NOAA 03-103
Contact: Ben Sherman
NOAA News Releases 2003
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NOAA, The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is pulling together several parts of its operation to develop and apply a new computer model that will result in more accurate local weather forecasts.

NOAA’s National Ocean Service (NOAA Ocean Service), Forecast Systems Laboratory (FSL) and the National Weather Service (NOAA National Weather Service) have teamed up to work on a new modeling tool that will enable local weather forecasters to more accurately predict when and where small scale weather events are likely to occur. NOAA is an agency of the U.S. Commerce Department.

As part of the NOAA Ocean Service’s Coastal Storms Initiative (CSI), a nationwide effort led by NOAA Ocean Service to lessen the impacts to coastal communities from storms, NOAA National Weather Service used a $25,000 CSI grant to its Jacksonville, Fla., office to build a computer “cluster” in order to run the local version of the Weather Research and Forecast (WRF) Model at the Jacksonville NOAA National Weather Service office.

“The model is used to assist operational forecasters with mesoscale (local) weather phenomena like the sea breeze, which often initiates coastal thunderstorms in the area.” said Steve Letro, meteorologist-in-charge of the Jacksonville office.

Jacksonville is the first NOAA National Weather Service local forecast office to combine the WRF model and additional local data. The new model combines the national models from NOAA’s National Centers For Environmental Predictions (NCEP), with the most up-to-the minute data from locations throughout North Florida and South Georgia.

The new model includes current data from satellite and Doppler radar, and local surface instruments. It also includes unique data such as the Florida Automated Weather Network (FAWN) run by the University of Florida, the dual-frequency GPS water vapor measurements from the Florida Department of Transportation, and will soon include data from the Florida Road Weather Information System (RWIS).

The computer crunching of all the information is particularly important for coastal residents in North Florida where the combination of weather elements from the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic mix on a daily basis to create volatile and chaotic local weather.

NOAA’s Forecast Systems Laboratory in Boulder, Colo., and Florida State University have been matching the local model forecasts against larger regional and national models on a daily basis. The local model often forecast events such as late afternoon thunderstorms to within a few minutes of their occurrence. The model also appears to have high skill at fog forecasting which is crucial to aviation.

The new model produces 24-hour forecasts four times daily that predict such variables as wind, precipitation and visibility. A separate CSI project to develop a coastal wave model is being developed concurrently with Navy assistance to forecast waves in nearshore areas that will enhance beach recreation and boater safety.

The Jacksonville NOAA National Weather Service office currently shares the guidance from these local forecasts, in addition to their daily graphic forecasts with local news media weathercasters and to civic officials who plan emergency response. They are also incorporating parts of the WRF model forecast into their gridded forecasts, which are available to the general public on the Web:

“These high resolution forecasts are particularly valuable in North Florida where for most of the year our storms are driven by local scale forces rather than the large continental-scale storm systems that affect most of the country” according to Pat Welsh, science officer for the Jacksonville NOAA National Weather Service office.

The CSI program is working with NOAA National Weather Service to refine the model, and hopes to extend its application over the next few years. “Our goal is to develop new graphic-based forecast products that will greatly enhance weather forecasts and storm-surge predictions, which in turn will result in saved lives and property,” said Keelin Kuipers, NOAA CSI coordinator.

The NOAA CSI also will help to improve the forecasting of coastal storms in other regions. This fall, CSI will expand into the Pacific-Northwest along the Oregon-Washington coast at the mouth of the Columbia River, and then in greater Southern California in 2005 before hopefully expanding nationally.

The National Ocean Service, the Forecast Systems Laboratory, and the National Weather Service are partners within NOAA working together to enhance 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.

On the Web:


NOAA National Ocean Service:

NOAA National Weather Service:

NOAA Coastal Storms Initiative:

Forecast Systems Laboratory: