What is a spaghetti plot?: You’ve probably seen what gets called “Spaghetti models” or a Spaghetti plot on Facebook, Twitter, or maybe even TV. These are plots of models showing the track a tropical system might take. They get the name “Spaghetti plots” because when the models show a wide range of solutions, it can look a bit like spaghetti noodles.
These plots can be useful for meteorologists trying to forecast how storms will move. It’s important to remember that these are NOT forecasts, but are different model runs, and we all know the models are far from perfect.
What we CAN decipher from a spaghetti plot: Spaghetti plots are an efficient way to see a large group of models forecasting one storm. It can make it easier for a meteorologist to note what models are outliers, and whether a pattern is emerging between all the models.
Generally, this plot can help us determine the general range of possible tracks a storm could take, as well as the general motion of the storm. We can also look at changes in this plot between several model runs to see if there are any trends in the models track for a storm.
What this plot CAN’T tell you is important to remember: With maps like these all over the place online, it’s important to know what this plot can’t tell us.
Just like the forecast cone, the spaghetti plot can’t show you how big the storm will be. That line is just the forecast for the center of the storm. This plot also can’t tell you what kind of impacts the storm will cause. And, of course, each of those lines represents what a computer thinks the storm will do. It takes a trained meteorologist’s interpretation to figure out the best track for a storm by using this and other tools.
The next time you see one of these maps floating around on the internet, be sure to remember what it really shows, and always look to reliable sources (like our forecast discussion or Live Alert 19 for accurate information, not hype).
– Meteorologist Alex Puckett