Appreciating the Significance and Relevance of the Forecast Cone of Uncertainty.
DISCUSSION: Year in and year out, millions of people across the Caribbean and the Gulf Coast as well as East Coast of the United States contend with the annual threat of impacts from tropical cyclones. Often times, when tropical cyclones do form across the tropical Atlantic and/or the tropical eastern/central Pacific Ocean basins, the National Hurricane Center located in Miami, Florida produces forecasts for any and all tropical cyclones in these regions. One of the premier forecast products which people often take the most time in looking at is the 3 to 5 day forecast cone of uncertainty.
The forecast cone of uncertainty is a representation of the collective reasoning and estimate of the range of possible directions in which a storm is expected to go over some given period and the time it is expected to take for a given storm to move that given projected distance. However, a major weakness of the forecast cone of uncertainty is not so much in how it is produced, but more so how the general public tends to interpret it. It is important to always understand that the forecast cone of uncertainty represents the approximate projected center-point track path of a given cyclone. The issue lies in the fact that many people will often interpret the highlighted portion of the forecast cone of uncertainty as being the only areas which may experience some sort of impact from a given storm which is a false sense of reality. Thus, it is always critical to keep in mind that on top of the fact that impacts can be and often are felt outside of the forecast cone of uncertainty and especially will happen as changes in the projected forecast track occur over time.
On top of that, it is just as important to consider the fact that when it comes to interpreting the forecast cone of uncertainty out to 3+ days, there can quite often be track distance errors of up to 100-200 miles or so. Thus, whenever you are looking at projected track forecasts for storms such as the current evolving situation with Major Hurricane Dorian, it is imperative to keep these issues in mind as time moves along. So, the next time you are looking at a projected track forecast for Dorian or any other future storms anywhere around the world, you can look at projected track forecasts from a completely new and improved perspective.
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©2019 Meteorologist Jordan Rabinowitz
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