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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...week of Nov. 4th...major...to hit FL!
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If something develops in the Western Caribbean next week. I am tipping my hat to the FIM models. Right now I have FIM-ritis.

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What an excellent analysis of Prediction models by JMasters.....

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Quoting 174. washingtonian115:
I currently have tickets on hold to visit the statue of liberty Oct-Dec.I'm hoping another Sandy or Irene doesn't run up the coast this year.I wanted to visit last year but didn't get the chance to and the statue of liberty was closed after Sandy and recently opened in July.In the riding pattern holds firm Florida and the gulf will get the biggest threats.


Anything's possible with weather. But the chance of another Sandy type hurricane hitting the N.E. is extremely small.
Sandy was a freak of a storm. It was a combination of many things. People wearing winter jackets in 50 degree air standing on the beach.
It was a huge storm and that's what gave it so much power in the form of its storm surge.

A run of the mill cat 1/tropical storm wouldn't produce anywhere close to the same damage as Sandy.
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Quoting 163. Tazmanian:


You think? All ready been posted. So your late

I wasn't exactly sure because no one was talking about it and then I saw this on the last page

138. lordhuracan01 3:31 PM GMT on August 07, 2013 +1
"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 hate This words!!!


I'm not one to post things nanoseconds later anyway, it's not a race you know.

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Quoting 148. flcanes:
Just take it easy. I would never call it a bust unless no more storms form by november 31.
...November 30th.
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Quoting 145. opal92nwf:



why show an area if its zero pct? are they bored?
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Quoting 173. Grothar:


How come they never post anything we put on?


We have not been crayon certified.
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2008 Hurricane Dolly:

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Quoting 140. Skyepony:
HWRF did do really bad last year but I've got to give it the comeback award for 3013..It's been forcing the pace or in the hunt on the last two Atlantic storms & didn't crash & burn on the others.

Looking over the average model error for Hurricane Henriette right now forecasters (OFCL) is in the lead. HWRF is doing really well. One of the FIM models is on it as is most the TV.. models. Here's the top models on Henriette average model error in nm 0,24,48 & etc. (lower numbers are better)..

OFCL 0 39.0 46.3 54.9 57.8 -
HWF2 0 70.8 77.1 57.3 77.8 73.1
HWFI 0 38.2 63.5 99.3 90.9 77.7
HWRF 0.9 37.9 54.0 96.8 96.2 81.2
FM92 0 35.4 75.7 110.7 66.0 78.2
TV15 0 34.8 57.5 81.5 92.0 73.1
TVCA 0 34.8 57.5 81.5 92.0 73.1
TVCC 0 38.0 59.1 84.6 163.7 213.5
TVCE 0 34.8 57.5 81.5 92.0 73.1
TVCN 0 34.8 57.5 81.5 92.0 73.1



...2013.
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Instability has been a problem so far.If that is the case as TropweatherPR puts it expect more quantity than quality like the last two years.The pressures in the MDR isn't terribly high but they aren't as below average as they were in 2010 which was the last truly Healthy cape verde season we had.
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It's starting to get moist in the Gulf. Those storms that gave me 1.25" more of rain when they pushed through last night seem to be firing back up today. If that energy in the center of the country pushes into the Gulf it could get interesting in a few days!

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I currently have tickets on hold to visit the statue of liberty Oct-Dec.I'm hoping another Sandy or Irene doesn't run up the coast this year.I wanted to visit last year but didn't get the chance to and the statue of liberty was closed after Sandy and recently opened in July.If the riding pattern holds firm Florida and the gulf will get the biggest threats.
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Quoting 168. nrtiwlnvragn:


Almost everything posted on the NHC website is pasted to this blog nanoseconds later.


How come they never post anything we put on?
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Quoting 159. ricderr:

nope...if i was looking to argue then that's the same steps i'd take....a little bit of study rather than a quick cut and paste is good for you
I agree in general but looking at every forecast for every storm even if just over the last five years is more than a "little study". Better to pull down the error data, look at the biggest errors, then go to the archives to study those cases. That alone would make for a good study.
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170. DDR
Good afternoon
Picked up almost 3 inches inches in just over half an hour here in northern Trinidad,with some localised flooding.
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Quoting 155. opal92nwf:

Did everyone already know about this???^^


Almost everything posted on the NHC website is pasted to this blog nanoseconds later.
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Quoting 160. nrtiwlnvragn:
The basin is loading up with pouches


Those areas look interesting right now.
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Wind shear is diminishing over the AOI.
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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


Interesting discussion yesterday on the weather channel discussing most distructive hurricanes.
Larger storms produce more damage.
Thus a large cat 3 will most likely produce more damage than a smaller cat 5.



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Quoting 160. nrtiwlnvragn:
The basin is loading up with pouches




20L will be the most interesting one to follow.
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Quoting 155. opal92nwf:

Did everyone already know about this???^^


You think? All ready been posted. So your late
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Nice calm blog atmosphere today. :)

Hope everyone is doing well. I'm sure many are 'glad' to have the break after the hair-pulling that Dorian gave us all.

As we near the heart of the season I hope everyone in harm's potential path is using the time to make sure they're ready for what could come...
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Hi guys I'm back from vacation.
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The basin is loading up with pouches


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The NHC archives have the forecasts and subsequent storm positions, so I could go forecast by forecast, storm by storm, year by year and compile the data. Do you have a better source?


nope...if i was looking to argue then that's the same steps i'd take....a little bit of study rather than a quick cut and paste is good for you
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Quoting 151. nrtiwlnvragn:


Was more related to the part about cyclogenesis, but I see your point about shallow depressions. NHC has a webpage with the NHC official forecast error database which can be downloaded to a spreadsheet. Also the "cone of doom" is a rough estimate since it is 67% of error (5 years of data though).
Thank you! It will be interesting to see how it comes out. I will pull the data down and see for myself.
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Quoting 153. ricderr:
Just take it easy. I would never call it a bust unless no more storms form by november 31.




to most here....it's not that they expect no more storms...but they bought into the colorodo crap shoot of storm predictions that called for an above average year...counter that with most are young and are used to everything being solved in an half hour just like the sit-coms they watch.....very little patience and also very little understanding that their is just as much to learn during non storm periods such as now as when a storm is active


I think the expert forecasts for a very active season is what has led to what we are seeing from some bloggers that are downcasting the season.
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All that i can say is, this season the African wave train has been very active and we are talking about the same of all of year when the CV can't take off, the procces of cyclogenesis in that place is very complex and some times takes his time, with this said IS JUST MATTER OF DAYS...Check out 1996,1998 and 2010 to say some years..
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Quoting 146. opal92nwf:
!!!!!!!!

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 across the Windward Islands and 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
$$
forecaster Avila

Did everyone already know about this???^^
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Quoting 143. ricderr:
>
true...but can't you pull this date yourself?
The NHC archives have the forecasts and subsequent storm positions, so I could go forecast by forecast, storm by storm, year by year and compile the data. Do you have a better source?
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Just take it easy. I would never call it a bust unless no more storms form by november 31.




to most here....it's not that they expect no more storms...but they bought into the colorodo crap shoot of storm predictions that called for an above average year...counter that with most are young and are used to everything being solved in an half hour just like the sit-coms they watch.....very little patience and also very little understanding that their is just as much to learn during non storm periods such as now as when a storm is active
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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
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Quoting 142. guygee:
Good point, but a depression can be very shallow and ill-organized (e.g. reborn depression Dorian), so the comment still applies, and error bars are pretty much mandatory anyways if you are trying to make an argument based on statistics.


Was more related to the part about cyclogenesis, but I see your point about shallow depressions. NHC has a webpage with the NHC official forecast error database which can be downloaded to a spreadsheet. Also the "cone of doom" is a rough estimate since it is 67% of error (5 years of data though).
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They call it wrong way lenny but i
Quoting 129. JrWeathermanFL:
We could get a Paloma or Lenny again in November. It takes only one to make it a bad season..



Maybe this lenny will be wrong way lenny.....they keep calling that other one wrong way lenny but it was definitiely right (->) way lenny.....


Seriously, I think late september may be active
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Last four runs of the CFS:



I have a feeling it will get active in due time. Just give it that. ;)
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Just take it easy. I would never call it a bust unless no more storms form by november 31.
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looks like 10" will be the final tally in GA.



Similiar problems in missouri

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!!!!!!!!

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 across the Windward Islands and 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
$$
forecaster Avila
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I know this gets posted multiple times every day, but its nice to look at.
Today is only Aug.7th. Give it a another week or so and things should really start heating up.
Guaranteed to be active the first or second week of Sept.


Also, the constant reminder that Andrew (1st storm of the season in 1992) wasn't until Aug. 24.
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Good point, but a depression can be very shallow and ill-organized (e.g. reborn depression Dorian), so the comment still applies, and error bars are pretty much mandatory anyways if you are trying to make an argument based on statistics.


true...but can't you pull this date yourself?
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Quoting 101. nrtiwlnvragn:


All of the data from the NHC verification reports that the Doc has in his post are only for storms at the Tropical Depression level or greater. None of that data is for invest systems.
Good point, but a depression can be very shallow and ill-organized (e.g. reborn depression Dorian), so the comment still applies, and error bars are pretty much mandatory anyways if you are trying to make an argument based on statistics.
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140. Skyepony (Mod)
HWRF did do really bad last year but I've got to give it the comeback award for 3013..It's been forcing the pace or in the hunt on the last two Atlantic storms & didn't crash & burn on the others.

Looking over the average model error for Hurricane Henriette right now forecasters (OFCL) is in the lead. HWRF is doing really well. One of the FIM models is on it as is most the TV.. models. Here's the top models on Henriette average model error in nm 0,24,48 & etc. (lower numbers are better)..

OFCL 0 39.0 46.3 54.9 57.8 -
HWF2 0 70.8 77.1 57.3 77.8 73.1
HWFI 0 38.2 63.5 99.3 90.9 77.7
HWRF 0.9 37.9 54.0 96.8 96.2 81.2
FM92 0 35.4 75.7 110.7 66.0 78.2
TV15 0 34.8 57.5 81.5 92.0 73.1
TVCA 0 34.8 57.5 81.5 92.0 73.1
TVCC 0 38.0 59.1 84.6 163.7 213.5
TVCE 0 34.8 57.5 81.5 92.0 73.1
TVCN 0 34.8 57.5 81.5 92.0 73.1

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MJO will reach an optimal position in the caribean in about two to three weeks. I predict thinhs to start getting pretty active then. SAL should have significantly subsided by then as well. Thre should be a few Cape Verdes forming during that period and I would not be surprised if we also see some SW Caribean formation.
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"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 hate This words!!!
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I've been on here for many years now and the usual early August lull,causes the usual season is a bust comments. All part of the tropical season.
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Russian Market ‏@russian_market 3 min
Heavy rain alarm for Zurich. You have 50 minutes, Zürcher!

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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