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 566. stormwatcherCI:
Dry air is moving west ahead of the wave and on the way out of the Caribbean. Compared to yesterday the dry air has decreased a lot.


Hi there,

For being a weak system in the dry Eastern Caribbean that feature is looking pretty good. It has also built up convection in the heat of the day and expanded the 850 mb vorticity. As it approaches the circulation of the ULL over the Southern Bahamas it will enter a diffluent environment around the base flow of the ULL which should assist in expanding the convection envelop and possibly give it some protection from the shear that it will encounter there.

If it can hang on until it slips below the ULL the NW Caribbean could be a receptive place for it to try something on. Certainly bears watching even though conditions are not good.
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Quoting 551. StormTrackerScott:


I don't care what they (NHC) say I am just going by visual observation and it appears this system is much more organized than the NHC may think. Heck it even looks better than Dorian during most of it's life cycle.


Quoting 573. TylerStanfield:

But you kinda should care about what the NHC says considering they have access to More Data, and are Professionals in Tropical Meteorology.
The system may deserve a Higher chance than 0% at this time, but its moving much quicker than the Upper low situated to it's Northwest and will begin to feel the full effects of High Wind Shear by Tomorrow. Though it is a Modestly strong tropical wave that should continue to be monitored, Visual appearance means little to nothing in relation to development and the intensity of a Weak Tropical Disturbance, it's what's underneath that matters the most.
Even if there is a Surface low and some moderate convection firing with it, it will likely lose all hope of developing tomorrow as the shear shreds it.


Yes I think we all know...but would be cool for the models to eat crow out of Scotts pan,and see a lovely mini-cane stir out of the cutie, wee wave!
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Quoting TylerStanfield:
Well, that's all might insight of my opinion of the tropics I can give for today.
Have a Great Afternoon everyone.

Same to you, Tyler!
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The TUTT/ULL is over north Cuba in 5 days. Here is the thing though I think the GFS moves it out of the way too slow, but only time will tell. Once that gets out of the way watch the Western Caribbean for development. I feel like I have been repeating myself on here the entire day and no one wants to listen.

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Well, that's all might insight of my opinion of the tropics I can give for today.
Have a Great Afternoon everyone.
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Quoting 579. GTstormChaserCaleb:
Again the GFS failed to even initialize a cloud from this system, so is it out to lunch? I also noticed it was running really slow yesterday and buggy. Didn't the NHC say that it would take awhile for it to adapt to the changes now that it is being ran on the new supercomputer?

Still, you can't say the GFS is wrong about a shear forecast because of the model bugging out over the new supercomputer. The forecast is the forecast, and the wind shear is very much going to be present in the Caribbean for the next 5-7 days.
Though I do agree, the model has been a little buggy lately.
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Meanwhile...



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Quoting 571. TropicalAnalystwx13:

Disagreed. :)

12z GFS 200-850mb wind shear w/ low centers, valid in 144 hours (6 days)



Wind shear looks to remain unfavorable for any development in the Caribbean.
Again the GFS failed to even initialize a cloud from this system, so is it out to lunch? I also noticed it was running really slow yesterday and buggy. Didn't the NHC say that it would take awhile for it to adapt to the changes now that it is being ran on the new supercomputer?
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Quoting 561. GTstormChaserCaleb:
Shear will be decreasing as the ULL pulls away. By the way I want to thank SLU for giving us observations of the Tropical Wave as it passed through his/her island last night, I'll go with it, but there is still some struggles with dry air and the wave is kinda small.

That ULL wont be moving much of anywhere over the next 5-6 days, which is why this wave wont be able to develop.
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Quoting 551. StormTrackerScott:


I don't care what they (NHC) say I am just going by visual observation and it appears this system is much more organized than the NHC may think. Heck it even looks better than Dorian during most of it's life cycle.
Nea should be out very soon.
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Quoting 573. TylerStanfield:

But you kinda should care about what the NHC says considering they have access to More Data, and are Professionals in Tropical Meteorology.
The system may deserve a Higher chance than 0% at this time, but its moving much quicker than the Upper low situated to it's Northwest and will begin to feel the full effects of High Wind Shear by Tomorrow. Though it is a Modestly strong tropical wave that should continue to be monitored, Visual appearance means little to nothing in relation to development and the intensity of a Weak Tropical Disturbance, it's what's underneath that matters the most.
Even if there is a Surface low and some moderate convection firing with it, it will likely lose all hope of developing tomorrow as the shear shreds it.

Agreed. Keep in mind Dorian looked great for an open wave at one point when it was North of Hispaniola
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Quoting 557. TropicalAnalystwx13:
From Ryan Maue --

@RyanMaue 2m
Tropical Atlantic warm enough & wide-open for business. 30�C SST appearing south of Bermuda (5 km RTOFS model) -->



Hot Gulf.
Once you get up to about 20 N and East of 40 W the waters cool off significantly, which would lead me to believe that early recurves will struggle and storms would have a better chance of strengthening much closer to land.
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Quoting 551. StormTrackerScott:


I don't care what they (NHC) say I am just going by visual observation and it appears this system is much more organized than the NHC may think. Heck it even looks better than Dorian during most of it's life cycle.

But you kinda should care about what the NHC says considering they have access to More Data, and are Professionals in Tropical Meteorology.
The system may deserve a Higher chance than 0% at this time, but its moving much quicker than the Upper low situated to it's Northwest and will begin to feel the full effects of High Wind Shear by Tomorrow. Though it is a Modestly strong tropical wave that should continue to be monitored, Visual appearance means little to nothing in relation to development and the intensity of a Weak Tropical Disturbance, it's what's underneath that matters the most.
Even if there is a Surface low and some moderate convection firing with it, it will likely lose all hope of developing tomorrow as the shear shreds it.
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Quoting 561. GTstormChaserCaleb:
Shear will be decreasing as the ULL pulls away. By the way I want to thank SLU for giving us observations of the Tropical Wave as it passed through his/her island last night, I'll go with it, but there is still some struggles with dry air and the wave is kinda small.

Disagreed. :)

12z GFS 200-850mb wind shear w/ low centers, valid in 144 hours (6 days)



Wind shear looks to remain unfavorable for any development in the Caribbean.
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570. Skyepony (Mod)
OSCAT of wave..

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Quoting 564. washingtonian115:
Unless that TUTT breaks down or what ever shear will be a major problem for storms.It's been there for like half of the season.
Moving west and away look at all the satellite animations being posted.
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Quoting 545. StormTrackerScott:
If you look closely on the southside of this wave in the eastern Caribbean there appears to be some 20knt winds coming from the West and Southwest.

Looks like trade winds have slowed down, this wave might just be the catalyst for what develops down stream as it gains moisture from the Columbian Heat Low. I think if we can get even just a weak MJO pulse that will be more than enough to get something out of this even if it is just a weak Tropical Storm it will be something to track. Don't worry major hurricanes will come later.
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hot water in the GOM
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Quoting 561. GTstormChaserCaleb:
Shear will be decreasing as the ULL pulls away. By the way I want to thank SLU for giving us observations of the Tropical Wave as it passed through his/her island last night, I'll go with it, but there is still some struggles with dry air and the wave is kinda small.
Dry air is moving west ahead of the wave and on the way out of the Caribbean. Compared to yesterday the dry air has decreased a lot.
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Quoting 563. Some1Has2BtheRookie:
Yellow Banner - Local

.. Heat advisory in effect until 9 PM CDT this evening...

* event... heat indices will range from 105 to 112.

* Timing... this afternoon and early evening. Highest heat indices
will likely occur between 3 and 6 PM.

* Impact... high heat index values could cause symptoms of heat
exhaustion during the afternoon.. limit strenuous activities
to early morning or evening. Temperatures overnight are only
expected to fall to between 78 and 82... recovery will be slow
for any individuals who remain outdoors tonight.

Precautionary/preparedness actions...

Take extra precautions if you work or spend time outside. When
possible... reschedule strenuous activities to early morning or
evening. Know the signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat
stroke. Wear light weight and loose fitting clothing when
possible and drink plenty of water.

To reduce risk during outdoor work... the occupational safety and
health administration recommends scheduling frequent rest breaks
in shaded or air conditioned environments. Anyone overcome by
heat should be moved to a cool and shaded location. Heat stroke
is an emergency - call 911.

Each year... a number of fatalities occur nationwide due to
children accidentally being left in vehicles during the Summer
months. In the past dozen years... 500 children have died due to
hyperthermia after being left in or gaining access to cars. Never
leave children or pets unattended in a vehicle not even for a
minute. Remember... beat the heat... check the backseat.


Hey, Rook - where is that for?
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Unless that TUTT breaks down or what ever shear will be a major problem for storms.It's been there for like half of the season.
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Yellow Banner - Local

.. Heat advisory in effect until 9 PM CDT this evening...

* event... heat indices will range from 105 to 112.

* Timing... this afternoon and early evening. Highest heat indices
will likely occur between 3 and 6 PM.

* Impact... high heat index values could cause symptoms of heat
exhaustion during the afternoon.. limit strenuous activities
to early morning or evening. Temperatures overnight are only
expected to fall to between 78 and 82... recovery will be slow
for any individuals who remain outdoors tonight.

Precautionary/preparedness actions...

Take extra precautions if you work or spend time outside. When
possible... reschedule strenuous activities to early morning or
evening. Know the signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat
stroke. Wear light weight and loose fitting clothing when
possible and drink plenty of water.

To reduce risk during outdoor work... the occupational safety and
health administration recommends scheduling frequent rest breaks
in shaded or air conditioned environments. Anyone overcome by
heat should be moved to a cool and shaded location. Heat stroke
is an emergency - call 911.

Each year... a number of fatalities occur nationwide due to
children accidentally being left in vehicles during the Summer
months. In the past dozen years... 500 children have died due to
hyperthermia after being left in or gaining access to cars. Never
leave children or pets unattended in a vehicle not even for a
minute. Remember... beat the heat... check the backseat.
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Trade winds don't appear to be racing like with Chantal.
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Quoting 549. TylerStanfield:

Shear will be decreasing as the ULL pulls away. By the way I want to thank SLU for giving us observations of the Tropical Wave as it passed through his/her island last night, I'll go with it, but there is still some struggles with dry air and the wave is kinda small.
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@Thundercloud , it may be improbable but not impossible. Storms HAVE formed in the SE Caribbean IE: Gustav.

@ Tyler, they were also unfavorable for Chantel and Dorian yet they both formed. No-one expects this wave to become a Cat 5 and conditions may make it difficult but not impossible for something to spin up.
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I would least give this thing aleast 10% not 0%
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From Ryan Maue --

@RyanMaue 2m
Tropical Atlantic warm enough & wide-open for business. 30C SST appearing south of Bermuda (5 km RTOFS model) -->



Hot Gulf.
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Quoting 523. SLU:
The surface low with this system formed since yesterday afternoon as I mentioned in a post. As the center passed near Barbados late last night, the winds backed to the southwest at 12 mph indicating a fairly healthy circulation.


link to that loop please?
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Quoting 540. StormTrackerScott:
Impressive.



Yes, it's got quite a whirl to it. Things could get exciting if it begins pulling in moisture & stacking up.
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Quoting 519. Grothar:
Do you guys remember following Typhoon Tip. Now that was something to see. They even interrupted "Saturday Night Live" to show the size.




However, I think they exaggerated the size. It was more like 1,379 miles.



I wouldn't get caught up in the size to much, Tip was a beast, if I lived anywhere near the coast in the U.S. and a storm like Tip was headed my way I would be the first to hit the road and get out of its way.
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BULLETIN - EAS ACTIVATION REQUESTED
TORNADO WARNING
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE CLEVELAND OH
354 PM EDT WED AUG 7 2013

THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE IN CLEVELAND HAS ISSUED A

* TORNADO WARNING FOR...
NORTHEASTERN HOLMES COUNTY IN NORTHEAST OHIO...
SOUTHWESTERN STARK COUNTY IN NORTHEAST OHIO...
SOUTHEASTERN WAYNE COUNTY IN NORTHEAST OHIO...

* UNTIL 445 PM EDT

* AT 351 PM EDT...NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE DOPPLER RADAR INDICATED A
SEVERE THUNDERSTORM CAPABLE OF PRODUCING A TORNADO. THIS DANGEROUS
STORM WAS LOCATED 6 MILES NORTHEAST OF HOLMESVILLE...AND MOVING
EAST AT 30 MPH.

* LOCATIONS IMPACTED INCLUDE...
WALNUT CREEK...MOUNT EATON...WINESBURG...WILMOT...BREWSTER...MOUNT
HOPE AND BEACH CITY.
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Quoting 530. Grothar:


Depending on the group size of the subject you are describing?

For instance, if there were a group of 100 people and it was said that several of them were angry, it could mean anything from two or more or nearly up to a hundred. In counting days, one is deal with the number 7; otherwise they would have mentioned weeks.

Therefore one can deduce that several would indicate from two to seven, but most likely 5.
I was thinking 2-7 days. The forecast by the NHC now goes out to 5 days I believe, so anything after that wouldn't necessarily be forcasted by them right this instant until tomorrow and so on. I know the local NWS puts out 7 day forecasts. Next week guys, pay attention to the Western Caribbean that is where I am thinking we have the best chance at seeing something developing.
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Quoting 543. TylerStanfield:

They state conditions are unfavorable for further development.


I don't care what they (NHC) say I am just going by visual observation and it appears this system is much more organized than the NHC may think. Heck it even looks better than Dorian during most of it's life cycle.
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Quoting 543. TylerStanfield:

They state conditions are unfavorable for further development.

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Yellow Banner,Local

Orleans Parish

Heat Advisory

Statement as of 2:32 PM CDT on August 07, 2013

... Heat advisory remains in effect until 8 PM CDT this evening...

* timing... through the late afternoon.

* Duration... heat index values in excess of 105 degrees and as
high as 106-108 degrees are expected through the late afternoon
for several hours across the area.

Precautionary/preparedness actions...

A heat advisory means that a period of hot temperatures is
expected. The combination of hot temperatures and high humidity
will combine to create a situation in which heat illnesses are
possible. Drink plenty of fluids... stay in an air-conditioned
room... stay out of the sun... and check up on relatives and
neighbors.


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Quoting 531. StormTrackerScott:


For 0% that is one healthy looking system. I suspect he NHC will raise it's odds at 8pm.

Agreed. If it can maintain it's nice convection. Well see though. This lil guy could surprise some folks.
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Quoting NasBahMan:


I'm going to do my best to send some rain down south to you guys in Cayman and Jamaica as we don't need anymore up this way, we have had another 2" this week already.

Yes indeed! We really need some good rain, especially in eastern Jamaica.
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If you look closely on the southside of this wave in the eastern Caribbean there appears to be some 20knt winds coming from the West and Southwest.

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Quoting 529. stormwatcherCI:
We could do well with it. It is very dry here.

Very very very dry

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Quoting 531. StormTrackerScott:


For 0% that is one healthy looking system. I suspect he NHC will raise it's odds at 8pm.

They state conditions are unfavorable for further development.
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Quoting 497. LargoFl:
0% chance but at least something huh to watch........


Remember, " 0% chance" in weatherology politics means something like,"

Hmm, we see something, but we won't say that just yet, lest we look silly if it doesn't materialize into anything significant. Therefore, we shall hold off on saying anything about it until some days later. Then, if something more serious happens, we will finally tell people about it then
."

So, there could be something legitimate, but you won't hear weather-casters mention it for awhile, regardless (sometimes). Don't want to chase at the wind or scare people. Problem is, if anything begins to develop close to shore, they really can push the envelope for people planning for the storm. Consider how long it takes for folks to consider "bugging out" form an area entirely, for say a week or two if it were to be a bad storm. Then, consider also how those plans can be altered by road congestion if people suddenly begin to pull away from the coast en masse in a metro area -- Galveston-Houston, Tampa-St. Pete, Miami region, etc.

People have moved into the South and IMO there is a need to really consider planning things more in advance and getting a more heads-up, individual approach to tropical weather events. Politics can be a problem due to all the $-costs of "unnecessary evacuations". So, there is the temptation I believe to wait & wait so as to not risk those vast expenses unless absolutely necessary. Problem is, the way a TS or hurricane CAN potentially whirl up PRONTO at times near our coasts, waiting is not going to be all that good for some folks.

Waiting will someday get them blocked exits by panicked masses. Waiting will someday prevent some from making plans, getting things together, etc. in time to do much besides saving their own lives, if that. I'm not saying make panic at the drop of a hat, but rather help the public decipher when they might need to raise an eyebrow and stay posted about something....just in case. If people make plans for the weekend - a 3-day weekend perhaps, a lot can change in that little time, in some scenarios. Waiting until saying anything at all could be disastrous for some.
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Impressive.

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Quoting 518. GTstormChaserCaleb:
ULL will continue to move away west towards north Cuba.




Yes

Quoting 523. SLU:
The surface low with this system formed since yesterday afternoon as I mentioned in a post. As the center passed near Barbados late last night, the winds backed to the southwest at 12 mph indicating a fairly healthy circulation.



Yep

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Quoting NasBahMan:


Most elevated reinforced concrete structures with the proper roof tie downs and protection over the doors and windows will surfer little more than damage to roof coverings in all but the strongest of Hurricanes.

Yeah, that's correct.
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storms dont normally form in eastern carr
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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