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A more detailed hurricane forecast cone is coming soon

Hurricane Irma in 2017. Image Credit: NOAA/CIRA
Lt Col Mark Withee
53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron
Footage entering the eye of Hurricane Irma in 2017.

A new forecasting tool the National Hurricane Center (NHC) plans to launch in mid-August will update the existing forecast cone to provide a better sense of potential wind hazards for inland areas, according to the agency’s recent social media post.

“This is a good change for anyone living away from the coastline, because it highlights the impacts of the hurricane or tropical storm away from the coastline,” said Assistant Professor of Meteorology at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University Rob Eicher.

Right now, the NHC’s forecast cone only shows watches and warnings for hurricanes or tropical storms at the coastline, Eicher said — even though many of Florida’s inland communities can also face serious hurricane impacts.

“Had this new graphic been operational during the time of Hurricane Ian, you would have noticed the entire state of Florida lit up in watches and warnings,” Eicher said. “So anyone in Florida would have known: ‘hey, I need to pay attention to this,’ not just people at the coastline.”

Image of a slide outlining the National Hurricane Center's new, experimental forecast cone, a visual tool set to launch online in August 2024.
Courtesy NWS Miami-South Florida
This slide shared by the National Weather Service Miami-South Florida outlines the National Hurricane Center's new, experimental forecast cone slated for August 2024.

The forecast cone shows us where the center of a storm, or the hurricane’s eye, will likely be — and that’s about it, says NHC Deputy Director Jamie Rhome.

“The only thing one can deduce from the cone is the potential wind impacts,” Rhome said. It doesn’t show other potential hurricane risks, like storm surge, flooding or tornadoes.

“Since the cone tells us absolutely nothing about those hazards, there's a huge portion of the population that is looking at the cone as the end-all, be-all, the thing that tells them everything they need to know, and coming away with an incomplete understanding of the hurricane risk,” Rhome said.

Developed more than 20 years ago, Rhome says the NHC’s forecast cone has become institutionalized as a tool people are familiar with and tend to gravitate to. But in reality, it’s not the most informative tool.

August’s update to the forecast cone will provide a more detailed look at which areas could face damaging wind impacts during a storm, including places farther inland from the coast. But Rhome says NHC’s larger goal is to phase in new, hazard-based products — while gradually encouraging people not to rely solely on the cone.

“To continue to use these legacy systems, when we have far superior ways to communicate risk — it's just leaving people with inadequate or incomplete understanding,” Rhome said. “This hurricane season, 2024, is a visualization of the de-emphasis of the cone.”

Molly is an award-winning reporter with a background in video production and investigative journalism, focused on covering environmental issues for Central Florida Public Media.
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