During hurricane season, I bet you’ve heard Storm Team 3 say… “The American model says this”… or “The European model is looking more accurate.”
Well, one of these models just got a huge upgrade.
The American one.
Computer models are the most important tools we, meteorologists, use for making predictions. But when a model output isn’t good, this means our forecast isn’t good. And that’s really not good.
When it comes to weather models, we rely on two types of models: global and high-resolution. Global captures the entire planet. High-resolution captures a small area and shows more detail.
The two global models that we talk about the most are the American and the European. They both have strengths and weaknesses.
The American model is known as the Global Forecast System model or GFS. It’s created and operated by the National Weather Service. It runs four times a day and gives out predictions up to 16 days in the future. The computing power used to create these models can process 8 quadrillion calculations every second. So the computer that runs these calculations is in the top 30 fastest computers in the world.
The European model, known as the European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF), is more powerful than the American model. Many agree that it’s generally a better model. The European, however, can only predict up to 10 days in the future.
But now, the GFS has gotten a big 2021 upgrade. For the first time, the GFS will be coupled with a global wave model called WaveWatchIII, which will extend current wave forecasts from 10 days out to 16 days and improve the prediction of ocean waves forced by the atmosphere.
Also, the new GFS will ingest more data from geostationary and polar-orbiting satellites, as well as flight-level wind, temperature, and moisture observations from aircraft. Furthermore, the model’s resolution in the vertical will nearly double. The atmosphere will now be simulated as having 127 vertical slices, rather than just 64.
So what does all of this mean?
To put it simply… it’s like replacing the engine of a car. This latest upgrade will give the American weather model more horsepower and more upgrades.
This means we should see improvements in our hurricane forecasting, modelling for snowfall location, heavy rainfall forecasts, and overall model performance.
And to prove it… NOAA’s Environmental Modeling Center (EMC) conducted retrospective and real-time testing, covering part of the 2018 hurricane season and the entire period from May 10, 2019 to present. The latest GFS model, which is called GFSv16, showed improved forecast skills in many areas.