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Model Mayhem

2 years 6 months 2 weeks ago April 09, 2014 Apr 9, 2014 Wednesday, April 09 2014 April 09, 2014 9:01 AM in Weather
By: Meteorologist Josh Eachus

You've likely heard meteorologists and weather forecasters reference the "models." What are these mystical characters in weather lure? Are they beautiful people with a keen knack for meteorology? Or are they some kind of futuristic atmosphere prognosticating robots? Unfortunately, they are closer to the latter.

Weather forecast models are high-speed supercomputers that are programmed to process a series of initial weather conditions to calculate what will occur in the future. With much advancement over the years, these computers have armed weather forecasters with the ability to anticipate what will happen up to 10 days in advance with the highest accuracy being closest to the computer run time.

As you might imagine, there are several versions or iterations of forecast model products. Two of the most widely used and respected are the United States' Global Forecast System (GFS) run by the National Weather Service, and the European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecast model (ECMWF) supported by 20 European member states. While both perform dutifully, of late, the GFS has come up on the embarrassing end of the battle in some rather significant weather events.

Most notably perhaps was the GFS long-range forecast blunder in 2012 when the ECMWF would accurately portray "Superstorm Sandy" six days in advance while the GFS showed a standard storm system floundering haplessly out to sea.

On behalf of the Capital Weather Gang, Anne Hale Miglarese reports that on multiple occasions in the last year, the GFS has been badly outperformed. In some events it hasn't just been a several inch difference in snowfall totals from one model to the other, rather a storm versus no storm!

The issue comes not with the forecasters using them, nor the programming of the models themselves, rather the data that is being inputted. Of course, more and accurate initial data are critical to accurate output from the models. However, while a massive spending initiative is underway to ultimately improve U.S. weather observation and forecasting, in the midst of the upgrade, exists the potential for serious drawbacks.

As the federal government is planning and executing an operation to replace satellite systems that have reached the end of their functional life-span, problems associated with such operations threaten to dampen key observations from anywhere between 17-53 months according to the Government Accountability Office.

While a number of possible solutions are at work, including tapping into private sector dollars and equipment, all have been hampered by a struggling federal budget.

The looming premise of such struggles suggests that the future for American weather modeling may get worse before it gets better.

You can get forecasts from Meteorologist Josh Eachus weekdays on 2une-In from 5-7am and News 2 at Noon from 12-1pm. Additionally, you can get the fastest and latest forecasts and weather news by checking in with wbrz.com/weather, liking Josh on Facebook and following him on Twitter.

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