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

rain soon come.
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Quoting 1578. ncstorm:






using the CFS outside its reasonable time window... priceless...
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1584. ncstorm
Last frame on the 12z Euro

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1583. Patrap
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1582. Patrap
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Quoting 1551. 69Viking:


What's the 92 in your screen name for? Is that when you got to Florida, that's actually the year I moved to Fort Walton Beach, I arrived Labor Day of 92!

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.
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The eye looks like it is clearing out more and more.

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1579. Patrap
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1578. ncstorm




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1577. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
CYCLONE 08E

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Beautiful hurricane in the EPAC so far.

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Quoting 1571. Tropicsweatherpr:
Who has the 12z Euro? Does it has the same as GFS in terms of the African Wave?
Link was just looking at it.
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Impressive stuff from Henriette. First category 2 of the EPAC season.

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1573. ncstorm
CFS is currently running..the ensemble spread for the first frame at hour 396

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1572. FOREX
Quoting 1569. StormTrackerScott:


100mph. Nice storm to look at.


The potential storm in the gulf next week. what was the pressure at landfall?
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Who has the 12z Euro? Does it has the same as GFS in terms of the African Wave?
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1570. ncstorm
hmm..12z GFS ensembles spread seeing three places of interest..hour 240





last frame

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Quoting 1555. TropicalAnalystwx13:
Up to 90 knots.

EP, 08, 2013080818, , BEST, 0, 172N, 1389W, 90, 976, HU, 64, NEQ, 10, 10, 10, 10, 1012, 120, 10, 0, 0, E, 0, , 0, 0, HENRIETTE, D,


100mph. Nice storm to look at.
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Quoting 1555. TropicalAnalystwx13:
Up to 90 knots.

EP, 08, 2013080818, , BEST, 0, 172N, 1389W, 90, 976, HU, 64, NEQ, 10, 10, 10, 10, 1012, 120, 10, 0, 0, E, 0, , 0, 0, HENRIETTE, D,


Not giving up quite yet...
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Quoting 1527. 69Viking:


Wouldn't anything in the Gulf move West with the steering the way it is?


Strong trough will be moving in next week. SW steering all across the eastern half of the Gulf.
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1566. JLPR2


Nice, only 15mph more! Oh come on, I want a major! XD
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Just saw the GFS, very interesting, and I will be the first to say I was wrong with my prediction if that pans out, however its just one run. We need to see it multiple times, still a long ways out, but good call to the guys that said something like that could happen.
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Quoting 1513. Sfloridacat5:
Aug.11, 1994


Shouldn't that be 2004?
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Quoting 1558. GTstormChaserCaleb:
Until one hits Mexico, Hawaii, Japan, China, and Australia right? Do we still go by the saying "we don't care?" Would sound a little bit selfish right? I'm just saying Washi, not trying to cause any arguments between you and me.
I believe she is just refering of the epac and that most of them are fish.
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Quoting 1542. opal92nwf:

How a bout a hurricane hit your school instead? But you might not live near the coast...
Lol I actually live close to the coast,and I love going to school. :D
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1561. Siker
Sorry about the Puerto Rico reference, I just found it funny how two people both started complaining about the attention towards the Pacific at the same time and they both happened to be from PR. No offense meant.
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Quoting 1555. TropicalAnalystwx13:
Up to 90 knots.

EP, 08, 2013080818, , BEST, 0, 172N, 1389W, 90, 976, HU, 64, NEQ, 10, 10, 10, 10, 1012, 120, 10, 0, 0, E, 0, , 0, 0, HENRIETTE, D,
She is a fighter, one last go at it?
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1559. Siker
Quoting 1552. washingtonian115:
People have a right not to care about the pacific like me.Majority of the storms are irrelevant and about half of the people on the blog will forget about about them anyway.
I understand, I don't really enjoy watching it either but that's no reason for people to start saying "who cares." repeatedly when it gets mentioned.
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Quoting 1552. washingtonian115:
People have a right not to care about the pacific like me.Majority of the storms are irrelevant and about half of the people on the blog will forget about about them anyway.
Until one hits Mexico, Hawaii, Japan, China, and Australia right? Do we still go by the saying "we don't care?" Would sound a little bit selfish right? I'm just saying Washi, not trying to cause any arguments between you and me.
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Quoting 1553. clwstmchasr:


What else are people supposed to do?
You all can keep discussing..but for me after a while it get boring.
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1556. JLPR2
Quoting 1547. Siker:
Sheesh, Puerto Ricans seem to really hate the Pacific :P.
But seriously it's a tropical weather oriented blog. If there's nothing in the Atlantic why not look at the Pacific, so please stop spamming the blog with "who cares."


Eh! Don't generalize!
I love E-Pac storms as long as they turn into hurricanes and dont hit land.
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Up to 90 knots.

EP, 08, 2013080818, , BEST, 0, 172N, 1389W, 90, 976, HU, 64, NEQ, 10, 10, 10, 10, 1012, 120, 10, 0, 0, E, 0, , 0, 0, HENRIETTE, D,
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
Quoting 1547. Siker:
Sheesh, Puerto Ricans seem to really hate the Pacific :P.
But seriously it's a tropical weather oriented blog. If there's nothing in the Atlantic why not look at the Pacific, so please stop spamming the blog with "who cares."


Puerto Ricans hate the Pacific because Hawaiians exterminated the Coqui Frogs we transplanted in Hawaii from Puerto Rico.
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Quoting 1547. Siker:
Sheesh, Puerto Ricans seem to really hate the Pacific :P.
But seriously it's a tropical weather oriented blog. If there's nothing in the Atlantic why not look at the Pacific, so please stop spamming the blog with "who cares."
People have a right not to care about the pacific like me.Majority of the storms are irrelevant and about half of the people on the blog will forget about about them anyway.
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Quoting 1538. opal92nwf:

Yep


What's the 92 in your screen name for? Is that when you got to Florida, that's actually the year I moved to Fort Walton Beach, I arrived Labor Day of 92!
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Quoting 1532. PortoJuan:

Thank you. At least one person who understands that Pacific storms are really boring
True to a certain extent, but a weather enthusiast like myself loves to track hurricanes no matter which basin they are in. By the way one of the bloggers on here lives in one of the islands in Hawaii and as we've seen before it only takes one. In addition since you said Pacific storms I am wondering if you are referring to the entire basin in which would include the WPAC and South Pacific in particular Australia and Japan which both have a lot of people living there. Also I would think I would like to know what the weather would be like in that part of the world if say I were to be travelling there because if a Typhoon or Tropical Cyclone was bearing down on one of those areas I think I would cancel my plans.
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Quoting 1547. Siker:
Sheesh, Puerto Ricans seem to really hate the Pacific :P.
But seriously it's a tropical weather oriented blog. If there's nothing in the Atlantic why not look at the Pacific, so please stop spamming the blog with "who cares."


I like to track Tropical Cyclones around the world so take me out of that general PR mention.
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1547. Siker
Sheesh, some people seem to really hate the Pacific :P.
But seriously it's a tropical weather oriented blog. If there's nothing in the Atlantic why not look at the Pacific, so please stop spamming the blog with "who cares."
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.
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1545. 62901IL
Quoting 1543. tristanh72:


Depends on what you mean by 'nothing happens'.

Ioke in 2006 was entertaining to follow.

And it attained category 5 intesnity 3 times!!
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1544. nash36
Simply cannot WAIT to see the same people who are having a meltdown over the inactivity in the ATL, try to keep up with, understand and follow three named storms all at once. It has happened SEVERAL times.

LOL!
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Quoting 1530. prcane4you:
People here loves boring tracking hurricanes in the Pacific.What for? Always nothing happens.


Depends on what you mean by 'nothing happens'.

Ioke in 2006 was entertaining to follow.
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Quoting 1540. allancalderini:
Henriette looks like she want to make a run to hurricane status before dying.The epac has been really active the past days,getting sick of it.I am waiting for my fish to form in the Atlantic so I can have a little fun before entering school again.

How a bout a hurricane hit your school instead? But you might not live near the coast...
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After a while it gets boring discussing fantasy storms..it's like a guy discussing his fantasy girl and him going on and on about it...
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Henriette looks like she want to make a run to hurricane status before dying.The epac has been really active the past days,getting sick of it.I am waiting for my fish to form in the Atlantic so I can have a little fun before entering school again.
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1539. Patrap

..I ain't no stranger, I've been this way before'...

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Quoting 1535. 69Viking:


When you say Twin Cities are you referring to Niceville and Valp?

Yep
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1537. 62901IL
Quoting 1504. Civicane49:
Impressive...


Hey civic, why did you change your avatar?
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1536. nigel20
Quoting Civicane49:
Impressive...


Yes indeed! Do you think that Henriette's intensity is steady or slightly stronger?
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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