Behind the Forecast: Hebert Boxes: The key to hurricane forecasting?

Listen to Science Behind the Forecast with Meteorologist Tawana Andrew every Friday on 89.3 WFPL at 7:45 a.m.
Listen to Science Behind the Forecast with Meteorologist Tawana Andrew every Friday on 89.3 WFPL at 7:45 a.m.
Published: Sep. 20, 2022 at 8:53 AM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - We’ve just passed the climatological peak of hurricane season, September 10, and the tropics are becoming more active.

As meteorologists keep an eye on storms, they monitor a few areas when trying to predict if a tropical storm or hurricane may impact the U.S. mainland, more specifically Florida. These areas are called Hebert Boxes.

Hebert Boxes are named after the former National Hurricane Center forecaster Paul Hebert who, in the late 1970s, researched the correlation between hurricanes with winds stronger than 110 MPH (Category 3 or higher) that had struck south Florida after passing through one of the two boxes. Nearly every major hurricane that has hit Florida since 1900 passed through one of the boxes.

The first box is located just east of Puerto Rico (between 15° and 20° north latitude and 60° to 65° west longitude), and the second box is situated over the Cayman Islands (between 15° and 20° north latitude and 80° to 85° west longitude). Hebert found that every major hurricane that passed through the second box late in the year before 150 hit the Floridian peninsula. Both boxes are 335 miles by 335 miles.

What makes the Hebert Box so accurate is its geographic location. The box in the eastern Caribbean is positioned perfectly so storms can intensify without interacting with landmasses, like the mountainous Hispanola and Cuba. This location also tends to keep the cyclones away from winds that would push them away from Florida.

The first box is usually a good gauge for storms between June and early September. The second box is a signal for storms between late September and late October.

It’s important to note that a hurricane does not have to pass through one of these boxes to hit Florida. Hurricane Andrew, one of the most powerful storms to hit Florida, completely missed the boxes.

The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 to November 30.