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Contact: Carmeyia Gillis
NOAA News Releases 2003
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Detailed Meteorology System Holds Promise of Better Forecasts

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), the U.S. Air Force (USAF), the U.S. Navy (USN), and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced they have signed an agreement to develop a new weather forecast system for the research and operational forecasting communities. The new development, called the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF-pronounced “wharf”) system is the result of a landmark cooperative effort among scientists at partnering public and private agencies.

According to NOAA, the WRF is expected to generate high-resolution (mesoscale) forecasts so detailed that they will resemble radar images. The WRF will feature a horizontal grid between 1 and 10 kilometers (0.6 to 6 miles), compared with horizontal grids in existing operational models that are in the range of 5 to 12 kilometers (3 to 7.5 miles). The higher resolution will enable scientists to simulate individual thunderstorms along with such hard-to-capture features as gust fronts and strong winds.

Users can also link WRF to other specialized computer models to gain more insight into the atmosphere. For example, a scientist will be able to couple WRF with a chemistry model to track the formation and movement of atmospheric constituents such as ozone and haze-producing aerosols. These capabilities will form the basis for future air-quality forecast models.

“The WRF system will enable operational forecasting centers to streamline their prediction systems and to incorporate more scientific advances more rapidly for improved weather forecasts out to three to four days,” said Louis Uccellini, director of NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP).

This new capability has also captured the interest of the military. Col. Charles Benson, Jr., commander of the Air Force Weather Agency said, “We’ve been running prototype versions of WRF for the past two years. We are excited about the new opportunities WRF provides to help weapons systems navigate through and around mission-limiting weather to strike enemy targets and acquire battle damage assessments.”

Joseph Klemp, an NCAR scientist and coordinator of the WRF project explained, "WRF's purpose is to improve our understanding and prediction of mesoscale weather and to promote closer ties between the research and operational forecasting communities. With WRF it will be a much more straightforward process to migrate research advances into operations.”

“Research advances will have a direct path to operations, thereby providing society with better forecasts,” said Bob Gall, head of the U.S. Weather Research Program and NCAR's Mesoscale and Microscale Meteorology Division. “This link between research and operations will now be stronger than ever due to the WRF collaboration and participation from the entire U.S. numerical weather prediction community.”

The WRF system, conceived by researchers and forecasters in the late 1990s and built over the last four years, is now in the testing stage. It contains an infrastructure that will support multiple forecast model components and sub-systems for initializing forecasts realistically with observations. NCEP is planning to implement it in stages for high resolution forecast applications, beginning in September 2004. The other U.S. operational agencies will also use portions of the WRF system for their specialized applications.

The WRF system components will ultimately replace current mesoscale models, such as the MM5 (developed by NCAR and Pennsylvania State University) and the Eta (developed by NCEP). The WRF system is designed to be modular, and it has flexible options that can be configured for both research and operations.

It uses standard interfaces for its physics so scientists can insert their own physics packages into the overall system with less effort than before. The model uses a state-of-the-art computer code that can be run on a wide variety of computer platforms ranging from workstations to vastly more powerful operational computing systems and the Earth Simulator super computer.

NCAR will maintain and support portions of the WRF as a community mesoscale model to facilitate widespread use for research, particularly in the university community, and will make it available on NCAR’s Web site. The WRF infrastructure will also enable easier transfer of technologies between operational forecast centers in NOAA and the Department of Defense. “The WRF will provide a framework for collaboration among researchers and operational centers to develop a flexible next generation operational forecast system,” explains Capt. Chris Gunderson, commanding officer of the Navy’s Fleet Numerical Meteorological and Oceanography Center.

The WRF is a long-term research effort. Even after the modeling system comes into wide use, it will evolve as scientists develop new technologies. “We look forward to receiving input from the research community to be combined with our development work,” says Stephen Lord, director of the NCEP Environmental Modeling Center.

The WRF system project is funded by the U.S. Weather Research Program, participating agencies and by the National Science Foundation, NCAR’s primary sponsor.

NOAA National Centers for Environmental Prediction, which is part of the National Weather Service, delivers national and global weather, water, climate and space weather guidance, forecasts, warnings and analysis to NWS field offices and the public. Its operational infrastructure is supported by the Environmental Modeling Center, which develops and improves numerical weather, climate, hydrological and ocean prediction through a broad program of applied research in data analysis, modeling and product development in partnership with the broader research community.

The Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and providing environmental stewardship of our nation’s coastal and marine resources.

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