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Hurricanes: Science and Society
Brief History of Hurricane Forecast Models
A Popular Mechanics cover story from 1950 dramatized the dangers that the early typhoon hunters faced.
A Popular Mechanics cover story from 1950 dramatized the dangers that the early typhoon hunters faced. Image courtesy of

The first hurricane forecast models (dynamical and statistical) were developed during the 1950’s in response to two major technological advancements: aircraft reconnaissance of hurricanes starting in the mid-1940’s, which provided accurate estimates of a hurricane’s current position and intensity, and the development of computer technology in the mid-1950’s. As dynamical models of the atmosphere improved, statistical models could also be improved by incorporating information from the dynamical model output, leading to the operational implementation of the first statistical-dynamical track model in 1973. Increases in computer resources during the 1960’s and 1970’s lead to advancements in dynamical hurricane models. In 1976, the first dynamical hurricane forecast model that could treat the atmosphere as multiple vertical layers (known as a baroclinic model) instead of just one single layer (known as a barotropic model) became operational. Before the 1990’s, only regional dynamical models had high enough resolution to make accurate track forecasts. In the early 1990’s, however, the resolution of global dynamical models had increased to the point that they could also provide accurate track forecasts. The development of modern hurricane forecast models that can provide accurate intensity forecasts also came during the 1990’s, with the introduction of SHIFOR, SHIPS, and the GFDL model. Even so, hurricane intensity forecasting remains a major challenge. These models and others, including the more recently developed Hurricane Weather Research and Forecasting (HWRF) model, continue to be improved today as computer resources continue to increase, more observational data becomes available for assimilation, and our understanding of the physics of hurricanes improves. Also, forecast accuracy has improved with the introduction of ensemble/consensus models, which became formally included as part of the National Hurricane Center's (NHC's) forecast guidance in 2001.


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