AUSTIN (KXAN) — Forecasting hurricanes can be a challenge. Some of those challenges include predicting a storm’s strength at landfall, if, or when, a storm may intensify for a second time, and which path the storm may take. Better modeling is critical for those who rely on such information to make appropriate plans.

A new forecast model is being implemented by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Hurricane Center. It’s called the Hurricane Analysis and Forecast System (HAFS).

HAFS will allow for more accuracy in a storm’s strength (Courtesy: Getty Images)

HAFS went to work on June 27. It will run simultaneously with the existing tropical storm models for the 2023 season but will eventually become NOAA’s chief model.

The increasing number of hurricanes and tropical storms in the Atlantic basin (which includes the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico) has led to records being set, creating the need for better forecast accuracy.

One of the goals of HAFS is to provide more analysis and forecast going out seven days. This includes better reliance on the hurricane track and the storm’s strength, including rapid intensity. It also means a higher success rate in predicting the size of the storm, its surge, the amount of rain and even being able to predict tornadoes that are often associated with hurricanes.

An experimental version of HAFS ran from 2019 to 2022. It showed early success with a 10% to 15% improvement in the path a tropical storm would take versus what NOAA’s existing models were showing. This increase in forecast accuracy is important for many reasons, not the least of which is reducing the impacts of hurricanes/tropical storms on both lives and properties.

When it comes to forecasting a storm’s strength, HAFS and NOAA’s existing hurricane models are about the same. It’s predicting rapid intensification where HAFS is better. You only have to go back to last September when Hurricane Ian struck Florida. HAFS accurately predicted that the hurricane would have a secondary rapid intensification when the storm left Cuba and headed to southwest Florida. 

Hurricane Ian as it makes landfall in western Florida (Courtesy: Getty Images)

The better news from the NHC is that upgrades to HAFS will lead to better forecast predictions, all-important warnings and information designed to save lives. Another goal is to reduce all model forecast errors by 2027.

HAFS is also successful because it’s been using NOAA’s updated weather and climate supercomputers installed in the summer of 2022. These new supercomputers have provided a significant upgrade to computing capacity and storage space. They are stronger and considerably faster.

Forecaster at the National Hurricane Center in Miami (Courtesy: Getty Images)

The higher accuracy forecast information provided while a storm is over the water and when over land takes into account five major components: a high-resolution view over parts of the tropical cyclone, high-resolution physics, multi-scale data assimilation, and 3D sea surface temperatures. and assimilation techniques that allow for novel observation.

The director of NOAA’s National Weather Service, Ken Graham, said the HAFS development comes through a collaborative effort of many in the science community.

The efforts of many will help ensure that tropical forecasts will have more accuracy to help save more lives and to give those who rely on these forecasts the time to better prepare property.