September 28, 2022

European Models Provide Far Better Forecasts than U.S. Models for Hurricane Ian

European weather prediction models proved to be substantially superior to U.S weather prediction systems predicting the track of Hurricane Ian.

Weather radar image near the time of Ian's landfall on the 
west coast of western Florida today.

This is an issue I have blogged about and written papers about in the past, with the most well-known past case being Hurricane Sandy in 2012.  

And it reflects the decline of U.S. national weather prediction skill versus leading international centers--a situation that is a national embarrassment and must be fixed.

Let me show you the unfortunate details for Hurricane Ian.

I will start with a graphic of forecast track error by Professor Brian Tang of the University of Albany (website here).  This figure presents the track error (in km) for various forecast lead times.

The main US global model (the GFS) is shown by the dark red color (AVNO), while the leading weather prediction center in the world (the European Center) is shown by blue (ECMF).  The high-resolution US hurricane models (HWRF and HMON) by purple and cyan, and the official forecast (with human input!) by the black line.

For the short-term forecasts (24 or 48 hr) everyone was on the same page.

But look at the extended forecasts (96 and 120 hr)!  OMG.  The European Center was the clear winner, with roughly HALF the track error of the US global model.

Furthermore, it is very concerning that the U.S. high-resolution hurricane models (HWRF and HMON) had even larger track errors.

 High resolution doesn't do you much good if you get the storm in the wrong place!

Let me show you the problem spatially by presenting the tracks of the U.S. and European ensembles of many forecasts, with each forecast providing a track of the storm.  

Below are the forecasts starting at 0000 UTC 25 September (Saturday at 5 PM PDT), with the black lines showing you the mean track of all the forecasts).  (imagery courtesy of

The European Center forecasts were very good, suggesting landfall on the central and southern western coast of Florida.  South of Tampa.  Quite close to the actual landfalling position (as shown by the radar image above)

In contrast, the US GFS ensemble was displaced much more to the west (which was wrong).  Much more spread (uncertainty).  The U.S. forecasts were MUCH more threatening to Tampa, since a storm making landfall north of Tampa could push water into the bay.

As a result of the problematic U.S. forecasts, the media went nuts talking about a catastrophic storm surge in Tampa, with calls to evacuate hundreds of thousands of people.  And people down the coast were not warned of a serious threat.

I wish this was an isolated case, but it is not. 

U.S. global weather prediction is not as good as some major international centers, and the cost to the American people is enormous (can you imagine the costs of all the evacuations in Tampa, for example).

The U.S. has the largest and best weather research community in the world. We spend more on weather prediction than anyone else.  Yet, our forecasts are not as good as others.  And a shadow of what we are capable of.

I have written a new paper describing the origins of the problem.  It is a problem of organization, of duplication of efforts, of no one group or individual being responsible, and a lack of a coherent system for improving our weather models.  

And it will take the active intervention of Congress to fix it.


  1. Active intervention of Congress. HA!

    All the luck with that. In case you have not been following current events, Cliff....our nation is really 50 nations with 2 different blocs. The Blue Bloc and the Red Bloc. They don't like each other and don't really care to aid one another with each other's tax money. Typically if a private business comes up with something compelling, than there might be a consensus to agree to patronize it. It can not be government derived. It's amazing that the NASA Artemus project is even allowed, considering how broken our country is politically. Perhaps it may might if each state develops their own weather solution or buys the service from responsible and impartial private enterprise. Which could just be the Euro model. Please stop thinking that this is one country that is civic minded

  2. Why do we need our own forecast model when the European model seems to work so well, and we obviously have access to it? Seems to me there is unnecessary and unneeded duplication.

    1. We need our own homegrown solution because as Europe is currently finding out the hard way, being dependent on a foreign government for basic needs is rarely a good idea. We have the capability to create the very best weather prediction system on this planet if only we could get our bloated and highly inefficient federal government out of the way.

  3. Hi Cliff, you posted about three years ago that FV3 implementation was not going well due to microphysics issues around snowfall. Is it even being used for cyclone prediction, and if so, does it show any incremental skill versus GFS or HWRF? I follow a number of tropical storm websites and don't recall ever seeing it mentioned. Frustrating that what seemed like a more promising alternative (MPAS) was not selected - is anyone still working on that, and any chance of a shift if FV3 continues to struggle?

    Also, you mentioned in prior blogs that NOAA finally got funding for additional operational forecasting (not just climate modeling) resources. Was that investment useful given the limitations of the US models? As you mention, more resolution doesn't help if the underlying physics are wrong...

  4. What irks me now, are the number of videos of the damage, now espousing their beliefs that climate change is responsible for large hurricanes!...the drum continues beating.

  5. Sounds exactly like what happened with Covid, except there we had another two layers of bureaucracy with the state and local health officials. The federal government is MASSIVE. It may be that it has simply become so big that it can't really do much of anything right, other than collecting and handing out money.

    Add to this our federalist system with responsibilities divvied up between the feds and the states and you get what we have now - a massive freighter that takes minutes to change direction when sometimes we need a speed boat to avoid a collision. I don't know the solution, but there's going to be another Covid and there will be many more hurricanes. We have to do something.

  6. Cliff, I read online the GFS model will be getting a upgrade this fall is there any truth to that?.

  7. I'm disappointed in this latest "rainstorm" Not even enough to wet the garden!

    I've live in New England, the Rockies, and the Caribbean, and this is the wimpiest climate I have ever lived in! One of my ambitions when I retire and get the time is to storm-chase one of these hurricanes.

  8. In the spring of 2021, after retiring from their jobs, our next door neighbors of fourteen years decided to leave Washington State for new horizons.

    Before leaving they did an investigation of where they wanted to spend their retirement years. The final two candidates were Florida and Arizona. They spent time in both states checking things out.

    The husband wanted Arizona. The wife wanted Florida. I offered up my opinion that Arizona doesn't experience hurricanes. The wife's preference held sway and they moved to Florida. The very nice house they bought in Cape Coral is now under six feet of water.

  9. Dr. Mass: media reports this week stated that the average forward speed of tropical cyclones has slowed significantly in the last 10 to 15 years due to climate change, rising sea surface temps, and weakening of upper level steering winds, which leads to heavier rains and more damaging floods. Is this true? Do you have any data or links that speak to this issue? (These same reports also said that the average strength has also been going up, as well as the speed of strengthening, which I believe you have touched on before as being bunk.)

    1. More tropical cyclones are striking coasts with major intensities at landfall, Scientific Reports volume 12, Article number: 5236 (2022)

    2. This is untrue. Hurricane strikes on the US are NOT increasing. The numbers are in the peer reviewed literature. The study you cite was flawed and ONLY STARTED IN 1982. Just silly.

    3. The paper is covering all TCs not just the US. And, we are talking about TCs with major intensities only. The authors cite papers that state the absolute numbers are not increasing in the US as well but that's not the point of this paper. The data used seems pretty solid as is the statistical analysis.

  10. Cliff, you're an excellent weatherman for short term forecast. You are my go to guy. But climate change is a completely different science. A conductor of an orchestra may not be able to play piano, even though it seems the two fields are related. You give the impression that climate change is not real. It most certainly is. Millions of lives are already impacted. Within a decade it will be billions. The climate scientists did one get aspect wrong: it's happening at far faster rate than predicted just 10 years ago. The complexity of understanding tipping points makes it even more likely that the bad news will be hitting us much sooner. Don't be the Alex Jones of weather. It's not fake. You are doing your readers a serious injustice.

    1. I have published dozens of papers on climate, was mentored by one of the leading climatologists in the nation (Stephen Schneider...look him up), have received many NSF grants to study climate, and have an active project on regional climate modeling. To be polite, you should research things a bit rather than making unfounded statements like the above.

  11. For a time, I didn't even know Ian was a thing, that's how out of the weather loop I've been recently due to things in my life at the moment. However, I did hear that it was about to hit landfall and I on Wednesday, a suggestion from YouTube and Rainman Ray Repairs did several live streams of the hurricane at his place. Don't recall the extent of the damage he got, but he had plenty of standing water though, but I think he otherwise came out alright.

    Another video, I saw yesterday was from Cletus McFarland of the Freedom Factory and the damage after the storm and he came out good at his place, and the Freedom Factory came out alright with minor damage here and there and the shop itself was fine, just driving water being driven into the shop itself, just above the tops of the roll up doors by the wind and no power at the complex, but it's all fixable stuff. That's all I saw and just heard it's either hit landfall in the carolinas or will soon.

  12. I got directed to your blog through the usual arm-chair quarterback rant by Mike know you're in trouble when Smith is using you to back up his noaa-bashing lol.
    Yeah, most of us knew the EC would end up being more accurate but even the EC flip flopped in the last 48 hours and headed north, and the eventual landfall didn't solidify in model forecasts until the last day. And while the EC has the better track record that doesn't mean you can safely ignore the GFS, because it is not *always* wrong, just wrong when someone wants to bash our resources. I thought the nhc forecasts were pretty darn good (~65 mile error 24 hours out) and considerate of the probabilistic cone. But no denying it would be nice for us to level the playing field.

    1. Consider all models would have resulted in a wider cone of potential severe impact


Please make sure your comments are civil. Name calling and personal attacks are not appropriate.

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