Scientists Are Getting Better at Predicting Hurricane Intensity

Hurricane Dorian at Category 5 intensity approaching the Bahamas on September 1.

Hurricane Dorian at Category 5 intensity approaching the Bahamas on September 1. NOAA

While scientists are much better now at forecasting a hurricane’s track, little advancement has been made in predicting a storm’s intensity over the past 30 years. Now, scientists say they are finally making progress in understanding how and why hurricanes intensify, information they say is critical to improving real-time forecasts.

Earlier this summer, Hurricane Dorian was forecast only to be a tropical storm before it rapidly intensified to a Category 5 hurricane in just two days, destroying parts of the Bahamas. Hurricane Maria in 2017 intensified to a Category 5 in just 24 hours—a situation no computer model was able to predict. But this week, scientists from the United States and South Korea published a paper in the journal Geophysical Research Letters detailing a new algorithm to improve the prediction of rapid tropical cyclone intensification within 24 hours.

Intensity predictions can be difficult to assess because of the complicated physical mechanisms of tropical cyclone dynamics and the way they interact with upper-ocean and atmospheric circulation. But these factors, when included in calculations of storm intensity, reportedly reduced the error of tropical cyclone prediction within a 24-hour period by 16 percent. The algorithm is expected to help improve real-time intensity forecasts for the western North Pacific, Florida, the North Atlantic, and the Gulf of Mexico.

For more on why the current hurricane rating system needs to be scrapped, click here.

—Christian Detisch