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From the NHC Glossary: “Generally speaking, the vertical axis of a tropical cyclone, usually defined by the location of minimum wind or minimum pressure. The cyclone center position can vary with altitude. In advisory products, refers to the center position at the surface.”
One of the formal reviewers of this paper astutely pointed out that “the location of the center of a tropical cyclone…is neither directly measured by any instrumentation nor is it directly forecast by any sophisticated numerical model (the exceptions being the climatology and persistence model and the beta and advection models and their current incarnations). It is therefore a derived quantity, estimated from observations of other fields and forecast by processing of forecasts of other fields. It is clear from Lorenz that predicted quantities themselves have a certain predictability limit, but it is unclear how that specifically extends to predictability of derived parameters.” One of the other formal reviewers of this paper also insightfully noted that “more recent literature (e.g., Tribbia and Baumhefner 2004; Rotunno and Snyder 2008) suggest that the Lorenz (1969) concept of rapid upscale transfer of errors limiting the time scale of predictability is oversimplified. Fast upscale transfer is generally appropriate when the kinetic-energy spectrum follows a k–5/3 power law (mesoscales), but not when the spectrum is k–3 (synoptic scales). How does the fast upscale transfer at the mesoscales seeds the slower-growing larger scales operate specifically in the tropics? That I am not sure, but what I feel confident in saying is that our field has progressed to a much more mature understanding of predictability.”
Testing of error and skill trends were also done for the track variable consensus model (TVCN) available back to 2004. The ECMWF—the single best deterministic track model guidance in recent years—has been providing explicit tropical cyclone track forecasts to NHC only back to 2007. The results from both TVCN and ECMWF, while not extending as far back in time, show similar variations to the official NHC predictions.
The errors at the 12-h forecast point would be due to a combination of the initial position error along with the first usable prediction errors. The initial position errors were relatively large in the 1990s (14 n mi in the Atlantic and 15 n mi in the eastern North Pacific), decreased around 2000 because of improved access to microwave satellite imagery (Landsea and Franklin 2013), and have remained steady during the 2000s (8 n mi in the Atlantic and 10 n mi in the eastern North Pacific) and 2010s (9 n mi in both the Atlantic and eastern North Pacific). There is no indication of continuing decreases in the initial position errors in the last 15 years. Thus, it is unlikely that the 12-h forecast point errors will be able to be reduced much in the future unless improvements become available in our ability to observe the initial location of tropical cyclones. Some small improvements might be possible based upon new observation platforms such as the new Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite R (GOES-R) satellite series and the high-resolution microwave imagery from the new Joint Polar Satellite System, but there is no expectation of dramatic advancements.
Examination of the outliers represented by the 90th percentile largest errors reveals that errors for the outliers have decreased substantially during the last couple of decades for both the Atlantic and eastern North Pacific basins for all time periods. However, these—like the average errors—show signs of plateauing during the last few years.