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Hurricane intensification is still unpredictable

October 26, 2023

Within 24 hours, Otis intensified from a tropical storm to a Category 5 hurricane, catching forecasters by surprise and bringing life-threatening storm surge, extremely heavy rain and mudslides to Acapulco, Mexico.

The small storm offered limited data points to forecasters. In addition, a near-shore patch of hot water, with sea-surface temperatures reaching 31 C (88 F) in some places, supplied more than enough energy needed to strengthen Otis into a weaker hurricane. Other factors like the “trough off to the west and wind shear likely ventilated the storm,” described meteorologist Domenica Davis, of The Weather Channel.

NOAA hurricane specialists with the National Hurricane Center have explained that data on many smaller-scale ocean and atmospheric conditions remains unmeasured. Hurricane hunter planes collect real-time data during storms, when possible. In the meantime, several tools and computer models are used to generate weather forecasts. Climatological normals inform predictions. Satellite data help estimate wind speeds. Predictions of hurricane paths has improved but intensification remains a mystery.

Since many storms in similar environments behave in different ways, hurricane-specific models have been created. This year they predicted the rapid intensification of Hurricane Idalia well before the storm reached Florida, providing more time for people to prepare. Unfortunately, improvements in models still fall short of predicting intensification.

At KISTERS, we understand the importance of data and overcoming these challenges. Our decades of expertise in optimizing weather data and climatological norms, coupled with cutting-edge software and IT solutions, empower organizations to efficiently integrate real-time data and run predictive models. We’ve recently expanded our services to make satellite data more accessible.

If you’re engaged in modeling hurricane intensification, we’re here to collaborate to overcome any data or IT challenges, so forecasters can accurately predict intensification and give emergency managers more time to prepare.