Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

National Hurricane Center rolls out new look for 'cone of uncertainty'

As storm forecasters have grown more certain over the years about the potential path a hurricane will take, the popular "cone of uncertainty" used in models has grown smaller. But widespread misunderstanding of the cone has prompted forecasters to try to improve the tool.

This year the National Hurricane Center will use a modified tool with an even sleeker tracking cone and an advancement they hope will help people not directly in a storm's path better understand the potential danger they face.

A shaded area overlaid beyond the cone will show the farthest reaches of possible tropical storm- and hurricane-force winds.

"The public tends to still focus on the exact path of the storm (based on the cone) and they don't take into account the stuff that happens outside of it," said Stacy Stewart, senior hurricane specialist at NOAA's National Hurricane Center in Miami. "The wind field is much larger than the cone. We're using that to give people an idea of wind hazards that exist outside the cone."

The improved tool is an attempt to alert folks not to let down their guard if they're not precisely in the direct path of a storm.

"People think, 'I'm outside the cone, so I'm going to be okay,' " said Betty Hearn Morrow, professor emerita in sociology at Florida International University, who has helped research and test National Weather Service tools. But that's not always the case, she said, because the cone doesn't account for dangerous winds. The new map is "the right idea, definitely," she said.

Stewart said people should also remember that the cone is still a flawed predictor. One-third of the time the center of a hurricane will travel outside of the cone completely.

"Thirty-three percent of your forecast can still fall outside the cone," he said.

The National Weather Service has unveiled several other new tools aimed at precisely conveying potential hazards like storm surge and wind speed.

A storm surge watch/warning system will be used this hurricane season to highlight areas along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts that are at risk of life-threatening inundation. The new tool would alert residents to the risks of rising water and the need to evacuate.

"Along the coastline, storm surge tends to be the primary killer of people," Stewart said.

The weather service will also roll out an experimental map that predicts the time of arrival of tropical-storm-force winds. Using a wind-speed-probability model in which 1,000 plausible scenarios are calculated, the graphic will display the earliest reasonable and most likely arrival time of storm winds on land, giving people an idea of how long they have to prepare for a storm.

Another change: Hurricane forecasters are now allowed to issue advisories for what they are calling "potential tropical cyclones." Before, they had to wait until a storm was more developed before issuing warnings and a projected path. Now, they can issue advisories for any storm systems that pose a threat of tropical-storm or hurricane-force winds to land within 48 hours.

"Advances in forecasting over the past decade or so … now allow the confident prediction of tropical cyclone impacts while these systems are still in the developmental stage," the weather service wrote in its description of new products for the 2017 hurricane season, which begins June 1 and runs through the end of November. "For these land-threatening 'potential tropical cyclones', (the National Hurricane Center) will now issue the full suite of text, graphical, and watch/warning products that previously has only been issued for ongoing tropical cyclones."

Contact Ben Montgomery at bmontgomery@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8650. Follow @gangrey.

National Hurricane Center rolls out new look for 'cone of uncertainty' 03/17/17 [Last modified: Saturday, March 18, 2017 4:42pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Jordan Spieth wins British Open (w/ video)

    Golf

    SOUTHPORT, England — Someday, perhaps soon, there will be a plaque at Royal Birkdale for Jordan Spieth, much like the one off the 16th hole that celebrates Arnold Palmer and the 6-iron he slashed out of the rough in 1961 to win the British Open and usher in a new era of golf.

    Matt Kuchar plays out of the bunker on the 18th hole and finishes with bogey for 1-under 69. He had a one-shot lead after 13 holes.
  2. Fennelly: Brutal weekend could be start of something worse for Rays

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Well, that was lovely.

    Brad Boxberger suffers his second loss in the three-game series, this time by allowing back-to-back homers in the eighth inning when called on to protect a 5-3 lead. “Just bad pitches,” he says.
  3. Wesley Chapel hockey camp impresses youth players, parents

    Lightning Strikes

    WESLEY CHAPEL — As a 17-year-old Triple-A hockey player, MacCallum Brown regularly plays against elite talent. As a Palm Harbor resident, he often has to travel to face that talent.

  4. Rays claim not to be panicking after third straight brutal loss to Rangers (w/ video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — There was no "here we go again" moment in the dugout as Rougned Odor's two-run homer in the eighth inning arced across Tropicana Field and toward the rightfield seats, even though when it landed, the score was tied and another late-inning Rays lead was blown.

    Rays third baseman Evan Longoria heads back to the dugout after fouling out in the ninth inning with the potential tying run on first.
  5. White House signals acceptance of Russia sanctions bill

    National

    WASHINGTON — The White House indicated Sunday that President Donald Trump would accept new legislation imposing sanctions on Russia and curtailing his authority to lift them on his own, a striking turnaround after a broad revolt in Congress by lawmakers of both parties who distrusted his friendly approach to …

    President Donald Trump’s ability to lift sanctions against Russia would be blocked.