U.S. Agencies Adopt Cutting-Edge Weather Forecast Model
An advanced weather forecast model that predicts several types of extreme weather with substantially improved accuracy has been adopted for day-to-day operational use by NOAA and U.S. Air Force weather forecasters. (Visit the NOAA Web site at http://www.noaa.gov/ for larger view of WRF model showing the projected 36-hour precipitation from Tropical Depression Ernesto. Visit http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2006/images/wrf-precip-083006-090106-ernesto.jpg for high-resolution version. Please credit “NOAA.”)
The high-resolution weather research and forecasting model, or WRF (http://www.nco.ncep.noaa.gov/pmb/nwprod/analysis/namer/nam/18/model_l.shtml), is the first model to serve as both the backbone of the nation's public weather forecasts and as a tool for cutting-edge weather research. Because this model fulfills both functions, it is easier for research findings to be translated into improved operational models leading to better forecasts.
The new model was created through a partnership between NOAA, the National Center for Atmospheric Research and more than 150 other organizations and universities in the United States and abroad. The model was adopted for use by the NOAA National Weather Service as the primary model for its one-to-three-day U.S. forecasts and as a key part of its short-range ensemble forecast modeling system. The U.S. Air Force Weather Agency also has used WRF for several areas of operations around the world.
"The weather research and forecasting model development project is the first time researchers and operational scientists have come together to collaborate on a weather modeling project of this magnitude," said Louis Uccellini, director of the NOAA National Centers for Environmental Prediction.
By late 2007, the new model will shape forecasts that serve more than a third of the world's population. It also is being adopted by the national weather agencies of Taiwan, South Korea, China and India.
"This new high resolution model is becoming the world's most popular model for weather prediction because it serves forecasters as well as researchers," said NCAR director Tim Killeen.
Tests over the last year at NOAA and AFWA have shown that the new model offers multiple benefits over its predecessor models. For example:
- Errors in nighttime temperature and humidity across the eastern United States are cut by more than 50 percent.
- The model depicts flight-level winds in the subtropics that are stronger and more realistic, thus leading to improved turbulence guidance for aircraft.
- The model outperformed its predecessor in more than 70 percent of the situations studied by the Air Force.
- The model incorporates data from satellites, radars and a wide range of other tools with greater ease than earlier models.
NCAR has been experimenting with an advanced research version of WRF, with very fine resolution and innovative techniques, to demonstrate where potential may exist for improving the accuracy hurricane track, intensity and rainfall forecasts. A special hurricane-oriented version of the new model, the HWRF, is now being developed by scientists from NOAA, the Naval Research Laboratory, the University of Rhode Island and Florida State University to support NOAA hurricane forecasting. The high-resolution HWRF will track waves and other features of the ocean and atmosphere, including the heat and moisture exchanged between them. Its depiction of hurricane cores and the ocean below them will be enhanced by data from satellites, aircraft and other observing tools.
The new high-resolution forecasting model also is skilled at depicting intense squall lines, super cell thunderstorms and other types of severe weather. Although no model can pinpoint hours ahead of time where a thunderstorm will form, the new model outpaces many models in its ability to predict what type of storms could form and how they might evolve.
Approximately 4,000 people in 77 countries have acquired the model's research-oriented version to study a wide range of weather problems. Many of these users suggest improvements, which are tested for operational usefulness at a test bed facility based at NCAR and supported by NOAA.
"WRF will continue to improve because of all the research and development pouring into it from the world's leading academic and scientific institutions," said AFWA commander Patrick Condray.
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