Hurricane Felix Forecasts Mostly Failed, Experts Say
Willie Drye
for National Geographic News
September 5, 2007

As the remnants of powerful Hurricane Felix dissipate today over Central American mountains, some meteorologists are voicing concerns about the computer models that were meant to forecast the storm's intensification.

"In general, computer models did very poorly in forecasting the development of this system," said Keith Blackwell, a hurricane researcher at the University of South Alabama's Coastal Weather Research Center in Mobile.

Hurricane Felix came ashore Tuesday morning as a Category 5 storm on the northeast coast of Nicaragua, near the village of Puerto Cabezas. Felix then moved inland across a sparsely populated area.

The computer models failed to predict how quickly Felix would intensify.

Hurricane forecasters use an array of computer models to predict how storms like Felix will move and how fast they should gather strength.

The data come from satellites, hurricane hunter aircraft, and other sources.

Though intense, Felix was a relatively small hurricane, and this may have caused problems for the simulations, Blackwell said.

For instance, the models may not have had enough data to make an accurate intensification forecast, he said. (Related news: "2007 Hurricane Season Begins, Will Be Busy, Forecasters Say" [June 1, 2007].)

Record Intensity

Felix set a record by strengthening from a tropical storm to a Category 5 hurricane-the category for the most destructive storms on the Saffir-Simpson scale-in only 51 hours.

"It strengthened more rapidly than any other storm on record, anywhere in the world," Blackwell said.

Although the computer models did not forecast the robust pickup, meteorologists knew Felix was likely to become a very powerful hurricane. That's because experts knew that the storm would be crossing very deep warm water and would not encounter upper level winds that would impede its development.

Based on this information, Blackwell said, they issued appropriate warnings. (How does a hurricane form?)

"The National Hurricane Center was picking up on the signs that it would continue to develop," Blackwell said. "This again is where you need people, trained tropical meteorologists, in the forecast loop."

Another Storm Brewing

Eric Blake is a hurricane specialist at the National Hurricane Center in Miami, Florida.

"As soon as it started interacting with the mountains in Nicaragua and Honduras, it started to break apart," Blake said. "Those mountains are in the 7,000- to 8,000-foot (2,133- to 2,438-meter) range."

Blake said Felix's remnants will be gone by Thursday. But meteorologists are watching another tropical system that could develop into the season's seventh-named storm by this weekend.

As of Thursday morning, that system's center was in the Atlantic Ocean about 600 miles (965 kilometers) east-southeast of Savannah, Georgia.

"It could be affecting the United States by the weekend, likely in the Carolinas," University of South Alabama's Blackwell said.

Live and let live