How do hurricane forecast models work?

CHICOPEE, Mass. (WWLP) – When watching weather forecasts, you may have heard a lot about the predictions of the “American model” and the “European model” for storm tracks, but you may be wondering why are there different models, and what is the difference?

The entire process, called numerical weather prediction, typically runs on huge government computers either run by the U.S. or other world governments. These models help track hurricanes and their paths.

Tropical/Hurricane Tracker

You may also have heard the term “spaghetti models.” These models are all the individual computer models that are put together to come up with a forecast.

You can think of it as math equations that are basically solved through time, and each model holds a different equation and solution, which is why we get different paths of weather patterns.

When the different spaghetti models are plotted on a map, some will generally agree with one another, while others may take totally different tracks. That is why we have a “cone of uncertainty” in hurricane forecasts; which allows wiggle room for where the storm will actually move.

The hardest decision a meteorologist has to make is to choose which model to use for an upcoming forecast. That is why it is sometimes the best idea to use the data given, looking at both models, and come up with a conclusion through both of them. Figuring out the forecast also depends on what other weather events are going on at the time of a storm.

As we have seen with Hurricane Matthew, these models can change. On Tuesday, most models were predicting the storm would track up the Atlantic Coast, making a landfall- or at least coming close to- New England by the end of the week. Model runs on Wednesday, however, either send the storm out to sea after making landfall near the Carolinas, or send the storm back southward off the Carolinas, and loop around. provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Users who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. Please be respectful of the opinions of others. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review.

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