You shouldn't focus on Hurricane Irma's specific track line and - | WBTV Charlotte

You shouldn't focus on Hurricane Irma's specific track line and here's why

(WBTV) -

It’s human nature. We desire absolutes in our lives and tend to focus on information that we think will quench that thirst. The problem in the weather world is that meteorologists don’t operate that way – because we can’t.

Meteorology is still what’s known as an inexact science.  Translation: just because it happened one way in the past does not mean it will necessarily turn out the same way in the future – even if the key ingredients are darn near the same.  If I drop my cellphone, it falls. And it will 100% of the time. 

Weather does not operate under such absolutes.

With the exception of the specific location of Hurricane Irma – the latitudinal and longitudinal coordinates – everything else should be considered “guesswork”.  Now, in our community’s defense, these are highly educational guesses based off the world’s best available and sophisticated guidance.  Contrary to what some may think, we do not throw darts at the board and then say “that’s where the storm is headed”.

IRMA: Major cat 5 storm slightly weaker, max sustained winds still at 180 mph

So, when we show the National Hurricane Center’s “official” hurricane forecast track, it’s based off a plethora of super-computer guidance and a little bit of the forecaster’s gut feeling.  But there’s a reason that cone going out over time is known as the “cone of uncertainty” and not the cone of “certainty”. 

There’s little certain about it after about 24 hours.

To better illustrate my case, forecasters at the Hurricane Center make no effort to hide the fact that the track error rate going out in time is substantial.  Specifically, at day 3, the average error rate (2012-2016) is 120 miles and at day 4, the distance jumps to 175 miles.  At day 5, the forecast could be off by as many as 225 miles. 

RELATED: State of emergency in effect for NC ahead of Irma, Cooper to provide update on state's preparations

The intensity forecast is typically off the mark as well going out beyond 48 hours, perhaps by as much as a full category on the Saffir-Simpson scale.

When looking at the Irma cone of uncertainty at day 5, it suggests everyone from Atlanta to the Outer Banks needs to be ready for a tropical cyclone.  That’s quite an expanse of real estate!

So again, pay attention to the forecast, make preparations just in case Irma does indeed pays us an unwelcome visit, but understand there will be changes to the forecast.

FULL COVERAGE: Click here to stay updated on Hurricane Irma

In short, don’t focus on the skinny line representing the track, as it could be off in a big way!

- Meteorologist Al Conklin

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