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

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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

When and Where Will a Hurricane Form?

In some years there are many hurricanes. Other years there are only a few. Each year, scientists make predictions about what they think the hurricane season will be like. They can’t say for sure how many hurricanes there will be, but their predictions let people know what to expect.

To make the predictions, they look at how climate is affecting hurricanes that year. For example, climate events such as El Niño can affect the number of hurricanes. Hurricanes are affected by other climate signals that last for decades too. Scientists also examine the temperature of the ocean water because warmer waters may lead to stronger storms.

Once a hurricane forms other scientists make predictions about where the storm will travel. The path of a hurricane depends on weather. Scientists use weather models that track areas of high and low pressure and other weather factors to predict the path of a storm.

Scientists also watch a hurricane to know if it is getting stronger or larger. When it is far out to sea, they watch the storm using satellites. Special planes can also be flown into a hurricane to take measurements. Once it is close to land, Doppler radar and observations are used to monitor the storm.

Last modified October 5, 2009 by Lisa Gardiner.

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