How tracking, predicting hurricanes has changed in the last 100 years

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Tracking and predicting storms has drastically improved in the last 100 years.

Taking a look back, “Unnamed 1928,″ also known as the Okeechobee Hurricane, was a storm that peaked to a Category 5 on Sept. 13, 1928, before cutting through the Bahamas, Miami, Central Florida and Jacksonville where it was a Category 1. Unnamed 1928 then headed north along the eastern coast and toward Toronto, Canada. More than 2,000 people died in the storm, according to estimates at the time.

Today, a hurricane watch can be activated within 48 hours of making landfall and can be identified by satellite and skilled meteorologists well in advance.

Alex Lamers, a Warning Coordination Meteorologist for the Weather Prediction Center, works closely with the hurricane center to keep the public informed.

“There are some aspects of experience in past events. So, we actually have a tool to look at past hurricanes and compare what the current one is, like the same pressure, how big it is and get analog cases and see how the rainfall pattern looked in those past cases and use that to help us forecast as well,” Lamers said.

Research and experience have taught scientists that though a slow-moving storm may give you time to prepare, it could also do the most damage.

“We find that a lot of the most impactful storms in terms of rainfall and flooding are often moving in the slowest, 10 to 20 percent of storms to a given area,” said Lamers.

Lamers recalls Hurricane Harvey in 2017 moved slowly across Texas leaving behind record-breaking rainfall amounts and in 2008 Tropical Storm Fay produced a lot of rainfall around the Tallahassee area.

“All of those were among some of the slowest 10-20 percent of storms in the respective area so that’s something that we often key in on in terms of forecasting rainfall and flooding,” Lamers said.

As Lamers uses the past and present to accurately predict the next storm he says being prepared and never waiting until the last minute is always the best option no matter how fast or slow a storm is moving.

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