Hurricane season in the Atlantic Ocean 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 Bermuda. With modern technology, we now have the ability to track these powerful storms in real-time using a variety of tools. This enables better preparedness and potentially life-saving early evacuation for areas in the projected path.
This comprehensive guide will explore the various options available for real-time hurricane tracking and live storm monitoring via interactive maps, forecast models, and more. We’ll cover everything you need to stay on top of hurricane season no matter where you live.
Overview of Real-Time Hurricane Tracking Options
When a tropical storm or hurricane forms, it’s critical to monitor its progression in real-time to predict the likely forecast cone and prepare if you’re in or near the projected path. Here are some of the main options available for real-time hurricane tracking and live updates:
- Interactive Hurricane Tracking Maps – These online maps from trusted sources offer live updates on storm location, direction, and intensity. They may also show spaghetti models and forecast cones.
- Hurricane Forecast Models – Sophisticated computer forecast models run simulations to predict storm track and intensity. Viewing ensemble models can provide insight into probabilities.
- Satellite Imagery – Real-time satellite images show the current structure of storms and how they are evolving.
- Weather Stations – Data from buoys and stations in the ocean and on land give detailed meteorological measurements.
- Hurricane Hunter Aircraft – These airplanes fly into storms to take critical observations and measurements.
- Webcams & Social Media – Webcams in the storm’s path can provide live video, as can first-hand accounts on social media.
Most Trusted Sources for Real-Time Hurricane Tracking & Updates
When monitoring an active hurricane, it’s critical to use only the most trusted, reputable sources for tracking maps, models, forecasts, and news. Here are some of the top recommended sources:
- National Hurricane Center (NHC) – Part of NOAA, the NHC offers hourly forecasts and public advisories along with tracking maps and models. Their website is the gold standard go-to resource.
- NOAA Satellites – NOAA satellite servers provide many types of imagery critical for analyzing storms.
- NOAA Buoys & Weather Stations – Real-time data from buoys and stations.
- NOAA Aircraft Operations Center – Provides aircraft reconnaissance data from hurricane hunter flights.
- CIMSS Tropical Cyclones – The Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies (CIMSS) offers real-time tropical cyclone satellite imagery and analysis tools.
- NCAR – The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) provides weather and hurricane forecast models and data.
Private Weather Companies
- AccuWeather – Offers frequently updated hurricane forecasts, tracking maps, and news.
- The Weather Channel – Trusted outlet includes hurricane hub with forecasts, news, live views.
- Crown Weather Services – Detailed analysis and forecasts from hurricane expert Rob Lightbown.
- Tropical Tidbits – Meteorologist Levi Cowan provides updates and breakdowns of models and maps.
Interactive Live Hurricane Tracking Maps & Models
When a hurricane is active, one of the most useful resources are interactive tracking maps that are continually updated in real-time as new forecast data comes in. Here are some top options:
National Hurricane Center Tracking Map
The NHC’s official tracking map provides the latest position and projected path of the storm, forecast cone, weather advisories, and more. This should be your primary map for accurate, up-to-date information.
Windy.com Hurricane Tracker
The Windy Hurricane Tracker overlays the latest NHC data onto an interactive worldwide map, allowing you to visualize storms approaching land. Provides forecast cone, satellite imagery, predicted precipitation, and sea temperatures.
Ventusky Tropical Cyclone Tracker
Ventusky’s tracker lets you view hurricane models and forecasts from global weather models, visualized on an interactive 3D globe.
Tropical Tidbits Storm Tracker
Levi Cowan’s Tropical Tidbits site has an in-depth interactive storm tracker with forecast models, satellite maps, and expert meteorological analysis.
Weather Underground Hurricane Map
The WUnderground interactive map displays the latest storm data alongside their network of personal weather stations. You can animate storm forecasts and compare different prediction models.
Understanding Spaghetti Plots and Hurricane Forecast Models
So-called “spaghetti plots” display output from various computer forecast models to visualize the range of possible storm tracks. Examining consensus and outliers among different models provides key insights. Here are some tops sites for viewing forecast model data:
- NHC Model Guidance – View spaghetti models, the official NHC forecast track, ensemble models, and more.
- Tropical Tidbits Model Page – Robust suite of models from global forecast centers, explained by meteorologist Levi Cowan.
- Windy.com Ensemble Hurricane Model – Interactive forecast model ensemble that shows probabilities of storm movement.
Understanding how to read the various models takes some experience, which is why relying on expert meteorological analysis is so important during hurricane season.
Notable Hurricane Forecast Models:
- GFS – The American Global Forecast System model, running at 13 km resolution.
- ECMWF – The European Centre model, at 25 km resolution with a reliable medium-range outlook.
- HMON – The Hurricane Multiscale Ocean Coupled Nonhydrostatic model, the highest resolution operational hurricane model.
Real-Time Satellite Imagery & Webcams for Storm Analysis
Seeing high-resolution real-time satellite imagery lets you visualize the current structure and organization of hurricanes and tropical storms as they strengthen and weaken. Meanwhile, strategically placed webcams can provide live video feeds as storms approach or make landfall.
Satellite Imagery Resources:
- NOAA Satellite and Information Service – View geostationary and polar orbiter satellite imagery.
- NOAA Tropical Cyclone Imagery – Animated loops good for seeing storm structure and behavior.
- NRL Tropical Cyclone Page – The Naval Research Lab offers near real-time high-res satellite imagery useful for analysis.
- CIMSS RealEarth – RealEarth provides a suite of up-to-date storm imagery.
- Hurricane City – Network of hundreds of live webcams throughout hurricane-prone regions.
- Windy.com Webcams – Video feeds from strategically placed live cams.
- Beach Cams – Live beach cams let you see storm impacts on coastal areas.
Data From Hurricane Hunter Aircraft & Oceanic Buoys
Hurricane hunters and ocean buoys provide detailed meteorological and oceanographic data by flying directly into storms and taking readings.
- NOAA Hurricane Hunters – Data from NOAA’s fleet of specially equipped WP-3D Orion and Gulfstream IV aircraft that fly into storms.
- USAF Reserve Hurricane Hunters – The 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron flies WC-130J aircraft into storm for critical data collection.
- NOAA National Data Buoy Center – Real-time offshore observations from data buoys and C-MAN land stations.
- NOAA Deep-ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunamis (DART) – Data from open ocean buoys designed to detect tsunamis, also helpful for research on storm surge and wave heights.
Using Social Media for Real-Time Updates & First-Hand Accounts
While they should never replace official tracking sources, social media networks like Twitter and Facebook can provide value during an active hurricane by giving rapid updates and documentation from people on the ground. Hashtags are helpful for following relevant posts. Some accounts worth monitoring:
- National Hurricane Center Facebook – Get quick highlights on public advisories and changes in storm status.
- Local meteorologists on Twitter – Trusted local experts like Mike’s Weather Page often give insightful analysis and updates.
- First-hand accounts using hashtags – Hashtags like #HurricaneFlorence let you follow real-time posts from people experiencing the storm’s impacts.
While these direct reports can help paint a vivid picture, make sure to confirm details through official channels before taking storm-related actions. Always have multiple trusted tracking resources at your disposal.
Preparing to Track an Active Hurricane Threat
Here are some tips to make sure you’re ready to monitor a hurricane in real-time if you’re in or near the projected path:
- Identify trusted tracking sources you will refer to and bookmark them. Have both detailed technical resources as well as summary/overviews.
- Ensure your devices are charged and you have backup charging options in case of power loss. Download helpful hurricane apps if needed.
- Get notifications set up through NHC RSS feeds, warning text alerts from local officials, etc. But avoid “hurricane hype” sensationalized news.
- Follow official local emergency management agencies on social media for localized alerts and public safety info.
- Know communication options (texting, social media, email) if cell towers go down in impacted areas.
- Download or print maps/diagrams of your area for marking and tracking real-time storm conditions locally.
- Engage your “safety team” – discuss plans with family and keep informed together.
Frequently Asked Questions About Real-Time Hurricane Tracking and Monitoring
What are the most important things I should look for on a hurricane tracking map?
Focus on the current position and forward direction of the storm, the forecast track (the “cone of uncertainty”), model consensus or divergence, the projected time/location of landfall, areas under watches and warnings, and the extent/probability of storm surge and rainfall flooding.
How accurate are hurricane path predictions and forecast models?
Forecast accuracy has improved greatly in recent decades thanks to better models, but there is always uncertainty involved. The NHC’s average track error is about 100 miles at 48 hours out and 50 miles at 24 hours out. Intensity forecasts are less accurate than track forecasts.
How far in advance can a hurricane be accurately forecast?
Skillful forecasts generally can be made 3-7 days out, but accuracy decreases with time. Models excel at forecasting hurricane track 1-3 days out when the core factors influencing the storm are well established.
Why do forecast models sometimes disagree on hurricane path?
Models have different formulations, resolutions, and inputs. Small errors can compound, and storms can behave unpredictably. Examining consensus and spread among models gives the best insight into the probabilities.
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How much should I trust spaghetti model plots versus the official NHC forecast track?
Always defer to the official NHC forecast track and cone for guidance, since it synthesizes all model data and the forecasters’ expertise. The spaghetti plots provide insight into the level of certainty.
What are the limitations of hurricane satellite imagery?
Imagery can be obscured by cloud cover. It gives an incomplete picture since storms have complex 3D structures. Visual data should be combined with other key observations.
How are hurricane hunter aircraft missions useful for real-time tracking?
The crews take direct observations and measurements within the storm and at the ocean surface. This data helps forecasters continually assess and update predictive models.
What type of data do NOAA buoys provide for hurricane analysis and forecasting?
They provide wind speed/direction, air/sea temperature, wave height, barometric pressure, humidity, and other readings. This helps define the storm’s structure and interactions with the oceans.
With so many lives impacted each hurricane season, having access to the latest real-time tracking data, models, and forecasts is absolutely critical. While storm paths can still shift and models diverge, the advanced resources now available enable far greater preparedness and early action compared to past decades. By monitoring trusted sources for the latest updates and understanding how each piece fits together, you can stay one step ahead of any storms threatening your area.