More on U.S. Weather Computing Woes

Craig Allen, WCBS, via Facebook
The above cartoon is an wonderful inside joke among meteorologists.

The European weather forecasting computer model, which simulates the weather across the world out to ten days, is the excellent student. The U.S. global computer model (GFS) is metaphorically looking over its shoulder at the European (ECMWF) model. Then, as Ralph, is the U.S. North American Model (NAM) and I think the cartoon pretty much gives you the idea about the NAM's quality.

Dr. Cliff Mass, professor of atmospheric science at the University of Washington, has taken the lead in highlighting the large -- and increasing -- gap in computer modeling capabilities between the U.S. and European consortium.

In a blog posting about the recent Blizzard of '13 in the Northeast, Cliff writes,

It happened again. 

A major storm hit the northeast U.S. and the U.S. global model lagged badly behind the predictions of the European Center for Medium Range Weather Forecasting (ECMWF) ...

As I have described in my previous blogs (including here and here), much of the inferiority of U.S. global numerical weather prediction can be traced to the third-rate operational computer resources available to the National Weather Service (NWS)'s  Environmental Modeling Center (EMC), an inferiority that can only be characterized as a national embarrassment.   And as I shall document here, the NWS weather prediction computers are not only inferior to those of other national weather services, but also to NOAA's  computers for weather research and to U.S. climate prediction machines.  Be prepared to be shocked, angry, and disappointed.

There are several issues that have led to this mess.
  • Misallocation of resources at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, parent agency of the National Weather Service. 
  • Climate modeling diverting money and computing resources from weather forecasting and storm warnings.
  • Very serious management issues with the U.S. weather satellite program. Here again, we may have to "borrow" a weather satellite from the Europeans.
I highly recommend reading Cliff's piece in its entirety. But, this graph highlights the problem. The U.S., which has the most extreme weather of any nation on earth, isn't even close to the top when it comes to computing resources available for weather forecasting.

The inferior computing capabilities have real world impacts. The U.S. models, as late as 72 hours before the commencement of the blizzard, forecast a much weaker storm than the one that actually developed. Because the European and U.S. models forecast such different conditions, it slowed down the National Weather Service forecasts and blizzard warnings. In order to mitigate the effects of the extreme storm, time was required. Electric crews, additional snow removal equipment, etc., take time to order, move, and marshall. 

There is new management at the National Weather Service and a new administrator of NOAA should be named in the near future. It is vital to our economic welfare that the NWS solves these problems as quickly as possible. 


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