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Matthieu Plu


The inherent predictability of tropical cyclone tracks has received much attention since the 1980s. It is still an issue because of the recent improvement of track forecasts by numerical models. The aim of this study is to assess this predictability limit globally using an approach devised by Lorenz on several up-to-date numerical models. The differences between forecasts valid at the same instant are considered to be error values; the doubling time of these small errors leads to an estimated upper bound on predictability. This method is here applied on cyclone position forecasts obtained from three different global operational models (from ECMWF, Météo-France, and the Met Office) over the main tropical cyclone basins in the world and during three recent cyclone seasons (2006–09).

The resulting estimates of predictability largely exceed the values that are commonly accepted in the literature. The doubling time of small errors is found between 30 and 50 h. An important consequence is that cyclone track forecasts have not reached their predictability limit yet. It is argued that the previous methods for computing the predictability of tropical cyclone tracks did not constrain the environment and the structure of the cyclones initially. But the Lorenz method could still underestimate the inherent predictability of tropical cyclone tracks. The sensitivity of the predictability estimates to the model characteristics is discussed. In particular, the use of wind bogus is suggested to avoid serial correlations between successive forecasts and to accelerate error growth.

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