Friday, February 3

Track shifts, uncertainties all part of Hurricane Ian forecast


Hurricane Ian barreled into the southwest Florida coast Wednesday as a Category 4 monster just miles from where the National Hurricane Center initially projected it could hit.

in the days leading up to landfall, the forecast shifted the center of the track as far north as Florida’s Big Bend on Sunday and also hovered over Tampa Bay on Sunday and Monday. The potential track forecast ignited fears the densely populated Tampa and St. Petersburg area could get its first direct hit since a 1921 hurricane.

Ultimately, Ian made landfall more than 100 miles to the south, very near the first position estimate for a potential Florida landfall.

So were the weekend forecasts wrong?

“If we look at the forecast track of Ian with the 5-day cone, its soon-to-be landfall point was pretty much always in the forecast cone, just right on the edge,” said Phil Klotzbach, a tropical meteorologist at Colorado State University and lead author of its seasonal hurricane outlooks.

First advisory for Tropical Depression Nine, which became Hurricane Ian, came very close to the exact position where the hurricane eventually made landfall on September 28, 2022.

The forecast cone, also known as the “cone of uncertainty,” is often misunderstood. It’s a series of circles along the forecast center positions. The size of each circle shows two-thirds of the official forecast errors over five years.

At 5 am Sunday, the forecast track for Ian's center had shifted north to Florida's Big Bend, but the cone of uncertainty showing the potential forecast errors still included the Southwest Florida coast where Ian made landfall.

It’s the area where the center of the storm is most likely to move over five days, said meteorologist Scott Spratt, who retired in December as a warning coordinator for the National Weather Service office in Melbourne, Florida.

“It’s a great snapshot that shows you every six hours where your geographic location is relative to the cone,” Spratt said. “It allows people to see the trends and prepare.”

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