Predicting Irma's Path Is Giving Supercomputers a Challenge

A satellite time-lapse from Sept. 2, 2017, to Sept. 5, 2017, shows Hurricane Irma moving west toward the Leeward Islands as it changed from a Category 3 to a Category 5 hurricane.

 

(Published Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2017)

Hurricane Irma, one of the strongest storms of modern times, could barrel straight into Florida by the weekend, or it could hit Cuba and lose some of its Category 5 strength, NBC News reported.

The world's best weather minds, and the supercomputers behind them, can't say precisely where Irma is headed. They use half a dozen computer models that analyze environmental data to predict how storms grow and move, experts said, and the models produce different results.

Footage from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration show the crew of WP-3D Orion flying into Hurricane Irma on Sept. 3, 2017. Irma, now a Category 5 hurricane, is expected to hit Florida as early as Saturday. 

 

(Published Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2017)

Lately, the one that's been most reliable is the European Union's, known as the European model. The National Hurricane Center in Miami uses that subscriber-only system, plus the somewhat faster-to-process American model, to develop its forecasts.

But even with a set of sophisticated computers to choose from, forecasts four days before landfall are still about 175 miles off the mark, said Jeff Masters, founder and director of meteorology at the Weather Underground.

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