Forecasters focus on better weather models

Forecasters focus on better weather models

Four agencies and a federally funded research center have signed an agreement to develop a system to create weather forecasts with a higher degree of precision than current models can.

It may take a decade to prepare the new Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) system to generate the forecasts that make the evening news, said Steve Lord, director of the Environmental Modeling Center at the National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP). Scientists, however, will be able to use WRF within a few years for meteorological research.

To build the system, NCEP's parent agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is joining with the Air Force, Federal Aviation Administration, the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo. and the Navy.

The Navy has a substantial weather forecasting effort at its Fleet Numerical Meteorology and Oceanography Center in Monterey, Calif., and the Air Force Weather Agency generates predictions for military aviators out of Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska.

The team of agencies has been developing WRF for a couple of years now, and the cooperative agreement formalizes the effort, Lord said.

WRF is a computer model capable of showing weather patterns with a horizontal resolution of 1 to 10 kilometers, compared with the 5 to 12 kilometers typical of existing operational models. Meteorologists have been pursuing greater detail in forecasting models to improve warnings of small-scale but destructive events such as tornadoes and thunderstorms.

After extensive testing, WRF eventually will replace the mesoscale models that NCEP now uses to generate the nation's daily weather forecasts.

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