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 1725. CybrTeddy:


I don't trust anything beyond 144 hours, but luckily the GFS begins to emerge this system by then.
not buying the fish storm eh? me too. just want some consistency i remember when dean was over africa, GFS had him east of bermuda, off the OBX, Gulf coast and mexico. 1 of those solutions verified :)
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1734. nigel20
Quoting Grothar:
GFS at 216 hours. I don't trust anything over 215.


:) Hi Grothar! How have you been? Is it still wet in your neck of the woods?
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1733. LargoFl
the following weekend might be interesting in the gulf huh...GFS at 192 hours..
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
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....
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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.


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.
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1729. Gearsts
Quoting 1723. Grothar:


My fingers are old, couldn't you give me a handicap?

It
was posted at the same time.
LOL
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Quoting 1720. weatherlover94:
is there any chance that ULL near Florida is working it's way down to the surface ?


No not right now. Infact it should ope up in the Gulf in about 72 hours.

Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
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.


On the 15th.
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The drought map of Hawaii has been updated. Although Flossie passed the islands during early last week and brought needed rain, it did not significantly lessen the drought for the eastern half of the state, which was impacted heavily by Flossie. Nonetheless, it appeared to have prevented a worsening of the drought.

Further information can be found here.

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Quoting 1717. Grothar:
GFS at 216 hours. I don't trust anything over 215.



I don't trust anything beyond 144 hours, but luckily the GFS begins to emerge this system by then.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
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.
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1723. Grothar
Quoting 1714. Gearsts:
HA you were defeated!


My fingers are old, couldn't you give me a handicap?

It
was posted at the same time.
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1722. Patrap
History and climatology all come into play now as we lean into the Meat o da Season in the Basin.

Make ready your plans, stocks, evac destination.

What you do this week and weekend will make you that much further along if the bell rings in your neck o da woods..



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is there any chance that ULL near Florida is working it's way down to the surface ?
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1719. barbamz
Fresh BBC weather video concentrates on the contrasts in current US weather:

Wildfires and floods in USA
8 August 2013 Last updated at 18:54 Help

A wildfire that broke out in the San Jacinto mountains, east of Los Angeles has spread exponentially, burning homes and forcing the evacuation of fifteen hundred people. It's left three people injured, two fire-fighters and one civilian. Helicopters, air tankers and planes have been drafted in to help more than 500 fire-fighters battle the flames which are being fanned by strong winds spreading them over 6,000 acres.

In complete contrast, the picture in Missouri is very different. Around 17 inches of rain has fallen so far and a woman and her son have died after being swept away by flood waters. Flash flooding has washed away bridges and roads, and river levels have reached historic peaks. The state governor has declared a state of emergency and deployed the National Guard to help residents affected by the floodwaters. Jay Wynne explains more and has the forecast for these areas.

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Quoting 1716. PalmBeachWeather:
Wow!...So hot today in south Florida ...(quoting Johnny Carson) "How Hot Was It"?


It's hot everyday in FL for about 7 months. Same old weather just a different day.
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1717. Grothar
GFS at 216 hours. I don't trust anything over 215.

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Wow!...So hot today in south Florida ...(quoting Johnny Carson) "How Hot Was It"?
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Here in Orlando we would also be impacted by high winds and flooding. So It's better to be safe than sorry and prepare just in case.
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1714. Gearsts
Quoting 1712. Grothar:
HA you were defeated!
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1713. Patrap
Quoting 1704. WalkingInTheSun:


The last part of it seemed surreal & like the aftermath from the monster-rampage in an old Godzilla movie. I wonder what Cat-level hurr. it might take to do that in Houston, Miami, Mobile, etc. There has been so much building in the South in recent years.


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.



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1712. Grothar
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1711. Gearsts

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1710. 62901IL

Quoting 1708. prcane4you:
I love man,you got it.


blob blob blob blob blob blob blob blob
(Keeps saying it until he gets to number 5783.)
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1709. LargoFl
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
1707. 62901IL
Quoting 1703. StormTrackerScott:
Gulf is open for business.



Hmm, let's see.82, 84, 84, 85, 84, 86, 85, 84, 84, 84, 85, 85, 83, 84, 84...The most common number is 84.
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1706. SLU
Quoting 1663. nigel20:

We're seeing an increase in rainfall activity over the past couple of days...rain is in the forecast up to August 14.

How are you enjoying the CPL?


OK.
It's great. Another big game here tonight :D
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1705. Grothar
Quoting 1684. 62901IL:

Have you designated a blobcon?


No, just an AOPBF for now.
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Quoting 1599. Patrap:
Calamity comes..



The last part of it seemed surreal & like the aftermath from the monster-rampage in an old Godzilla movie. I wonder what Cat-level hurr. it might take to do that in Houston, Miami, Mobile, etc. There has been so much building in the South in recent years.

-- THANKS for posting the video: a stark reminder of what nature can do.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
Gulf is open for business.

Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
I think we need some Troll Spray.
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1701. LargoFl
I am so glad My county had the foresight to go ahead and put in new and larger storm drains..seems like its been ongoing and yes sometimes all this construction gets to be a pain but hopefully with what they already have done will prevent that serious flooding that comes with lakes full and all that street flooding like we've seen happen in the past
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1700. Grothar
NCEP still consistent with development in the Gulf for almost two weeks now in the same time frame.




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1699. 62901IL
Quoting 1698. Gearsts:

LOL
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1698. Gearsts
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1697. icmoore
1893 Troll and hype much!?! Go away if that's all you came for.
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Hi Dr. Masters, " weather newbie " here. I have a question about the naming of Hurricanes. When & why did tropical storms of less than 74MPH in strength start getting names ? I remember that some years ago,( Yep.. I AM that old ! ) a tropical depression or storm was never given any name until it actually became an " official " Hurricane at 74+ MPH. What prompted this question I guess was " Dorian " .. a tropical storm that really never blossomed into anything close to a Hurricane but was given Weather Groupie " Rock Star " status anyhow by being given a " name ".. Another reason I am asking is that there seems to always be a reference to " named storms " when comparing present day Hurricane Season Forecasts vs. the actual storms a number of years ago. Seems to be comparing Apples to Oranges since every storm over 45 MPH these days seems to be given a name... unlike years ago when only storms of 74+ MPH was given a name. Thanks Dr. Masters, you have a wonderful site !
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1695. 62901IL
Quoting 1694. Hurricane1216:


No, just did some image modification work, but it looks realistic nonetheless :P

I appreciate it! don't take it off, no matter what anyone says.
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Quoting 1691. 62901IL:

OMG!Is that real?!!?!?!?!?1


No, just did some image modification work, but it looks realistic nonetheless :P
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If this pans out to be true and the models are spot on we could be talking about a catastrophic event for the Tampa bay area because of storm surge primarily. Plus the ground here in central Florida is very saturated so flooding would be another major issue well inland like here in Orlando.
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1692. 62901IL
Quoting 1690. prcane4you:
Blobber.

Blob blob blob blob blob blob blob blob
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1691. 62901IL
Quoting 1687. Hurricane1216:
Being bored and, all, I decided to rennovate the National Hurricane Center page. If ya'll are fans of the NWS page, you'll like this.


OMG!Is that real?!!?!?!?!?1
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Quoting 1661. KEEPEROFTHEGATE:




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FIM-8 is likely running now, the grids are cleared for the 12z run.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
Being bored and, all, I decided to rennovate the National Hurricane Center page. If ya'll are fans of the NWS page, you'll like this. ALL SYMBOLS AND PRODUCTS USED HERE COURTESY NATIONAL OCEANIC AND ATMOSPHERIC ADMINISTRATION.

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1686. LargoFl
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:

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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