Advances in technology have allowed meteorologists to predict severe weather earlier than ever, forecasting hurricane tracks five days ahead of the storm with increasing accuracy.
But with the National Hurricane Center beginning to predict a system’s track even before it organizes into a depression or tropical cyclone, some experts fear the public’s reaction. Will there be unnecessary panic if a five-day “cone of uncertainty” from a low-pressure system or a tropical wave envelopes an area?
Or, and maybe worse, will the public lose confidence in the hurricane forecasts if there are large error rates in the early predictions for the pre-cyclone systems?
The concerns were raised last week at the National Hurricane Conference in Orlando where 1,500 emergency managers and meteorologists met to discuss advances in forecasts and storm preparation and the best ways tocommunicate with the public during and after a natural disaster.
The five-day forecasts for storm systems that have yet to develop won’t begin until 2017, but hurricane center officials are anxious about their debut.
“We know the track forecast will not be nearly as accurate,” said James Franklin, chief of the center’s hurricane specialists unit. “It’s tough because we know the errors will be larger, they’re harder to forecast, but we’ve gotten to the point where the benefits outweigh the risk.”
The impetus for the changes are systems such as last year’s Tropical Storm Bill. The center was relatively confident it would become an organized storm, but it couldn’t issue advisories until it met the technical definition of having organized thunderstorm activity and a closed circulation. By the time Bill gained these characteristics, it was nearly on top of the Texas coast.