Tropical Storm Beryl makes landfall in Florida
(USA TODAY) -- With the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season starting Friday, the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration will be using a new computer model this year to better forecast the development of these monster storms.
The model uses satellite data to identify hurricane structure patterns related to "eyewall replacement cycles," which occur when a second eyewall forms around the original and eventually overtakes it.
"Hurricanes usually strengthen and grow gradually over time, but eyewall replacement cycles can cause very sudden changes in size and intensity," said NOAA scientist Jim Kossin.
The eyewall is the ring of thunderstorms that surrounds a storm's eye. The heaviest rain, strongest winds and worst turbulence are usually in the eyewall.
"This is an important first step towards understanding how we can use the eyewall cycle to someday improve intensity forecasts," said hurricane specialist James Franklin of the National Hurricane Center.
Hurricane intensity forecasts remain one of the most difficult aspects of hurricane prediction.
The six-month Atlantic hurricane season lasts until Nov. 30.