(CNN) An alphabet soup of forecast models is helping the National Hurricane Center keep residents along the US East Coast up to date on the peril posed by Hurricane Irma.
Their names don't exactly roll off the tongue. There's the ECMWF from Europe and GFS from the United States. And HFIP, while not a model per se, is aimed at better gauging intensification of storms.
Regardless, they provide forecasters with significant tools to help track a storm. What are the top global models and what are their relative track records?
The key players
There are numerous models being followed this week, but Ryan Maue, a meteorologist with WeatherBell Analytics, mentions four to watch. Experts generally consider the US federal government's Global Forecast System, or GFS, and the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts, the ECMWF, to be the premier models. He also cites a Canadian model and the Met Office in the United Kingdom.
"You want to have multiple models," said Maue. "Different models perform better or worse at different times."
These models use all kinds of measurements -- from wind, temperature, precipitation and cloud movement -- to forecast where a storm is likely to go next.
Emphasis on the word "likely."
Carmelo Mota, a builder, searches for tools in his destroyed home in Charlotte Amalie, US Virgin Islands, on Monday, September 18. Hurricane Irma devastated the US territory and other Caribbean islands in the region, leaving them exposed to new storms brewing in the Atlantic.
An aerial photo shows the devastation in Road Town, the capital of Tortola, the largest and most populated of the British Virgin Islands, on Wednesday, September 13.
UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson talks to a resident of Anguilla during a visit on September 13.
People collect food that was delivered by emergency workers in the Sandy Ground area of Marigot, St. Martin, on Tuesday, September 12.
Buildings are destroyed in St. Martin on September 12.
French President Emmanuel Macron shakes hands with St. Martin residents during a visit to the island on September 12.
French soldiers patrol St. Martin on September 12.
A person works to clean up a street September 12 after Hurricane Irma flooded parts of Havana, Cuba.
A man makes repairs in Havana on September 12.
This Marigot church was among the buildings destroyed in the storm.
Cubans affected by Hurricane Irma line up to collect drinking water in Isabela de Sagua, Cuba, on Monday, September 11.
Dutch King Willem-Alexander, front right, tours damage in St. Maarten on September 11.
A palm tree sticks out of a pool on the French side of St. Martin on September 11.
A woman stands next to her water-logged belongings that had been laid out to dry in front of her home in Isabela de Sagua on September 11.
People line up for supplies in St. Martin on September 11.
The skeleton of a boat drifts in St. Martin's Simpson Bay on September 11.
People salvage material from the remains of a house in Isabela de Sagua on September 11.
Members of the British Army provide support on Tortola, one of the British Virgin Islands.
A woman carries a dog at an airport checkpoint in St. Martin on September 11.
People wade through a flooded street as a wave crashes in Havana on Sunday, September 10.
Two men search through the rubble of their St. Martin restaurant on September 10.
People make their way through debris in the Cojimar neighborhood of Havana on September 10.
People board a plane leaving St. Martin on September 10.
A man wades through a flooded street in Havana on September 10.
An overview of Havana shows flooded streets on Saturday, September 9.
A woman surveys flooding in Havana on September 9.
A boat rests in a cemetery after Irma tore through Marigot, St. Martin.
Residents return home after Irma passed through Caibarien, Cuba, on September 9.
A man walks in Caibarien on September 9.
A man carries a child through a flooded street in Fort-Liberte, Haiti, on Friday, September 8.
A man walks on a St. Martin street covered in debris on September 8.
A damaged home is tilted onto its side on the Puerto Rican island of Culebra on Thursday, September 7.
A home is surrounded by debris in Nagua, Dominican Republic, on September 7.
Irma damage is seen in St. Martin's Orient Bay on September 7.
Employees from an electrical company work to clear a fallen tree in Sanchez, Dominican Republic.
A woman makes her way through debris in Fajardo, Puerto Rico, on September 7.
In this image made from video, damaged houses are seen in St. Thomas on September 7.
The storm left widespread destruction on the island of Barbuda on September 7.
A flattened home is seen in Nagua, Dominican Republic, on September 7.
Nagua residents ride through an area affected by the storm on September 7.
Trash and debris is washed ashore in Cap-Haitien, Haiti, on September 7.
People walk through damage in Marigot, St. Martin, on September 7.
People survey damage in Marigot on September 7.
Bluebeard's Castle, a resort in St. Thomas, was hit hard by Irma. St. Thomas resident David Velez sent this photo to CNN on September 7.
Irma ruined these vehicles in St. Thomas.
Waves smash into St. Martin on Wednesday, September 6.
A man looks at a vehicle turned upside down in the British territory of Anguilla.
An aerial view of St. Martin on September 6.
Damaged cars are seen on a St. Martin beach on September 6.
A boat is washed onto shore in St. Martin.
Cars are piled up in Marigot on September 6.
A man walks past damaged buildings in St. Martin on September 6.
A car is flipped onto its side in Marigot.
Broken palm trees are scattered on a Marigot beach on September 6.
Irma floods a beach in Marigot on September 6.
Forecasters use computers, history of a region and skills they have developed over the years to come up with the best outlook. Sometimes, predicting a storm's path or intensity can involve a little luck.
Each model can have slightly different "solutions," said Maue. "That variability can help you determine where there is uncertainty."
While ECMWF has generally had a better track record with Atlantic basin storm predictions, it's important to note that the National Hurricane Center has access to all kinds of information, the meteorologist said. People shouldn't look at these models as prizefighters going at each other, he emphasized.
How have the European and US models performed?
Still, the European model and GFS have had moments where they have shined -- or hovered in the gloom.
Maue said ECMWF has been spot on with Irma, while GFS has been off a bit.
The European model has performed a little better on forecasts when a storm is seven or eight days out, he said. If you are a company or a military officer who has to make decisions about people and assets, you stick with the best performer, Maue said. "Giving you a tiny advantage over that coin flip is important to some people."
ECMWF did well with Joaquin (2015), Matthew (2016) and Superstorm Sandy (2012).
TRACK THE STORM HERE
The boardwalk and amusement park in Seaside Heights, New Jersey, were destroyed by Superstorm Sandy on October 31, 2012. Click through to see how some of the places hit hard by Sandy have changed over the past year.
Cranes are part of the repair effort on the boardwalk and amusement park in Seaside Heights on October 21.
People walk past sandbags on a flooded street in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn, New York, as Hurricane Sandy moves closer to the area on October 29, 2012.
The sidewalk is dry in front of the same building in Red Hook on October 23.
Rising water caused by Superstorm Sandy rushes into the Hugh L. Carey (formerly Brooklyn-Battery) Tunnel in New York City on October 29, 2012.
Cars use the tunnel on October 22.
A fire burns near destroyed homes and businesses in the Rockaway section of Queens, New York, on October 30, 2012.
Two people walk past the same now-empty lot on October 23, 2013.
Homes in Seaside Heights, New Jersey, are surrounded by sand and debris on October 31, 2012.
Homes in Seaside Heights, New Jersey, are shown October 21.
The Princess Cottage, built in 1855, is barely standing on November 21, 2012, in Union Beach, New Jersey.
The spot where the cottage once stood is empty on October 22.
A volunteer surveys boats piled up by Superstorm Sandy on November 1, 2012 in Highlands, New Jersey.
Boats are neatly stored at a marina in Highlands, New Jersey, on October 22.
The Monmouth Beach pavilion in Monmouth, New Jersey, is surrounded by debris on November 8, 2012.
A cleaned-up Monmouth Beach pavilion is seen on October 22.
Rising water rushes into a parking garage on October 29, 2012 in New York City.
Traffic drives past the same garage, which is in use again, on October 22.
The Hugh L. Carey (Brooklyn-Battery) Tunnel in New York City sits flooded after a tidal surge on October 30, 2012.
Traffic passes from Manhattan into the tunnel on October 22, 2013.
The foundations are all that remain of the historic Rockaway boardwalk in the Rockaway neighborhood in Queens, New York, on October 31, 2012.
Two people walk along the beach where the boardwalk once stood on October 20 in Rockaway.
A man walks through a flooded street on October 30, 2012, in Little Ferry, New Jersey.
The same street in Little Ferry, New Jersey, is dry and peaceful on October 22.
Debris and destroyed homes line a street in the Breezy Point neighborhood of Queens, New York, on October 30, 2012.
New homes are under construction in Breezy Point on October 23.
Abandoned and flooded cars are scattered in the Rockaway neighborhood of Queens on November 2, 2012.
Cars are neatly parked in Rockaway on October 20.
A man walks along the heavily damaged Rockaway beach on November 2, 2012.
People walk down the Rockaway beach on October 23.
Members of the Hague family try to salvage a washing machine from their flood-damaged home on November 1, 2012, in the Ocean Breeze area of Staten Island, New York.
Neighbor Frank Moszczynski watches over the Hague family home, still uninhabited almost a year after Hurricane Sandy, on October 17 in Ocean Breeze.
Water floods the Plaza Shops in New York City on October 30, 2012.
The entrance to the underground Plaza Shops remains closed on October 22 due to unfinished renovations.
A church cross stands at the edge of the Atlantic Ocean in Long Branch, New Jersey, on October 31, 2012.
The cross is still there, but the debris is gone, on October 21.
A person walks down South 9th Street in Lindenhurst, New York, as high tide, rain and winds flood area streets on October 29, 2012.
South 9th Street is dry and calm on October 22.
A boat from the Blue Water Club blocks Whaleneck Drive in Merrick, New York, on November 1, 2012.
Whaleneck Drive is back to normal on October 22.
Residents of West Lido Boulevard take a break from cleaning up on October 31, 2012, in Lindenhurst, New York.
Cars sit parked in a driveway on West Lido Boulevard on October 22.
The remains of burned homes are surrounded by water in the Breezy Point neighborhood of Queens on October 31, 2012.
New homes are going up among vacant lots in Breezy Point on October 21.
An emergency worker uses a boat to help two people evacuate after their neighborhood was flooded on October 30, 2012, in Little Ferry, New Jersey.
The same Little Ferry, New Jersey, street is dry on October 22.
Gary Silberman surveys his destroyed home on October 31, 2012, in Lindenhurst, New York,
The house remains standing, but unrepaired, on October 22.
Homes built near a bridge sit destroyed in Mantoloking, New Jersey, on October 31, 2012.
On October 21, the road is repaired, but some of the homes are gone.
A man walks through a flooded street on October 30, 2012, in Little Ferry, New Jersey.
The street is dry and the landscaping in good shape on October 22.
With Sandy, the ECMWF correctly predicted a landfall in the Northeast nearly a week ahead, while the GFS continually kept the storm offshore in what became a major black eye for the US weather-modeling industry.
There have been examples in which the GFS model has outperformed its European counterpart, such as with a few major snowstorms in the Northeast. After one failure, those behind the Euro model "spent some time fixing it," Maue said.
After Sandy, more money was pumped into the top US model but, interestingly, the GFS has performed worse since then in some cases, he said. The system at some point will be replaced with a newer model. "Everything under the hood will be changed in a dramatic way."
One plus for the US system: Forecasts are put out four times a day, as opposed to ECMWF's two. And GFS data is free; the Europeans sell their information.
"The European model does take longer to run, there is more data in the European model," said CNN meteorologist Chad Myers. "And so, therefore, it can be, slightly, more accurate. But the American model is pretty close."
How does hurricane center use these forecasts?
The center works from these global models, its own analysis, historical records and proprietary information. And don't forget years of experience among its staff.
The various predictions -- called "spaghetti models" because of their visual appearance on a forecast map -- often differ on predictions for a storm's path and landfall.
In Irma's case, during the first several days of forecasting, there were differences in some models. They have since agreed that Florida is the first US target. Considering all the options can be a dizzying recipe for panic, particularly for those who live along the coast.
Because of the variety, the National Hurricane Center produces a cone graphic that covers a large territory over which the storm might affect the United States. It's designed to warn residents several days in advance of storm conditions so they can prepare or evacuate.
CNN meteorologist Taylor Ward said the center uses "individual models, ensembles of various models, and consensus models. The consensus model is essentially an average of several of the top performing models."
An Irma advisory issued Thursday afternoon made a reference to how ECMWF and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Hurricane Forecast Improvement Project corrected consensus models.
"These two models have been performing very well during Irma. This adjustment also results in a westward shift of the track near Florida and northward," the hurricane center said.
Where does science need to catch up?
Maue, of WeatherBell, said more powerful computers and a way to coalesce various bits of information, including satellite data and weather balloons, are needed.
And he emphasized the need to learn more about clouds and temperatures in the upper atmosphere. "We can't send weather balloons everywhere in the world."
Forecasters and meteorologists need to be able to zoom into small pieces of information so they can get a better big picture, Maue said. He expects major advances in the next decade.
CNN meteorologists Judson Jones and Brandon Miller and CNN's Joe Sterling contributed to this report.