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THE CONE ZONE

How to read hurricane maps

  • Madis Kabash
By Madis Kabash

Video Fellow

Published Last updated on This article is more than 2 years old.

Understanding hurricane maps can be confusing. Take hurricane Florence. Almost every map you look at shows her on a cone-shaped trajectory across the states of North and South Carolina. This “cone of uncertainty,” as it’s known, is a visualization used to show the potential path of a hurricane.

But the cone of uncertainty doesn’t show all the areas that will be affected by a hurricane, as you’ll see in the video above. All the cone actually depicts is the range of possible areas where the center of the hurricane might go. It doesn’t indicate a hurricane’s size. And it’s only about 67% accurate.

Climatologist Mark Wysocki says misinterpreting a hurricane map can be dangerous, ”because if the center goes to the south of you, it doesn’t mean that you’re out of the main winds of the hurricane.” This is why hurricane forecasters extend warnings to people living outside the cone.

Wysocki points out that there is currently no better way to illustrate a hurricane. This is why it’s important to know what you’re looking at when you peer at the cone of uncertainty. 

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