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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While we're all bored waiting for the next tropical storm, here's a way to keep your forecasting skills up.

Be an Elevator Weatherman



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Quoting 270. Patrap:
GOM sea Height Anomaly





Very interesting.
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Quoting 350. MississippiWx:


The problem is that most of the things on the coast that could have been destroyed by Cat 5 winds were already under water and being destroyed by surge. The article even states that a rig about 60 miles offshore recorded 170mph winds at an elevation before anemometers failed. That's not very far offshore.


The anemometers failed onshore at well above Cat 5 sustained windspeeds.
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watch the Eastern Atlantic!!
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I tell you this, If you lived here on the Gulf Coast in 69 you knew you just went through a very powerful Storm. I don't remember everything about Camille like I do with Fredrick. But none the Less it was like watching a Bomb go off for Hours..... Just Saying....

It will always be a Cat5 in my eyes....

Taco :o)
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Here you go
Link
Quoting 366. SuperStorm093:


got a link?
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Quoting 374. nrtiwlnvragn:


The one with Basin Scale?






Link
Yeah thank you, bookmarked it for future reference.
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Quoting 351. bappit:

Just shows that we pay too much attention to the Saffir-Simpson scale. Storm surge is the most destructive phenomenon created by hurricanes.


Exactly. Missed landfall forecasts, missed intensity forecasts (not intentional, things change it's weather and can turn on a dime), etc, along with all the other countless distractions in our lives from many working two jobs, raising families, school events, which nite Idol or whatever is on tv comes on, all serve to distract and create a significant amount of apathy within the general public.

It's really only us aficionados (not geeks this time, lol) who really follow this with intent, and despite the antics of some, none of us want a single person to be injured or killed or have destruction and miserable conditions associated with storms before, during and after landfall. Not one of us, I'm certain of that. But, ultimately and sadly, due to the distraction and apathy, there will be hurt and death. And, when you consider the plight of those like in Haiti and other poor regions where communication is poor, where living standards are poor, etc, many of them can't get out of harm's way despite their or others' efforts. Truly tragic and saddening.

I've always lamented that there should be budget increases for awareness and preparedness. That, in itself, will do as much to save lives as any budgeting would ever do for new modeling, new planes, new anything. Yet, it really is the least considered. I'm not knocking monies spent to improve forecasting, not really what I'm saying at all. I'm just saying that if there was as much attention paid, shared to creating better awareness and preparedness, hurricane season would be far less humanly treacherous no matter the size of a storm, how fast the winds are, or how much surge there is.

Sadly, it is what it is! But, maybe, just maybe, as this site and other sites continue to grow, perhaps more information like that can be disseminated, consumed and understood, and maybe one day our senses will be so acutely keen, and consequently subsequent and efficient protocols put in place, that we'll hear fewer and fewer horror stories in the wake of these monsters that come to our shores and inlands.
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Quoting 373. GTstormChaserCaleb:
Interesting broad area of low pressure.

Maybe into Cental.A or into the Gulf?
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Quoting 334. southernstorm:


Get out of the sun for a while. You are exhibiting the signs of heat stroke.


If by "heat stroke" you mean
REAL & sound LOGIC, I concur.
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Quoting 371. Kyon5:

Here.
Thanks!
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Quoting 367. GTstormChaserCaleb:
Hey does anyone have the HWRF model page that nrt was showing yesterday?


The one with Basin Scale?






Link
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Interesting broad area of low pressure.

Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
Good afternoon all. Another warm one here.

Heat Advisory
Statement as of 10:18 AM CDT on August 07, 2013
... Heat advisory remains in effect until 7 PM CDT Thursday...

* temperature... between 100 and 105 degrees.
* Heat indices... between 105 and 110 degrees.
* Impacts... the combination of heat and humidity will result in an elevated risk for heat-related health problems... heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

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371. Kyon5

Quoting 367. GTstormChaserCaleb:
Hey does anyone have the HWRF model page that nrt was showing yesterday?
Here.
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Quoting 363. Patrap:
John Hope (meteorologist)

Source of Camille name on hurricane naming list[edit source | editbeta]

In 1969, Hope's daughter graduated from high school, so he added her name to the list of names to be used for hurricanes that year (at that time, there was no organized list of assigned names to be used, the only requirements were that the names had to be female – male names were not used at that time – in alphabetical order, and not otherwise retired). He had no way of knowing at the time that the storm that would take his daughter's name – Camille – would become one of the most powerful and destructive hurricanes to ever hit the United States when it slammed into Mississippi as a Category five hurricane. His daughter Camille is married to former U.S. Representative Jim Marshall of Georgia.

I misheard the article a little. The cache is that it wasn't John Hope's idea himself.

An anniversary remembrance of John Hope
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Quoting 357. Camille33:

Navgem model has a tropical ts in sw car like fim and moving nw !!!!!!!
Quoting 359. SFLWeatherman:
CMC Ensemble saying we will see a storm in the GOM in 180HR
Hey does anyone have the HWRF model page that nrt was showing yesterday?
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Quoting 359. SFLWeatherman:
CMC Ensemble saying we will see a storm in the GOM in 180HR


got a link?
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LOL they say 30% chance of rain today
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Quoting 345. 69Viking:


So are you one of those people that believes everything you read on the internet is true? This website is blocked by my company firewall and is considered a security risk, that should say enough about its legitimacy!

Umm, I actually find it a very legitimate site, with very good commentary and analysis of various storms. The author sometimes states some opinions of his own, but they are all within good reason based on actual data recorded with a storm.

Another very good article is this one.

Detailed Analysis of Videos Taken Inside the EF5 Joplin Tornado


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John Hope (meteorologist)

Source of Camille name on hurricane naming list[edit source | editbeta]

In 1969, Hope's daughter graduated from high school, so he added her name to the list of names to be used for hurricanes that year (at that time, there was no organized list of assigned names to be used, the only requirements were that the names had to be female – male names were not used at that time – in alphabetical order, and not otherwise retired). He had no way of knowing at the time that the storm that would take his daughter's name – Camille – would become one of the most powerful and destructive hurricanes to ever hit the United States when it slammed into Mississippi as a Category five hurricane. His daughter Camille is married to former U.S. Representative Jim Marshall of Georgia.
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TROPICAL WEATHER OUTLOOK
NWS NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER MIAMI FL
200 PM EDT WED AUG 7 2013

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

1. CLOUDINESS AND SHOWERS ASSOCIATED WITH A WEAK AREA OF LOW PRESSURE
ARE MOVING WESTWARD OVER PORTIONS OF THE LESSER ANTILLES AND INTO
THE EASTERN CARIBBEAN SEA. ENVIRONMENTAL CONDITIONS ARE FORECAST TO
BE UNFAVORABLE FOR DEVELOPMENT OVER THE NEXT SEVERAL DAYS. THIS
SYSTEM HAS A LOW CHANCE...NEAR 0 PERCENT...OF BECOMING A TROPICAL
CYCLONE DURING THE NEXT 48 HOURS...AND A LOW CHANCE...NEAR 0
PERCENT...DURING THE NEXT 5 DAYS.

FIVE-DAY FORMATION PROBABILITIES ARE EXPERIMENTAL IN 2013. COMMENTS
ON THE EXPERIMENTAL FORECASTS CAN BE PROVIDED AT...

HTTP://WWW.NWS.NOAA.GOV/SURVEY/NWS-SURVEY.PHP?COD E=ETWO
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Quoting 345. 69Viking:


So are you one of those people that believes everything you read on the internet is true? This website is blocked by my company firewall and is considered a security risk, that should say enough about its legitimacy!


Can't speak for the site itself, as I don't know much about it. The article is relatively short, but it's an interesting read, and it's stats and statements are fully cited w/ links. I thought it was interesting, as I had previously read the preliminary government report on Camille, but had not seen the referenced USFS report from the same year (1969), "Wood Structures Survive Camille's Winds". That report is a good summary, complete w/ photos, in regards to types of structures and the damage incurred. Here's the link to that report (hope it gets by the firewall):

Link
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Quoting 331. Greg01:
328. SuperStorm093
The circle means it is being watched. They do not expect it to develop, but it is being watched nonetheless.

They watch everything. That's just what they do.
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CMC Ensemble saying we will see a storm in the GOM in 180HR
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358. IKE
TROPICAL WEATHER OUTLOOK
NWS NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER MIAMI FL
200 PM EDT WED AUG 7 2013

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

CLOUDINESS AND SHOWERS ASSOCIATED WITH A WEAK AREA OF LOW PRESSURE
ARE MOVING WESTWARD OVER PORTIONS OF THE LESSER ANTILLES AND INTO
THE EASTERN CARIBBEAN SEA. ENVIRONMENTAL CONDITIONS ARE FORECAST TO
BE UNFAVORABLE FOR DEVELOPMENT OVER THE NEXT SEVERAL DAYS. THIS
SYSTEM HAS A LOW CHANCE...NEAR 0 PERCENT...OF BECOMING A TROPICAL
CYCLONE DURING THE NEXT 48 HOURS...AND A LOW CHANCE...NEAR 0
PERCENT...DURING THE NEXT 5 DAYS.

&&

FIVE-DAY FORMATION PROBABILITIES ARE EXPERIMENTAL IN 2013. COMMENTS
ON THE EXPERIMENTAL FORECASTS CAN BE PROVIDED AT...

WWW.NWS.NOAA.GOV/SURVEY/NWS-SURVEY.PHP?CODE=ETWO

$$
FORECASTER KIMBERLAIN
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Navgem model has a tropical ts in sw car like fim and moving nw !!!!!!!
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Quoting 348. Patrap:


Camille was named after TWC Hurricane Specialist John Hope's daughter who was at the NHC in 1969.

That's actually a myth. And I'm not saying that just to be difficult with you.

It was in an interview with John hope. I can't find a link right now though.
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Quoting 350. MississippiWx:


The problem is that most of the things on the coast that could have been destroyed by Cat 5 winds were already under water and being destroyed by surge. The article even states that a rig about 60 miles offshore recorded 170mph winds at an elevation before anemometers failed. That's not very far offshore.


Yes but it was elevated and if the hurricane was weakening, it could easily have been a category 4 at landfall. Again, downgrading it from a category 5 doesn't make it drastically weaker. Charley was a very violent hurricane but it was a category 4 hurricane. Camille could have easily been at the strength Charley was when it hit the coastline.


Some may say does it make a difference? To scientists yes it should. Does it make it less important historically, of course not. It still goes down historically as one of the worst U.S. hurricane landfalls.
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While we are talking about Camille, Biloxi's former Civil Defense Director, Julia Guice, who along with her husband the late Wade Guice (Harrison County Civil Defense Director) was showcased in "A Lady Called Camille", passed away on Monday, August 5. They were both very instrumental in getting out the word on how devastating Camille was and probably saved many lives.
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Up to 1 inch now!:)
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nice tropical wave here.
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Quoting 252. MississippiWx:


Why do these things even matter? Camille was a monster that wiped out the Mississippi Coast similar to Katrina. There is no hard evidence to downgrade Camille to anything less than a Cat 5. Why change it some 44 years later?

Just shows that we pay too much attention to the Saffir-Simpson scale. Storm surge is the most destructive phenomenon created by hurricanes.
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Quoting 341. Jedkins01:


Well to say little or no wind damage is ridiculous. However there is substantial evidence that exists to support that Camille was not a category 5 at landfall. I haven't seen footage that really suggests category 5 impact. Again, not to say there wasn't severe damage. Of course there was, category 3 and 4 hurricanes inflict lots of severe damage. I'm strictly talking category 5 damage.


Is it possible I haven't seen all available evidence? Sure, maybe I haven't. I'm not convinced that it wasn't a category 5, but from what I've seen it seems reasonable to suggest so.



The problem is that most of the things on the coast that could have been destroyed by Cat 5 winds were already under water and being destroyed by surge. The article even states that a rig about 60 miles offshore recorded 170mph+ winds at an elevation before anemometers failed. That's not very far offshore.
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349. SLU
What a bust of a season!

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Quoting 320. GTstormChaserCaleb:
You know Pat all this time I was thinking Camille was a he. Had a friend in high school named Camille. Thanks for the video watching it now.


Camille was named after TWC Hurricane Specialist John Hope's daughter who was at the NHC in 1969.
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Quoting 258. StormTrackerScott:
Going to get interesting next week!




why?
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Quoting 336. opal92nwf:

Read this

Hurricane Camille Was Not a Category 5 at Landfall


So are you one of those people that believes everything you read on the internet is true? This website is blocked by my company firewall and is considered a security risk, that should say enough about its legitimacy!
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Quoting 328. SuperStorm093:


Yeah but that makes no sense, why have it if it has NO chance of development lol, NHC is messing with us.


It did say almost zero in the text... the graphic didn't display that quite so well....
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Quoting 338. GTstormChaserCaleb:
You did a pretty good with Isaac too. I think it was you saying it would be hard for it to come up along the West Coast of FL. from the position it was at in the Caribbean due to the angle. I remember Dennis Phillips saying the same thing he does a good job making sure the public in the Tampa Bay area doesn't freak out from a storm that is more than 5 days away.


Yes you are correct, I did not think a landfall up the west coast of Florida was a very likely bet and so did Denis Philips. Th evolution of steering current didn't seem to support it, and they didn't of course lol.
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Quoting 312. MississippiWx:


There was very much major wind damage here in Hattiesburg after Camille went through, some 60 miles from the coast. That pretty much debunks that no wind damage on the coast theory. Lol.


Well to say little or no wind damage is ridiculous. However there is substantial evidence that exists to support that Camille was not a category 5 at landfall. I haven't seen footage that really suggests category 5 impact. Again, not to say there wasn't severe damage. Of course there was, category 3 and 4 hurricanes inflict lots of severe damage. I'm strictly talking category 5 damage.


Is it possible I haven't seen all available evidence? Sure, maybe I haven't. I'm not convinced that it wasn't a category 5, but from what I've seen it seems reasonable to suggest so.

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GEM(cmc)
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TROPICAL WEATHER DISCUSSION
NWS NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER MIAMI FL
205 PM EDT WED AUG 07 2013

TROPICAL WEATHER DISCUSSION FOR NORTH AMERICA...CENTRAL
AMERICA...GULF OF MEXICO...CARIBBEAN SEA...NORTHERN SECTIONS OF
SOUTH AMERICA...AND ATLANTIC OCEAN TO THE AFRICAN COAST FROM THE
EQUATOR TO 32N. THE FOLLOWING INFORMATION IS BASED ON SATELLITE
IMAGERY...WEATHER OBSERVATIONS...RADAR...AND METEOROLOGICAL
ANALYSIS.

BASED ON 1200 UTC SURFACE ANALYSIS AND SATELLITE IMAGERY THROUGH
1715 UTC.

...TROPICAL WAVES...
TROPICAL WAVE IS OVER THE CAPE VERDE ISLANDS EXTENDS FROM 22N22W
TO 11N23W MOVING W NEAR 10 KT. A SURGE OF DEEP MOISTURE IS
TRAILING THE WAVE AS DEPICTED ON THE TOTAL PRECIPITABLE WATER
IMAGERY WITH DRY SAHARAN AIR PRECEDING THE WAVE AS SEEN ON GOES
R IMAGERY. THE MONSOON TROUGH IS S OF THE WAVE AXIS WITH NO
ASSOCIATED CONVECTION.

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Quoting 333. Jedkins01:


Don't forget me, I consistently stood by it moving northeast into Florida :)

Some said I just "wanted" it to. However, if you follow my posts, I do my best to separate hype from reality. when I'm confident a system does not pose much risk to my area or elsewhere in Florida, I will make it clear.

You did a pretty good job with Isaac too. I think it was you saying it would be hard for it to come up along the West Coast of FL. from the position it was at in the Caribbean due to the angle. I remember Dennis Phillips saying the same thing he does a good job making sure the public in the Tampa Bay area doesn't freak out from a storm that is more than 5 days away.
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Yeah but that makes no sense, why have it if it has NO chance of development lol, NHC is messing with us.


once again...we have to revisit the concept of prediction or forecast...a prediction is a set contract...once made...it either pans out or not...a forecast is a fluid entity....it changes as information changes...thus...the shaded area is an area of interest... and with the information available now...there is a 0 percent chance of development....in the future though...that could change
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Quoting 302. Patrap:
Lil or no Damage ?

LOL..one couldnt drive Hwy 90 for 3 weeks where Camille came in at Pass Christian/Long beach.

Dont know where your getting your info from, cuz its dismissive outright with that alone.


Read this

Hurricane Camille Was Not a Category 5 at Landfall
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About

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