Seasoned meteorologist on the evolution of hurricane forecasting

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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — After three decades of work, Scripps-owned WPTV-TV Chief Meteorologist Steve Weagle is still extremely passionate about his job of keeping the community informed and safe while covering hurricanes.

“It really is the most incredible force in nature,” Weagle said. “It’s the Super Bowl of weather. It really is.”

Weagle is known for his urgent, imperative, yet calm forecasts, especially during long hurricane blankets.

“My very first hurricane was Floyd in 1999, and it was a big storm,” he said.

Weagle has seen a sea change over the years in hurricane tracking.

“We’ve come a long, long way,” he said. “We now have the technology that allows us to manage more data and we can do it faster. Model guidance is really our most important tool to use.”

He said that of the hundreds of computer models that predict hurricane paths, about 10 have reached reliability over the years, and two of them are famous at this point.

“Now there’s a little competition between Americans and Europeans as to who has the better computer model,” Weagle said. “Last year the GFS, which is the American model, did a better job overall than the Euro. This year we’ll have to wait and see. To Ian, it looks like the Euro has done the best job.”

To demonstrate another advancement, Weagle described the narrowing of the forecast of the area where a storm could make landfall, commonly referred to as a “cone of uncertainty”.

“Over the past 20 years these cones have shrunk a lot, especially on days four and five. Twenty years ago it was a 600-700 mile gap, and now we have a much smaller cone” , Weagle said. said.

He also explained that this breakthrough has made a big difference when authorities determine evacuation zones during a storm.

“Whereas in the past we could have evacuated the entire state of Florida, now we have an evacuation zone that could be just South Florida or just the South Florida coastline,” he said. he declares.

Satellite images are also a game changer.

“Now we have these amazing satellites giving us these real-time pictures of what’s going on. It’s amazing to think of how far we’ve come,” Weagle said.

Weagle added that the science behind predicting storm intensity hasn’t improved much over the past 20 years.

“The problem is knowing what’s happening in the eyewall, the small dynamics that are difficult for computer models to manage and to predict the strength of storms,” ​​he said.

He looks forward to seeing progress on that front throughout his career.

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