As Hurricane Matthew churns from Haiti toward Cuba and the Bahamas, millions along the Southeast U.S. coast are preparing for the storm. As of midday Tuesday, the entire East Coast from Miami to Boston was within the National Hurricane Center's (NHC) "cone of uncertainty" storm track forecast. With supermarket shelves already going bare in Florida, many are basing crucial storm decisions, such as whether to stay near the shore or head inland, in large part on forecast graphics like the cone of uncertainty map. Forecasters at the NHC produce this map multiple times each day based on new information from computer models, weather observations and other sources. But published, peer-reviewed research, along with an informal poll of Mashable newsroom colleagues, indicates that it's unlikely do itmost people truly understand what the cone of uncertainty graphic actually shows.
Yes, but they're more useful to forecasters than the public, says Emanuel. He laments that people sometimes base key decisions, such as whether to purchase insurance, on forecasts calling for "quiet" seasons--despite the fact that even seasons with few hurricanes can yield highly destructive storms, such as 1992's Hurricane Andrew. "The seasonal forecast is so widely misinterpreted that it's actually counterproductive," he says. "While the seasonal forecasts are useful across a broad range of demographics, one can't simply and solely determine their own personal preparation based on those seasonal forecasts," adds Hart, who also points to Andrew's example.
The Atlantic hurricane season continues at a brisk pace, with three named storms -- Hurricane Jose, Hurricane Maria, and Tropical Depression Lee -- all spinning as of Sunday evening. While Hurricane Jose will produce heavy rains, high winds, and dangerous waves for some immediate coastal areas of southeastern New England and the Mid-Atlantic, the storm with the potential to do the most damage is Hurricane Maria. Maria is taking aim at some of the same areas hit hard by Hurricane Irma a little more than one week ago, with hurricane warnings in effect for Guadeloupe, Dominica, St. Kitts, Nevis, and Montserrat, as well as Martinique. SEE ALSO: Satellite stares into Hurricane Jose's eye, revealing whitecaps on the ocean below Hurricane watches extend from the U.S. and British Virgin Islands to areas just east of Puerto Rico. The storm is forecast to move west-northwest, on a track that will take the storm across the Leeward Islands Monday night and over the extreme northeastern Caribbean Sea on Tuesday.
On Thursday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released its forecast for the looming 2018 Atlantic hurricane season, and it'll be an active one. Forecasters say that there's a 70 percent chance that the season will be active with hurricanes, but it's unlikely that we'll see the extremes of 2017, when six major storms (which have sustained destructive winds of at least 111 mph) roared through the Atlantic. "Last year was extremely active," Gerry Bell, the lead hurricane forecaster at NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, said in an interview. "It was one of the strongest seasons on record." This coming year, NOAA's analysis of long-term climate trends in the Atlantic Ocean, the temperature of the ocean, and other factors, don't add up to conditions that would stoke an extreme hurricane season.
Despite their simple names, these weather systems can cause a whole lot of trouble. El Niño is forecast to continue through the summer and possibly into the fall, federal forecasters announced Thursday, which could weaken the Atlantic hurricane season. El Niño is a periodic natural warming of seawater in the tropical Pacific. It's among the biggest influences on weather and climate in the United States and around the world. Specificially, in its monthly forecast released Thursday, the Climate Prediction Center said there's a 66% chance that El Niño conditions will persist through the summer.