. I just like the pictures. ;P Had no idea our friend was not a member of a photo site. But, all the more reason to help out.

Ok, palmbaywhoo, you gotta do this! We want to see your launch pic! :)
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Good Night All! Just got back from the hospital , still touch and go with my uncle! You all be safe tonight , take care , see you in the AM!
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Quoting 847. moonlightcowboy:


Chick, orange you gonna tell us whether that's dry air or dust? ;P


Link Michael's Weather Blog

Is it the chicken or the egg that comes first? ;-)
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Quoting 821. opal92nwf:
Good Evening!

Don't forget to check out my new blog!

A Firsthand Experience with a 50mph Tropical Storm: Claudette

Well that little blob in the Southeast Caribbean seems to be petering out right now. Let's see if comes back!


Thanks for sharing your experience. I Know to some it may be nothing if it's not a cat 3,4 or 5 hurricane, but was profound for you just the same, never having been through one before. I'd surely be the same!
Thanks for taking the time to post your thoughts and photos, very cool :)
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This time last year, Hurricane Ernesto was close to attaining its peak intensity as a Category 2 before making landfall. Still can't believe how bad it trolled us in the central Caribbean...looked like a hurricane, was barely a tropical cyclone.

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850. Skyepony (Mod)
Quoting 829. palmbaywhoo:
Thats gotta be it... it shows up in the comment box but not in the blog when I hit post



You can upload them to your WUnderPhotos. I got pics of them too. I'll be back with them.
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Quoting 819. yankees440:


Can you post a map showing average sea surface temps for this same region?

I'm not aware of one off the top of my head. I know waters should be 28-29C on average though.

Quoting 822. SuperStorm093:


Just cause the SST are good, doesn't mean anything can just pop. Lots of other variables that as of now aren't going toward a cyclone popping.

I am aware.
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848. DDR
Good evening
over 4 inches of rain in Trinidad today with some flash flooding around noon,it should a wet 2-3 days here,really welcomed relief.
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Quoting 843. Chicklit:

nuthin


Chick, orange you gonna tell us whether that's dry air or dust? ;P
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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


Looking forward to Friday's blog.
That should be interesting.
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Quoting 841. SuperStorm093:
I think 10 percent is to high lol, shoulda kept it at near 0.
yeah,guess NHC needs to give us something to watch lol
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Quoting 839. beell:


The pic is on the poster's computer-not on the internet-no URL.



You didn't say that! ;)

Ok, lol, then join a site like photobucket, upload the pic, and you're good to go. It's not like Facebook where you can post a pic directly from your computer's storage. You must first upload the pic, then do all the other I mentioned.

Beell, you're such the troublemaker! ;P
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nuthin
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gee that was one powerful thunderstorm that came thru here awhile ago,tons of rain and gusty winds,,
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Quoting 837. LargoFl:
well 10% but it wont make it to the gulf....
I think 10 percent is to high lol, shoulda kept it at near 0.
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Quoting 833. SuperStorm093:
You do know that radar is from 4 years ago right?

Yeah, I just posted it for kicks, and also that storm was the subject of my recent blog.
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839. beell
Quoting 836. moonlightcowboy:


Same principle applies. Any pic you find, right click and hit view image, copy that image, and head back to the WU comments box, click the image button, paste and post.



The pic is on the poster's computer-not on the internet-no URL.
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well 10% but it wont make it to the gulf....
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Quoting 827. beell:


Reading back, I think palmbaywhoo is trying to post a personal pic from the Delta launch-in which case, one of the free online storage sites would be required.

photobucket, tinyurl, imagur, etc.


Same principle applies. Any pic you find, right click and hit view image, copy image location, and head back to the WU comments box, click the image button, paste and post.

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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