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2 TO 5 NOVEMBER 2009

TCM-VI/Doc. 4.6.1



ITEM 4.6.1


International Best Track Archive for Climate Stewardship (IBTrACS)

(Submitted by Ken Knapp, NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center)

This document outlines the history and background, need for, goals, and accomplishments of the International Best Tracks Archive for Climate Stewardship (IBTrACS) dataset as a tool in support of the WMO TC Programme for use by all TC RSMCs and TCWCs. The IBTrACS effort began in late-2007 as a project under the auspices of the World Data Center for Meteorology–Asheville; which is housed at NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center, and has evolved and progressed significantly since then.

The goal of IBTrACS is to collect the historical tropical cyclone (TC) best track data from all

available international centers and other agencies, combine the disparate datasets into one

product and disseminate in formats used by the TC community. Each TC RSMC and TCWC

forecasts and monitors storms for a specific region and annually develops and archives best

track data, which consist of information on a storm’s position, intensity, and other related

parameters. Therefore, IBTrACS is a new global dataset based on the best track data from

numerous sources. Moreover, rather than preferentially selecting one track and intensity for

each storm, the mean position, the original intensities from the agencies and summary

statistics are all provided.
The ultimate goal is for IBTrACS to be officially recognized by the WMO TC Programme as a as a diagnostic and research tool for use by all RSMCs and TCWCs. To that end, we are also looking for guidance from the WMO’s international centres to report updates to historical tracks, and provide input on new track data to IBTrACS on a regular basis, with the eventual goal of having a uniform set of best tracks reporting procedures to aid in a higher quality, comprehensive global best track dataset.

Action proposed

The Meeting is invited to note the information in this document with a view toward:

  1. Providing any advice and recommendations for improvements and/or enhancements to IBTrACS.

  1. Endorsing the IBTrACS dataset as a viable, active, and unifying global archive to aid the work of the TC RSMCs and TCWCs.

  1. Formally adopting IBTrACS by the WMO TC Programme for use as the recognized global best tracks archive for TCs.

  1. Working towards developing standard operational procedures across the TC RSMCs and TCWCs to aid in standardizing the data archived in IBTrACS.

  1. Inviting IBTrACS to provide updates to the TC Programme as appropriate.

A. Background and Overview
Studies of tropical cyclone frequency and distribution have garnered much attention recently.

Despite the numerous articles in peer-reviewed literature discussing global statistics of

tropical cyclones (e.g., power dissipation index or frequency of extreme cyclones), until

recently there was no such central repository of global tropical cyclone data. Many

researchers have simply used data from the fewest sources to obtain global coverage:

HURDAT1 and data from the Joint Typhoon Warning Center. Aside from the many issues in

merging data from just these two centers, doing so also excludes data from many of the

WMO-recognized Regional Specialized Meteorological Centres (RSMC), who officially

forecast and monitor tropical cyclones in their region of responsibility. Furthermore, there are

similar best track data sets from other institutions in countries with interests in certain basins.

In short, the two primary issues which hinder scientists from using all available global tropical

cyclone data are: 1) availability and 2) the process in combining disparate data sets. The

purpose of the International Best Track Archive for Climate Stewardship (IBTrACS) project

(Knapp et al., 2010) is to overcome these issues thereby facilitating scientific research to1

improve the public understanding of global tropical cyclones. First, we work with all available

RSMCs and other centres of data to obtain the global best tracks. Second, we process all

best track data by combining storm information tracked by multiple centres (Kruk et al. 2009)

and reporting the data using common formats. The overarching vision is to provide an openly

accessible and comprehensive global tropical cyclone best track data set to facilitate

research. Likewise, the methods used to produce the data are openly described and flexible

to accommodate user feedback.
More information on IBTrACS is available on the project website at


B. Needs

C. Goals and Accomplishments
NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) hosted an international “IBTrACS Workshop”

on May 5-7, 2009 in Asheville, NC (Levinson and Diamond 2009). The purpose of the

workshop was to gather international experts in global tropical cyclone best track data to

discuss a variety of topics that would serve to enhance the existing IBTrACS global tropical

cyclone dataset. The format of the workshop was one to three presentations on a specific

topic relevant to best track dataset development followed by moderated discussion amongst

the participants in break-out groups over the course of two and a half days. In addition to

invited presentations, abstracts for a poster session were also accepted, and the session

featured relevant topics to global best track data improvements and enhancements. In

summary, this was the first time that the IBTrACS Project team at NCDC had an opportunity

to interact with the various experts and the official tropical cyclone monitoring and forecast

centers from around the world, and as such the prime outcome was the establishment of a

core group of contributors and users to aid in furthering the development and future releases

of the IBTrACS dataset. Attendees spanned the globe from places such as Australia, Fiji,

Guam, India, New Zealand; as well as from across the U.S.
To quote from two prominent authorities on tropical cyclones in attendance:
"It was a pleasure to be involved. I am really pleased to see you folks taking on the effort of

producing a global data set. And the overall discussions at the meeting were a valuable

exchange of information on real issues associated with cyclone data archiving....I really hope

that you can follow up in a year or two with a second get together...perhaps even in

association with the next IWTC." – Dr. Greg Holland, Director Mesoscale and Microscale

Meteorology Division, NCAR, Boulder, CO.

I thought that the workshop went great - lots of excellent discussion and some fairly

concrete ideas of how to proceed.” – Dr. Chris Landsea, Science and Operations Officer,

NOAA’s National Hurricane Center.

D. Summary
The IBTrACS dataset is the result of a globally coordinated and collaborative project, and

provides the first publicly available centralized repository of global TC best track data from

the RSMCs and other agencies. In combining the disparate datasets, IBTrACS uses

objective techniques that necessarily account for the inherent differences between

international agencies. Unlike any other global tropical cyclone best track dataset, IBTrACS

provides a measure of the inter-agency variability, which helps to identify uncertainty in the

TC record. While IBTrACS is not a reanalysis (e.g., Fernandez-Partagas and Diaz,1996;

Harper et al., 2008b; Landsea et al., 2004), the derived uncertainty metrics can serve as a

stepping stone in identifying those tropical cyclones which are in most need of reanalysis. As

IBTrACS data stand, numerous inhomogeneities exist in the intensity record due to interagency

differences in available technologies, observations and procedures over time. For

example, inhomogeneities were introduced when various satellite data became available at

an agency or when forecasters were trained in different analysis techniques. As discussed in

Levinson et al. (2009), efforts are underway at NCDC to document the operating procedures

at the various RSMC and forecast offices, with an emphasis on changes in processes or

capabilities that affect dataset homogeneity.

Finally, IBTrACS is expandable to allow for inclusion of other best track datasets as they

become available. This allows input from individuals and/or agencies that have yet to

develop new or release existing best track data . It is clear that the IBTrACS dataset would

be even more useful by including other information on global tropical cyclones. For example,

non-developing storm tracks could be included for the tropical cyclone forecasting community

in a future version. Such data are needed to verify statistical tropical cyclone intensity

prediction models (e.g., DeMaria and Kaplan, 1999). Furthermore, some agencies provide

non 6-hr analyses and other storm parameters (such as radius of maximum winds, storm

size, eye diameter, and radius of the outer-most closed isobar), which could be incorporated

into IBTrACS making it more useful to storm surge and wave modelers, emergency

managers and reinsurance groups.

E. References
DeMaria, M. and J. Kaplan, 1999: An Updated Statistical Hurricane Intensity Prediction

Scheme (SHIPS) for the Atlantic and Eastern North Pacific Basins. Weather and

Forecasting, 14, 326-337.
Fernandez-Partagas, J. and H. F. Diaz, 1996: Atlantic Hurricanes in the Second Half of the

Nineteenth Century. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 77, 2899-2906.

Harper, B. A., S. A. Stroud, M. McCormack, and S. West, 2008b: A review of historical

tropical cyclone intensity in north-western Australia and implications for climate change trend

analysis. Australian Meteorological Magazine, 57, 121-141.
Knapp, K. R., M. C. Kruk, D. H. Levinson, H. J. Diamond, and C. J. Neumann, 2010: The

International Best Track Archive for Climate Stewardship (IBTrACS): Centralizing tropical

cyclone best track data. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, In press.
Kruk M.C., K.R. Knapp, and D.H. Levinson (2009): A technique for combining global tropical

cyclone best track data. Journal of Atmospheric and Oceanic Technology (in press).

Landsea, C. W., C. Anderson, N. Charles, G. Clark, J. Dunion, J. Fernandez-Partagas, P.

Hungerford, C. Neumann, and M. Zimmer, 2004: The Atlantic hurricane database reanalysis

project: Documentation for the 1851-1910 alterations and additions to the HURDAT

database. Hurricanes and Typhoons: Past, Present and Future, R. J. Murnane

and K.-B. Liu, Eds., Columbia University Press, 177-221.
Levinson, D.H., and H.J. Diamond, 2009: Combining Tropical Cyclone Datasets Worldwide.

Eos, Transactions, 90 (35), 301.
Levinson, D. H., H. J. Diamond, K. R. Knapp, M. C. Kruk, and E. J. Gibney, 2009: Toward a

homogenous global tropical cyclone best track dataset. Bulletin of the American

Meteorological Society, Submitted.

1 Hurricane Database (HURDAT) data is produced by NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic and

Meteorological Laboratory (AOML)

Directory: pages -> prog -> www -> tcp -> documents
documents -> Review of the ra IV hurricane operational plan
documents -> Cyclone programme
documents -> World meteorological organization technical document
documents -> World meteorological organization ra IV hurricane committee thirty-fourth session
documents -> World meteorological organization ra IV hurricane committee thirty-third session
documents -> Review of the past hurricane season
documents -> Ra IV hurricane committee thirty-fourth session ponte vedra beach, fl, usa
documents -> World meteorological organization ra IV hurricane committee thirty-second session
documents -> World meteorological organization ra IV hurricane committee thirty-fifth session
documents -> English only review of the tropical cyclone operational plan for the south pacific and south-east indian ocean

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