Shop Windows to the Universe

Become a nitrogen atom in the nitrogen cycle in our Traveling Nitrogen Classroom Activity Kit/Game. See all our games, activity kits and classroom activities.
Map showing the projected path of Hurricane Frances (2004). Notice that the path becomes wider because there is more uncertainty about where the storm will go further in the future.
Click on image for full size
Courtesy of NOAA

Hurricane Forecasting Uses Climate Data to Predict the Season, and Weather Data to Predict a Storm’s Path

How many hurricanes will form this year? How strong will they be? While no one can say for sure, teams of scientists make predictions each year about the strength of the upcoming hurricane season.

To make the predictions, they look at climate models and factors that influence hurricanes. This includes climate events such as El Niño and La Niña as well as climate signals that last for decades. Scientists also look at ocean temperatures as they form their predictions because there’s evidence that warmer waters lead to stronger storms.

Let’s imagine that a hurricane has formed and is trundling across the ocean. How do we know where it will go? How do we know where it will hit the coast? The path of a hurricane depends on weather. Unlike predictions of hurricane season, predicting the path of an individual storm can only be made after the storm has formed. Meteorologists use powerful weather models that take current weather patterns into account, including the location of high and low pressure areas, to predict the path of a storm.

Scientists also keep an eye on hurricanes to know if a storm is getting stronger or larger. When it is far out to sea, scientists watch the storm from above with weather satellites. Specially-equipped planes can also be flown into a hurricane to take measurements of pressure, wind, temperature, and other factors. Once it is close to land, Doppler radar is used to monitor the storm. Visual observations from land and measurements made with weather instruments become important as the storm approaches the coast.

Last modified October 5, 2009 by Lisa Gardiner.

Shop Windows to the Universe Science Store!

The Fall 2009 issue of The Earth Scientist, which includes articles on student research into building design for earthquakes and a classroom lab on the composition of the Earth’s ancient atmosphere, is available in our online store.

Windows to the Universe Community

News

Opportunities

You might also be interested in:

Science, Evolution, and Creationism

How did life evolve on Earth? The answer to this question can help us understand our past and prepare for our future. Although evolution provides credible and reliable answers, polls show that many people turn away from science, seeking other explanations with which they are more comfortable....more

Earth's Ocean

Earth's ocean covers more than 70% of our planet's surface. There are five major ocean basins. The Pacific Ocean is the largest. It’s so large that it covers a third of the Earth's surface. The Atlantic...more

Low Pressure Systems

You may have seen a weather map with a red L on it. This red L means there is a low pressure system over that area of the map. Just what does that mean? There are no exact measurements that would make...more

Satellites

A satellite is any object that orbits around another, larger body, such as the Moon, which is a natural satellite of Earth. Over the past half century, we have figured out how to make new Earth satellites....more

Atmospheric Pressure

Pressure is an idea scientists use to describe how gases and liquids "push" on things. The atmosphere has pressure. If you imagine a column of air that is 1 inch square and goes from the Earth's surface...more

Chasing the Storm

The official "Hurricane Hunters" are the Air Force Reserve's 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron. They fly through the eyes of hurricanes and record information. The information helps the National Hurricane...more

Hurricane Bonnie Update

From the National Weather Service, Miami, Florida, 11 a.m. EDT: A hurricane warning remains in effect from Murrels Inlet, South Carolina to the North Carolina/Virgina border...Including Pamlico and Albemarle...more

Hurricane Threatens Bahamas and U.S. Coast

Michael Formosa, a meteorologist with the National Hurricane Center, said earlier today that hurricane Bonnie is, "brushing the Bahamas to the east on its way to the Carolinas." This hurricane has winds...more

Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA