Breaking the mold: Interactive maps show future hurricane threats to US

Photo: NOAA So far, hurricanes are still bound by summertime easterly winds in the Atlantic, passing near the coast of the US but staying away from land, causing little flooding or damage. (In the…

Breaking the mold: Interactive maps show future hurricane threats to US

Photo: NOAA

So far, hurricanes are still bound by summertime easterly winds in the Atlantic, passing near the coast of the US but staying away from land, causing little flooding or damage. (In the month of May alone, 15 named storms had formed – the most in the Atlantic since record-keeping began in 1851.) However, parts of the United States are now at risk for hurricanes come summertime, bringing a fast storm track that could bring torrential rain and powerful winds.

Most of the forecasts currently indicate that tropical cyclone Ida will intensify rapidly into a major storm before reaching land. This means that it could bring tremendous flooding and storm surge to parts of Florida and the southern US – but it’s too early to predict where it will make landfall, as the storm itself isn’t forecast to come near any land until early next week.

(Illustration: Tropical Meteorology.)

Mapping Storm Hourly

In an effort to demonstrate the complex, dynamic relationship between storms and land areas, we’ve created a set of maps that shows the track and strength of storms through different seasons (we started with the 1960s). These maps are displayed in real time and are updated monthly.

(Illustration: Tropical Meteorology.)

The bulk of the hazard, particularly during peak hurricane season, is concentrated in the Caribbean and mid-Atlantic states, where hurricanes strike regularly. In addition to basins such as the Lesser Antilles and the Gulf of Mexico, storm tracks are likely to continue to path through a number of other areas, such as the Midwestern US and New England, in the upcoming season.

(Illustration: Tropical Meteorology.)

By understanding the typical storm paths, it’s possible to make safer predictions about the risk posed by different storm seasons, which is how we should model hurricanes in the future, says Donald Kiefer, a meteorologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Storm Prediction Center (SPC).

For example, the maps show that this year’s hurricane season should have a wetter pattern, in contrast to a dry one that was seen last year. Kiefer says that the results of the projections could help communities and officials prepare for flooding and storm surge during hurricane season.

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

Are you personally at risk for a hurricane season?

Do you know how likely it is that you may experience a hurricane (defined as Category 3 or above on the Saffir-Simpson hurricane wind scale)?

Do you know the most vulnerable areas, such as coastal areas, small cities, remote areas or areas prone to flooding?

Have you done any advance planning with your family about how to get away from a hurricane and how to react if one strikes?

Our maps are a small but important step in helping communities prepare for the season and staying safe once it is underway.

Here’s a look at past hurricane seasons, with storms listed in bold.

Can you tell a storm from some other storms?

The ideal goal is for people to understand the relation between the air pressures of different storms and the likely change in track of that storm, Kiefer says. “But the biggest problem is that many people do not know what to expect when they are watching or forecasting these storms – it’s a very complex phenomena,” he says.

Scientists have used the latest geophysical modeling and physics to integrate the differences between different storms to make progress in learning how to correctly predict storm intensity, wind speed and storm track from the same weather event.

For example, the most recent computing technology gives computer models the ability to quickly incorporate several different observations into a single model, reducing the number of possible outcomes.

“In order to get accurate forecasts, you need to have a model that is very capable of handling so many combinations of values,” Kiefer says. “It takes time to mature and develop a model like this – it takes 10 or 15 years, but this kind of technology is improving by leaps and bounds.”

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