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60th Anniversary of First Real Time Computer Model Hurricane Forecast

60th Anniversary of First Real Time Computer Model Hurricane Forecast
14 Aug 2018, 12:19 pm

[Track for Tropical Storm Becky from 1958. From Wikimedia]

60th Anniversary of First Real Time Computer Model Hurricane Forecast

On August 13, 1958, a team of University of Chicago scientists ran a computer forecast model on Tropical Storm Becky as the storm was on-going.  Although not used for the official subjective forecast, the computer runs were a “proof of concept” demonstrating that Numerical Weather Prediction (weather forecast computer modeling) was possible for tropical cyclones.

60th Anniversary of First Real Time Computer Model Hurricane Forecast

The team, consisting of Akira Kasahara, George Platzman, and Bob Jones, had created a forecast model in which the vortex of the hurricane was removed from the observations.  Jones, assisted by Lester Hubert, worked at the Joint Numerical Weather Prediction Center in Washington, DC, carefully digitizing observations over the Atlantic while excluding any within a certain distance from Becky.

They repeated the effort for three more storms that season and made 17 forecasts in all.  The track errors (24 hours – 147 nautical miles [272 km], 48 hours – 274 n.mi. [508 km], 72-hour – 564 n.mi. [1044 km]) were not competitive with the man-made subjective forecasts, but were good enough to encourage continued efforts in computer forecasting. Several other storms were sampled during the 1958 Atlantic hurricane season, paving the way for future tropical model forecasting.

60th Anniversary of First Real Time Computer Model Hurricane Forecast

Tropical Storm Becky formed on August 11th, 1958 with reports from a ship between Cape Verde Islands and Puerto Rico. The storm moved to the west and northwest, steering around a strong Bermuda high pressure center in the Atlantic Ocean. Peak winds reached to near 60 mph, before degenerating into a mass of thunderstorms. As Becky was transitioning into an extratropical storm, it produced high waves along the southeastern coast of the United States, with one ship reporting hurricane force winds in thunderstorm squalls.

Information from NOAA HRD, NHC, and Wikimedia

Edited for WeatherNation by Meteorologist Mace Michaels

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