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

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.

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