Satellites and forecast models

Scientists collect data from satellites orbiting Earth and special planes that fly into hurricanes. These data are fed into computer models to predict where and when storms will form, how they grow, and where they will go.

To monitor hurricanes and other weather events globally, scientists use satellites. There are two types of weather satellites currently used, geostationary and polar-orbiting. Geostationary satellites constantly monitor a given region, such as the Western Hemisphere, by orbiting the equator of the Earth at a matching speed, and are best for short-term forecasts. Polar-orbiting satellites orbit the Earth in a north to south rotation passing near the poles and are best for long-term forecasts.

Hurricane Sandy (2012) courtesy of NASA.

Forecast models 101
Hurricane forecast models are used to help meteorologists predict where hurricanes will go, when they will get there, and how strong they will be when they hit land. Forecasting is not an exact science. A storm's track and strength can change in just a few hours depending on changes in water temperature, high and low pressure system locations, and other factors. Meteorologists look at forecasts from a variety of models, each based on different assumptions and calculations, in order to make the most accurate forecast of the storm.

Often the various models are shown in a "spaghetti plot" that highlights the spread of forecasted tracks, as shown
here for (then) Tropical Storm Sandy on October 24, 2012, five days before it made landfall in New Jersey.
Courtesy of South Florida Water Management District.

For more information, please visit:

NASA – What is a satellite?

NASA’s Hurricane Resources Page

NOAA Satellites

NOAA – Latest Satellite Imagery for the Tropics

NHC Forecast Model Information

Weather Underground – Hurricane Forecast Models