Upgrades in hurricane forecasting helped Dorian, will aid forecasters in future


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It certainly wasn’t good news that Hurricane Dorian threatened Brevard County last year. 

But a positive that can be taken from the event could be seen in the immense amount of time residents had to prepare for the storm.

Last year’s event highlighted the advances in hurricane forecasting that have been made in recent years. The forecast for Dorian, which from a long-term track perspective was very good, helped give residents quite a bit of time to prepare. 

“Hurricane track forecasts have been improving little-by-little most years and quite substantially over longer periods of time,” said Scott Spratt, a warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Melbourne, in an e-mail. “On average, there has been a 21 percent improvement between the very active 2004 season and 2019. Since the individual impacts and their timing are strongly dependent upon the hurricane track, this improvement has allowed forecasters to better define when, where and how significant wind damage, storm surge inundation, flooding and tornadoes are likely to be. 

“In turn, these improved assessments allow for more precise coastal evacuations; achievement of greater public readiness; and positioning of resources and personnel to allow for a faster post-storm recovery than in the past.”    

Perhaps in large part because of these upgrades, the public seemed prepared for the events, Spratt said. 

“Overall, I believe the public response was good,” Spratt said. “Hurricane awareness is probably higher than it’s ever been; with so many sources of weather and safety planning information readily available to most citizens. That said, it’s pertinent that residents follow official and trusted sources of local information to ensure it’s accurate, timely and consistent.”

The best news? Hurricane forecasting could even more precise in the years to come, Spratt added. 

“There are a number of recent and upcoming innovations, which should help continue the trend of more accurate tropical weather forecasts,” Spratt added. First, greater computer processing power will further improve the resolution of numerical hurricane models, leading to lower hurricane track and intensity errors, especially within the three- to seven-day range. Second, much more atmospheric and oceanographic data will be collected from within the hurricane environment, as well as from areas surrounding the storm, and ingested into computer models.” 

“Much of this data will be derived from a new generation of weather satellites and aircraft reconnaissance missions — both manned and unmanned, as well as from probes dropped into the ocean ahead of the storm. And third, improved techniques for combining and weighting different model output will continue to be devised, allowing hurricane forecasters to use their expertise to capitalize upon dozens of individual pieces of computer guidance.”

Those who wish to view forecasts from the National Hurricane Center should go to  nhc.noaa.gov and those who want to view them from the National Weather Service should go to nws.noaa.gov. There, users can point and click on areas of the country to get information from local offices.