Climatology

Hurricane 2022: Don’t just rely on models, says Bay News 9′s Mike Clay

Which model is right?

We hear that question every time there is a hurricane threat.

This is my 26th hurricane season in Tampa Bay and my answer to that question is always, “It depends on the weather.” Not an answer most want to hear. But there is no magic solution to a difficult hurricane forecast.

A few years ago, many thought the European model was the solution, but it has struggled in recent years as the US GFS (Global Forecast System) model has made vast improvements. Then, don’t even get me started on the 20-30 members of the so-called spaghetti plot.

The best answer to that question? The best forecast comes from a human, certified meteorologist and not simply a computer model.

Related: Hurricane 2022: Tampa Bay will flood. Here’s how to get ready.

The models are just mathematical equations, no better or worse than the way they were programmed. The meteorologist with tropical experience knows the climatology and looks at the weather each day, not just when something interesting is going on. We understand the patterns and the bias each model has shown recently.

So what can you understand from the computer models? As a meteorology professor taught me 35 years ago, when all of the models say the same thing – you’d better go with the models.

In this case, the state of the atmosphere is such that it can be modeled well. If all of the models are pointed at you, you’ve got a problem. If the models are going in all different directions, the atmosphere is chaotic, so all bets are off; the equations can’t solve the problem, so the models are showing different solutions. Be ready for rapid changes. Anything is possible.

The thing you don’t want to do is base your personal decisions on someone showing you one picture from one computer model output. We call these “deterministic models,” and they might do fairly well in everyday weather, but tropical weather is different.

Related: Hurricane 2022: Protect your mental health during the storm

As a meteorologist, it takes me several hours of looking at models and their 40 or so ensemble members to make a forecast. You shouldn’t make personal safety decisions from something someone posted on social media. It is much more complicated.

Like always, we will be your “calm in the storm” with no hype this hurricane season. We all live here, have homes here and, above all, hope for another quiet season.

Mike Clay is chief meteorologist at Spectrum Bay News 9.

• • •

2022 Tampa Bay Times Hurricane Guide

IT’S HURRICANE SEASON: Get ready and stay informed at tampabay.com/hurricane

RISING THREAT: Tampa Bay will flood. Here’s how to get ready.

DOUBLE-CHECK: Checklists for building all kinds of hurricane kits

PHONE IT IN: Use your smartphone to protect your data, documents and photos

SELF-CARE: Protect your mental health during a hurricane

• • •

Part 1: The Tampa Bay Times partnered with the National Hurricane Center for a revealing look at future storms.

Part 2: Even weak hurricanes can cause huge storm surges. Experts say people don’t understand the risk.

Part 3: Tampa Bay has huge flood risk. What should we do about it?

INTERACTIVE MAP: Search your Tampa Bay neighborhood to see the hurricane flood risk

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