Hurricane season in the Atlantic basin runs from June 1st through November 30th each year. During this time, tropical storms and hurricanes threaten coastal communities across North America, Central America, the Caribbean, and occasionally even Europe. With modern technology, we now have multiple ways to track these dangerous storms in real-time using interactive maps, satellite imagery, and forecast models. This enables better preparedness and potentially life-saving evacuations when a hurricane is forecast to make landfall.
Methods for Live Hurricane Tracking and Real-Time Monitoring
There are several reliable sources for tracking active storms and staying up-to-date with the latest hurricane watches and warnings:
Government Agency Resources
- National Hurricane Center (NHC) – Part of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the NHC provides live tracking maps, forecast discussions, satellite imagery, computer forecast model data, and more. Their website is the gold standard for official storm data and projections.
- NOAA Hurricane Hunters – These pilots fly specialized aircraft directly into hurricanes to gather weather data used for forecasts and tracking. You can follow their missions in real-time on NOAA’s Facebook page.
- Central Pacific Hurricane Center (CPHC) – Monitors storms in the central and eastern Pacific Ocean. They offer similar live tracking resources to the NHC focused on the Pacific region.
News and Weather Outlets
- The Weather Channel – Offers 24/7 tropical weather coverage both on cable TV and through their website/app. They frequently update their hurricane tracking map along with videos, news, and preparedness tips.
- Local TV News Stations – Those located near hurricane-prone areas often provide live, commercial-free coverage when a storm threatens. Their meteorologists analyze real-time data from the NHC.
- CNN – During major hurricane events, CNN devotes extensive air time with the latest tracking details, damage reports, and evacuations. They utilize advanced 3D animated maps.
Online Interactive Tracking Maps
- Windy.com – Allows you to overlay live hurricane data on their interactive worldwide weather map. Visualize wind speeds, pressure, and precipitation in an easy-to-use interface.
- Ventusky.com – Similar to Windy, Ventusky combines real-time hurricane tracking with animated weather radar, satellite maps, and forecast model outputs.
- TropicalTidbits.com – Run by leading meteorologist Levi Cowan, this site compiles the latest NHC advisories, satellite loops, and hi-resolution computer model maps.
- NOAA Hurricane Tracker – Free app for iOS and Android from the National Hurricane Center. Provides alerts, tracking maps, forecasts, and satellite imagery.
- Hurricane Tracker – Robust paid app for iOS and Android with customizable tracking maps, push notifications, forecasts, webcams, and model data.
- Hurricane by American Red Cross – Free safety-focused app with real-time NOAA hurricane tracking maps and evacuation checklist.
Live Satellite Maps for Visualizing Hurricanes
Satellite imagery provides one of the most useful and stunning visualizations for observing hurricanes in real-time. The swirling clusters of thunderstorms that make up tropical cyclones are plainly visible from space, illuminated by moonlight or in infrared frequencies.
Some of the best live satellite hurricane tracking resources include:
- NOAA National Satellite Imagery – Visual and infrared imagery covering the entire globe updated continuously. Markers indicate the location of active cyclones.
- NOAA GOES-East and GOES-West – Focused satellite loops from NOAA’s advanced GOES-R weather satellites, providing close-up views of developing storms.
- CIRA RealEarth – Creates seamless near real-time animations by combining multiple satellite passes from different sources.
- TropicalTidbits Satellite Floater – Levi Cowan’s site offers zoomable satellite loops that center on a storm’s current location, making it easy to track movement.
- CIMSS Satellite Blog – From the University of Wisconsin, posts awe-inspiring satellite visuals of major hurricanes alongside scientific analysis.
[Example satellite image]
Advanced image processing can further enhance live hurricane satellite maps, revealing detailed structure and features such as the eye, eye wall, rain bands, outflow, and surface effects like upwelling.
Real-Time Tracking of Hurricane Location, Strength and Size
Beyond just images, the public advisories issued regularly by the NHC contain the key parameters needed to assess a storm’s current status and threat. These include:
- Latitude/Longitude – Pinpoints the exact center position of the hurricane down to a tenth of a degree.
- Direction/Speed – Indicates which way the storm is moving and how quickly in terms of cardinal direction and miles per hour or knots.
- Reference Cities/Land Features – For easy geographic orientation, advisories note nearby locations relative to the storm center.
Maximum Sustained Winds
- Wind Speed (mph or knots) – Key indicator of intensity, this is the highest 1-minute wind speed measured within the hurricane. Determines its category on the Saffir-Simpson scale.
- Wind Field Size – Radius of hurricane force, tropical storm force, and gale force winds extending outward from the center. Gives scope of highest impact area.
- Wind Gusts vs Sustained – Gusts may be 25-30% higher than sustained winds. Note both in forecasts and damage assessments.
- Pressure (mb) – Lower pressure indicates a stronger storm; below 920 mb is extremely dangerous. Falling pressure over time signifies strengthening.
- Pressure/Wind Relationship – Central pressure can help estimate maximum winds when recon aircraft can’t sample inside the eye.
- Radar Diameter – Measured in miles, gives the scope of the hurricane’s cloud shield and precipitation field.
- Field of Tropical Storm Winds – As noted above, the radius of outward tropical storm force winds indicates the storm’s expansive influence.
Interpreting Key Hurricane Forecast Graphics and Model Data
To see where a hurricane is heading in the future, meteorologists utilize sophisticated computer forecast models and translate their data into graphical map products.
- Show myriad possible forecast tracks from various proprietary and public models. Clustering indicates higher confidence.
- Dynamic vs Statistical – Dynamic models (GFS, Euro, Hurricane Model) simulate atmospheric physics, while statistical models use historical data.
- Storm-Specific Models – The HWRF and HMON models are tuned for hurricanes, optimizing track guidance.
Cone of Uncertainty
- Displays the probable track area from the official NHC outlook, accounting for past errors.
- Narrows as the forecast timeframe decreases, with 95% of historical tracks falling inside the cone.
- Size and placement provides insight on model agreement and certainty.
Model Intensity Guidance
- The NHC “FSU Plot” charts intensity forecasts from contributing models.
- Scatter represents uncertainty, with outliers discarded when assessing consensus.
- Rapid intensification can be hinted at when many models show significant strengthening.
Live Hurricane Tracking Maps and Online Resources
For at-a-glance tracking information on all active storms in the Atlantic and East Pacific basins, various interactive online maps compile data feeds in real time from the NHC, satellites, and models.
The NHC website itself contains an interactive tracking map displaying the latest:
- Advisory positions
- Forecast cone
- Satellite overlay
- Model track forecasts
Other excellent live hurricane tracking maps:
- Windy – Immersive map lets you overlay hurricane advisories, forecast tracks, model data, radar, satellite, and surface conditions.
- Ventusky – Similar to Windy but also incorporates webcams, lightning strikes, and storm reports to enhance situational awareness.
- Stormpulse – Leading commercial hurricane site with customizable tracking maps and layers like evacuation zones. Offers convenient mobile apps.
- Tropical Tidbits – Reliable clean maps focused on latest NHC forecasts, model runs, and compelling satellite loops.
Smartphone Apps and Social Media Accounts for Live Updates
For those in the potential path of a hurricane, it’s wise to download one or more tracking apps to stay up-to-date on the latest watches/warnings for your area. Helpful examples include:
- NOAA Hurricane Tracker App – Free from the National Hurricane Center, available on iOS and Android. Push alerts keep you informed on local hazards.
- Hurricane Tracker App – Robust paid app for iOS and Android, loaded with tracking maps, forecast data, webcams, and support tools.
- Hurricane by American Red Cross App – Focuses on safety preparations, with NOAA hurricane tracking maps and checklists. Free on iOS and Android.
Many government agencies, meteorologists, and reporters use Twitter extensively to provide streaming updates on hurricanes. Some key accounts worth following include:
- @NHC_Atlantic – Main advisory feed from the National Hurricane Center, covering Atlantic storms.
- @NHC_Pacific – Sister account to above, covering East Pacific storms.
- @NOAAHurricanes – Broader hurricane-related news/science from NOAA.
- @NOAASatellites – Amazing real-time satellite images of hurricanes.
- @EricBlake12 – Hurricane specialist from the NHC. Provides in-depth analysis and commentary.
Understanding Key Terminology in Hurricane Advisories and Reports
To fully comprehend live hurricane data, metrics, models, and maps, becoming familiar with the technical terms and shorthand used in NHC advisories is critical:
Tropical Cyclone Classifications:
- TD – Tropical Depression: Organized storm with max winds <39 mph
- TS – Tropical Storm: Named storm with max winds 39-73 mph
- H1 to H5 – Categories 1 to 5 Hurricane: Max winds 74 mph or greater
- Initialization – The storm’s current location, central pressure, and max winds
- Forecast Hour – Projection at set time intervals, usually every 6 hours (0hr, 6hr, 12hr, etc)
- Strike Probability – Percent chance center will pass within specific range of a coastal point
Hazards and Alerts:
- Hurricane/Tropical Storm Watch – Conditions possible within 48 hours
- Hurricane/Tropical Storm Warning – Conditions expected within 36 hours
- Storm Surge Watch/Warning – Possible/expected life-threatening inundation from water pushed ashore by hurricane winds
- Dvorak Technique – Method using satellite appearance to subjectively estimate intensity
- Central Dense Overcast (CDO) – The dense high cloud canopy surrounding mature hurricane eye. Signals peak intensity stage.
- Eye – Circular clearing at the low pressure center, indicating a well-developed hurricane.
- Pinhole Eye – Very small, compact eye such as in major hurricanes like Andrew and Wilma.
Anatomy and Structure:
- Eye Wall – Zone immediately surrounding the eye with highest winds, the engine of the storm.
- Rainbands – Bands of showers and thunderstorms, arranged in spiral shape, emanating from the eye wall.
- Outflow Layer – Expansive layer of exhaust upper-level clouds flowing outward at high altitudes. Caps the cyclone heat engine.
Frequently Asked Questions About Live Hurricane Tracking and Monitoring
1. What is the most reliable single source for official hurricane forecasts and live tracking information?
The National Hurricane Center (NHC) provides the single go-to source for all official tropical cyclone advisory information, tracking maps, and forecasts for Atlantic and East Pacific storms. Their website at www.nhc.noaa.gov contains the latest updates and forecast data used by meteorologists, emergency managers, and the public.
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2. How often do hurricane advisories get updated?
The NHC issues full public tropical cyclone advisories every 6 hours at 5 AM, 11 AM, 5 PM, and 11 PM Eastern Time when a tropical depression or stronger storm is present. Intermediate hourly updates are also provided on the hour between full advisories when storms are nearing landfall or undergo rapid changes.
3. What are the key specific data points to look for in the NHC advisories?
Vital parameters to note include the storm’s current central location (latitude/longitude), maximum sustained winds, direction/speed of movement, central pressure, and extent of hurricane/tropical storm force wind fields. Expected impacts are detailed for land areas under watches/warnings.
4. How far in advance can hurricanes be accurately forecasted?
Hurricane track forecasts continue to improve in accuracy each decade, but uncertainty still increases sharply the farther out the projection. The NHC “cone of uncertainty” is about 125 miles across 3 days out, and 300 miles across 5 days out from a storm’s current position.
5. How can you tell if computer models agree or disagree on a hurricane’s predicted path?
Looking at a forecast model comparison like the NHC Wind Probability Product or spaghetti models on TropicalTidbits, you want to see tightly clustered model tracks, indicating higher confidence. Widely divergent solutions mean lower confidence in the eventual forecast track.
6. What are the limitations of hurricane tracking models and forecasts?
- Difficulty predicting rapid intensity shifts, as the models can’t perfectly simulate internal hurricane physics.
- Lower confidence beyond 5 days, as small errors compound over time.
- Storm interaction with land adds uncertainty to both track and intensity models.
- Not enough data sampling inside the powerful core. Recon plane measurements help calibrate models.
7. How should you interpret spaghetti model plots from various sources?
View spaghetti plots skeptically, as they often include poor performing outlier models just for perspective. Focus mainly on the tight consensus clusters, especially among proven top models like the Euro and hurricane-specific HWRF and HMON. The spread equates to uncertainty.
Wrap Up and Key Takeaways
- Modern technology enables real-time hurricane tracking and monitoring through interactive maps, satellite imagery, apps, and constantly-updated NHC forecast data.
- Pay close attention to the latitude/longitude, maximum winds, direction of movement, central pressure, and wind field size in advisories.
- High-resolution visible and infrared satellites provide stunning real-time views into a hurricane’s structure such as the eye, eye wall, and spiral rain bands.
- Interpret the forecast “cone of uncertainty” as showing the most likely arrival zone rather than the storm’s exact future path. Tighter clustering on spaghetti models indicates higher forecast confidence.
- For those in a hurricane’s potential path, the smart move is monitoring trusted forecasts and preparing using guidance from local emergency agencies. Leverage the available live tracking tools and data to stay vigilant.