How to read the National Hurricane Center maps

Tropical Weather Education

MOBILE, Ala. (WKRG) — With hurricane season in full swing, it is important to understand the maps from the National Hurricane Center that give us such key information to keep us safe. Odds are during hurricane season, you have seen maps with X’s, arrows, shaded areas, different colors, and different percentages (pictured below). These give us two- and five-day forecasts for different areas we are watching in the tropics. But what do these mean?

Jason Beaman, National Weather Service Mobile explains, “So if you look at the National Hurricane Center forecast outlook maps, you will see the X’s identifying the area of interest or the area under investigation…where the ‘invest’ term comes from. The shaded area is where that system may potentially develop into a tropical depression or a tropical storms. 

These invests may or may not develop, but it is the National Hurricane Center’s way of officially starting to look at the system. The arrows on the map indicate in what direction the disturbance is moving. The colors of the X’s, arrows, and shaded areas align with a low, medium, or high probability that the disturbance will develop into a tropical depression or storm. Yellow means that it is a low chance (less than 40%), orange means medium chance (40% to 60%), and red means high chance (greater than 60%).

Beaman adds, “That gives you an indication of the confidence level of the National Hurricane Center what they are thinking in terms of development.”

It is also important to be sure you are getting your tropical information from a reliable resource including the National Hurricane Center, the National Weather Service, and your First Alert Storm Team.

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