Difficulties reading the cone of uncertainty

October 7, 2022


Design  /  , , , ,

It seems that there is always surprise when a hurricane makes landfall in some areas, which some attribute to poor forecast communication with the cone on a map that shows possible paths. Scott Dance and Amudalat Ajasa for The Washington Post discuss the challenges that people have reading the cone of uncertainty:

Indeed, many residents and authorities have said Ian’s track surprised them, even though the cone for days included the storm’s eventual landfall point on its southern edge. So some meteorologists and social scientists are saying the disaster is only the latest evidence that the Hurricane Center should revamp the way it depicts forecasts — communicating the scope and intensity of a storm’s threats, rather than just the expected path of a single point at its center.

Maybe, when it comes to communicating hurricane forecasts, we should get rid of possible-paths maps altogether and focus on possible outcomes. The shape and direction of a storm matters a lot less than the chances the storm hits your town. So no path, just choropleth map that shows probabilities.