NOAA Says Upgraded Weather Model to Yield Better Forecasts

A software upgrade of sorts to the dynamical core of the model considered its ‘engine’ will produce improved forecasts of the jet stream and associated weather, tropical cyclone intensity and precipitation forecasts.

by Jim McKay / June 14, 2019

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Wednesday deployed its upgraded weather forecast model — the Global Forecast System (GFS) — which has undergone a software upgrade.

Extensive testing during both summer and winter months using models from previous storms was done, and the updated model is expected to produce accurate one-to-two-day forecasts and increases the accuracy of forecasts made in the three-to-seven-day range.

The model is called the dynamical core or the Finite-Volume Cubed-Sphere (FV3). The software models the physics of the weather, taking from satellites and sensors, and develops predictions of coming conditions.

“The dynamical core is the “engine” that drives the model, which feeds into numerical weather predictions and is used in weather forecasts,” said Brian Gross, director of NOAA’s Environmental Modeling Center. It is a software upgrade of sorts that will provide the foundation for future upgrades to this flagship U.S. weather model.”

The new engine will improve forecasts of the jet stream and associated weather, tropical cyclone intensity as well as precipitation forecasts across the U.S., Gross said. The GFS also received other upgrades to the physical processes that produce rain and snow in the model.

“The GFS, with the FV3 upgrade, brings together the superior dynamics of global climate modeling with day-to-day reliability and speed of operational numerical weather prediction,” said Gross. “Additional enhancements to the science that produce rain and snow in the model also contribute to the improved forecasting capability of this upgrade.”

The upgrade is the first such core upgrade in 40 years and is the first step in delivering the Next Generation Global Prediction System,” Gross said. “It’s an ongoing effort and will include future enhancements and upgrades, like higher resolution and additional science.”

The testing was a “rigorous” process that included more than 100 scientists, modelers, programmers and technicians from around the country and involved real-time evaluations as well as the historic weather that dated back three years.

NOAA has received criticisms in recent years, and critics were especially vocal after Hurricane Sandy when the model forecast that Sandy would be harmless to the coast.

NOAA said the upgrade is just part of its working toward providing more accurate forecasts. “We also have to improve the physics as well as the data assimilation system used to ingest data and initialize the model,” said NOAA Director Louis Uccellini in a written statement.

Uccellini said that in collaboration with the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), NOAA will build a common infrastructure between the operational and research communities to advance the mission further. “This new dynamical core and our work with NCAR will accelerate the transition of research advances into operations to produce even more accurate forecasts in the future,” he said.

NOAA increased its computing capacity last year to be able to run the new model. NOAA augmented its weather and climate supercomputing systems and increased performance by almost 50 percent. It added 60 percent more storage capacity to process climate observations. The older model will continue to run in parallel to the new model through September to provide additional data and comparisons to the new model.

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