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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Nam 42 hours corrected with the GOM blob/moisture. Ends up breaking up with some of the energy going into Mexico and some into Texas.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
The cloud pattern associated with Henriette has become better organized over the past several hours. Core convection has weakened slightly though. Solid Category 2.

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Severe Thunderstorm Warning


Statement as of 5:13 PM EDT on August 08, 2013



The National Weather Service in Upton NY has issued a

* Severe Thunderstorm Warning for...
Fairfield County in southern Connecticut...
western New Haven County in southern Connecticut...
Westchester County in southeast New York...
Putnam County in southeast New York...

* until 615 PM EDT...

* at 508 PM EDT... National Weather Service Doppler radar indicated a
severe thunderstorm capable of producing damaging winds in excess
of 60 mph. This storm was located near Yorktown Heights... or near
Mahopac... and moving northeast at 20 mph.

* Other locations in the warning include but are not limited to
Carmel... Brewster... Lake Carmel... Danbury... Bethel... Sherman...
Newtown and Southbury

This storm has a history of producing widespread wind damage across
portions of the Hudson Valley. Seek shelter now inside a sturdy
structure and stay away from windows!

Lat... Lon 4166 7349 4163 7349 4150 7343 4152 7339
4149 7337 4148 7333 4150 7333 4151 7331
4152 7316 4149 7312 4119 7380 4134 7394
4152 7371 4153 7353 4166 7352 4167 7351
time... Mot... loc 2113z 235deg 19kt 4132 7376
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1832. HadesGodWyvern (Mod)

Obnoxious orange bar is obnoxious.


have yet to see a status bar for alerts. You can always unpin it so that it stays on the top of the page and not scroll.
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Quoting 1807. ncstorm:
how you remove the alerts from your view..I hit X and it still keeps popping up..



Yup, darn good question. I'd prefer that to go away too.
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1830. nigel20
Quoting Grothar:


Good Afternoon, Nigel. Very nice day here today.

We are currently having light to moderate showers along the northern coast of the island...it seems as if we'll be getting a lot more rain in the coming days as well.
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1829. Patrap
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Seems the easterly flow has slowed considerably. And, the high-amplitude twave just west of the Verdes is creating some good vorticity at about 13n,35w although it's embedded in the monsoonal trough. Appears even, that the twave is so strong it's actually caused a noticeable westerly shift in the flow nearer the trades. Of course, there's plenty dry air out there and shearing too. I guess we just a bonafide lull, and we're just gonna have to wait until conditions improve for that match to ignite! ;)



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1827. Patrap
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with the current SST a track like this could be devistating.
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1825. Grothar
Quoting 1772. Skyepony:


I almost wrote about this on Sunday but it seemed like it was gonna be such a weak, mostly cold core storm headed away from America..who'd care to read about it.



I would, I read everything.
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Quoting 1822. ncstorm:


Can you imagine if a hurricane is threatening..will it list every alert individually, if so, I wont be able to see the comments..


Wait - if there's more than one, what happens? Does it add to the thickness of the bar, or add a bar?
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1823. barbamz
With some flooding news from inside the African wave train (may be relevant for you guys in the US later) a good night from Germany!

Kenya: Hotels Submerged in Baringo Floods
By Joel Iregi, 7 August 2013
More than Seven Tourist hotels have been submerged by floods after Lake Baringo burst its banks. Hundreds of tourists who were visiting have been relocated to avoid disasters. William Kimosop from KWS says the situation is worsening as the rains intensify.

Uganda: Floods Displace Over 6000 in Amuru
By Tony Langalanga and Jackon Kitara, 8 August 2013
Over 6000 people have been left homeless in the northern district of Amuru after Unyama stream burst its bank.

Atiak LC3 Chairman, John Bosco, said Elegu was the most affected village. The floods were caused by a heavy down pour that hit the area on Wednesday affecting several families.

The stream, which connects to River Nile is located seven kilometers away from Elegu border post along Atiak-Numule-Juba road.

"The floods washed away houses and latrines living many people stranded. Gardens were washed away and others submerged in water," Ocan said.

According to Ocan, over 3,000 people lost property in the floods.
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1822. ncstorm
Quoting 1819. TropicalAnalystwx13:
Obnoxious orange bar is obnoxious.


Can you imagine if a hurricane is threatening..will it list every alert individually, if so, I wont be able to see the comments..
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Quoting 1819. TropicalAnalystwx13:
Obnoxious orange bar is obnoxious.


Im under a Flash Flood Watch so I know what you mean
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1820. Grothar
Quoting 1734. nigel20:

:) Hi Grothar! How have you been? Is it still wet in your neck of the woods?


Good Afternoon, Nigel. Very nice day here today.
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Obnoxious orange bar is obnoxious.
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not good at all! I am talking about the high
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Adding to my last comment, consider this scenario.
Imagine a trough of low pressure casually develops close to shore in say the GOM. Conditions right, it could blow up fast into a tropical storm, then a hurricane, not allowing time to put up plywood, etc. or do much travel to get out before flying debri & its unpredictability stops people from moving much.

So, what if they stay in becuse it is expected to either A) not build much or B) come ashore soon so as to not develop. Somehow, it picks C) - stay, brew, get bigger. In that time, it rains ashore a lot, maybe coupled with a frontal boundary sagging South. Then, the water has no place to go - lots of rainwater, plus storm surge building up. BAD, dangerous scenario in low-lying coastal areas around the GOM! The normal hurr. flooding compounded by more rain than expected & a longer period of time of rivers & streams being blocked by tidal surge as the storm sits or moving very slowly or erratically.

Now, this is not common, so almost NOBODY thought it would actually happen. Therefore, almost nobody planned for it. Therefore, lots of people DIE, when they get caught between the winds, the rains, the tides, and not able to evacuate in a timely manner. The "perfect storm" - Southern style. It is not impossible. We simply are playing a sort of "Russian Roulette" by pretending it will not happen, year after year....until what, someday when it does happen?

(added) -- Okay, seeing the scenario, I must also add this, due to recent movie madness here. With the rising floodwaters, come the killer gators, hungry because all the big snakes ate their normal food. So, the big snakes & the gators are all out of food - competition & depletion -- and start pigging out on people caught unevacuated in the rising waters. Sounds like a movie that could be said to be "based on a true story" someday, lol. Bwhaahaha -- eeps! ;)
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1816. nigel20
Quoting Sfloridacat5:


Just need light winds aloft to complete the necessary formula.

Yeah, tropical activity in the Atlantic should pick up by mid to late August.
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TD 11 W could become a big typhoon for the Philippines and China in the next five days. Structure is amazing with convection somewhat lacking on the northeastern quadrant. Should intensify near Dmax.
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Well our little miniblob in the Caribbean went poof didn't it?
I'll shift my attention farther north to that ball of weakening convection pulling off of that front. I don't know what its in for...seems to be an outflow boundry on the SW side.
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.FYI...I'm sure many of you are familiar with our friend -Indian River Guy_...He has not been here for a while...He is our local hero. His name is Marty, He is AKA "Indian River Keeper" on the treasure coast...We have a local disaster here with the discharge from Lake Okeechobee. The estuary is a total mess with the algae bloom....Marty is working is butt off trying to stop the problem in Stuart Florida....A massive fish-kill is a possibility.... Marty is looking for a fix before it gets worse....This beautiful area is getting ruined...No swimming or wading already....Marty is appearing on the local media pleading for help for the Indian River Lagoon.... 4 billions of gallons of water is released each day from Lake Okeechobee each day because of the fear the dykes of the lake breaching.... I pray Marty can make the difference.... Please give Marty help from a prayer or whatever we can do...He is the best
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big high in the northeast 150 hours.
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Quoting 1736. DonnieBwkGA:


All known systems reaching tropical storm strength received names from 1950 on. In the public advisories that means from 40 mph on up. The standard for naming tropical cyclones hasn't changed.

Except that subtropical storms are now named since 2003. That is different.


Thanks for that information DonnieBwkGA !
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Quoting 1786. barbamz:
My bad! As the heat wave has receded in Germany I totally forgot to check out our neighbours to the East:

Temperature records broken in Austria and Hungary
AP / August 8, 2013

VIENNA (AP) — Temperatures have hit all-time highs in Austria and neighboring Hungary as a stubborn heat wave nears the end of its second week.

Thursday’s 40.5 degrees Celsius (105 degrees Fahrenheit Thursday eclipsed the previous record of 39.9 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) set just five days before.

In Hungary, temperatures were fractionally lower at 40 C Thursday. Officials there have issued a heat warning, while some government ministries have relaxed dress codes. For men, that means ties and jackets can be left at home. For women, pantyhose is optional.

Croatia sent two water-dropping planes to Bosnia earlier in the week to help battle wildfires set off by drought and sweltering heat that threatened several villages. A Russian aircraft was dispatched to fight blazes in Serbia.

Temperatures also nearly broke records in Poland.


http://orf.at/static/images/site/news/20130832/we tter_hitzerekord_grafik_a_o.4515149.png
Source ORF (Public television in Austria; they and ZAMG - the Austrian weather service - say that they still need some hours to confirm the new record).


barbamz - happy to hear you've finally gotten some relief from the heat. But 105F? Whew. And I guess A/C is in short supply there as well? That's hotter than here, and I'm practically melting when I go outside.

And OMG - pantyhose in 100-degree weather? I wonder what the temperature cutoff is where it reverts back! One of the best things when I moved to the Gulf from New England was the relaxation of my company's dress code; I was thrilled when my female co-workers told me nylons were not required. (In fact they looked at me quite strangely when I showed up on my first day there, as no one in their right minds in Louisiana would wear nylons in the summertime.)
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Quoting 1804. nigel20:

Hi Cody! It seems as if the SST's will be above average, just in time for the peak of the hurricane season.


Just need light winds aloft to complete the necessary formula.
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1807. ncstorm
how you remove the alerts from your view..I hit X and it still keeps popping up..

The National Weather Service in Wilmington NC has issued a

* Flood Advisory for...

northeastern Brunswick County in southeast North Carolina
northwestern New Hanover County in southeast North Carolina
southern Pender County in southeast North Carolina

* until 645 PM EDT

* at 455 PM EDT National Weather Service radar indicated an area of
slow moving showers and thunderstorms along Highway 421.

* Locations in the advisory include but are not limited to Castle
Hayne... Rocky Point... and Highway 421 near the New Hanover and
Pender County border.

Radar has estimated around 2 inches of rain had fallen over northern
Brunswick... northwestern New Hanover and south central Pender
counties in the last 2 hours. These storms will continue to slowly
move east but another inch or 2 of rain will be possible during the
next hour.

Precautionary/preparedness actions...

Heavy rainfall can cause flooding... especially in areas susceptible
to flooding due to poor drainage. Poor drainage areas include
locations near streams and creeks... ditches... retention ponds... and
low spots along roadways. Keep a safe distance from streams... creeks
and ditches. Do not drive through flooded areas... your vehicle may
stall leaving you stranded.


Please report any flooding to the National Weather Service in
Wilmington NC... toll free at 800-697-3901... when you can do so
safely.

Lat... Lon 3436 7807 3449 7785 3433 7790 3426 7803


Iii
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1806. Skyepony (Mod)
Little blob headed to the EPAC
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1805. Skyepony (Mod)
Total ASCAT DOOM...land is water, water is land! That was the GOM, Yucatan & Cuba..
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1804. nigel20
Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:
With the SAL gone, sea surface temperatures in the Caribbean are rapidly rising again.


Hi Cody! It seems as if the SST's will be above average, just in time for the peak of the hurricane season.
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SST anomalies increasing in the MDR.

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Link


still a very strong ridge forecasted by GFS for next few weeks. This may be the year who knows.
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Quoting 1780. WalkingInTheSun:


?????
You say "nothing" because you are looking at the "nothing" that exists...rather than the "something" that could appear. The potential exists, as can be seen in the moisture wrapping around that low N of Cuba over the Bahamas, heading West like a tropical bullet. What is the potential if it picks up some strength in the next few days?
If it does, at that clip, how much time to prepare does that give anyone in its potential path?

I also have a slight bone to pick with the generalizations in the weather-prediction models up top on the page. We have not had many "tricky" storms in the past several years like have been seen many years ago. I recall storms that would "diddle around" in the GOM a bit, very unsettling & not easy to predict. That can make an impact on the "accuracy" of prediction models, giving a misperception on accuracy of predictions, which in turn can leave some peeps complacent if a storm is not predicted to go their way, by models that seem so accurate in recent years.


You are reading too deep into my previous post, I stated "Nothing" meaning at the current moment of "time" their is nothing brewing or organizing in the tropics, i did not discount the idea of a system forming in any amount of time in the future, even in the short term period. At the current time, as indicated by the National Hurricane Center's outlook and discussion, nothing is organizing or brewing in the tropics, in the future, however it will obviously change.

Quoting 1774. RGVtropicalWx13:

Don't you got anything else to say other than nothing? Besides that nothing will soon come to an end.


It will come to end, of course, it is august after all. But with nothing occurring at the moment, i have nothing on-topic to post on the blog.

Quoting 1785. JLPR2:
They keep emerging but are unable to hold together, now...
When they start to do so, watch out!



Well thats something.
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12Z GFS T-384

Looks like we'll have a fish storm to track in a few days
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Quoting 1796. PalmBeachWeather:
That's cool RGV....We all do it..

Yep.
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Quoting 1792. Skyepony:
It's collapsing in the heat of the day.


Sounds familiar...
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Quoting 1785. JLPR2:
They keep emerging but are unable to hold together, now...
When they start to do so, watch out!



If this one holds together it could develop in a hurry and it should emerge by tomorrow
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Quoting 1791. RGVtropicalWx13:

It probably came out wrong but what I meant to say is that posting a graphic with the wording"nothing" sounds wrong to me.
That's cool RGV....We all do it..
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Sundown over West Africa

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Quoting 1775. LargoFl:
the bottom righthand corner..thats the one we watch when it gets under Cuba..


I know I'm sounding like a grump, probably - lol - but I think a distant storm is less trouble at times than the one that pops up suddenly close to the coast, brews & walks in with a wallop that nobody expected or had time to prepare for -- nor could they, if developing winds & tides prevented them from doing anything about it in time.
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1793. Patrap
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1792. Skyepony (Mod)
That plot of the Central Atlantic blob I posted there is two days old.. The models kept calling it that way. Interesting to see it happening this much farther south than expected & it has more a southwest movement than all the models anticipated. On RGB loop zoomed in, big outflow boundary racing in front of it as it travels down the front. It's collapsing in the heat of the day.
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Quoting 1777. PalmBeachWeather:
That has to rank in one of the top 5 most idiotic posts I have ever read here..Sorry RGV

It probably came out wrong but what I meant to say is that posting a graphic with the wording"nothing" sounds wrong to me.
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Wishing we would get some rain here soon in Southwest Louisiana...Good afternoon all:))
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With the SAL gone, sea surface temperatures in the Caribbean are rapidly rising again.

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NOAA NWS National Hurricane Center

Calling all tweeters! Got questions about hurricane forecasting and preparedness? Join us on August 13th for a Tweet Chat with NHC Director Dr. Rick Knabb and senior hurricane specialist Daniel Brown. Just ahead of the peak of the season (mid-August through late October), they'll answer your questions about the tracking and forecasting of these potentially damaging storms and how best to be prepared.





Here is the link for details:
http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2013/20130808 _nhc_tweetchat.html
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Quoting 1776. CaneHunter031472:
Gosh... Tropics are looking so quiet right now? Any hope for development in the next few days? Anyone?


I'd say the GOM is disorganzied but not totally clear.
More importantly, IMO, is the low heading towards the Florida Straits. It is currently nothing, but is wrapping up moisture, which to me signals a "desire" to build into something more. It has quite a whirl to it already, so if it does, it could do so rather "quickly". -- All dependent on shear & other conditions.
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1786. barbamz
My bad! As the heat wave has receded in Germany I totally forgot to check out our neighbours to the East:

Temperature records broken in Austria and Hungary
AP / August 8, 2013

VIENNA (AP) - Temperatures have hit all-time highs in Austria and neighboring Hungary as a stubborn heat wave nears the end of its second week.

Thursday's 40.5 degrees Celsius (105 degrees Fahrenheit Thursday eclipsed the previous record of 39.9 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) set just five days before.

In Hungary, temperatures were fractionally lower at 40 C Thursday. Officials there have issued a heat warning, while some government ministries have relaxed dress codes. For men, that means ties and jackets can be left at home. For women, pantyhose is optional.

Croatia sent two water-dropping planes to Bosnia earlier in the week to help battle wildfires set off by drought and sweltering heat that threatened several villages. A Russian aircraft was dispatched to fight blazes in Serbia.

Temperatures also nearly broke records in Poland.



Source ORF (Public television in Austria; they and ZAMG - the Austrian weather service - say that they still need some hours to confirm the new record).
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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