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Tropical cyclone forecasting is the science of forecasting where a tropical cyclone's center, and its effects, are expected to be at some point in the future. There are several elements to tropical cyclone forecasting: track forecasting, intensity forecasting, rainfall forecasting, storm surge, tornado, and seasonal forecasting. While skill is increasing in regard to track forecasting, intensity forecasting skill remains nearly unchanged over the past several years. Seasonal forecasting began in the 1980s in the Atlantic basin and has spread into other basins in the years since.
A tropical cyclone is a rapidly rotating storm system characterized by a low-pressure center, a closed low-level atmospheric circulation, strong winds, and a spiral arrangement of thunderstorms that produce heavy rain. Depending on its location and strength, a tropical cyclone is referred to by different names, including hurricane, typhoon, tropical storm, cyclonic storm, tropical depression, and simply cyclone. A hurricane is a tropical cyclone that occurs in the Atlantic Ocean and northeastern Pacific Ocean, and a typhoon occurs in the northwestern Pacific Ocean; in the south Pacific or Indian Ocean, comparable storms are referred to simply as "tropical cyclones" or "severe cyclonic storms".
The methods through which tropical cyclones are forecast have changed with the passage of time. The first known forecasts in the Western Hemisphere were made by Lt. Col. William Reed of the Corps of Royal Engineers at Barbados in 1847. Reed mostly utilized barometric pressure measurements as the basis of his forecasts. Benito Vines introduced a forecast and warning system based on cloud cover changes in Havana during the 1870s. Before the early 1900s, though, most forecasts were done by direct observations at weather stations, which were then relayed to forecast centers via telegraph. It wasn’t until the advent of radio in the early twentieth century that observations from ships at sea were available to forecasters. The 1930s saw the usage of radiosondes in tropical cyclone forecasting. The next decade saw the advent of aircraft-based reconnaissance by the military, starting with the first dedicated flight into a hurricane in 1943, and the establishment of the Hurricane Hunters in 1944. In the 1950s, coastal weather radars began to be used in the United States, and research reconnaissance flights by the precursor of the Hurricane Research Division began in 1954.
Havana is the capital city, largest city, province, major port, and leading commercial center of Cuba. The city has a population of 2.1 million inhabitants, and it spans a total of 781.58 km2 (301.77 sq mi) – making it the largest city by area, the most populous city, and the fourth largest metropolitan area in the Caribbean region.
Radio is the technology of using radio waves to carry information, such as sound and images, by systematically modulating properties of electromagnetic energy waves transmitted through space, such as their amplitude, frequency, phase, or pulse width. When radio waves strike an electrical conductor, the oscillating fields induce an alternating current in the conductor. The information in the waves can be extracted and transformed back into its original form.
A radiosonde is a battery-powered telemetry instrument carried into the atmosphere usually by a weather balloon that measures various atmospheric parameters and transmits them by radio to a ground receiver. Modern radiosondes measure or calculate the following variables: altitude, pressure, temperature, relative humidity, wind, cosmic ray readings at high altitude and geographical position (latitude/longitude). Radiosondes measuring ozone concentration are known as ozonesondes.
The launch of the first weather satellite, TIROS-I, in 1960, introduced new forecasting techniques that remain important to tropical cyclone forecasting to the present. In the 1970s, buoys were introduced to improve the resolution of surface measurements, which until that point, were not available at all over sea surfaces.
In the late 1970s, William Gray noticed a trend of low hurricane activity in the North Atlantic basin during El Niño years. He was the first researcher to make a connection between such events and positive results led him to pursue further research. He found numerous factors across the globe influence tropical cyclone activity, such as connecting wet periods over the African Sahel to an increase in major hurricane landfalls along the United States East Coast. However, his findings also showed inconsistencies when only looking at a single factor as a primary influence.
William "Bill" Mason Gray was emeritus professor of atmospheric science at Colorado State University (CSU), and the head of the Tropical Meteorology Project at CSU's Department of Atmospheric Sciences. He is widely regarded as a pioneer in the science of tropical cyclone forecasting and one of the world's leading experts on tropical storms. After retiring as a faculty member at CSU in 2005, Gray remained actively involved in both climate change and tropical cyclone research until his death.
An Atlantic hurricane or tropical storm is a tropical cyclone that forms in the Atlantic Ocean, usually between the months of June and November. A hurricane differs from a cyclone or typhoon only on the basis of location. A hurricane is a storm that occurs in the Atlantic Ocean and northeastern Pacific Ocean, a typhoon occurs in the northwestern Pacific Ocean, and a cyclone occurs in the south Pacific or Indian Ocean.
El Niño is the warm phase of the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and is associated with a band of warm ocean water that develops in the central and east-central equatorial Pacific, including the area off the Pacific coast of South America. The ENSO is the cycle of warm and cold sea surface temperature (SST) of the tropical central and eastern Pacific Ocean. El Niño is accompanied by high air pressure in the western Pacific and low air pressure in the eastern Pacific. El Niño phases are known to be close to four years, however, records demonstrate the cycles have lasted between two and seven years. During the development of El Niño, rainfalls develop between September–November. The cool phase of ENSO is la Niña with SST in the eastern Pacific below average and air pressure high in the eastern and low in western Pacific. The ENSO cycle, both el Niño and la Niña, causes global changes in temperature and rainfall.
Utilizing his findings, Gray developed an objective, statistical forecast for seasonal hurricane activity; he predicted only the number of tropical storms, hurricanes, and major hurricanes, foregoing specifics on tracks and potential landfalls due to the aforementioned inconsistencies.Gray issued his first seasonal forecast ahead of the 1984 season, which used the statistical relationships between tropical cyclone activity, the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO), Quasi-biennial oscillation (QBO), and Caribbean basin sea-level pressures. The endeavor proved modestly successful. He subsequently issued forecasts ahead of the start of the Atlantic hurricane season in May and before the peak of the season in August. Students and colleagues joined his forecast team in the following years, including Christopher Landsea, Paul W. Mielke Jr., and Kenneth J. Berry.
El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is an irregularly periodic variation in winds and sea surface temperatures over the tropical eastern Pacific Ocean, affecting the climate of much of the tropics and subtropics. The warming phase of the sea temperature is known as El Niño and the cooling phase as La Niña. The Southern Oscillation is the accompanying atmospheric component, coupled with the sea temperature change: El Niño is accompanied by high air surface pressure in the tropical western Pacific and La Niña with low air surface pressure there. The two periods last several months each and their effects vary in intensity.
The quasi-biennial oscillation (QBO) is a quasiperiodic oscillation of the equatorial zonal wind between easterlies and westerlies in the tropical stratosphere with a mean period of 28 to 29 months. The alternating wind regimes develop at the top of the lower stratosphere and propagate downwards at about 1 km (0.6 mi) per month until they are dissipated at the tropical tropopause. Downward motion of the easterlies is usually more irregular than that of the westerlies. The amplitude of the easterly phase is about twice as strong as that of the westerly phase. At the top of the vertical QBO domain, easterlies dominate, while at the bottom, westerlies are more likely to be found. At the 30mb level, with regards to monthly mean zonal winds, the strongest recorded easterly was 29.55 m/s in November 2005, while the strongest recorded westerly was only 15.62 m/s in June 1995.
Christopher William "Chris" Landsea is an American meteorologist, formerly a research meteorologist with Hurricane Research Division of Atlantic Oceanographic & Meteorological Laboratory at NOAA, and now the Science and Operations Officer at the National Hurricane Center. He is a member of the American Geophysical Union and the American Meteorological Society.
The large-scale synoptic flow determines 70 to 90 percent of a tropical cyclone's motion. The deep-layer mean flow is considered to be the best tool in determining track direction and speed. If storms are significantly sheared, use of a lower-level wind is a better predictor. Knowledge of the beta effect can be used to steer a tropical cyclone, since it leads to a more northwest heading for tropical cyclones in the Northern Hemisphere. It is also best to smooth out short term wobbles of the storm center in order to determine a more accurate trajectory.
The synoptic scale in meteorology is a horizontal length scale of the order of 1000 kilometers or more. This corresponds to a horizontal scale typical of mid-latitude depressions. Most high and low-pressure areas seen on weather maps such as surface weather analyses are synoptic-scale systems, driven by the location of Rossby waves in their respective hemisphere. Low-pressure areas and their related frontal zones occur on the leading edge of a trough within the Rossby wave pattern, while high-pressure areas form on the back edge of the trough. Most precipitation areas occur near frontal zones. The word synoptic is derived from the Greek word συνοπτικός, meaning seen together.
Because of the forces that affect tropical cyclone tracks, accurate track predictions depend on determining the position and strength of high- and low-pressure areas, and predicting how those areas will change during the life of a tropical system. Combining forecast models with increased understanding of the forces that act on tropical cyclones, and a wealth of data from Earth-orbiting satellites and other sensors, scientists have increased the accuracy of track forecasts over recent decades.An accurate track forecast is important, because if the track forecast is incorrect, forecasts for intensity, rainfall, storm surge, and tornado threat will also be incorrect.
The 1-2-3 rule (mariner's 1-2-3 rule or danger area) is a guideline commonly taught to mariners for severe storm (specifically hurricane and tropical storm) tracking and prediction. It refers to the rounded long-term NHC/TPC forecast errors of 100-200-300 nautical miles at 24-48-72 hours, respectively. These numbers were close to the 10-year average for the 1982–1991 time frame. However, these errors have decreased to near 50-100-150 as NHC forecasters become more accurate. The "danger area" to be avoided is constructed by expanding the forecast path by a radius equal to the respective hundreds of miles plus the forecast wind radii (size of the storm at those hours).
Forecasters say they are less skillful at predicting the intensity of tropical cyclones than cyclone track.Available computing power limits forecasters' ability to accurately model a large number of complex factors, such as exact topology and atmospheric conditions, though with increased experience and understanding, even models with the same resolution can be tuned to more accurately reflect real-world behavior. Another weakness is lack of frequent wind speed measurements in the eye of the storm. The Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System, launched by NASA in 2016, is expected to provide much more data compared to sporadic measurements by weather buoys and hurricane-penetrating aircraft.
An accurate track forecast is essential to creating accurate intensity forecasts, particularly in an area with large islands such as the western north Pacific and the Caribbean Sea, as proximity to land is an inhibiting factor to developing tropical cyclones. A strong hurricane/typhoon/cyclone can weaken if an outer eye wall forms (typically around 80–160 kilometers (50–100 miles) from the center of the storm), choking off the convection within the inner eye wall. Such weakening is called an eyewall replacement cycle, and is usually temporary.
Dr. Kerry Emanuel created a mathematical model around 1988, called the maximum potential intensity or MPI, to compute the upper limit of tropical cyclone intensity based on sea surface temperature and atmospheric profiles from the latest global model runs. Maps created from this equation show values of the maximum achievable intensity due to the thermodynamics of the atmosphere at the time of the last model run (either 0000 or 1200 UTC). However, MPI does not take vertical wind shear into account.MPI is computed using the following formula:
Where is the maximum potential velocity in meters per second; is the sea surface temperature underneath the center of the tropical cyclone, is a reference temperature (30˚C) and , and are curve-fit constants. When , , and , the graph generated by this function corresponds to the 99th percentile of empirical tropical cyclone intensity data.
Tropical cyclone rainfall forecasting is important, since between 1970–2004, inland flooding from tropical cyclones caused a majority of the fatalities from tropical cyclones in the United States.While flooding is common to tropical cyclones near a landmass, there are a few factors which lead to excessive rainfall from tropical cyclones. Slow motion, as was seen during Hurricane Danny and Hurricane Wilma, can lead to high amounts. The presence of topography near the coast, as is the case across much of Mexico, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, much of Central America, Madagascar, Réunion, China, and Japan acts to magnify amounts due to upslope flow into the mountains. Strong upper level forcing from a trough moving through the Westerlies, as was the case during Hurricane Floyd, can lead to high amounts even from systems moving at an average forward motion. A combination of two of these factors could be especially crippling, as was seen during Hurricane Mitch in Central America. Therefore, an accurate track forecast is essential in order to produce an accurate tropical cyclone rainfall forecast. However, as a result of global warming, the heat that has built up on the ocean's surface has allowed storms and hurricanes to capture more water vapour and, given the increased temperatures in the atmosphere also, retain the moisture for a longer capacity. This results in incredible amounts of rainfall upon striking land which can often be the most damaging aspect of a hurricane.
Historically, tropical cyclone tracking charts were used to include the past track and prepare future forecasts at Regional Specialized Meteorological Centers and Tropical Cyclone Warning Centers. The need for a more modernized method for forecasting tropical cyclones had become apparent to operational weather forecasters by the mid-1980s. At that time the United States Department of Defense was using paper maps, acetate, grease pencils, and disparate computer programs to forecast tropical cyclones.The Automated Tropical Cyclone Forecasting System (ATCF) software was developed by the Naval Research Laboratory for the Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC) beginning in 1986, and used since 1988. During 1990 the system was adapted by the National Hurricane Center (NHC) for use at the NHC, National Centers for Environmental Prediction and the Central Pacific Hurricane Center. This provided the NHC with a multitasking software environment which allowed them to improve efficiency and cut the time required to make a forecast by 25% or 1 hour. ATCF was originally developed for use within DOS, before later being adapted to Unix and Linux.
The main storm surge forecast model in the Atlantic basin is SLOSH, which stands for Sea, Lake, Overland, Surge from Hurricanes.It uses the size of a storm, its intensity, its forward motion, and the topography of the coastal plain to estimate the depth of a storm surge at any individual grid point across the United States. An accurate forecast track is required in order to produce accurate storm surge forecasts. However, if the landfall point is uncertain, a maximum envelope of water (MEOW) map can be generated based on the direction of approach. If the forecast track itself is also uncertain, a maximum of maximums (MoM) map can be generated which will show the worst possible scenario for a hurricane of a specific strength.
The location of most tropical cyclone-related tornadoes is their northeast quadrant in the Northern Hemisphere and southeast quadrant in the Southern Hemisphere.Like most of the other forecasts for tropical cyclone effects, an accurate track forecast is required in order to produce an accurate tornado threat forecast.
By looking at annual variations in various climate parameters, forecasters can make predictions about the overall number and intensity of tropical cyclones that will occur in a given season. For example, when constructing its seasonal outlooks, the Climate Prediction Center in the United States considers the effects of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation, 25–40 year tropical cycle, wind shear over the oceans, and ocean surface temperature.
The National Hurricane Center (NHC) is the division of the United States' National Weather Service responsible for tracking and predicting tropical weather systems between the Prime Meridian and the 140th meridian west poleward to the 30th parallel north in the northeast Pacific Ocean and the 31st parallel north in the northern Atlantic Ocean. The agency, which is co-located with the Miami branch of the National Weather Service, is situated on the campus of Florida International University in University Park, Florida.
The 1988 Atlantic hurricane season was a near average season that proved costly and deadly, with 15 tropical cyclones directly affecting land. The season officially began on June 1, 1988, and lasted until November 30, 1988, although activity began on May 30 when a tropical depression developed in the Caribbean Sea. The June through November dates conventionally delimit the period of each year when most tropical cyclones form in the Atlantic basin. The first cyclone to attain tropical storm status was Alberto on August 8, nearly a month later than usual. The final storm of the year, Tropical Storm Keith, became extratropical on November 24.
The 1957 Atlantic hurricane season featured the one of longest travelling tropical cyclones in the Atlantic basin, Hurricane Carrie. Nevertheless, the season was generally inactive with eight tropical storms – two of which went unnamed – and three hurricanes, two of which intensified further to attain major hurricane intensity. The season officially began on June 15 and ended on November 15, though the year's first tropical cyclone developed prior to the start of the season on June 8. The final storm dissipated on October 27, well before the official end of the season. The strongest hurricane of the year was Carrie, which reached the equivalent of a Category 4 hurricane on the Saffir–Simpson hurricane scale on two separate occasions in the open Atlantic; Carrie later caused the sinking of the German ship Pamir southwest of the Azores, resulting in 80 deaths.
The 2005 Atlantic hurricane season was the most active Atlantic hurricane season in recorded history, shattering numerous records. The impact of the season was widespread and catastrophic. Its storms caused an estimated total of 3,960 deaths and approximately $180.7 billion in damage, making it the second costliest season on record, surpassed only by the 2017 season.
The 2006 Atlantic hurricane season was the least active since 1997 as well as the first season since 2001 in which no hurricanes made landfall in the United States, and was the first since 1994 in which no tropical cyclones formed during October. Following the intense activity of 2005, forecasters predicted that the 2006 season would be only slightly less active. Instead activity was slowed by a rapidly forming moderate El Niño event, the presence of the Saharan Air Layer over the tropical Atlantic, and the steady presence of a robust secondary high-pressure area to the Azores high centered on Bermuda. There were no tropical cyclones after October 2.
Hurricane Linda was the second-strongest eastern Pacific hurricane on record. Forming from a tropical wave on September 9, 1997, Linda steadily intensified and reached hurricane status within 36 hours of developing. The storm rapidly intensified, reaching sustained winds of 185 mph (295 km/h) and an estimated central pressure of 902 millibars (26.6 inHg); both were records for the eastern Pacific until Hurricane Patricia surpassed them in 2015. The hurricane was briefly forecast to move toward southern California, but instead, it turned out to sea and lost its status as a tropical cyclone on September 17, before dissipating on September 21. Linda was the fifteenth tropical cyclone, thirteenth named storm, seventh hurricane, and fifth major hurricane of the 1997 Pacific hurricane season.
Hurricane Ophelia was the fifteenth named tropical cyclone and the eighth hurricane of the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season. It was a long-lived storm that was most remembered for its very erratic and extremely slow track off the East Coast of the United States, alternating several times between tropical storm and hurricane intensity.
The Atlantic hurricane season is the period in a year when hurricanes usually form in the Atlantic Ocean. Tropical cyclones in the North Atlantic are called hurricanes, tropical storms, or tropical depressions. In addition, there have been several storms over the years that have not been fully tropical and are categorized as subtropical depressions and subtropical storms. Even though subtropical storms and subtropical depressions are not technically as strong as tropical cyclones, the damages can still be devastating.
A Pacific hurricane is a mature tropical cyclone that develops within the eastern and central Pacific Ocean to the east of 180°W, north of the equator. For tropical cyclone warning purposes, the northern Pacific is divided into three regions: the eastern, central, and western, while the southern Pacific is divided into 2 sections, the Australian region and the southern Pacific basin between 160°E and 120°W. Identical phenomena in the western north Pacific are called typhoons. This separation between the two basins has a practical convenience, however, as tropical cyclones rarely form in the central north Pacific due to high vertical wind shear, and few cross the dateline.
A tropical cyclone forecast model is a computer program that uses meteorological data to forecast aspects of the future state of tropical cyclones. There are three types of models: statistical, dynamical, or combined statistical-dynamic. Dynamical models utilize powerful supercomputers with sophisticated mathematical modeling software and meteorological data to calculate future weather conditions. Statistical models forecast the evolution of a tropical cyclone in a simpler manner, by extrapolating from historical datasets, and thus can be run quickly on platforms such as personal computers. Statistical-dynamical models use aspects of both types of forecasting. Four primary types of forecasts exist for tropical cyclones: track, intensity, storm surge, and rainfall. Dynamical models were not developed until the 1970s and the 1980s, with earlier efforts focused on the storm surge problem.
Tropical cyclone seasonal forecasting is the process of predicting the number of tropical cyclones in one of the world's seven tropical cyclone basins during a particular tropical cyclone season. In the north Atlantic Ocean, one of the most widely publicized annual predictions comes from the Tropical Meteorology Project at Colorado State University. These reports are written by Philip J. Klotzbach and William M. Gray.
Tropical cyclone track forecasting involves predicting where a tropical cyclone is going to track over the next five days, every 6 to 12 hours. The history of tropical cyclone track forecasting has evolved from a single-station approach to a comprehensive approach which uses a variety of meteorological tools and methods to make predictions. The weather of a particular location can show signs of the approaching tropical cyclone, such as increasing swell, increasing cloudiness, falling barometric pressure, increasing tides, squalls, and heavy rainfall.
The Hurricane Databases (HURDAT), managed by the National Hurricane Center, are two separate databases that contain details on tropical cyclones, that have occurred within the Atlantic Ocean and Eastern Pacific Ocean since either 1851 or 1949.
Hurricane Kiko was one of the strongest tropical cyclones to have hit the eastern coast of Mexico's Baja California peninsula during recorded history. The eleventh named storm of the 1989 Pacific hurricane season, Kiko formed out of a large mesoscale convective system on August 25. Slowly tracking northwestward, the storm rapidly intensified into a hurricane early the next day. Strengthening continued until early August 27, when Kiko reached its peak intensity with winds of 120 mph (195 km/h). The storm turned west at this time, and at around 0600 UTC, the storm made landfall near Punta Arena at the southern tip of Baja California Sur. The hurricane rapidly weakened into a tropical storm later that day and further into a tropical depression by August 28, shortly after entering the Pacific Ocean. The depression persisted for another day while tracking southward, before being absorbed by nearby Tropical Storm Lorena. Though Kiko made landfall as a Category 3 hurricane, its impact was relatively minor. Press reports indicated that 20 homes were destroyed and numerous highways were flooded by torrential rains.
The 2009 Atlantic hurricane season was a below-average Atlantic hurricane season that produced eleven tropical cyclones, nine named storms, three hurricanes, and two major hurricanes. It officially began on June 1 and ended on November 30, dates that conventionally delimit the period of each year when most tropical cyclones develop in the Atlantic basin. The season's first tropical cyclone, Tropical Depression One, developed on May 28, while the final storm, Hurricane Ida, dissipated on November 10. The most intense hurricane, Bill, was a powerful Cape Verde-type hurricane that affected areas from the Leeward Islands to Newfoundland. The season featured the lowest number of tropical cyclones since the 1997 season, and only one system, Claudette, made landfall in the United States. Forming from the interaction of a tropical wave and an upper level low, Claudette made landfall on the Florida Panhandle with maximum sustained winds of 45 mph (75 km/h) before quickly dissipating over Alabama. The storm killed two people and caused $228,000 in damage.
Tropical Depression Two was a short-lived tropical cyclone that impacted portions of Texas and Mexico during the highly active 2010 Atlantic hurricane season. It formed from a tropical wave that emerged off the western coast of Africa and crossed the Atlantic Ocean without any development. Upon entering the western Gulf of Mexico, the depression encountered a conducive environment for tropical cyclone development, and was designated Tropical Depression Two at 0600 UTC on July 8. Intensification into a tropical storm was initially anticipated by the National Hurricane Center (NHC), but due to its proximity to land, the depression failed to attain the status. It made landfall on South Padre Island, Texas before degenerating into a remnant low on July 9, and dissipating the following day. Due to the system's weak intensity, there were no reports of damage inflicted by winds across Texas or Mexico, although the cyclone did bring minimal rainfall totals to northern Mexico, an area severely affected by Hurricane Alex just one week previous.
The Automated Tropical Cyclone Forecasting System (ATCF) is a piece of software originally developed to run on a personal computer for the Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC) in 1988, and the National Hurricane Center (NHC) in 1990. ATCF remains the main piece of forecasting software used for the United States Government, including the JTWC, NHC, and Central Pacific Hurricane Center. Other tropical cyclone centers in Australia and Canada developed similar software in the 1990s. The data files with ATCF lie within three decks, known as the a-, b-, and f-decks. The a-decks include forecast information, the b-decks contain a history of center fixes at synoptic hours, and the f-decks include the various fixes made by various analysis center at various times. In the years since its introduction, it has been adapted to Unix and Linux platforms.
A tropical cyclone tracking chart is used by those within hurricane-threatened areas to track tropical cyclones worldwide. In the north Atlantic basin, they are known as hurricane tracking charts. New tropical cyclone information is available at least every six hours in the Northern Hemisphere and at least every twelve hours in the Southern Hemisphere. Charts include maps of the areas where tropical cyclones form and track within the various basins, include name lists for the year, basin-specific tropical cyclone definitions, rules of thumb for hurricane preparedness, emergency contact information, and numbers for figuring out where tropical cyclone shelters are open.
...1984...Gray also launched the endeavor that would make him most famous: a seasonal forecasting scheme for the Atlantic basin, which would predict the number of hurricanes and tropical storms months before their actual arrival. ... It's hard to overstate the breakthrough that Gray had achieved with his forecasting scheme.