One More Damn Thing That Needs Fixing: The Storm Tracking Edition

Well, this little story about the ongoing decay of U.S. infrastructure is discouraging (boldface mine):

Computing power gives Europeans a commanding advantage when it comes to weather forecasting and storm tracking, but the new head of the National Weather Service hopes to see the United States regain its leadership in that crucial field…

The advantages of the supercomputer facility the European Center operates from its base in Reading, England, were clearly apparent during ‘Superstorm’ Sandy last year, when many U.S. forecasters hedged their bets about the storm’s devastating turn toward New York and New Jersey.

The high-resolution European computer model consistently forecast Sandy’s turn to the left and its impact along the densely populated Northeast U.S. coastline, days before other models.

“With the lower-resolution model that we run, the storm turned off to the right,” Uccellini said. “We didn’t capture that turn to the left until about three or four days prior to landfall … the European model was the first one to consistently point to that solution,” he added.

He said there were several reasons the European system was more accurate, but virtually all of them were linked to the National Weather Service’s overburdened and outmoded computer system it is due to start upgrading in August.

“We have a smaller computer than the European Center with a more extensive mission,” Uccellini said.

This is not some abstract thing on which ignoramuses can demagogue–storm prediction, as the last year has hammered home (pun intended), is vital. This is not a hard problem to fix–buy NOAA some more hardware (some upgrades are scheduled).

There are problems in life that can’t be solved by throwing buckets of money at them, but this is not one of those problems.

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1 Response to One More Damn Thing That Needs Fixing: The Storm Tracking Edition

  1. Joe Shelby says:

    The European system did better at predicting a “not” storm as well. From Capital Weather Gang, “The European model, which is the most accurate (in general — not always; performance can vary from storm to storm), suggested that while temperatures at high altitudes were cold enough for snow, near the ground the flakes could melt. Not only that, it simulated about half the amount of precipitation as other models.”

    That’s exactly what happened once you got below 700 feet (so the western VA mountains and valleys got a heavy load, but even 7 miles to the east, we got nothing accumulating at all in eastern Loudoun). It underestimated the snowfall in the valleys, but nailed it on the I-95 corridor.

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