It’s Atlantic hurricane season: Do you understand what ‘the cone’ really is?

Ocean (Photo by Gilberto Olimpio from Pexels)

When weather teams issue forecasts, they come with certain specifics to help people understand what’s happening.

In the case of a hurricane, tropical storm or tropical depression, it usually includes a track forecast cone, commonly known as the cone of uncertainty.

Developed by the National Hurricane Center, this weather staple can sometimes cause confusion. Here’s what you need to know about “the cone.”

[And here’s a sample graphic, if you scroll down on this page, from the NHC).


The cone of uncertainty’s main function is to show a tropical system’s projected track five days into the future, and it is used in both the Pacific and Atlantic basins. Within the cone is usually a dot indicating the forecast position of the storm’s center, normally at 12-hour intervals.

Size and shape