Hurricane season in the Atlantic runs from June 1 to November 30 each year. During this time, tropical storms and hurricanes can develop and threaten coastal communities. Having access to live hurricane tracking maps and forecast models is crucial for monitoring storm activity and preparing for potential impacts. This comprehensive guide will explore the various hurricane tracking resources available and how to use them to stay informed during storm season.
Overview of Hurricane Tracking Maps and Models
Hurricane tracking maps and models provide real-time data on the location, strength, and projected path of active tropical cyclones. This information comes from a variety of sources:
- Satellite imagery tracking storm location and structure
- Reconnaissance aircraft flying into the storm to gather weather data
- Ocean buoys measuring wind speeds and wave heights
- Ground-based Doppler radar providing precipitation estimates
- Computer forecast models crunching all this data
Maps and models are created by government agencies like the National Hurricane Center (NHC) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), as well as private weather companies. They can be accessed for free online or through cable TV hurricane news coverage.
The key pieces of information available through tracking resources include:
- Current storm position and movement
- Maximum sustained winds and wind field size
- Minimum central pressure indicating intensity
- Projected path and potential landfall locations
- Timing of tropical storm/hurricane conditions
- Storm surge and rainfall forecasts
This data is critical for emergency managers to guide evacuations, preparations, and resource staging. For the public, tracking maps and models help communicate risk and make smart decisions to protect life and property when a hurricane threatens.
National Hurricane Center Tracking Maps and Models
NHC Atlantic Hurricane Tracking Map
The National Hurricane Center (NHC) provides the official tropical cyclone forecasts and warnings for the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean Sea and eastern Pacific Ocean. Their interactive tracking map for the Atlantic shows all active storms and disturbances that could develop.
Key features include:
- Current position and classification of storms (depression, storm, hurricane categories)
- Animated radar loop showing precipitation
- Projected path cone showing range of potential tracks
- Latest NHC forecast advisory and discussion
- Wind speed probabilities and watch/warning areas
- Links to prepare and learn more about hurricane safety
This is the most authoritative tracking map available straight from the source – the NHC meteorologists. It should be checked routinely throughout hurricane season.
NHC Atlantic Tropical Weather Outlook Map
To monitor areas where storms and hurricanes may develop, the NHC provides an Atlantic Tropical Weather Outlook map. This shows:
- Location of existing tropical cyclones
- Areas highlighted for potential tropical cyclone formation
- Percent chance of formation over next 48 hours and next 5 days
- Identifiers for systems being monitored that may strengthen
Watching this outlook map can give several days heads up on potential threats before they even form into organized storms.
NHC Forecast Cone and Model Tracks
For existing storms, the NHC forecast cone represents their best estimate of the future track based on historical forecast errors. The actual path could vary significantly from the center line. It is important to focus on the entire cone not just the skinny black line.
Behind the forecast cone are spaghetti model plots showing various computer model solutions for projected storm tracks. Comparing the overlap and spread of these tracks gives insight on forecast confidence and potential deviations from the official NHC cone.
NOAA Tracking Maps and Models
In addition to NHC resources, NOAA provides various interactive hurricane tracking maps and models:
NOAA Hurricane Tracker
This tracker from NOAA’s National Weather Service allows zooming in on active storms to see:
- Current position and 24-hour watch/warning areas
- Projected path cone and potential tropical storm/hurricane impact times
- Wind speed probabilities and forecast maximum winds
- Model track forecasts from various agencies
The tracker is frequently updated with the latest NHC advisories.
NOAA Ocean Prediction Center Atlantic Analysis Map
To monitor developing systems before they become organized storms, NOAA’s Ocean Prediction Center provides an Atlantic tropical analysis map. It plots:
- Locations of tropical waves that could develop
- Positions of existing storms with wind speeds
- Sea surface temperatures, pressure and precipitation
- Model forecast tracks
This is helpful for identifying potential threats days in advance.
NOAA Storm Surge Watch Map
Knowing where the greatest storm surge risk is located will be key for evacuation decisions when a hurricane nears land. NOAA has an experimental Storm Surge Watch map that visualizes:
- Potential heights of water above ground from storm surge
- Locations above ground that would be flooded
- Changes in surge forecasts as the storm approaches
This map relies on the same data powering official NHC storm surge forecasts.
Private Weather Company Tracking Maps
Private weather companies like AccuWeather and The Weather Channel create their own tracking maps based on NHC advisories and their proprietary computer models. These can provide supplemental forecasts and radar imagery.
Some key examples include:
AccuWeather Hurricane Tracker
AccuWeather’s tracker allows seeing hurricane and tropical storm positions overlaid on a radar loop, along with:
- Current radar-estimated rainfall rates
- Projected path cones from various models
- Forecast wind speed fans showing timing of strongest winds
Their MinuteCast feature is helpful for visualizing localized impacts.
Weather Underground Hurricane Map
The Weather Underground tracker shows the standard NHC forecast cone and spaghetti model plots. Unique features include:
- Hurricane-force wind arrival times and impact zones
- Simulated radar forecasts depicting future precipitation
- Model ensemble forecast showing average projected track
This can help anticipate storm conditions as it approaches.
Windy Hurricane Tracker
The Windy tracker overlays storms on an interactive map with options to visualize:
- High resolution radar and satellite imagery
- Various forecast model tracks
- Ensemble model average paths and spread
- Probability cone for storm center location
Windy also incorporates real-time data from weather stations.
Hurricane Tracking and Model Resources Summary
- NHC – Official hurricane forecast advisories and tracking maps from meteorologists
- NOAA – Supplemental government tracking resources and model visualizations
- Private weather companies – Value-added hurricane maps, radar, and model data
Having multiple trusted tracking resources ensures access to the latest storm data for smart decision making. The forecast models all have inherent uncertainty, so focusing on the official NHC analysis versus relying on single model solutions is key.
Throughout hurricane season, routinely check tracking maps to monitor areas of concern. Read all local evacuation orders and don’t take chances with life and property when storms threaten. With proper preparedness and caution, the impacts from dangerous hurricanes can be reduced.
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Frequently Asked Questions About Hurricane Tracking Maps and Models
What is the National Hurricane Center and how can their tracking maps help me?
The National Hurricane Center (NHC) is the division of NOAA responsible for monitoring hurricane activity and issuing official forecasts and warnings. Their tracking maps on Hurricanes.gov provide the latest storm positions and projected paths straight from the meteorologists analyzing the data in real-time. The maps help you visualize risk so you can make smart decisions to protect yourself when a hurricane threatens.
Should I consider evacuating if a hurricane is projected to hit my area?
If your local officials issue an evacuation order for your location, it absolutely should be heeded. Consider evacuating even if your area is just outside the cone or zone for dangerous winds – storms can wobble off the forecast track. Avoid underestimating the threat of deadly storm surge which could extend beyond wind impact areas. Better to evacuate safely than risk loss of life or injury by staying put.
Why do hurricane forecast models sometimes disagree on the projected storm track?
No forecast model is perfect – they all have some uncertainty based on their limitations and the chaotic nature of the atmosphere. Small differences in how they handle complex storm dynamics can lead to diverging track solutions. It is smart to look at consensus across models and trust the NHC experts who interpret how to weight each model run. Never focus on just one or two solutions.
How often should I check hurricane tracking maps if a storm threatens my area?
When a tropical storm or hurricane has your coastal region in its potential track, it is good to check the latest tracking maps every 3-6 hours if possible. Storms can sometimes rapidly strengthen or shift projected paths. Getting updates twice a day from morning to evening advisories is prudent to ensure you have time to prepare as needed before conditions deteriorate.
Is storm surge or high winds more dangerous when a hurricane hits?
Storm surge is often the greatest hurricane hazard posing deadly and destructive flooding along the coast. However, high winds can also be extremely dangerous risking trees falling, property damage, and tornados. Impacts depend on your exact location – heed all local evacuations and advisories to stay safe from the significant multi-hazard hurricane threat.
What tools beyond tracking maps help me monitor real-time hurricane conditions?
Tracking maps show the big picture, but real-time weather station data, live webcams, and local media coverage can provide ground-truth of conditions as a hurricane impacts a region. These help confirm which forecasts verified and whether impacts are greater or less than predicted for a specific location. Comparing multiple real-time data sources is useful to build comprehensive situational awareness.
Accurately monitoring and preparing for hurricanes depends on effectively utilizing the available tracking maps, models, forecasts and real-time hazard data. During storm season, make frequent use of trusted resources like the National Hurricane Center to anticipate threats. Take local warnings seriously and follow evacuation orders promptly for safety. With smart utilization of tracking technology and prudent action, hurricane risk can be reduced to protect lives and property.