Hurricane forecast improvements 5 years after Hurricane Matthew

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – Hurricane prediction and accuracy has improved significantly since Hurricane Matthew 2016. This is thanks to an upgrade to one of the two main computational predictive models we use to make predictions and forecast cones more accurate.

Update forecast models

The Global Forecasting System (GFS), also known as the American model, has been improved.

The American model was developed and operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Center for Environmental Prediction. It runs four times a day and gives forecasts up to 16 days in the future. The processing power used to create these models can process 8 quadrillion calculations per second, making the computer that performs these calculations one of the 30 fastest computers in the world.

With the upgrade to the GFS, it will be coupled for the first time with a global wave model called WaveWatch III. This will improve the prediction of ocean waves that are forced by the atmosphere.

With this upgrade, the new GFS will also collect more data from geostationary and polar orbiting satellites as well as wind, temperature and humidity observations at aircraft altitude.

This means we should see improvements in our hurricane forecast, modeling for snowfall locations, heavy rain forecasts, and overall model reliability.

To prove how well the GFS is now working, NOAA’s Environmental Modeling Center conducted retrospective and real-time tests. They looked back on part of the 2018 hurricane season and the entire period from May 10, 2019 until today. The latest GFS model, named GFSv16, showed improved forecasting capabilities in many areas.

The cone of uncertainty

When it comes to hurricane forecasting, the National Hurricane Center’s forecast cones are no longer as large with the upgrades to the computer models – which indicates a lower error rate for projected paths.

The following table compares the margin of error at each projected cone point between the cone used in 2017 and the new one for 2021.

2017 (Nautical mile error) hours 2021 (Nautical mile error)
29 12th 27
45 24 40
78 48 69
107 72 102
211 120 200

As the predictive models continue to improve, the National Hurricane Center’s forecast cones will continue to shrink as the error rate continues to decrease.

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