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Major NOAA Upgrades Mean Longer-Range Storm Forecasting

Enhancements to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s forecasting system will effectively allow models to run at a higher resolution of detail and yield a more accurate, longer forecast.

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Upgrades to NOAA's weather model will allow for more accurate forecasting of storms, such as hurricanes.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) last week announced major upgrades to the Global Forecast System (GFS) weather model that will allow for more accurate forecasting and within a time frame of up to 16 days.  

The upgrades will improve hurricane forecasting and modeling for snowfall location, as well as lead to better heavy rainfall forecasts and an overall improved model performance.  

National Weather Service Director Louis Uccellini said during a conference call that the upgrades, along with ongoing upgrades to NOAA’s supercomputing capacity, “establish a strong foundation for further planned enhancements that will allow for the assimilation of even more data into the model.”  

The enhancements, in effect, allow the models to run at a higher resolution of detail similar to the resolution of a photo from a camera with a higher pixel rate that will yield a better picture and thus, a better, more accurate forecast

The higher resolution allows the model to better represent clouds and geography; to identify variables like winds, temperature and moisture; and results in improved representation of structure of weather systems like tropical cyclones, snowstorms and squall lines, Vijay Tallapragada, chief of the Modeling and Data Assimilation Branch of NOAA’s Environmental Modeling Center, wrote in an email.  

“The higher resolution, along with other scientific changes introduced into [the model] will lead to more accurate and reliable forecast guidance globally, especially in the medium range (zero to 16-day) time frame,” Tallapragada wrote.  

"The model is an 'ensemble system,'" he continued, "which means the same model is run multiple times (31) for each instance of using slightly different initial conditions and physics, loading to multiple realizations of weather forecasts that are equally likely to happen.

“The range of solutions provided will allow the users, especially the emergency management community, to get information on probabilities of occurrence of extreme weather events at any given location or region and make informed decisions for public safety, quality of life and economic growth,” Tallapragada concluded.  

The new forecasting model will allow emergency managers and others to prepare further in advance of an impending weather event such as a tropical storm making landfall. That advance notice will allow the emergency management community to inform businesses and residents, minimizing the chance for unnecessary evacuations and save life and property.  

NOAA is also modernizing its Global Data Assimilation System, allowing the model to ingest more data from geostationary and polar-orbiting satellites, along with flight-level wind, temperature and moisture observations from aircraft, further refining the modeling system.