Preparing for Ian: Beyond the basics of storm tracking

Every Hurricane season, it’s important relearn some basics about storm tracking and advisories.

1- The cone which the NHC puts out in its advisories track the potential land fall spot for the CENTER OF CIRCULATION IN THE STORM. This does not mean bad weather is limited to areas within the cone. In fact, we have repeatedly seen in past storms, situations where some of the worst impacts are outside the cone.

2- Weaker storms tend to be larger in size, and impact larger areas, with less destruction whereas stronger storms, as Ian is forecast to be, tend to be tighter and therefore usually impact a more narrow swath of land – with laser-like often deadly precision. Does this seem counter-intuitive? It’s actually not. Think about how something tighter & more organized conveys more energy than something dispersed and and not well-organized. Heck this could apply to people also! (Must note though that Irma, which is the reference point for many Floridians as to Hurricanes was a Cat 4 at it’s first landfall, Cat 3 at its second AND very large in terms of size. However Andrew and Michael both Cat 5’s at landfall weren’t large storms and are more typical examples of this.)

3- A storm tracking the coast can still do a number on Florida. Case-in-point, Matthew in 2016. It never made a Florida landfall but killed a dozen Floridians and caused tens of millions of dollars worth of damage. Even if Ian makes landfall around Alligator Point for instance, the entire Gulf Coast could face major impacts.

Matthew never made a Florida landfall, but had impacts on every county from Broward north to Nassau on the Atlantic Coast. By National Weather Service – National Weather Service Enhanced Radar Mosaic Accessed at 05:10 Eastern Daylight Time (09:10 UTC), 7 October 2016., Public Domain,

4- Models are very good at forecasting storm paths but not intensity. Also note models tend to shift rapidly in the early stages of a storm which Ian is now in as of Saturday, and then once a storm develops into a Hurricane, the models are very accurate as to path. Weaker storms tend to wobble as Ian did overnight Friday-Saturday, and every little wobble this far out has an impact of potentially hundreds of miles in terms of landfall location, because of angles and all that. In 2020, Cat 4 Laura ravaged Louisiana, but it was one wobble relatively early in its development that sent into the Gulf and not toward the Florida peninsula. That wobble made a difference of HUNDREDS of miles.

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