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How to track Hurricane Matthew

Published Oct 6th, 2016 12:13PM EDT
Track Hurricane Matthew
Image: NOAA

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The most serious storm to hit the East Coast in over a decade is close to making landfall with southern Florida. From there, it’s expected to move up the coast, hitting parts of Georgia, South Carolina and possibly North Carolina.

Since developing over a week ago, Matthew has changed paths a number of times. Forecasting hurricanes (and their track) is an imperfect science at best, and the models change several times a day. With the stakes so high — Florida Gov. Rick Scott warned that “this storm will kill you” earlier today — it’s important to know where the storm is headed. Here’s how to track it.

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The best resource for tracking Hurricane Matthew is the National Hurricane Center, which labels and tracks all storms that come near the US. The Hurricane Center publishes up-to-date forecasts for the storm, including maps of the predicted path, forecasts and written advisories for areas that are going to be hit.

One of the most useful things published by the Hurricane Center is the 5-day forecast cone and coastal watches. The map shows the predicted path of the storm, with the center of the hurricane represented by the black dots, which show the center at different times.

The white cone spread around is not the area that will be impacted by the hurricane; rather, it’s the track forecast uncertainty for days 1-3, and the hashed cone area is the uncertainty for days 4-5. The NOAA explains it:

NHC tropical cyclone forecast tracks can be in error. This forecast uncertainty is conveyed by the track forecast “cone”, the solid white and stippled white areas in the graphic. The solid white area depicts the track forecast uncertainty for days 1-3 of the forecast, while the stippled area depicts the uncertainty on days 4-5. Historical data indicate that the entire 5-day path of the center of the tropical cyclone will remain within the cone about 60-70% of the time. To form the cone, a set of imaginary circles are placed along the forecast track at the 12, 24, 36, 48, 72, 96, and 120 h positions, where the size of each circle is set so that it encloses 67% of the previous five years official forecast errors. The cone is then formed by smoothly connecting the area swept out by the set of circles.

It is also important to realize that a tropical cyclone is not a point. Their effects can span many hundreds of miles from the center. The area experiencing hurricane force (one-minute average wind speeds of at least 74 mph) and tropical storm force (one-minute average wind speeds of 39-73 mph) winds can extend well beyond the white areas shown enclosing the most likely track area of the center.

For tracking the effects of the hurricane, rather than just forecasting the center, it’s useful to look at the NOAA’s wind speed charts. They’re published for tropical storm force and hurricane force winds. The charts show the probability that those winds will hit a particular area. For example, the current hurricane wind probability below shows that there’s a mild possibility that hurricane force winds hit the coast of South Carolina in the next five days.


In addition to tracking the weather, it’s also imperative to follow the local warnings issued by the National Hurricane Center. For Matthew, they can be found here. They give an idea of what potential impacts you can expect in a given area and how to prepare.

Local governments have also been ordering residents to evacuate, using local media to spread the message of evacuation orders.

Chris Mills
Chris Mills News Editor

Chris Mills has been a news editor and writer for over 15 years, starting at Future Publishing, Gawker Media, and then BGR. He studied at McGill University in Quebec, Canada.