How do Meteorologists Predict Hurricanes

Predictions have moved from the realm of the fortune tellers to modern meteorologists.  Instead of crystal balls and rheumatoid conditions, modern forecasters use barometers, satellites and Doppler radar to predict everything from heat waves to major storms.  However, with all the science and gadgets, today’s weather men and women still have a trickier time predicting hurricanes.

What is a Hurricane?

The term hurricane, also synonymous with typhoon, refers to a tropical cyclone which has sustainable winds of 74 miles per hour.  These intense tropical storms are generally characterized by circulating winds and their origins in tropical and sub-tropic areas.

Hurricanes undergo three basic stages of development starting with a collection of thunderstorms over tropical waters.  Humidity, low pressure systems, and even wind shears are also crucial factors in the formation and sustainability of hurricanes.

Throughout history, hurricanes have resulted in loss of life and billions in property damage.   Hurricane preparedness and awareness are keys to successfully surviving these tropical storms. With summer climates already here, many hope that the seas will be calm and weather just warm.

Hurricane Predictions

Meteorologists make two types of hurricane predictions. These are seasonal probability predictions and current hurricane tracking predictions.  Each type of prediction has its own approach.

Seasonable Probability

Each year, several weather organizations, which include the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), begin to speculate about the upcoming storm season.  Meteorologists are among those that also begin to consider the potential for storms.

Meteorologists will look at a number of factors that increase risk for tropical storms, depressions and hurricanes.  These factors include oceanic water temperature and El Nino, regional air pressure system.

Based on past seasons and the known weather conditions, meteorologists predict the possible number of hurricanes for the season.  They include predictions for the intensity of the sustainable winds, wind speeds,  and possibility of how many will make landfall.

For 2010, forecasters think that there will be from 14 to 23 storms in the region consisting of the Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean. Of this number, he prediction is that there will be at least 8 hurricanes.

Hurricane Tracking

During the hot summer months, it’s common for TV meteorologists to update the public about rain and thunderstorms.  Comments about tropical depressions and pressure systems are generally precursors to talk of hurricanes and heavy thunderstorms.

With the devastation wrought by Hurricanes such as Katrina, meteorologists offer their viewers and the general public information on the development, course and intensity of storms.

Storm tracking is not an exact science, but meteorologists make very educated guesses using various tools. Meteorologists monitor radar and satellite readings in search of tropical thunderstorms.  In some instances, thunderstorms combine to make a depression, which can progress from storm to hurricane.  Once a hurricane has formed, meteorologists and scientists begin to predict its travel pattern.  Meteorologist use tracking models, such as CLIPER (Climate and Persistence), NHC90 and BAM (Beta and Advection Model).  Data is reviewed from these tracking models and other forecasting and intensity models to map out hurricane paths and a hurricane’s potential intensity.  Categories scales, such as the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, are used to communicate a hurricane’s wind speeds and potential destructive power.

Today’s meteorologists no longer have to guess blindly about weather patterns and conditions.  Modern tools and scientific knowledge have made the process easier.  As with hurricanes, a meteorologist can use radar, satellite, and tracking models to help predict the number, intensity and course of these severe tropical storms. With their help, many lives and billions in property are saved.

For those interested in more information about hurricane predictions, check out the following resources: