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 StormTrackerScott:


I am not saying it will develope. I think that is where the confusion is coming from. All I am saying is the TUTT feature is moving out and things could become more favorable down the road. That's all!

Scott, this is what the NHC says:

A WEAK TROUGH OFF S FLORIDA WILL MOVE W ACROSS THE GULF THROUGH SAT THEN MOVE INLAND OVER TEXAS SUN.

I'm assuming this is what you mean by the TUTT. It's going to follow the southern periphery of a ridge that will stall out just north of the Gulf this weekend. It will get to Texas and then dissipate. I see no evidence this trough will end up anywhere near the Yucatan, as the GFS suggests, nor that it will have any effect on the AOI developing. It seems like you are reaching to find something that supports your view that this 0% AOI will turn into something more than what NHC suggests. Maybe it will, maybe it won't, but I'll go along with the NHC at this point until something clearly changes.
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The epac is very above average!!! I look when they are very above average atlantic is below average a lot!!!
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Quoting 676. Stormchaser121:

Ive also heard this may be a little similar to 2008...is that true?
activity wise not really. 2008 had widespread activity, had an active july and an active late august early september. i think it will be sorta bunched up most of the acitivity similar to 2010 but not as many storms more like 13-16
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None of the global models are reliable until it is tracking a fully formed, tropical cyclone and it is still not very reliable if the system is an overall weak system.
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Cfs seeing below avg precip in mdr not good for the active forecasts!!!
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Quoting 671. Levi32:


To be fair, the GFS per usual has been showing storms in the 10-15 day time frame most of the season so far, few of which have made it to reality. The difference lately has been how low observed and forecasted pressures are getting in the tropical Atlantic. The pattern change that finally kickstarts the hurricane season may be in progress. The pattern evolution has been very similar to 2004 so far. If we still have nothing by the end of August, then we might have some problems with the forecast for an active season, but so far those forecasts aren't threatened.


Hi Levi. You think 1996 may also be a good analog? We got here in PR a close call with Bertha and a landfall with Hortense.
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Quoting 671. Levi32:


To be fair, the GFS per usual has been showing storms in the 10-15 day time frame most of the season so far, few of which have made it to reality. The difference lately has been how low observed and forecasted pressures are getting in the tropical Atlantic. The pattern change that finally kickstarts the hurricane season may be in progress. The pattern evolution has been very similar to 2004 so far. If we still have nothing by the end of August, then we might have some problems with the forecast for an active season, but so far those forecasts aren't threatened.
i dont see how this season cant be active unless we get an el nino to rapidly form which it wont. SAL has been ok this year and the MDR ssts are above normal. the indian ocean is cool and the warmest parts of the ocean are in the atlantic. i think the GFS will start developing more things relatively soon
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Quoting 671. Levi32:


To be fair, the GFS per usual has been showing storms in the 10-15 day time frame most of the season so far, few of which have made it to reality. The difference lately has been how low observed and forecasted pressures are getting in the tropical Atlantic. The pattern change that finally kickstarts the hurricane season may be in progress. The pattern evolution has been very similar to 2004 so far. If we still have nothing by the end of August, then we might have some problems with the forecast for an active season, but so far those forecasts aren't threatened.

Ive also heard this may be a little similar to 2008...is that true?
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Quoting 660. interpreter:
It appears that it is going to be an unfavorable season this year for storms to develop much less threaten the US coast due to TUTT due to a transition to El Nino conditions in the Pacific and exceedingly dry, stable air throughout the MDR which has been a constant the whole season. that is great news for beach lovers and bad news for wishcasters (trolls.)


I keep seeing people say this, and I don't understand it. I'd love the stronger rainy season, but the forecasts I've seen are calling for either neutral conditions to continue or for a La Nina to develop, and the current anomaly trend has been going downward. Can someone explain where these El Nino predicitons are coming from?
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Quoting 665. TropicalAnalystwx13:

I agree. The GFS continues to show a shift in the upper-air pattern across the Atlantic next week. The ITCZ has lifted north, the huge SAL outbreaks should be in the past, and we may even get a weak MJO signal.

We have been seeing the models suggest an uptick in tropical activity off and on all season long and it has just not materialized. I suspect that will continue, but these ULLs (TUTT)across the tropics are creating a lot of wind shear and these east coast troughs that keep developing will kill any storm that trys to get close to the US coastline this year.
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Hey ya'll I just woke up and fed the chickens and slopped the hogs. I ain't had time to read all the postins here yet but it seems ya'll are playing some kind of sport. Can I play?
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Quoting 669. StormTrackerScott:


Sorry if I came off a little strong. Didn't mean for it to come out that way.

Nah, you didn't. I'm sorry if my comments came off like that as well.
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Quoting 662. CybrTeddy:


That's my guess as well, seeing as the models are finally starting to sniff out development around the 15th-20th time frame. It'll probably be another 2010 like season with all our activity squeezed into the peak of season.


To be fair, the GFS per usual has been showing storms in the 10-15 day time frame most of the season so far, few of which have made it to reality. The difference lately has been how low observed and forecasted pressures are getting in the tropical Atlantic. The pattern change that finally kickstarts the hurricane season may be in progress. The pattern evolution has been very similar to 2004 so far. If we still have nothing by the end of August, then we might have some problems with the forecast for an active season, but so far those forecasts aren't threatened.
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Quoting 665. TropicalAnalystwx13:

I agree. The GFS continues to show a shift in the upper-air pattern across the Atlantic next week. The ITCZ has lifted north, the huge SAL outbreaks should be in the past, and we may even get a weak MJO signal.


Sorry if I came off a little strong. Didn't mean for it to come out that way.
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Outlook for the Caribbean is low, almost no development over the course of the next 48 to 72 hours, however the wunderground blog comment section is heating up, with some convergence of personal attacks wrapping around a low level ego circulation and little mod-shear, this is a recipe for tropical-flamewar cyclogenesis.
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Quoting 661. ncstorm:


LOL..Scott..ring it in now..

we dont want this turning into a internet UFC :)..you and TA13 have proven both yourselves on here..we will soon find out which prediction proves to be accurate..


I am not saying it will develope. I think that is where the confusion is coming from. All I am saying is the TUTT feature is moving out and things could become more favorable down the road. That's all!
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Quoting 662. CybrTeddy:


That's my guess as well, seeing as the models are finally starting to sniff out development around the 15th-20th time frame. It'll probably be another 2010 like season with all our activity squeezed into the peak of season.
who knows maybe we get 3 storms to track at the same time see who can keep up
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Quoting 658. MiamiHurricanes09:
We should see a reasonable uptick in tropical activity by August 15th. That's the date I'm setting. Until then, I'd expect a rather quiet Atlantic basin.

I agree. The GFS continues to show a shift in the upper-air pattern across the Atlantic late next week. The ITCZ has lifted north, the huge SAL outbreaks should be in the past, and we may even get a weak MJO signal.
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The aoi in eastern caribbean is for real need to watch next couple days!!
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Quoting 658. MiamiHurricanes09:
We should see a reasonable uptick in tropical activity by August 15th. That's the date I'm setting. Until then, I'd expect a rather quiet Atlantic basin.


That's my guess as well, seeing as the models are finally starting to sniff out development around the 15th-20th time frame. It'll probably be another 2010 like season with all our activity squeezed into the peak of season.
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Quoting 648. StormTrackerScott:


Whatever Palm Beach Sport.


LOL..Scott..ring it in now..

we dont want this turning into a internet UFC :)..you and TA13 have proven both yourselves on here..we will soon find out which prediction proves to be accurate..
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It appears that it is going to be an unfavorable season this year for storms to develop much less threaten the US coast due to TUTT due to a transition to El Nino conditions in the Pacific and exceedingly dry, stable air throughout the MDR which has been a constant the whole season. that is great news for beach lovers and bad news for wishcasters (trolls.)
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Quoting 607. Sfloridacat5:
Areas most likely to see development this time of year.


I love this graphic, just goes to show how the East Carb is still unfavorable for TC development.
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We should see a reasonable uptick in tropical activity by August 15th. That's the date I'm setting. Until then, I'd expect a rather quiet Atlantic basin.
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Lets just wait and see.It might or it might not develop.
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Quoting 654. Patrap:


LOL, good call Patrap, till later keep the peace!
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Not much to say about this one, conditions clearly unfavorable as the NHC notes. It's actually done pretty well today, holding convection and structure right into D-Min, but it will get ripped apart soon. We've still got a bit of waiting to do.

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Nam 60 hours - forms some type of system in the GOM and moves it into Tex/Mex.
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Time will tell where the TUTT goes and if this wave has a chance. Scott says it has a chance and if he's right there sure will be some crow being served on this blog! I'm not sure either way so I'm not going to call anyone out, just going to sit back and watch! I'm out for now, see you all later!
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Anyways I'm out for a little, once again it seems when you have a nice little civil argument, people have to come in here and ruin it. Name calling, choosing sides, personal attacks. Ridiculous.
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Quoting 645. GTstormChaserCaleb:
What is this competition? What is the point of even picking sides, we are all here to learn, choosing sides is kind of childish don't you think? I would like to hear what you think of the forecast for this tropical wave.
I don't claim to be an expert GT...And I do think you are on the ball...I like your posts...Really...Sorry if I upset you
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Quoting 643. PalmBeachWeather:
Scott...Just a little advice from an older, much older lady....You seem to think you know your stuff "SPORT" in your pretty blue shirt...BUT, some of these guys like wx13 really are sharp...Don't embarrass yourself by calling them sport and acting like you know.......OK?


Whatever Palm Beach Sport.
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Quoting 628. StormTrackerScott:
This should clear up the confusion for Cody & Tyler.


AREA FORECAST DISCUSSION
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE MELBOURNE FL
200 PM EDT WED AUG 7 2013


.DISCUSSION...
CURRENT-TONIGHT...SATELLITE IMAGES DO NOT JUSTIFY ASOS BROKEN SKY
COVER OBSERVATIONS. DIURNAL/SEA BREEZE INITIATED STORMS OVER THE
INTERIOR WILL DISSIPATE AROUND SUNSET. MID AND HIGH CLOUDS
ASSOCIATED WITH THE STORMS SHOULD DISSIPATE BY MIDNIGHT LEAVING
PARTLY CLOUDY SKIES BECOMING MOSTLY CLEAR TOWARD SUNRISE THURSDAY.
THE ISOLATED SHOWERS IN THE DEEP SOUTHEAST FLOW WILL CONTINUE
OVERNIGHT. WILL KEEP MENTION OF A SLIGHT CHANCE OF COASTAL SHOWERS
FROM CAPE CANAVERAL TO JUPITER INLET. THE SHOWERS SHOULD NOT
PENETRATE VERY FAR INLAND DUE TO THE AIR MASS OVER THE LAND
STABILIZING STARTING IN THE EVENING AFTER THE STORMS DISSIPATE AND
THROUGH THE OVERNIGHT HOURS. ANOTHER WARM OVERNIGHT WITH LOWS IN THE
MID 70S.

THU-THU NIGHT...HIGH PRESSURE RIDGE OVER THE SOUTHEAST UNITED STATES
WILL PRODUCE A SOUTHEAST FLOW IN THE LOW LEVELS. MEANWHILE...SUBSIDENCE
AND DRIER AIR IS FORECAST TO MOVE IN FROM THE EAST AS A TUTT LOW
MOVES WEST ACROSS THE SOUTHERN AND CENTRAL BAHAMAS AND FLORIDA.
ON THU RAIN CHANCES LOOK LOWEST ALONG THE TREASURE COAST WHERE THE
DRIER AIR WILL ARRIVE FIRST...AND HIGHEST IN LAKE COUNTY. AS THE
TUTT LOW TRAVELS WEST AND OVERLAND RAIN CHANCES DROP BELOW 20
PERCENT OVERNIGHT AS THE TUTT SUBSIDENCE HINDERS SHOWERS.

FRI-FRI NIGHT...MOISTURE RECOVERS AS THE TUTT CLEARS CENTRAL
FLORIDA. CORRESPONDINGLY RAIN CHANCE REBOUND IN THE MOISTENING ONSHORE
FLOW. CHANCE OF STORMS FRI AFTERNOON THEN SLIGHT CHANCE OF SHOWERS
AND STORMS OVERNIGHT.

It just becomes extremely elongated and a new upper-level low forms at the tail-end of it by 105 hours out...without any reduction in wind shear. If conditions were to become favorable, the NHC would acknowledge that. They don't...and obviously for a reason.

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Quoting 610. PalmBeachWeather:
Oh my....And you even got the "sport" moniker....wx13......I'm on your side.
What is this competition? What is the point of even picking sides, we are all here to learn, choosing sides is kind of childish don't you think? I would like to hear what you think of the forecast for this tropical wave.
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Quoting 635. TylerStanfield:

" >

Sorry, just... Not going to deal with this...
Think what you want Scott, just let me know how that works out for you.
Cody, take it away, the show is all yours.
Have a great afternoon everyone... again.


I am not saying it will develope all I am saying that the TUTT is moving right along and not sitting in one place like you and Cody seem to think. Conditions could be marginal down the road that is all I am saying.
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Quoting 632. StormTrackerScott:


Reference post #622
Scott...Just a little advice from an older, much older lady....You seem to think you know your stuff "SPORT" in your pretty blue shirt...BUT, some of these guys like wx13 really are sharp...Don't embarrass yourself by calling them sport and acting like you know.......OK?
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Quoting 636. Sfloridacat5:
Two local meteorologists keep repeating that "it looks like the tropics will be heating up in 7 - 10 days."
I'll believe it when I see it.
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Quoting 637. sar2401:

Where? I see trade winds in the Gulf, the same that have been there for weeks. What shows that the TUTT has moved there?


The center of the TUTT in post 622 is just north of the Yucatan. It's the circle you are seeing there.
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Quoting 629. hurricanes2018:
notting at all in the next 10 days.
Weak Tropical Storm making landfall in NW FL.

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Quoting StormTrackerScott:
Actually the TUTT is in the Gulf at 72 hours.

Where? I see trade winds in the Gulf, the same that have been there for weeks. What shows that the TUTT has moved there?
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Two local meteorologists keep repeating that "it looks like the tropics will be heating up in 7 - 10 days."
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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