Tuesday, January 29, 2013

More on the National Weather Service's Computer Issues

Tonight, we have the following extreme weather conditions as an imminent (i.e., now till noon tomorrow) threat:
  • Tornadoes
  • Damaging thunderstorm winds
  • Flash flooding
  • Mainstem river flooding
  • Freezing rain
  • Coastal gales
  • Wildfires
  • Literally zero visibility causing significant aviation impacts
We can mitigate these effects only to the extent that weather science can forecast and warn of them. 

So, this discussion is especially timely: 

Dr. Cliff Mass of the University of Washington has taken the sorely-needed leadership position in urging the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to fix the mess it has made of the National Weather Service's computing capabilities. Dr. Mass says,

I have talked to many people about my blogs and assessment, including meteorologists, both inside and outside the NWS, and highly placed managers and administrators in the NWS:  there is essentially no disagreement that we have a serious problem in numerical weather prediction, and that lack of computer power is a major cause but not the only one.
The new NOAA Fairmont Computer Center hss far more capability than EMC's computer center
It is time to fix the NWS's operational computer deficiency and this blog will describe how it can be done within a year using funds that are already appropriated.  But it will take leadership and a willingness to do things a different way.  And an end to highly disfunctional relationships in NOAA and the NWS.  This is going to be a very frank assessment of the current situation and will get somewhat technical in places...so please forgive me or skip this blog if you find it tedious.

The Problem is Worse Than I Thought

When U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell learned about the lack of computer power for U.S.  numerical weather prediction at a luncheon I attended, she asked an important question of the head of the NWS:  how can this be when Congress has appropriated large amounts of funds for weather and climate computers?  He did not answer, but the answer is clear: nearly all of these resources have been unavailable for weather prediction--most are used for climate studies.

The print in black bold is Cliff's emphasis. Red is mine. For the record, Cliff believes global warming is a bigger problem than I. Nevertheless, he calls for NOAA to deemphasize climate study in its routine operations, a position with which I agree 100%. Climate scientist Dr. Judith Curry (in the comments) calls Cliff's piece an "excellent analysis." Cliff's entire post is here.

According to today's news, Congress sent the Sandy relief bill to President Obama. It contains more money for NOAA. Congress cannot stop there. It needs to start pressuring NOAA to stop this nonsense and to fix the (separate) mess in our weather satellite program.

Beyond computers and weather satellites, the problem is even deeper. The U.S. desperately needs my proposed National Disaster Review Board. Details on that here and here. Otherwise, Congress is just throwing our tax dollars at an increasingly dysfunctional situation involving how major disasters are handled in our nation.

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