The National Hurricane Center

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The National Hurricane Center (NHC) is the division of the United States’ National Weather Service responsible for tracking and predicting weather systems within the tropics between the Prime Meridian and the 140th meridian west poleward to the 30th parallel north in the northeast Pacific Ocean and the 31st parallel north in the northern Atlantic Ocean. The agency, which is co-located with the Miami branch of the National Weather Service, is situated on the campus of Florida International University in University Park, Florida.

Its Tropical Analysis and Forecast Branch (TAFB) routinely issues marine forecasts, in the form of graphics and high seas forecasts, for this area year round, with the Ocean Prediction Center having backup responsibility for this unit. The Technology and Science Branch (TSB) provides technical support for the centre, which includes new infusions of technology from abroad. The Chief, Aerial Reconnaissance Coordination, All Hurricanes (CARCAH) unit tasks planes, for research and operational purposes, to tropical cyclones during the Atlantic hurricane season and significant weather events, including snow storms, during winter and spring. Research to improve operational forecasts is done through the Hurricane Forecast Improvement Project (HFIP) and Joint Hurricane Test Bed (JHT) initiatives.

During the Atlantic and northeast Pacific hurricane seasons, the Hurricane Specialists Unit (HSU) issues routine tropical weather outlooks for the northeast Pacific and northern Atlantic oceans. When tropical storm or hurricane conditions are expected within 48 hours, the centre issues watches and warnings via the news media and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Weather Radio.

Although the NHC is an agency of the United States, the World Meteorological Organization has designated it as Regional Specialized Meteorological Center for the North Atlantic and eastern Pacific, making it the clearinghouse for tropical cyclone forecasts and observations occurring in these areas. If the centre loses power or becomes incapacitated, the Central Pacific Hurricane Center backs tropical cyclone advisories and tropical weather outlooks for the northeast Pacific Ocean while the Weather Prediction Center backs up tropical cyclone advisories and tropical weather outlooks for the North Atlantic Ocean.

Early history

The first hurricane warning service was set up in the 1870s from Cuba with the work of Father Benito Viñes. After his death, hurricane warning services were assumed by the United States Signal Corps and United States Weather Bureau over the next decade, first based in Jamaica in 1898 and Cuba in 1899 before shifting to Washington, D.C. in 1902.

The central office in Washington, which evolved into the National Meteorological Center and Weather Prediction Center (formerly known as the Hydrometeorological Prediction Center), assumed hurricane warning/advisory responsibility at that time. This responsibility passed to regional hurricane offices in 1935, and the concept of the Atlantic hurricane season was established to keep a vigilant lookout for tropical cyclones during certain times of the year. Hurricane advisories issued every six hours by the regional hurricane offices began at this time.

The Jacksonville hurricane warning office moved to Miami, Florida in 1943. Tropical cyclone naming began for Atlantic tropical cyclones using the Joint Army/Navy Phonetic Alphabet by 1947. In 1950, the Miami Hurricane Warning Office began to prepare the annual hurricane season summary articles. In the 1953 Atlantic season, the United States Weather Bureau began naming storms which reach tropical storm intensity with human names.

The National Hurricane Research Project, begun in the 1950s, used aircraft to study tropical cyclones and carry out experiments on mature hurricanes through its Project Stormfury On July 1, 1956, a National Hurricane Information Center was established in Miami, Florida which became a warehouse for all hurricane-related information from one United States Weather Bureau office. The Miami Hurricane Warning Office (HWO) moved from Lindsey Hopkins Hotel to the Aviation Building 4 miles (6.4 km) to the northwest on July 1, 1958. Forecasts within the hurricane advisories were issued one day into the future in 1954 before being extended to two days into the future in 1961, three days into the future in 1964, and five days into the future in 2001. The Miami HWO moved to the campus of the University of Miami in 1964, and was referred to as the NHC in 1965. The Miami HWO tropical cyclone reports were done regularly and took on their modern format in 1964.

Beginning in 1973, the National Meteorological Center duties (renamed the Hydrometeorological Prediction Center; renamed for a second time in 2013) gained advisory responsibility for tracking and publicizing inland tropical depressions. The World Meteorological Organization assumed control of the Atlantic hurricane naming list in 1977. In 1978, the NHC’s offices moved off the campus of the University of Miami across U.S. Highway 1 to the IRE Financial Building. Male names were added into the hurricane list beginning in the 1979 season. The hurricane warning offices remained active past 1983.

In 1984, the NHC was separated from the Miami Weather Service Forecast Office, which meant the meteorologist in charge at Miami was no longer in a position above the hurricane center director.[ By 1988, the NHC gained responsibility for eastern Pacific tropical cyclones as the former Eastern Pacific Hurricane Center in San Francisco was decommissioned. In 1992, Hurricane Andrew blew the WSR-57 weather radar and the anemometer off the roof of NHC’s/the Miami State Weather Forecast offices. The radar was replaced with a WSR-88D NEXRAD system in April 1993 installed near Metro Zoo, near where Hurricane Andrew made landfall.

In 1995, the NHC moved into a new hurricane-resistant facility on the campus of Florida International University, capable of withstanding 130 mph (210 km/h) winds. Its name was changed to the Tropical Prediction Center in 1995.After the name change to TPC, the Hurricane Specialists were grouped as a separate NHC unit under the Tropical Prediction Center, separating themselves from the Tropical Analysis and Forecast Branch. On October 1, 2010, the Tropical Prediction Center was renamed the NHC, and the group formerly known as the NHC became known as the Hurricane Specialists Unit (HSU).

Tropical cyclone forecasting is now done using statistical methods based on tropical cyclone climatology, as well as methods of numerical weather prediction where computers use mathematical equations of motion to determine their movement. The World Meteorological Organization continues to create and maintain the annual hurricane naming lists. Naming lists use a six-year rotation, with the deadliest or most notable storm names retired from the rotation.