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Improved Forecasting Helps Hurricane Experts See Into Storms' Futures
Posted Wed September 17, 2003 @08:44AM
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News As reported in this New York Times story, the US National Hurricane Center in Miami is using computer simulation to predict the path and intensity of impending Hurricane Isabel.

Max Mayfield, the director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami, said that the average error range on the 19 five-day forecasts generated since Sept. 6, when the center started issuing advisories on Hurricane Isabel, had errors that were typical of a two-day forecast in his early days at the agency, 30 years ago.

From 1964 until this year, three days was the longest ahead that federal hurricane forecasters dared venture.

In that time, meteorologists greatly improved their ability to predict the track of storms through vastly increased computing power, more realistic simulations of general global weather conditions and increased satellite and aircraft observation of storms' behavior and movements.

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But only this year has the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration started releasing official forecasts projecting five days of behavior by the lumbering, unpredictable meteorological equivalents of rogue elephants.

Hurricane Isabel has been relatively straightforward as hurricanes go, experts said yesterday, because it is taking a path familiar to meteorologists, in which north-south-running ridges of high pressure constrain a storm's route, just as parallel mountain ranges force road builders to stick to the valleys.

"This storm is in the alley in the Atlantic that the global models just do so well on," said Timothy P. Marchok, a hurricane modeler at N.O.A.A.'s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory in Princeton, N.J. Still, it is a sign of the sophistication of modeling and monitoring now that five-day forecasts of Hurricane Isabel generated over the last week, when superimposed, neatly chart the path the storm has actually taken, federal and private meteorologists said.

The latest projections and an archive of earlier ones are at

The next big challenge, hurricane experts said, is to improve the ability to forecast changes in a storm's intensity.

"We don't yet understand really what controls storm intensity," said Dr. Kerry A. Emanuel, who analyzes hurricane-ocean interactions at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "And the few things we've learned have not yet been incorporated into the models."

Further information on hurricane simulation can be found in this publication by the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research.

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