ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — When a hurricane develops, accurate forecasts are critical to protecting life and property.

Good news: They're as good as they can be recently.

Bad news: Those expert scientists and the tools they rely upon might be hitting a wall.

Chris Landsea and John Cangialosi, scientists and meteorologists at the National Hurricane Center, found in recent years improvements in forecasting where a hurricane might have slowed down. This means meteorologists have been able to greatly reduce the amount of error in their track forecasting over the past several decades, but in just the past five years, reductions aren't as substantial.

As first reported in Ars Technica, a recent study found the work of computer models and human forecasters could be reaching a limit.

Take the period between 1990 to 2018, for example. The hurricane center reports its error for forecasting a storm 24 hours in advance dropped from about 100 nautical miles to under 50 nautical miles.

The center's three-day forecasts are even more astounding: In 1990, the three-day forecast error fell from about 320 nautical miles to about 100 nautical miles.

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NHC track error atlantic 8 19 19
The annual average track errors for the Atlantic basin for tropical cyclones in the period between 1990-2018.
National Hurricane Center

"When you look at the improvements in hurricane track forecasting, they're astounding," Landsea told Ars Technica. "They've dropped two-thirds in a generation. But we know we’re not going to get to zero errors."

The researchers believe we've hit the limit of forecasting storm tracks.

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Stormy signals aside, new weather computer modeling and satellites aim to better predict storm intensity -- a very difficult forecast considering the almost countless number of variables, including sea surface temperatures, wind shear, available moisture and more.

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