Major upgrade to NOAA’s weather computer model will improve forecasting


THE GFS computer model showing the position of the jet streams.

EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) ─ The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has made some major upgrades to its Global Forecast System (GFS).

These upgrades will allow meteorologists to improve hurricane, snowfall and rainfall forecasting.

“This substantial upgrade to the GFS, along with ongoing upgrades to our supercomputing capacity, demonstrates our commitment to advancing weather forecasting to fulfill our mission of protecting life and property,” NOAA’s National Weather Service Director Dr. Louis Uccellini said in a news release.

The GFS computer model forecast of the Atlantic Ocean. The latest upgrade to the model is expected to improve hurricane forecasting.

Meteorologists use computer models to help create forecasts. There are a number of other models used including the NAM, HRRR, RAP, SREF in the United States, as well as the European computer model which is supported by most of the European countries. Canada, Brazil and Japan are among other countries with their own weather models.

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With the improved computer power, the GFS will have an increased resolution of the atmosphere.

Computer models break down the atmosphere into layers to help solve complex atmospheric equations. Previously, the GFS used 64 layers to model the atmosphere, but the latest upgrade doubles the number to 127.

Local forecasters are expected to see improvements with a process called “cold air damming” where cold air can get locked into a geographic region.

Often times, computer models show cold air leaving too quickly, but in reality the cold air will linger, allowing for freezing rain and other wintry precipitation types to persist.

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In addition, for the first time, the GFS will work with the WaveWatchIII model to improve ocean wave forecasts.

Isaac Ginis of the University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography told 12 News that while he and his team were not directly involved with the upgrade, their “research has strongly advocated and laid the foundation for including the effects of atmosphere-wave-ocean interactions in weather prediction, especially hurricanes.”

WaveWatchIII computer model output. Improved ocean wave forecasting is expected with the latest GFS upgrade.

NOAA conducted real-time tests of the model during the 2018 hurricane season and from May of 2019 to the present. According to NOAA, the latest version of the GFS shows improvements with hurricane development, snowfall and heavy rain events.

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