The Thing to Remember About Hurricane Forecasts


When a major storm is coming, hurricane forecasts can help you plan ahead…but you have to understand what you’re seeing.

The National Hurricane Center keeps updating its hurricane forecasts but it seems a lot of people still don’t understand them.

Having lived on the coast for a dozen years, I’m more familiar now than I’ve ever needed to be with those forecasts. Because of this, and a pretty healthy stash of common sense, I know that those forecasts aren’t guarantees.

There are always people who take a quick glance and think they know all they need to.

They don’t.

As I write this, Hurricane Florence, currently a Category 4 storm with maximum sustained winds of 140 mph, is headed for the Carolinas.

The latest hurricane forecast makes it look like Florence will make landfall somewhere near Wilmington. At least, that’s what it says if you take one of those quick glances.

Here’s a recent graphic from the National Hurricane Center:

Florence, of course, is the X in the center of that yellow circle. The cone that extends to the northwest of that yellow circle is the projected path of the storm.

Too many people, unfortunately, pay far too much attention to that black line at the center of the cone. That line, they think, is where the hurricane is going to go.

That line, at the moment, points near Wilmington, North Carolina, which is where most people are convinced the storm will make landfall.

But the black line doesn’t represent that. The black line serves more as an average of several individual computer forecasts. Anywhere within that cone is where various models place the path of the storm. At the point of landfall, near that red line along the coast (representing a Hurricane Warning) the width of the cone is about 150 miles.

That means when the storm reaches the coastline, it could very well be 75 miles to the northeast or southwest of that black line.

That’s a huge difference. And it can wildly vary the impacts of the storm and where they’ll be felt.

Then there’s that large gray circle at the end of the cone. That area of uncertainty represents where the storm could go next and continue impacting different communities.

So when you’re making plans for your family, don’t rely on the line. Rely on the entire cone. And understand even than that the actual path of the storm could still move outside that line.

The weather is the product of a fluid atmosphere. There will always be changes. There will always be surprises.

Nothing about a hurricane is ever set in stone.

Stay safe!

Patrick is a Christian with more than 30 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.