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 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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Quoting 800. Skyepony:
Just missed a launch from KSC. Great sound! Considering the time of day..I'm on Noctilucent Cloud watch..


I could see the contrail here in Lakeland, just missed the launch!
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834. beell
Quoting 829. palmbaywhoo:
Thats gotta be it... it shows up in the comment box but not in the blog when I hit post



Probably so. I was too slow in my response but glad to see mlc jumped in to help.
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Quoting 828. opal92nwf:
Well I guess there is not a lot of people on right now?
Or is it because no one wants their comment on the bottom of the page? lol
You do know that radar is from 4 years ago right?
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My new video
Top 10 Worst Hurricanes to hit the U.S. in the past 10 years.
Link
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Highs in tampa will be in the mid90s I think the gulf will warm up and become will favorable at least by florida
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830. vis0
Quoting 174. washingtonian115:
I currently have tickets on hold to visit the statue of liberty Oct-Dec.I'm hoping another Sandy or Irene doesn't run up the coast this year.I wanted to visit last year but didn't get the chance to and the statue of liberty was closed after Sandy and recently opened in July.If the riding pattern holds firm Florida and the gulf will get the biggest threats.

One of my FAV posts to explain people's jump2conclusions is post153. Patience is needed and my FAV words where we still are learning even if nothing forms, VERY TRUE.

Now to me a "bust" would be anything under an F (not name, but grade) Example if 18 TS are predicted and 10 occur... (rounding down from 60%, as 65 is barely passing) then a Bust (profile) of the letter F could be posted.

Will a bust happen? i no longer do long term predictions as from 1990-2010. So i observe the next natural 2 month trend (began yesterday but will be stalled till Sunday**) & blend that info with how i have the "ml-d" set.

**(please see my blog titled "ml-d diary 201308-07 (cleaning)" for some info on the ml-d & next weather trend delay explanation.

As to washingtonian115's trip to SoL (not SAL) sorry, ahead of time.  Odds are precip. filled (72% to 28%), i state the ml-d settings has led to a rare 3 tornadoes in NYc in 3 straight years, a 4th ??? odds are 57% to 43% as to late Summer to Fall season.
 
From the NuYorican that states he created a weather influencing device (not controlling), named an "ml-d".
My lastest blog explains a 3-4 day delay in weather trend change being held up as for the coastal areas till Sun-Mon 201308~11.
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Thats gotta be it... it shows up in the comment box but not in the blog when I hit post
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.

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Well I guess there is not a lot of people on right now?
Or is it because no one wants their comment on the bottom of the page? lol
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827. beell
Quoting 825. moonlightcowboy:



Nothing to it. Find your pic. Right click. View image. Copy image location. Click on the image button box. Paste. Post comment. :)

Post a good one! :)



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.
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Quoting 814. palmbaywhoo:
Hmm not sure how to post a picture!!



Nothing to it. Find your pic. Right click. View image. Copy image location. Click on the image button box. Paste. Post comment. :)

Post a good one! :)

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Northeast Gulf really heating up now
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Love Florida ;)...South Dale Mabry



The sign is appealing as well...ohh I'm bad ;)
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Quoting 812. TropicalAnalystwx13:
Now we can say rocket fuel (forecast anyways).



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.
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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!
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One more try...

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Quoting 812. TropicalAnalystwx13:
Now we can say rocket fuel (forecast anyways).



Can you post a map showing average sea surface temps for this same region?
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This taken from Jeff Master's August 2010 weather blog..

Why so quiet in the Atlantic?
The Tropical Atlantic is quiet, and there are no threat areas to discuss today. The Invest 93 system we were tracking has been destroyed by dry air and wind shear. There are a couple of long-range threats suggested by some of the models--the GFS model predicts a tropical depression could form off the coast of Mississippi six days from now, and the NOGAPS model thinks something could get going in the Gulf of Mexico's Bay of Campeche seven days from now. Neither of these possibilities are worthy of concern at present. Overall, it's been a surprisingly quiet August, considering the pre-season predictions of a hyperactive season. According the National Hurricane Center, this hurricane season has been exactly average so far. There have been three named storms and one hurricane as of August 12. The average date of formation of the third named storm is August 13. One hurricane typically forms by August 10. One reason for this year's inactivity may be an unusual number of upper-level low pressure systems that have paraded across the tropical Atlantic. These lows, also called Tropical Upper Tropospheric Trough (TUTT) lows, tend to bring high wind shear that inhibits tropical cyclone formation. The other major factor appears to be that vertical instability has been unusually low in the Atlantic over the past month. Instability is measured as the difference in temperature between the surface and the top of the troposphere (the highest altitude that thunderstorm tops can penetrate to.) If the surface is very warm and the top of the troposphere is cold, an unstable atmosphere results, which helps to enhance thunderstorm updrafts and promote hurricane development. Since SSTs in the Atlantic are at record highs, enhancing instability, something else must be going on. Dry air can act to reduce instability, and it appears that an unusually dry atmosphere over the Atlantic this month is responsible for the lack of instability.

Highlighted in bold seems to point to a similar occurrence going on in this year's 2013 season. No?
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Quoting 812. TropicalAnalystwx13:
Now we can say rocket fuel (forecast anyways).



Something spins up in there... and they are FUBAR
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Quoting 813. AussieStorm:


Stormhunter-NL
A large funnel cloud was observed around 4.15pm this afternoon, from the village of Tumble, near Cross Hands in Carmarthenshire UK



Ummm....eeek!

Was lots of animated clouds round here today, did have my eyebrow raised. Don't think we had any funnel clouds in the northern part of Wales at least anyway! Did I say EEK?! UGH no no no! LOL
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Quoting 800. Skyepony:
Just missed a launch from KSC. Great sound! Considering the time of day..I'm on Noctilucent Cloud watch..



Doh!
Ooooh I missed the early noctilucent clouds July ones here. Saw some amazing ones on the way home from work, but didn't have camera with me!! Was out earlier tonight to try and get some night photos, since back to having at least a wee bit of astronomical dark, but no noctilucent clouds from where I was sadly. And too many clouds looking north for start trails to boot, bah! LOL
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Hmm not sure how to post a picture!!
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Stormhunter-NL
A large funnel cloud was observed around 4.15pm this afternoon, from the village of Tumble, near Cross Hands in Carmarthenshire UK
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Now we can say rocket fuel (forecast anyways).

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Very very very odd "cloud" after tonights Delta launch.... hadn't felt a rumble that long ever from a launch. Will post a pic in a few of the "cloud"
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810. JLPR2
Its been interesting to see the little spin sitting in the coast of Africa emerge a day ago at 10N, 15W with plenty of convection only to loose it and then move north back onto land, then redevelop convection while it's around 14N, 17W. If it keeps moving north it will not look as interesting when it hits SAL and cooler SSTs.

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Shear seems to be decreasing/moving away from the system. A large anticyclone is also near the system and moving north west from what I can gather



The main issue is dry air for the moment, but moisture is popping up close to it over in South America, so it could try to feed off that.



If things keep going as they are, the anticyclone could align with it and protect it from shear and assist with divergence. Interesting little set up for sure.
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Quoting 802. SLU:


Sorry PR. Stepped away for a while. Was enjoying a nice thunderstorm outside :D.

The GFS is showing an active wave train and is agreeing with the CMC on development in the EATL inside 10 days.


That's ok. I asked because I am on phone and not have access to graphics. Very interesting that as expected things are falling in place for a wild ride after the 15th.
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Quoting 803. celticfrog:
Good evening everyone! Long time lurker here and I LOVE this blog. You almost feel like you start to know everyone. We just had the most intense storm here in St. Petersburg! I thought my windows were going to break. I don't remember a storm like that in a long time. Have a great night, all, and thanks for the great information.


I am glad that it was no more than a window rattler for you.

The frog in your avatar looks prime for its own reality TV show. :) It should meet with my gecko. One is trying to keep the rain off and the other is looking for rain. The stories they could tell each other. lol
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Its the end of the world as we know it.......



@adolwyn
The pictures I’m seeing of the Peterborough (UK) storm cell are UNREAL. What a beast. #onstorm (shot by @malloryhaigh)
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Quoting 801. carla961:
Dont know why the NHC even bothers to put a 0% chance on a system, and then put a 0% chance on it for the next 5 days !! If it's not gonna develop, dont put a freaking circle around it !! just my 2$..


Agreed
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804. beell
Quoting 801. carla961:
Dont know why the NHC even bothers to put a 0% chance on a system, and then put a 0% chance on it for the next 5 days !! If it's not gonna develop, dont put a freaking circle around it !! just my 2$..


Same reason your weatherman issues a "probability of precipitation". So you will know.

And it 10%/10% now.
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Good evening everyone! Long time lurker here and I LOVE this blog. You almost feel like you start to know everyone. We just had the most intense storm here in St. Petersburg! I thought my windows were going to break. I don't remember a storm like that in a long time. Have a great night, all, and thanks for the great information.
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802. SLU
Quoting 764. Tropicsweatherpr:


HI SLU. What does the 18z GFS has in long range?


Sorry PR. Stepped away for a while. Was enjoying a nice thunderstorm outside :D.

The GFS is showing an active wave train and is agreeing with the CMC on development in the EATL inside 10 days.
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Dont know why the NHC even bothers to put a 0% chance on a system, and then put a 0% chance on it for the next 5 days !! If it's not gonna develop, dont put a freaking circle around it !! just my 2$..
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800. Skyepony (Mod)
Just missed a launch from KSC. Great sound! Considering the time of day..I'm on Noctilucent Cloud watch..
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Quoting 633. Stormchaser121:

Hopefully TX bound. If it went to...lets say Freeport? Depending on how big it is all of the drought stricken areas would get rain.

Negatory on that "all of" part.
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798. beell
A little windy up top well to the east/southeast of the ULL and not too far away from the meager convection.




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Quoting 685. Camille33:
The epac is very above average!!! I look when they are very above average atlantic is below average a lot!!!
I definitely agree with you,it has been that way for the last 3 years. I was on the left side of Ike,here in Houston in 2008, and the left side was worse than the right side. I cant remember how active the Pacific was in 08, but would like to go back and see.
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big tropical wave here to
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Quoting 794. carla961:
A to B! way too much shear...


Shear isn't that high.

http://abclocal.go.com/ktrk/feature?section=weath er/hurricane&id=8760068

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Quoting 700. CosmicEvents:
This area of 0% interest in the E. Carib has little chance to develop. If I was doing a poll of the chances it would be a choice of:
.
A. Slim
B. None
C. Zilch
D. Zero
.

A to B! way too much shear...
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Quoting 792. Grothar:
Convection building around center of ULL just east of the Bahamas.



Don't encourage it! :p
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Convection building around center of ULL just east of the Bahamas.

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Quoting 788. hurricanes2018:
000
ABNT20 KNHC 072336
TWOAT

TROPICAL WEATHER OUTLOOK
NWS NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER MIAMI FL
800 PM EDT WED AUG 7 2013

FOR THE NORTH ATLANTIC...CARIBBEAN SEA AND THE GULF OF MEXICO...

CLOUDINESS AND SHOWERS HAVE CONTINUED IN ASSOCIATION WITH AN AREA OF
LOW PRESSURE MOVING WESTWARD OVER THE EASTERN CARIBBEAN SEA.
ENVIRONMENTAL CONDITIONS ARE ANTICIPATED TO BE UNFAVORABLE FOR
DEVELOPMENT OVER THE NEXT SEVERAL DAYS. THIS SYSTEM HAS A LOW
CHANCE...10 PERCENT...OF BECOMING A TROPICAL CYCLONE DURING THE
NEXT 48 HOURS...AND A LOW CHANCE...10 PERCENT...OF BECOMING A
TROPICAL CYCLONE DURING THE NEXT 5 DAYS.


wow its up to 10%
10% vs 90% of not developing
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Quoting 779. Civicane49:
.


Don't copy me.
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I was talking about this tropical wave this morning. its need to be watch
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000
ABNT20 KNHC 072336
TWOAT

TROPICAL WEATHER OUTLOOK
NWS NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER MIAMI FL
800 PM EDT WED AUG 7 2013

FOR THE NORTH ATLANTIC...CARIBBEAN SEA AND THE GULF OF MEXICO...

CLOUDINESS AND SHOWERS HAVE CONTINUED IN ASSOCIATION WITH AN AREA OF
LOW PRESSURE MOVING WESTWARD OVER THE EASTERN CARIBBEAN SEA.
ENVIRONMENTAL CONDITIONS ARE ANTICIPATED TO BE UNFAVORABLE FOR
DEVELOPMENT OVER THE NEXT SEVERAL DAYS. THIS SYSTEM HAS A LOW
CHANCE...10 PERCENT...OF BECOMING A TROPICAL CYCLONE DURING THE
NEXT 48 HOURS...AND A LOW CHANCE...10 PERCENT...OF BECOMING A
TROPICAL CYCLONE DURING THE NEXT 5 DAYS.


wow its up to 10%
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Quoting 723. seer2012:


Everything at a glance!


Glad I'm not sailing down in the Roaring 40's/ 50's ( Southern Ocean)! LOL
SP
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Quoting 769. SouthTampa:
Oh man, we're having a good one in S. Tampa. Lots of big boomers!
On the other side of the bay from you, seems like every ambulance and fire engine is responding to something.
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Category 6™

About

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