The perfect forecast

NOAA imagery of "the perfect storm"

Radar, satellites and computers played a leading role in helping National

Weather Service forecasters predict "the perfect storm" days in advance.

The October 1991 storm — one of the worst in a century — pummeled the East

Coast from Maine to Florida and served as the basis for the book (and movie)

"The Perfect Storm."

At the time, new numerical weather models helped forecasters predict extreme

weather events two to four days out, said Louis Uccellini, director of the

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Centers for

Environmental Prediction.

Since then, models have become even more accurate, have better resolution,

can run further into the future and can process significantly more satellite

data, Uccellini said. In addition, computers are faster and forecasters

have new tools in their arsenal, such as software that helps them predict

the height of ocean waves and the interval between waves.

"So when these storms happen again, expect [forecasters] to make better

forecasts," Uccellini said.

Bob Case, a retired NOAA meteorologist and the Boston-based forecaster

who coined the phrase "the perfect storm," said the weather models did a

"fantastic job" in helping forecasters predict the storm. "My job was enhanced

and helped by the computers at the time," he said. The data showed that

the conditions were perfect for a monstrous storm in the northern Atlantic

Ocean.

Joe Sienkiewicz, a NOAA marine weather expert and a forecaster on duty in

Boston during the storm, remembers having to lay maps and other paper documents

all around him. "I had a 286 processor in front of me and was embedded in

paper," he said. Now he has seven computer screens around him, including

one that provides Internet access. "We process a lot more data," he said.

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