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Why can’t forecasters say where the hurricane will hit? Plus, answers to other questions you asked

WYFF 4 Greenville-Spartanburg logo WYFF 4 Greenville-Spartanburg 9/10/2018

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As Hurricane Florence churns toward the Carolina coast, WYFF News 4 has been paying attention to the questions about the storm you have been asking on social media.

Here are answers to some of the most common questions. 

Why can’t we know exactly when and where the hurricane will make landfall?

The problem with predicting the paths of hurricanes is that they are influenced by many factors. Until a hurricane is within a few days of landfall, there is no way for meteorologists to make a specific prediction because weather patterns and influencers are fluid and constantly developing and changing. Cold fronts, wind shear, high pressure systems, water temperature and even land masses can affect the path and strength of hurricanes. 

Track Hurricane Florence

The closer Hurricane Florence is to landfall, the more accurate the prediction of where and when it will hit will become. 

What is the difference between the categories of hurricanes?

ATLANTIC OCEAN - SEPTEMBER 10:  In this NOAA satellite handout image, shows Hurricane Florence (C) as it gains strength in the Atlantic Ocean southeast of Bermuda moving west on September 10, 2018. Hurricane Isaac and Helene can be seen to the east of Florence. Weather predictions say the storm will likely hit the U.S. East Coast as early as Thursday, September 13 bringing massive winds and rain.  (Photo by NOAA via Getty Images) © Getty ATLANTIC OCEAN - SEPTEMBER 10: In this NOAA satellite handout image, shows Hurricane Florence (C) as it gains strength in the Atlantic Ocean southeast of Bermuda moving west on September 10, 2018. Hurricane Isaac and Helene can be seen to the east of Florence. Weather predictions say the storm will likely hit the U.S. East Coast as early as Thursday, September 13 bringing massive winds and rain. (Photo by NOAA via Getty Images)

As of Monday, Florence is predicted to become a major hurricane, meaning it is expected to make landfall as a Category 3 or higher. 

The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale is a 1 to 5 rating based on a hurricane's sustained wind speed. This scale estimates potential property damage.

Hurricanes reaching Category 3 and higher are considered major hurricanes because of their potential for significant loss of life and damage. Category 1 and 2 storms are still dangerous, however, and require preventative measures.

Category 1: 74-95 mph

Very dangerous winds will produce some damage: Well-constructed frame homes could have damage to roof, shingles, vinyl siding and gutters. Large branches of trees will snap and shallowly rooted trees may be toppled. Extensive damage to power lines and poles likely will result in power outages that could last a few to several days.

Category 2: 96-110 mph

Extremely dangerous winds will cause extensive damage: Well-constructed frame homes could sustain major roof and siding damage. Many shallowly rooted trees will be snapped or uprooted and block numerous roads. Near-total power loss is expected with outages that could last from several days to weeks.

Category 3: 111-129 mph

Devastating damage will occur: Well-built framed homes may incur major damage or removal of roof decking and gable ends. Many trees will be snapped or uprooted, blocking numerous roads. Electricity and water will be unavailable for several days to weeks after the storm passes.

Category 4: 130-156 mph

Catastrophic damage will occur: Well-built framed homes can sustain severe damage with loss of most of the roof structure and/or some exterior walls. Most trees will be snapped or uprooted and power poles downed. Fallen trees and power poles will isolate residential areas. Power outages will last weeks to possibly months. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months.

Category 5: 157 mph or higher

Catastrophic damage will occur: A high percentage of framed homes will be destroyed, with total roof failure and wall collapse. Fallen trees and power poles will isolate residential areas. Power outages will last for weeks to possibly months. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months. 

What are the computer models that meteorologists talk about when forecasting storms and hurricanes?

  • The European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecasting (ECMWF), referred to as the European model, is considered the premier global model in the world. It is funded by more than 30 mostly European countries. The ECMWF made improvements in 2006 that started producing very accurate hurricanes forecasts.
  • The National Weather Service’s Global Forecast System (GFS) model is the mainstay global weather model of the Unites States, and it is considered one of the best for overall tropical system development and tracking.
  • NOAA’s North American Mesoscale Forecast System has higher resolution, but covers a smaller geographic area than the GFS. It has often performed well for forecasting tropical systems near the mainland, Bahamas, Gulf of Mexico and western Caribbean.
  • The European Center for Medium Range Weather Forecasting Integrated Forecast System is funded by about 35 mostly European countries. It is similar to the GFS but has a higher global resolution.
  • NOGAPS, the U.S. Navy Operational Global Atmospheric Prediction System is similar to the GFS and ECMWF.

There are several other less popular models used in forecasting. 

READ MORE:Why can’t forecasters say where the hurricane will hit? Plus, answers to other questions you asked

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