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.
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Courtesy of NOAA
Hurricane Forecasting Uses Climate Data to Predict the Season, and Weather Data to Predict a Storm’s Path
Each year scientists make predictions about the strength of the upcoming hurricane season. To make seasonal hurricane predictions, scientists look at climate models and climate events that are known to influence hurricane activity such as El Niño and La Niña. They take into account climate signals that last many decades and the sea surface temperatures, which may impact hurricane strength. While there is always some uncertainty in these predictions, they have become more accurate in recent years and scientists continue to explore how to improve them.
Let’s imagine that a hurricane has formed and it 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 and so can only be estimated after a 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 have several ways to keep tabs on these storms to know if they are getting stronger or larger. When a storm is far out to sea, it can be monitored 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.
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