|TEXT ONLY VERSION||NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER|
To forecast the track and intensity of tropical cyclones, the NHC uses several different mathematical computer models that represent the tropical cyclone and its environment in a greatly simplified manner. Each of the models has particular strengths and weaknesses, and researchers are constantly working to improve them.
If you read the hurricane discussions (described in the products subsection), you will see forecasters referring to different models and giving their reasons why they think particular models are doing a better job of representing current and future conditions. Acronyms for models commonly discussed are GFDL, CLIPER, AVN, LBAR, BAM, NOGAPS (the U.S. Navy's model), and UKMET (the model run by the United Kingdom's Meteorological Service). These are all track models. Intensity model acronyms include SHIFOR, SHIPS, and GFDL.
It is important to know that these models are only run a few times a day and cannot, therefore, take into account all of the short-term changes the atmosphere is constantly undergoing. Models cannot produce forecasts more frequently because they require huge amounts of data and long computational times. This is one source of forecast error.
Hurricane forecasters must look at all of the models' results, which frequently give widely different pictures of the future. When the models do disagree, hurricane forecasters must use their experience and judgment to decide which model is performing the best under the current conditions. Unfortunately, we are not at a point in this science where one model can reliably be used for forecasts in all the different situations that can occur given the complexity of our atmosphere.
A good forecaster has an extensive education in the science of meteorology and considerable experience in tropical forecasting. Nonetheless, many times the different data sources are too conflicting for forecasters to have a high degree of confidence in their predictions. Even when they are more sure, forecasters still recognize that conditions can change quickly. This is why forecasts talk about "probabilities" and "margin of error". This is also why emergency managers consider planning for a hurricane one category higher than is currently forecast and why they prepare in advance to take action in case the track shifts suddenly or the storm speeds up as was the case with Hurricane Opal, 1995. For More Information on the Forecast Models
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