updated 3/24/2005 12:25:12 PM ET 2005-03-24T17:25:12

The National Weather Service will keep using a “skinny black line” to project hurricane tracks on forecast maps although some officials worry people in wider warning areas on either side may fail to take precautions.

National Hurricane Center Director Max Mayfield said Wednesday at the opening of the annual National Hurricane Conference that the skinny line works as long as people remember storms often don’t go where predicted and cover a much broader area than the center point depicted by the line.

“Don’t focus on the skinny black line,” he said.

The agency had looked at three options: keeping the skinny line, using a series of large colored dots to represent the projected path, or using large circles that would encompass the projected path and the margin for error.

63 percent in favor
Scott Kiser, the tropical cyclone program manager with the weather service, said the decision to stick with the line was made after the weather service sought opinions from the public, the news media and emergency service workers, receiving 971 e-mailed responses.

He said 63 percent favored keeping the skinny line. He summed up the response as: “Show us your best forecast — we’re smart enough to figure it out.”

The four hurricanes that stuck Florida last year proved storms can veer off the narrow tracking lines featured in TV, newspaper and computer graphics. Hurricanes can also cut a much wider swath of destruction than the lines indicate.

Hurricane Charley, for example, slammed into Punta Gorda in August even though its tracking line pointed toward the Tampa Bay area about 90 miles north. Charley suddenly intensified and took a right turn, but by then it was too late to get out.

The busy 2004 hurricane season had 15 named storms, including nine hurricanes. They cost 117 lives in Florida and more than 3,000 in Haiti, and damaged or destroyed one in five Florida homes.

Five-day forecasts to stay
The hurricane center also announced Wednesday it will continue making five-day forecasts although critics say they are inaccurate and cause needless panic and scare off tourists. Until last year, the center had issued three-day forecasts.

Florida Emergency Management Director Craig Fugate said he favors the five-day forecasts because people otherwise tend to wait too long to evacuate or take other precautions.

Fugate also noted that despite the four hurricanes, Florida had its best tourism year since before 2001.

“I didn’t see anybody in Florida panic over a five-day forecast,” he said.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Discussion comments