More than a Mess Explained: Spaghetti Plots

Spaghetti plots are a common sight when meteorologists show the latest forecast, but what are they?

As it turns out, they are just a bunch of computer models. Each line represents a different model. Many times you’ll see five to ten of the better performing models, but the National Hurricane Center actually recognizes more than forty!

Each model uses different ideas and equations to forecast a storm. And models have all different types of backgrounds. Governments like the United States, Canada, and Japan make one, the Navy has one, even universities like Florida State University make them.

So why is it that they can’t always agree? A big part of it is the data that it takes in like current temperatures, winds, and pressure. This is especially difficult over an open ocean. Plus, we need all this data for every place and height in the storms as it changes by the minute! That’s a lot. Then, there’s the data that we don’t always know. Like where the center of the storm is before it even becomes a storm.

Imagine your checkbook for the month. If you don’t know how much money you have in the account at the start of the month and then you miss a few transactions along the way, you’ll be far from the right amount that is actually in the account at the end of the month.

It’s important to know that these lines show nothing about speed or strength of the storm. Spaghetti plots simply give us an idea of all the possible tracks a storm could take, if one forms. So no matter what track you see on the map, it’s best to always be ready.

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