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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1636. nigel20
Quoting Civicane49:
Despite being situated over marginal sea surface temperatures, Henriette has managed to intensify significantly over the last several hours. Small hurricanes, like Henriette, tend to organize and strengthen rapidly than other larger tropical cyclones. We'll see if this becomes the first major in the eastern Pacific.


Hurricane Michael (2012) was quite impressive as well.
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everyone be nice, we are all here to learn from each other. everyone has had to eat crow now and then. its part of life.
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Quoting 1631. Camille33:

you dont know anything!! hehehe


I don't really? You are the one that said Dorian was going to become Wilma lol and how did that 60 KT storm come out> I told you that wasn't going to happen.
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what happern here!!
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SEVERAL OF THE ATLANTA METRO AREA CREEKS HAD RAPID RISES...BUT WERE
STILL WITHIN THEIR BANKS AT THIS TIME. THE MOST IMPRESSIVE RISE WAS
ON COBBS CREEK NEAR SNAPFINGER IN SOUTH DEKALB COUNTY. THE CREEK
ROSE EARLIER AROUND 8.5 FEET IN 90 MINUTES AND CREST AT 10.8 FEET.
FLOOD STAGE IS 11 FEET. THE CREEK IS NOW FALLING.




Would suck if you had been kayaking.

Also more rain is still around the area.
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Quoting 1623. SuperStorm093:


Just yesterday you said no storms till a while lol, you just follow everyone on here.

IGNORED

you dont know anything!! hehehe
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bad news for the usa here!! the big high its going back soon!!
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So, is there anything to this big blob in the front at 61.5W, 27N?

Link

Sorry if someone has already pointed this out.
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Quoting 1619. prcane4you:
Is this gonna make landfall here in P.R.?


He is very interested because he lives in Hawaii. I am also interested very much about this hurricane even if I live in San Juan Puerto Rico because I like to track Tropical Cyclones from all the basins.
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Quoting 1597. 69Viking:


Cool, Opal is the only storm I evacuated for since I've lived in the area. Ironically when I inprocessed at Eglin Air Force Base in 1992 I inprocessed with Air Force members who were previously assigned to Homestead Air Force Base before Andrew flattened it!

Yes, there was an evacuation nightmare with Opal, as people woke up to a 150 cat 4 with a pressure lower than Andrew, and the storm was moving at more than 20mph. I've read accounts of people abandoning their cars on bridges and riding out the storm in a public building because the traffic was so slow.

Oh, and Andrew at Homestead Air Force Base was a doozie: This video has some good footage of the base starting at 3:49
img src="">
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Interesting?, I wonder if that upper level Low over the Bahamas is trying to work down to the surface?, it seems that it's trying to tight up a bit.
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Quoting 1614. StormWx:


Here we go again Jeff9641, RastaSteve, Stormtracker2k!!!! Everything is coming to central florida right? Florida is getting lots of rain too! Every year, we can count on you for DOOM :-)
. Well if those models , are correct , and they have the storm over Florida , or near the west coast of Florida , then it will be Florida , not anywhere else , that's where they have it you can't argue with the models!
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Quoting 1620. Camille33:
Big hurricane coming to caribbean next week maybe hurricane Gustav again!!!


Just yesterday you said no storms till a while lol, you just follow everyone on here.

IGNORED
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Quoting 1615. FOREX:


how often does this model initialize?
4 times a day. 0z, 6z, 12z, and 18z.
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Big hurricane coming to caribbean next week maybe hurricane Gustav again!!!
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1618. JLPR2
Quoting 1605. prcane4you:
Who cares,sorry JLPR2


I bet the phrase: "you are annoying" isn't new to you, right?

If you don't care for what's happening in the tropics at the moment, what are you doing here? Go and watch paint dry or something
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Sorta feels like something trying to spin up
here in the Southern Bahamas....

I wonder if I soon will be under a yellow circle?

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1616. SuzK
Quoting 1419. JrWeathermanFL:
In reguards to 1401, we definately don't need any more rain here in Chiefland, FL. We're overflowing here. Andrea sure helped alot...We've had rain everyday. And in the past week we've had funnel clouds over my house twice. One of which I could look up and see it spinning...freaky.


I can always tell when the vortex is overhead by the hairs all over my body standing up! There is an oddness to the air pressure. It is very freaky!
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1615. FOREX
Quoting 1613. GTstormChaserCaleb:
Not as strong as a trough on the FIM-9 and not as strong as a storm either, but it only goes out to 7 days.



how often does this model initialize?
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Not as strong as a trough on the FIM-9 and not as strong as a storm either, but it only goes out to 7 days.

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1612. nigel20
Quoting SLU:


Sorry for the late response.

Dry air is very typical of July mainly because of the SAL outbreaks. Even then we had 2 named storms in the MDR in July which occurs mostly in hyperactive seasons. Once the pressures start to fall (which they are), everything should fall into place. The overall conditions are rather favourable for a 150 ACE kind of season which means that we're in for an exciting next 8 weeks.


Hi SLU! July is usually the driest month here in Jamaica though may have had below normal rainfall.
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Despite being situated over marginal sea surface temperatures, Henriette has managed to intensify significantly over the last several hours. Small hurricanes, like Henriette, tend to organize and strengthen rapidly than other larger tropical cyclones. We'll see if this becomes the first major in the eastern Pacific.

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KABOOM!

and....

sounds like the sky loudly ripped from one side to the other

The rain is here!
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Quoting 1606. EyEtoEyE:
. Hello GT , Is that for next week , if so is that , early or late next week ?


Late next week.
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TROPICAL WEATHER OUTLOOK
NWS NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER MIAMI FL
200 PM EDT THU AUG 8 2013

FOR THE NORTH ATLANTIC...CARIBBEAN SEA AND THE GULF OF MEXICO...

1. CLOUDINESS AND SHOWER ACTIVITY ASSOCIATED WITH A WEAK LOW PRESSURE
SYSTEM OVER THE SOUTHEASTERN CARIBBEAN SEA HAVE DECREASED.
ENVIRONMENTAL CONDITIONS ARE NOT CONDUCIVE FOR DEVELOPMENT WHILE
THE LOW MOVES WESTWARD AT 10 TO 15 MPH DURING 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...OF BECOMING A TROPICAL CYCLONE DURING THE NEXT 5
DAYS.

FIVE-DAY FORMATION PROBABILITIES ARE EXPERIMENTAL IN 2013. COMMENTS
ON THE EXPERIMENTAL FORECASTS CAN BE PROVIDED AT...

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Quoting 1596. GTstormChaserCaleb:
Hot off the press! 12z FIM-7:

. Hello GT , Is that for next week , if so is that , early or late next week ?
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Quoting 1578. ncstorm:






That's one month out, no one cares. They're basically just guessing.
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Quoting 1591. MTWX:
Anyone want to trade weather?? Really, I'm up for anything better than here!!!

Current Temp: 93.4 F

Humidity: 83%

Heat index: 130 F

Wind: 0

Columbus, MS


Personal weather stations tend to not always have the most accurate data. According to other official weather sites it says your area is at 91, humidity is 64% and the heat index is 105. Still hot but not too extreme.
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1602. SLU
Quoting 1. ryang:
Good blog!

Question though...what has been causing the dry conditions across the Caribbean? Is it the strong ridge causing all the dry air? We just had one of our driest Julys on record.


Sorry for the late response.

Dry air is very typical of July mainly because of the SAL outbreaks. Even then we had 2 named storms in the MDR in July which occurs mostly in hyperactive seasons. Once the pressures start to fall (which they are), everything should fall into place. The overall conditions are rather favourable for a 150 ACE kind of season which means that we're in for an exciting next 8 weeks.

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Quoting 1512. CybrTeddy:



1) Go on wikipedia.
2) search up "2010 Atlantic hurricane season."
3) look at the date Hurricane Danielle formed.
4) look at the latest GFS run
5) enjoy

The MJO should return in the next week or so, during the peak season, similar activity to the analog 2010 season.
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1600. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
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1599. Patrap
Calamity comes..

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1598. nigel20
Quoting JrWeathermanFL:
I've been looking at the archives...
this lull is just normal. Look at 2010 and 1999 for examples.

2004 also had a lull up to July 30th..we all know what came after that.
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Quoting 1581. opal92nwf:

It's for hurricane Andrew, one of the hurricanes that fascinates me the most. And the Opal of course if for the most significant storm to affect where I live in the recent past.


Cool, Opal is the only storm I evacuated for since I've lived in the area. Ironically when I inprocessed at Eglin Air Force Base in 1992 I inprocessed with Air Force members who were previously assigned to Homestead Air Force Base before Andrew flattened it!
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Hot off the press! 12z FIM-7:

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Quoting 1501. Dragod66:


Nice! See ya back in tropics talk when we start heating up?


Yup I'll be there, and hopefully no imposters this time around! Lol
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Quoting 1569. StormTrackerScott:


100mph. Nice storm to look at.

You mean 105mph, as that is roughly what 90kts converts to? It definitely is a nice storm to look at, maybe it could even strengthen a little more.
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I've been looking at the archives...
this lull is just normal. Look at 2010 and 1999 for examples.
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1591. MTWX
Anyone want to trade weather?? Really, I'm up for anything better than here!!!

Current Temp: 93.4 F

Humidity: 83%

Heat index: 130 F

Wind: 0

Columbus, MS
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Quoting 1584. ncstorm:
Last frame on the 12z Euro



So it does not have the hurricane GFS has at same timeframe.
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1589. nigel20
Quoting GTstormChaserCaleb:
The eye looks like it is clearing out more and more.


Maybe it'll have enough time to become a brief major.
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Henriette is currently an intensifying strong Category 2 hurricane while located over 25C waters.

Not the first example of a system strengthening over supposed less-than-ample ocean temperatures.
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1587. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
XXL/AOI/XX
MARK
28N/61W

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Rumble rumble grumble Boom...
goes the sky here this afternoon.

rain soon come.
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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