The National Hurricane Center is constantly tweaking its forecasting tools in an effort to give the public the best possible information about where a storm might hit without causing unnecessary panic. This year is no different. Perhaps the most noticeable change will be the addition of maps showing the danger of storm surge. These maps should be of special interest to Tampa Bay area residents who are in some of the areas most susceptible to flooding in the United States. According to a press release from the NHC, the maps are designed to give people a "reasonable worst-case scenario for any individual location."
A more subtle change is that the "cone of uncertainty" which is the area that's supposed to show the greatest probability of a direct hit will be about 1/3 smaller. The smaller cone reflects the slight, but consistent, improvements in forecasting accuracy. Tightening the circle has several implications: first, it has the potential to reduce complaints about forecasters "crying wolf" and causing unnecessary panic. For emergency managers and local officials, the narrower cone will also make it easier to decide when to order hurricane preparations and evacuations.
One feature of recent years is being eliminated altogether. The probable intensity estimates are going away. Intensity forecasting remains one of the most stubborn problems forecasters are trying to deal with and the press release says bluntly that the current technology "grossly underestimates the likely intensity for the moment when the storm comes ashore."
There are also other technical adjustments coming to this year's forecasts. To see the full press release for a description of all the changes, click here.