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

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Quoting 1778. KEEPEROFTHEGATE:
I think once things open up they will come one right after another
fast and furious and it could very well have 3 systems at the same time tracking across too
who knows
I think more so that way over the fact NOAA still pretty much says same thing today
in there update above normal activity is still likely by 70 percent 30 percent chance it will not

chances remain high I guess


I understand that. Thanks. But, what about the B/A high and troughing? Earlier, it looked as if the high would be very stout, and we would see more westward moving systems, but now it's looking like we're getting some fairly deep troughing, and may see more fish. I was just wondering what you're thinking was as we've watched many a spin on the nightshift through the years. :)
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Quoting 1781. CybrTeddy:


Models are showing a Cape Verde hurricane and a tropical storm developing in the Caribbean/GOMEX within 10 days.


Thank you for the update. I am sure it will eventually get much more interesting.
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1782. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
Quoting 1773. TropicalAnalystwx13:
"HURRICANE FORCE WINDS EXTEND OUTWARD UP TO 10 MILES...20 KM...FROM
THE CENTER..."
tight compact wind core
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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?


Models are showing a Cape Verde hurricane and a tropical storm developing in the Caribbean/GOMEX within 10 days.
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Quoting 1754. FIUStormChaser:
Nothing.



?????
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.
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1779. LargoFl
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1778. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
Quoting 1762. moonlightcowboy:



Keep, have you got a good feel for what you think the season might be like? The setup, etc?
I think once things open up they will come one right after another
fast and furious and it could very well have 3 systems at the same time tracking across too
who knows
I think more so that way over the fact NOAA still pretty much says same thing today
in there update above normal activity is still likely by 70 percent 30 percent chance it will not

chances remain high I guess
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Quoting 1774. RGVtropicalWx13:

Don't you got anything else to say other than nothing? Besides that nothing will soon come to an end.
That has to rank in one of the top 5 most idiotic posts I have ever read here..Sorry RGV
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Gosh... Tropics are looking so quiet right now? Any hope for development in the next few days? Anyone?
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1775. LargoFl
the bottom righthand corner..thats the one we watch when it gets under Cuba..
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Quoting 1754. FIUStormChaser:
Nothing.


Don't you got anything else to say other than nothing? Besides that nothing will soon come to an end.
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"HURRICANE FORCE WINDS EXTEND OUTWARD UP TO 10 MILES...20 KM...FROM
THE CENTER..."
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1772. Skyepony (Mod)
Quoting 1683. Grothar:


I posted it last night and this morning. As far as I know, there is no interest in it yet.



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.

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Quoting 1760. Patrap:
Sandy showed the Globe, a 1 in 700 years Hit, from the East to West, is a new reality.


Earth Atmo 2.0

Bring's it,..

Stay Thirsty my Friends.

Itsa coming.





I drank 31 of those when I was in Cozumel a couple of years back. That turned into a rough next day. 31 Beers and some high powered rum got my daughter here. The guy in Mexico said if you drink this rum then will have a child soon well he was right.

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1770. LargoFl
ok GFS says THIS is where it comes from.............
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HURRICANE HENRIETTE DISCUSSION NUMBER 22
NWS NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER MIAMI FL EP082013
200 PM PDT THU AUG 08 2013

THE EYE OF HENRIETTE HAS BECOME MORE DISTINCT IN GEOSTATIONARY
SATELLITE PICTURES TODAY. THERE HAS ONLY BEEN A SINGLE LOWER
RESOLUTION AMSU MICROWAVE OVERPASS DURING THE PAST 12 TO 15
HOURS...SO IT HAS NOT BEEN POSSIBLE TO MONITOR THE INNER-CORE
STRUCTURAL CHANGES DURING THE PERIOD OF INTENSIFICATION TODAY. THE
LASTEST DVORAK INTENSITY ESTIMATES FROM TAFB AND SAB SUPPORT AN
INITIAL INTENSITY OF 90 KT. ALTHOUGH THE SHEAR IS FORECAST TO
REMAIN LOW DURING THE NEXT COUPLE OF DAYS...HENRIETTE SHOULD BEGIN
TO GRADUALLY WEAKEN AS IT MOVES INTO A DRIER AND MORE STABLE AIR
MASS. LATER IN THE PERIOD THE SHEAR IS FORECST TO INCREASE SLIGHTLY
FROM THE SOUTHWEST...WHICH SHOULD CAUSE ADDITIONAL WEAKENING. DUE
TO THE HIGHER INITIAL INTENSITY...THE UPDATED WIND SPEED FORECAST
IS A LITTLE ABOVE THE PREVIOUS ADVISORY DURING THE FIRST COUPLE OF
DAYS...BUT IS CLOSE TO THE EARLIER FORECAST THEREAFTER.

THE HURRICANE CONTINUES TO MOVE WESTWARD OR 265 AT 9 KT. THE TRACK
FORECAST REASONING REMAINS UNCHANGED. HENRIETTE IS EXPECTED TO TURN
WEST-SOUTHWESTWARD DURING THE NEXT DAY OR SO AS A NARROW RIDGE
BUILDS TO THE NORTH AND NORTHWEST OF THE CYCLONE. AN INCREASE IN
FORWARD SPEED IS ALSO EXPECTED DURING THIS TIME. THE NHC TRACK HAS
BEEN ADJUSTED A LITTLE SOUTH OF THE PREVIOUS FORECAST TO BE IN
BETTER AGREEMENT WITH THE LATEST DYNAMICAL MODEL GUIDANCE.

BASED ON THE CURRENT FORECAST...HENRIETTE WILL CROSS 140W INTO THE
CENTRAL PACIFIC HURRICANE CENTER AREA OF RESPONSIBILITY BEFORE
09/0600 UTC.

FORECAST POSITIONS AND MAX WINDS

INIT 08/2100Z 17.1N 139.4W 90 KT 105 MPH
12H 09/0600Z 16.9N 140.8W 85 KT 100 MPH
24H 09/1800Z 16.4N 142.9W 75 KT 85 MPH
36H 10/0600Z 15.8N 145.3W 65 KT 75 MPH
48H 10/1800Z 15.1N 148.1W 55 KT 65 MPH
72H 11/1800Z 14.0N 154.0W 40 KT 45 MPH
96H 12/1800Z 13.0N 160.0W 25 KT 30 MPH...POST-TROP/REMNT LOW
120H 13/1800Z...DISSIPATED

$$
FORECASTER BROWN
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BULLETIN
HURRICANE HENRIETTE ADVISORY NUMBER 22
NWS NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER MIAMI FL EP082013
200 PM PDT THU AUG 08 2013

...HENRIETTE STRENGTHENS SOME MORE...


SUMMARY OF 200 PM PDT...2100 UTC...INFORMATION
----------------------------------------------
LOCATION...17.1N 139.4W
ABOUT 1045 MI...1680 KM E OF HILO HAWAII
MAXIMUM SUSTAINED WINDS...105 MPH...165 KM/H
PRESENT MOVEMENT...W OR 265 DEGREES AT 10 MPH...17 KM/H
MINIMUM CENTRAL PRESSURE...976 MB...28.82 INCHES
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1767. ncstorm
WECT News..funnel cloud in Camp Lejeune today



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Isn't that the clothing guy that got fired?
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Quoting 1713. Patrap:


I'm going to use this video, well parts of it to show how Humans react when faced with Calamity.

It's a terrible thing to watch your Town being destroyed before your very eyes.

Shock, disbelief, grief, sadness, depression, PTSD, all are a common thread post Calamity, regardless of what brings it.





It could also be useful for helping people take hurricanes more seriously. Some of those people laughing, smiling & carrying on like they did had no thought that it was about to get so BAD there! People like to think "It won't happen here, in OUR area" - always soemplace else. So, they wish-cast themselves into complacency & a false calm rather than preparing just in case. Some people downstream likely thought they could climb just a little higher on their building if it got too bad, but as we see, some buildings came floating in on the river.
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Quoting 1758. KEEPEROFTHEGATE:
its ok the most I've track at the same time is 5 that was just starting to get a little rough



Keep, have you got a good feel for what you think the season might be like? The setup, etc?
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1761. Gearsts
Quoting 1746. Tropicsweatherpr:


Here is todays NOAA August forecast.

Link
Oh yes thank you :D
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1760. Patrap
Sandy showed the Globe, a 1 in 700 years Hit, from the East to West, is a new reality.


Earth Atmo 2.0

Bring's it,..

Stay Thirsty my Friends.

Itsa coming.



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1759. LargoFl
Quoting 1754. FIUStormChaser:
Nothing.

might be homegrown kinda storm end of next week..we'll see
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1758. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
Quoting 1738. moonlightcowboy:



Adrian, it's starting to sound like we may be tracking two or three systems at the same time.
its ok the most I've track at the same time is 5 that was just starting to get a little rough
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Would love more days like this one.
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1756. Gearsts
Quoting 1724. hurricane23:
Updated EURO mslp for August big reversal has low pressures basin wide. It's all there for an active season. Should be out to public in a few weeks. Now lets see if we can actually get some bonified TC's in a few weeks.
Levi would love that, he and the euro have been saying different things the whole season. This would be a victory for forecasters and a slap for the computer models.
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1755. LargoFl
well regardless of any tropical development..looks like a lot of rain for south florida once again around 180 hours or so.
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Nothing.

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1753. barbamz
Some more world weather news as the Atlantic is still quiet hurricanewise. I'll take those news to my blog as soon as something serious will show up in the Atl.

EuroNews "No comment"-video about flooding in Mongolia:

Husbandry impeded by flooding in North China
08/08 09:29 CET


Siberian wildfires raging farther north than usual
By Nicole Mortillaro Global News, August 8

TORONTO – In 2012, Siberia experienced one of its worst wildfire seasons in recent history. It looks like 2013 might be heading in the same direction.

A blocking high – a weather pattern that blocks the jet stream from bringing rain-bearing weather systems – has settled over the area, leading to a heat wave. The northern city of Norilsk reached temperatures of 32 C in July. For comparison, the city’s normal high is 16 C.

The high temperatures are contributing to raging wildfires in the area. Because warm fuels burn more easily than cooler fuels, the heat wave has allowed older fires to continue to burn.

What’s more troubling is that the fires are burning farther north than they usually do. Siberian fires most often burn along the southern edge of the taiga forest, around 57 degree north latitude. These fires are burning near the 65 degree north latitude line.

Global temperatures are rising, but Russia has seen a dramatic rise. On average, since the mid-1970s, the global temperature has risen about .17 C per decade. In that same time, Russia has seen a rise in temperature of around .51 C.
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One time at band camp.....Oh, nevermind
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Quoting 1717. Grothar:
GFS at 216 hours. I don't trust anything over 215.



In years or hours?
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1749. LargoFl
GFS at 180 hours....................
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Quoting 1745. SuperStorm093:


Actually it did change though, less in each category.


numbers still very scary though
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Quoting 1745. SuperStorm093:


Actually it did change though, less in each category.

By 1 which is hardly a difference to the last
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Quoting 1737. Gearsts:
Can i get a link?


Here is todays NOAA August forecast.

Link
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Quoting 1740. wunderkidcayman:
New NHC hurricane forecast is out hardly any change

Link


Actually it did change though, less in each category.
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Quoting 1733. LargoFl:
the following weekend might be interesting in the gulf huh...GFS at 192 hours..


If the Low headed for the FL-straits continues at speed & building wrap like it is, I suppose it could get some drama even sooner than that.
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1743. auburn (Mod)
Interesting post by Levi.

The 12z GFS has a warm-core tropical cyclone moving northward towards the Aleutian Islands at the end of the run in 16 days. I have never wished so hard for the GFS fantasy forecast to verify. North Pacific sea surface temperatures are at record levels. A typhoon or tropical storm headed due north in the absence of a big trough would likely make it to the Aleutians with a warm-core structure given the environment this year. Imagine an observed tropical cyclone landfall in Alaska!
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1742. LargoFl
Once again we remind folks..are your hurricane kits and plans ready?
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1741. Patrap
Well,I did tell Grothar, "that's NOT the finger to Hold up when asking Alexander the Great you need 1 Boat", for us to get back to Asia then.


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New NHC hurricane forecast is out hardly any change

Link
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Quoting 1732. PalmBeachWeather:
Did you ever stub your big toe on the corner of the bed at 3:37 in the morning? I sure didn't need that....


I did and it ripped my big toe nail off. That hurt like a you know what.
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Quoting 1724. hurricane23:
Updated EURO mslp for August big reversal has low pressures basin wide. It's all there for an active season. Should be out to public in a few weeks. Now lets see if we can actually get some bonified TC's in a few weeks.



Adrian, it's starting to sound like we may be tracking two or three systems at the same time.
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1737. Gearsts
Quoting 1731. CybrTeddy:


NOAA/CSU/TSR all continue to say in their August updates an active season as well. Forecaster Blake thinks looking at the models the third week of August will be quite potent as shear begins to drop. We'll probably get 2-4 named storms this month as the wave train begins to crank out CV storms.
Can i get a link?
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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