TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — As Hurricane Nicole took aim at Florida’s east coast, the WFLA Max Defender 8 weather team in Tampa was keeping a close eye on every move the storm made with its real-time wobble tracker.

The real-time wobble tracker was a tool WFLA Chief Meteorologist Jeff Berardelli and the Max Defender 8 weather team launched in earlier this year during Hurricane Ian. The team brought it back this week to keep a close eye on Hurricane Nicole.

“WFLA’s exclusive wobble tracker allows our weather team to track minute by minute wobbles, or deviations, from Nicole’s forecast track,” Berardelli explained. “This allows us to identify in real-time if the storm is starting to make a turn in a different direction and alert viewers as to how that change in motion will impact them.”

Tracking small deviations in a storm’s path over time can help predict changes to the forecast path and, in turn, changes to impacts that certain areas may feel. A small deviation of just 20 or 30 miles in one direction, hundreds of miles from landfall can lead to drastically different impacts when the storm arrives.

This is especially true with strong, well-defined storms like Hurricane Ian. Wobbles began as Ian moved out of Cuba and they shifted the storm east, which is one of the factors that led to a landfall south of the Tampa Bay area, where we were originally expecting it to come ashore. It continued to have easterly wobbles, which ultimately brought the storm ashore in Captiva.

A storm can be pulled in different directions due to stronger thunderstorms near the core of the storm.

In both newly-organizing systems, like Nicole, and well-defined storms, like Ian, thunderstorms will bubble up near the center or in the eye wall. These thunderstorms can tug on the core of the storms and shift the whole thing in the direction of the developing storm. Sometimes the storm will self-correct and wobble back, or there will be more wobbles in one direction than another, altering the end track.

With a system like Hurricane Nicole, the wobbles changed where it made landfall by almost 60 miles. The storm was moving due west through Marsh Harbour in the Bahamas but right as Nicole was strengthening to a hurricane, thunderstorms started to fire to the north of the center, and they dragged the storm to the north a little bit.

The first mage from WFLA’s wobble tracker shows the path Nicole was expected to take (the red line) across the Bahamas and toward Florida. The second image shows the path Nicole ended up taking (the blue line) with wobbles.

That happened once more before landfall. Had the wobbles not happened, landfall might have been closer to Palm Beach or Jupiter rather than near Vero Beach.