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 274. Patrap:
Anyway thinking of downgrading Camille is a fool.

Many of us were there,in it,,and saw the 24 ft water marks in the Broadwater Beach Hotel.

So give that thought a rest.

www.csc.noaa.gov/hes/docs/postStorm/H_CAMILLE.pdf


And what was the hotel where they had a hurricane party that was completely gone after Camille? Wasn't that 3 or 4 stories tall?
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A Lady Called Camille

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Quoting 281. GTstormChaserCaleb:
Is it because it is not a Category 5? :D
No.It's because it looks like a weak low pressure area.Hardly anything worthy of being called a tropical storm.Looks very shallow.
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Quoting 279. Jedkins01:


The Caribbean Islands might beg to differ, its been much drier than normal down there for weeks...

With strong construction, they'll probably welcome tropical cyclones right now as long as there aren't any major hurricanes.


I'm thinking at least 2 majors will strike FL this year. pattern is not looking good at all.
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Quoting 272. washingtonian115:
Yahoo!. I don't see anything of interest really.
Is it because it is not a Category 5? :D
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Quoting 268. opal92nwf:
This is the only direct tropical cyclone strike I have experienced since I have become interested in hurricanes.

I stayed up till like 3am in the morning to watch the partial eyewall of Claudette go right over my house. I thought I had seen some intense wind storms in Illinois, but Claudette gave me a glimpse of what a tropical cyclone was like.

It was eerie because not too long before the partial eyewall came up from the south, I saw a big flash to the south which must have been a electrical flash. And then when the eyewall did come, I witnessed 50+ sustained winds. You could hear a gust coming in advance and when the winds got high enough at a certain point, it made an weird whooshing noise through the trees like I had never heard. And this was just a 50mph tropical storm....
I will make a blog post soon of pictures of the damage afterwards from Claudette with a more detailed description of my experience.


Now imagine how Katrina felt for me :-) that's why I like when they dissipate. I love fish storms that's about it.
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Quoting 223. StormTrackerScott:
Next Tuesday Evening. Beginning to now match the Euro. Not a good looking pattern for the Caribbean Islands & FL.



The Caribbean Islands might beg to differ, its been much drier than normal down there for weeks...

With strong construction, they'll probably welcome tropical cyclones right now as long as there aren't any major hurricanes.
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Bonnie 2004 is that you? ;) Now we look for trends and more models jumping onboard. FIM has been consistent, GFS slowly coming around to the idea.

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Popping in from work, appreciated the satellite shot (post #245), Patrap! - wondered what it is that's spitting out these ULLs one after the other in the Bahamas/SoFla area like a hen layin' eggs.... Think the MJO moving into our basin will shake things up? Pattern seems sorta stuck, across a chunk of the Country.
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Quoting 274. Patrap:
Anyway thinking of downgrading Camille is a fool.

Many of us were there,in it,,and saw the 24 ft water marks in the Broadwater Beach Hotel.

So give that thought a rest.


Ain't that the truth!
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Quoting 264. StormTrackerScott:
On another note Cold air is coming south next week as well. Dare I say frost for some!


That is exactly what I experienced when I moved from Florida to SW Illinois back in Late July/Early August in 2004! It was basically long sleeve weather (at least for me) as it must have been in the 60's or low 70's then.

Although then Halloween day, I remember wearing shorts and a T-Shirt as it was warm and muggy.

Very interesting!
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Anyway thinking of downgrading Camille is a fool.

Many of us were there,in it,,and saw the 24 ft water marks in the Broadwater Beach Hotel.

So give that thought a rest.

www.csc.noaa.gov/hes/docs/postStorm/H_CAMILLE.pdf
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Quoting 269. CaneHunter031472:


Early Fall? or just an anomaly


An anomaly. Not very often do you get that big cold outbreak in August.
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Quoting 264. StormTrackerScott:
On another note Cold air is coming south next week as well. Dare I say frost for some!

Yahoo!.
Quoting 266. GTstormChaserCaleb:
240 hrs. Tropical Storm landfall around Cedar Key?

I don't see anything of interest really.
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Quoting 266. GTstormChaserCaleb:
240 hrs. Tropical Storm landfall around Cedar Key?



Like I said the pattern coming up is resembling one that sent Charley into SW FL.
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GOM sea Height Anomaly



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Quoting 264. StormTrackerScott:
On another note Cold air is coming south next week as well. Dare I say frost for some!



Early Fall? or just an anomaly
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This is the only direct tropical cyclone strike I have experienced since I have become interested in hurricanes.

I stayed up till like 3am in the morning to watch the partial eyewall of Claudette go right over my house. I thought I had seen some intense wind storms in Illinois, but Claudette gave me a glimpse of what a tropical cyclone was like.

It was eerie because not too long before the partial eyewall came up from the south, I saw a big flash to the south which must have been a electrical flash. And then when the eyewall did come, I witnessed 50+ sustained winds. You could hear a gust coming in advance and when the winds got high enough at a certain point, it made an weird whooshing noise through the trees like I had never heard. And this was just a 50mph tropical storm....
I will make a blog post soon of pictures of the damage afterwards from Claudette with a more detailed description of my experience.
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Quoting 260. LAbonbon:


I think it does matter, to a certain extent, in regards to perception. Some folks on here think riding out a Cat 3 is somewhat safe. Perhaps some may alter their perceived risk if they stop and consider the damage a Cat 3 can do.


The problem is there is no definitive proof to downgrade Camille. You don't have to go back 44 years and downgrade a storm to show that a storm doesn't have to be a Cat 5 to do damage. Go back to last year with Sandy or 2008 with Ike or 2005 with Katrina. It matters about size of storm along with the intensity it was previously.
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240 hrs. Tropical Storm landfall around Cedar Key?

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..ticking away the moments that make up a dull day...


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On another note Cold air is coming south next week as well. Dare I say frost for some!

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Quoting 238. opal92nwf:

Area forecast discussion
National Weather Service Tallahassee Florida
1112 am EDT Wed Aug 7 2013

Short term [thursday through friday]...

During the rest of the period, upper high pressure to our west and
east merge to produce elongated west-East Ridge and near zonal flow over
Gulf region by early thurs. However during thurs, TUTT advances westward
across Bahamas and begins to erode srn ridge while energy moves
east over Ohio Valley into mid-Atlc states eroding nrn boundary but
at same time nudging it swd.
By eve, TUTT exits west of County Warning Area
with ridge restrengthening over Alabama/Georgia and with moist air on
backside beginning to impact southeast Big Bend. This reflected in area
model soundings I.E. Tlh GFS with precipitable waters above 2 inches thru thurs
night then dropping to around 1.5 inches on Fri before rising to
1.8 inches at night.
At surface, ridge axis remaining to our
north, expect type 2 (moderate southeast flow) seabreeze on thurs
favoring storms over North Florida with focus on Panhandle. Will go with
40-60% NE-SW pop gradient on thurs, 20-40% east-west gradient on Fri.


Long term [friday night through tuesday]...


Mostly zonal upper level flow will be experienced through next
Tuesday as a thin upper ridge will sit over our local area between a
TUTT passing over the Gulf, and a longwave trough across the
northern half of the country. At the surface, the local area will be
under the influences of the western reaches of the Bermuda high.
This will result in near average rain chances and temperatures each
day.


Sounds like we'll continue to have good chances of getting wet. I'm good with sea breeze storms as long as they stay to the North of the coast but lately they been forming and moving South and hitting us at dinner time. We have a great sunny day and then get hit with an inch or more of rain right at sunset!
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Regardless of development or not, since nothing is guaranteed looks like increase moisture for FL. at least according to the latest GFS run.

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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?


I think it does matter, to a certain extent, in regards to perception. Some folks on here think riding out a Cat 3 is somewhat safe. Perhaps some may alter their perceived risk if they stop and consider the damage a Cat 3 can do.
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Quoting 250. GTstormChaserCaleb:
This was last night's run of the FIM-7:



Thank you! Landfall moved quite a bit North from the last one.
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Going to get interesting next week!

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Hmm, we are in a quandry, eh?
There were apparently experts in meteorology who forecasted a certain amount of hurricane activity for this year.
So, if so many now are saying this hurr. season is a bust, that means that either they are wrong now, or the experts who did the initial season forecast are wrong. That means either experts or non-experts have been wrong: choose. Yet, if there are experts on both sides, it means experts have been wrong.

If, then, experts have been wrong, how can we say with confidence that the season is a bust? (Think about it.) Meanwhile, there's a Low swirling towards the Bahamas, moisture levels increasing in the GOM, and I think -- despite the dusty air off the Sahara -- that many can recall not all tropical storms or hurricanes must irrevocably evolve out of an African TW. Right? Of course some -- many -- have formed in the Caribbean, GOM, BOC, & along the Atlantic Coast sort of "out of thin air".
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Quoting 237. SouthernIllinois:

Afternoon Lindy :) Okay did you say Chocolate??????????

Sorry I haven't had the chance to read the rest of your post.


Yes, I did. And get this...the male's name is "Mousse" and the female is "Pudding". They are my definition of gentle giants. I'll take a pic this afternoon.

Rain is finally letting up. Ten more minutes and hopefully the roads dry up a bit. It's a hell of a drive to where I'm going.

Link Something to drive with...

Lindy

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Quoting 235. Patrap:
The only crink in the next 7 days is if we can get some spin down yonder in the BOC, but even that is a tad out the box with the current and downstream looks.




It certainly won't happen if that ULL makes it way into the Gulf.
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Quoting 234. Sfloridacat5:
Here's a short article by livescience about hurricane sandy (1 in 700 year storm).

"Hurricane Sandy's devastating storm track is a rare one among hurricanes; a new statistical analysis estimates that the track of the storm — which took an unusual left-hand turn in the Atlantic before slamming into the East Coast — has an average probability of happening only once every 700 years.

"The particular shape of Sandy's trajectory is very peculiar, and that's very rare, on the order of once every 700 years," said Timothy Hall, a senior scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies who co-authored the study. That means that in any particular year, the chance of such a storm track happening is 0.14 percent.



That was in the past. We've all read how the dynamics of the weather are changing due to cimate change. Just look at how out of wack the Jet Stream has been. Look at the crazy storms in Europe, these are things that didn't happen before but now may be more of the norm. Only time will give us the answer.
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Looks like something's right under you, Pat.
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Quoting 152. opal92nwf:
Here's a good example of a Caribbean born hurricane

And BTW, I have to agree with this article
Hurricane Camille Was Not a Category 5 at Landfall


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?
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Quoting 241. SouthernIllinois:

I know I know :( Still working on that part Viking. And too much Purple in Missouri too. My two projects today are to remove the blue and purple from those two areas and TRY to disburse them to areas that need it.

But then I think of Texas and think my efforts will fail on that one...


I sure dont need 3 inches down here in NC...
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Quoting 240. redwagon:


Good morning, GT! How's our FIM 7 doing? You make my day when you post those :) I send them to my brother who works for a large marina/boat dock company that is having to move operations to the coast since our lake went away.
This was last night's run of the FIM-7:

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Quoting 219. GTstormChaserCaleb:
Forgot one.

UKMET = EGRI


Almost

UKMET = UKMET
EGRI is the interpolated EGRR
EGRR is the forecast from the UKMET Office
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Quoting 243. GTstormChaserCaleb:
Game on.



12Z GFS is showing something very similar to the 0Z Euro.
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Quoting 226. Gearsts:
This season will be a bust...
notting there at all!
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232. SouthernIllinois



I was behind this cam this night here in 95' SI. Stage center right'


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Quoting 227. RickWPB:
It's good to hear they finally retired the NOGAPS model. We've been saying here for some time that NOGAPS was NO Good At Predicting Storms. :)


as much as everyone has heard that tired joke, the Nogaps model is not retired..it was upgraded and given a new name..:)
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Game on.

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Quoting 235. Patrap:
The only crink in the next 7 days is if we can get some spin down yonder in the BOC, but even that is a tad out the box with the current and downstream looks.




No convection in the BOC to get a spin going though. NW Caribbean will be the spot to watch later this weekend as the models are now hinting that something may get going down there now and slide up into the Eastern Gulf mid next week.
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Quoting 219. GTstormChaserCaleb:
Forgot one.

UKMET = EGRI


Good morning, GT! How's our FIM 7 doing? You make my day when you post those :) I send them to my brother who works for a large marina/boat dock company that is having to move operations to the coast since our lake went away.
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Quoting 210. SouthernIllinois:
Holy Schmoly! The GFS for 12Z absolutely just blew the 06Z & 00Z run out of the water! Precipitation Values are MUCH HIGHER this run.

*The excitement and anticipation builds!!!*

12Z


06Z


00Z


Unfortunately too much blue in NW Florida too!
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Quoting 221. 69Viking:


That would be really good, we don't need anymore rain for a while!

Area forecast discussion
National Weather Service Tallahassee Florida
1112 am EDT Wed Aug 7 2013

Short term [thursday through friday]...

During the rest of the period, upper high pressure to our west and
east merge to produce elongated west-East Ridge and near zonal flow over
Gulf region by early thurs. However during thurs, TUTT advances westward
across Bahamas and begins to erode srn ridge while energy moves
east over Ohio Valley into mid-Atlc states eroding nrn boundary but
at same time nudging it swd.
By eve, TUTT exits west of County Warning Area
with ridge restrengthening over Alabama/Georgia and with moist air on
backside beginning to impact southeast Big Bend. This reflected in area
model soundings I.E. Tlh GFS with precipitable waters above 2 inches thru thurs
night then dropping to around 1.5 inches on Fri before rising to
1.8 inches at night.
At surface, ridge axis remaining to our
north, expect type 2 (moderate southeast flow) seabreeze on thurs
favoring storms over North Florida with focus on Panhandle. Will go with
40-60% NE-SW pop gradient on thurs, 20-40% east-west gradient on Fri.


Long term [friday night through tuesday]...


Mostly zonal upper level flow will be experienced through next
Tuesday as a thin upper ridge will sit over our local area between a
TUTT passing over the Gulf, and a longwave trough across the
northern half of the country. At the surface, the local area will be
under the influences of the western reaches of the Bermuda high.
This will result in near average rain chances and temperatures each
day.
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Quoting 223. StormTrackerScott:
Next Tuesday Evening. Beginning to now match the Euro. Not a good looking pattern for the Caribbean Islands & FL.

Even though it is only a 1010 mb. low this is the strongest the GFS has shown a system in the Western Caribbean. Like I said yesterday, models will flip-flop on a day to day basis, it seems they are picking up development again today.
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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