2012年6月4日

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New technology and numerical weather prediction - a wasted opportunity?

Harold E. Brooks and Charles A. Doswell III
NOAA/National Severe Storms Laboratory
Norman, Oklahoma, USA


[Article appeared in Weather, 48, 173-177. Copyright Royal Meteorological Society. It is reproduced here with the permission of the Royal Meteorological Society.]

Recently, this journal has seen an ongoing discussion about the future of operational weather forecasting (e.g. Tennekes 1988, 1992; McIntyre 1988). We would like to add our thoughts to that discussion, pointing out an alternative approach to the future use of numerical models.

Technological developments and theoretical advances in this century have brought about revolutions in the way weather forecasting is done, although scientific advances have not always been accepted immediately (Ashford 1992). The implementation of an upper-air observation network changed the way we see the atmosphere. Coupled with the development of the basics of a theory of large-scale motion (baroclinic instability and quasi-geostrophic theory), that observational breakthrough set the stage for taking advantage of the powerful technology of computers. The creation, after World War II, of the first numerical weather prediction (NWP) models (e.g. Phillips 1951) changed the way weather forecasting is done, to the point that the role of human forecasters in the future is expected by some to shrink to insignificance. That issue cannot, however, be divorced from the philosophical issues concerning NWP including how we, as meteorologists, use numerical models and get information from them. McIntyre (1988) has suggested that the information-processing ability of humans actually warrant an increasingly important role in forecasting in the future. However, this is not the direction being taken by national weather services. It has been suggested that the role of human forecasters will be limited to forecasts for less than 36 hours (Friday 1988), despite evidence that forecasters can add significant value to NWP products even in 'routine' weather situations out to 48 hours and beyond (Ricketts, personal communication).

Increases in the speed of computers over the next decade provide the opportunity for another revolution in the world of weather forecasting. Currently, supercomputers used for NWP run at speeds on the order of 1-10 gigaflops (1-10 x 10^9 floating point operations per second or flops). A speed of 10 gigaflops is sufficient for the National Meteorological Center, the NWP operational facility in the USA, to plan to run a 30 km horizontal resolution version of the 'Eta' model over a domain covering the contiguous 48 states beginning in 1993. By early in the next century, however, it is possible that there may be machines capable of running at a speed of 1 petaflop (10^15 flops), 10^5-10^6 times the speed of current machines.

 

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