Thanks to technological advances, meteorologists can track and predict hurricane movement more accurately than ever before. When the hurricane first forms and is still hundreds of miles from land, direct measurements can be difficult to obtain. By using satellites, ships and buoys, however, meteorologists can indirectly measure the storm and monitor it when it is still over water. As the hurricane approaches land, more direct measurements can be obtained, using tools like reconnaissance aircraft. Once the hurricane is within 200 miles of the coast, radar becomes the primary tool used for obtaining information. Meteorologists also use computer models to predict the storm’s intensity and movement, but because so much atmospheric data is needed, the models can produce inaccurate forecasts. If not enough observational data was obtained while the storm was still over water, for example, the result of the computer model may differ from the storm’s actual movement.
The National Hurricane Center uses this data to determine when and where to issue storm watches. A hurricane watch is issued when the storm is predicted to hit the area in 36 hours or less. Once the storm is about 24 hours away, a hurricane warning is issued. While more sophisticated technology has allowed meteorologists to more accurately forecast hurricanes, predicting the storm’s movement can still be difficult. Hurricanes are complex storms, and their behavior is not completely understood. Once a tropical storm forms, it must be constantly monitored in order to keep up with the many changes that can occur within the storm.
Forecasting hurricanes is a joint effort between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Tropical Prediction Center and local Weather Forecast Offices. The Tropical Prediction Center consists of the National Hurricane Center, the Tropical Analysis and Forecast Branch and the Technical Support Branch. Local offices work with the national center during a storm to help predict the hurricane’s movement and intensity.