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Scientists explain how Hurricanes are tracked

Experts give insight into how storm models are created
Published: Jul. 31, 2020 at 6:27 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 31, 2020 at 7:59 PM EDT
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GREENVILLE, N.C. (WITN) -While we continue to track Hurricane Isaias and any potential impact to Eastern Carolina, experts are giving us insight into the data that is collected to help produce the models that show us what the storm is doing.

WITN Meteorologist Phillip Williams says it takes a lot of data to create one of the models you typically see when it comes to the potential track of a Hurricane.

”There are multiple computer models that we use. There is an American model called the GFS, there’s a European model, and then there are variety of special hurricane models. And we look at all of these and you may have seen what’s called a spaghetti plot, that’s the output of all of these different models to know where a system may be going. We also have intensity models which forecast the intensity of the storm,” said Williams.

Hurricanes thrive in very specific conditions and need humid air and warm water to sustain their circulation. Williams says, “They need to be over warm water at least 79 degrees or more, and to a decent depth so when they spin up it can allow warmer water to replace it and still give fuel to the hurricane. Hurricanes also need humid air around them. Too much dry air getting into the system will cause it to weaken.”

Tracking a storm’s movement and intensity is not the only model scientists rely on. Dr. Rick Luettich with UNC’s Institute of Marine Sciences is part of the team responsible for the ADCIRC mode,l which predicts storm surge.

Taking information points from the National Hurricane Center, they are able to take predictions a step further. “We take that information into our own computer models, into our ADCIRC computer model, and we use that to predict how the ocean is going to respond to that and what the storm surge is going to look like,” said Luettich.

ADCIRC has been used for years and is a highly accurate way to look at potential impacts to coastal communities by storm surge. This super computer runs nonstop and once a hurricane is formed it begins running multiple scenarios based on current data.

Another important aspect of tracking any tropical system is knowing slight variance in conditions can drastically affect the storm. That’s why you see the cone of uncertainty, “This will be an interesting one to see because even a small 20 mile deviation in the track east or west can make a big difference,” said Luettich.

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