Hurricane Warnings and Forecasts: Weather Reports & Predictions

MIAMI, FL - JUNE 29:  Senior hurricane forecas...

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. . . Problem Is, It’s Still Not An Exact Science

Hurricane predictions have come a long way in the last few decades, in fact, weather predictions of all types have improved rather dramatically. These days meteorologists no longer rely on looking into a crystal ball or old wives tales to predict the weather, they have lots of scientific equipment to help them to get it right, and tell us when, where and the impact of potential hurricanes. Dopplar radar, satellite images, even your average meteorologist should be able to tell us what the weather will be like in a weeks time, and whether or not it’ll be okay to arrange a barbecue for your upcoming birthday. Unfortunately, even with all of this super duper knowledge, equipment and experience, hurricanes still catch us unawares – we might know that hurricanes are coming but we never seem to have enough time to prepare properly.  So why not? What’s the problem? Why don’t we have sufficient accurate information to deal with any problems a hurricane might throw at us?

Predicting a Hurricane

The trouble is that, even with all of this new-fangled scientific equipment, meteorologists can still only make an informed guess, and guesses are sometimes wrong. Anyway, let’s look more specifically at some of the problems involved with hurricane predictions. There are two basic categories of predicting hurricanes . . . there are the seasonal probabilities (we could be in for a bad year etc. etc.) and then there’s the actual tracking of  hurricane as it is actually happening.

Forecasting The Route & Ferocity of a Hurricane

Hurricanes are pretty easy to spot by these weather people, after all, they’re big, they make a lot of commotion and they’re heading in from somewhere out at sea, but actually tracking the route and speed of the hurricane is not quite so simple. Scientists can generally predict the path of a hurricane around 3 – 5 days in advance using many different methods which are designed to track the actual path of the hurricane. Unfortunately it’s not easy to predict the intensity of the hurricane and just how much damage it will cause when it eventually arrives.  The National Hurricane Center, for example, has been predicting the paths of hurricanes since early in the 1950’s. You’d think that they’d have got it right by now then . . . what with all of that practice! Anyway, warnings are issued at 120, 96, 72, 48, 24 and 12 hours (well, the earlier ones have only been around for the last 8 or 9 years), and they are becoming more and more accurate with every year that passes, but there’s still a pretty large margin of error, particularly in the earlier predictions.

Hurricane Prediction Tracking Accuracy

  • 5 days before the hurricane lands there is an error margin of around 350 miles (that’s a lot of people on standby)
  • 4 days before the hurricane lands there is still an error margin of around 290 miles (it’s a bit closer but still a large margin of error)
  • 3 days before the hurricane lands there is a margin of error of round about 230 miles
  • 2 days before the hurricane has a 160 mile error margin
  • the day before the hurricane arrives and there is still around 100 miles margin of error

So, even on the last day, just think about how many people may need to be evacuated in that 100 mile margin, they might need to be evacuated . . . and then again, they might not!

 Hurricane Prediction Intensity Accuracy

There’s not only the problem of where the hurricane will meet the land, there’s also the problem of how intense it will be (and therefore just how much damage should be expected). It’s a pretty large operation to evacuate a town, and you only need to get it wrong a couple of times before people will start to distrust the hurricane warnings and put their lives in danger when a ferocious hurricane strikes their community. It’s sometimes a pretty straightfoward calculation about just how strong a hurricane will be, but there are lots of different factors (often unforeseen) which can either increase or decrease the intensity of the hurricane.

Flood Risk Predictions

Then of course there’s the problem of predicting the flood risk of each of the affected areas . . . flooding can happen many miles away from where a hurricane actually hit the land, and it’s not always easy to predict exactly how much flooding will take place, or where.

So you see, we might complain that the weather forecasts are never right, but spare a thought for these meterologists who are trying their very best to give us accurate hurricane predictions, both where they will strike and how intense they will be. They really are doing their very best in often very difficult conditions. It’s always easy to be wise after the event, and they are learning all of the time from previous weather patterns and events to make future hurricane predictions as accurate as is humanly possible.

You see, even the experts at the Hurricane Center are still learning . . . the day you stop learning is the day you might as well stop being here!


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