Watching Ivan

I admit I’m crazy obsessed with watching the hurricanes come.

Part of it is the inherent drama. And part of it is the remarkable way in which internet distribution of information makes so much available that used to be solely the province of professional weather geeks.

My latest discovery is the Weather Underground Tropical Weather page. For each current storm, they assemble all the latest information, including maps where they overlay all the forecast tracks from all the major weather models. You can really get a feel for how hard hurricane forecasting must be. (You can see the big spread in the models after Ivan makes landfall, thought that seems to be slowly sorting itself out.)

On that subject, Andrew Revkin had a good piece in today’s New York Times:

TALLAHASSEE, Fla., Sept. 13 – At the National Hurricane Center, a gray bunker bristling with satellite dishes on the outskirts of Miami, meteorologists scanned readings last weekend gleaned by aircraft plunging into the eye of Hurricane Ivan and they squinted at satellite images while preparing a fresh forecast for the track of the dangerous storm.

After assessing the data and the output of half a dozen supercomputer storm simulations, Stacy R. Stewart sat in front of a map of the Atlantic and Caribbean with an eraser and colored pencils, drawing the storm track newly estimated for the next five days. The map was filled with erasures of older storm projections that had at one point been the best bet but now were off by hundreds of miles as the storm’s northerly curve drifted west.

This is the state of hurricane science in the new century: a mix of growing skill and persistent uncertainty, of intuition and algorithms, satellites and erasers.