How well do models predict hurricanes? Experts try to improve them
PEMBROKE PARK, Florida – Once a tropical system develops, people spend a lot of time looking at computer forecast models, trying to see where the storm might be heading.
On television, we often compare the American model and the Global Forecast System (GFS) to European and other models, as well as the cone to show the uncertainty that comes with forecasting.
This cone represents the artificial forecast from the official National Hurricane Center.
But how good have they been during the intense 2020 season? And were computer models better?
Local 10 spoke with Dr. Mike Brennan of the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
“I think the NHC’s predictions were as good or better than all of the model’s indications in just about every area except some of the consensus assists for the track, but we pretty easily beat a lot of the indications of intensity last year, which is quite impressive. in a difficult year which has seen a strong and rapid intensification, ”he said.
High winds in Hurricanes Hanna, Laura, Delta, Zeta, Eta and Iota all strengthened by at least 35 mph in 24 hours.
Hurricanes Eta and Iota both intensified to 80 km / h in one day, and although Eta just swept across southern Florida while causing great flooding, both storms made landfall in Nicaragua, causing severe flooding. widespread destruction in this country and in Honduras.
Neither computers nor humans are good at predicting these storms which suddenly get much stronger.
Still, the forecast is better than it looks.
“A lot of the mistake comes from these rapidly escalating storms where we are able to predict some degree of strengthening, even significant, but if you get the timing wrong even after 6 or 12 hours you may have really big mistakes even if you get the big picture, ”Brennan said. “We use at least five years of error to try to get a sample across multiple seasons, multiple types of storms. … This is how we design a cone.
Brennan notes that the further they plan ahead, the greater the challenge – and the more hope there is that the science will come to fruition.
“I think there is still a lot of room for improvement on days three, four, five – even until days six to seven where we can still get some of those really big mistakes,” he said. declared.
These big mistakes are just one of the reasons the Hurricane Center is thinking long and hard about whether it wants to release the 6 and 7 day forecast, among other things.
Again this year, Brennan says four models have been or will be upgraded. The American GFS model is one of the most important.
“The runway forecast error statistics are quite similar to the old model, although we have seen an improvement in the short-term forecast for the weaker Atlantic systems with this new model,” said Brennan. “But we hope that this improvement with the GFS and the new HWRF (Hurricane Weather Research and Forecasting), HMON (Hurricanes in a Multi-scale Ocean-coupled Non-hydrostatic model) model that runs this year will have improvements as well. “
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