The perfect forecast
- By Colleen O'Hara
- Jul 03, 2000
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
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
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.