Agencies join for weather forecasting

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Five agencies agreed to test and further develop a new weather forecast system for the research and operational forecasting communities.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Center for Atmospheric Research, the U.S. Air Force, the U.S. Navy and the Federal Aviation Administration signed a cooperative agreement for the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) program. Built over the past four years, the system is now in a testing stage. The U.S. Air Force Weather Agency has been running a prototype of the system during the past two years, and the NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Prediction plans to implement it in September 2004.

"The WRF system will enable operational forecasting centers to streamline their prediction systems and to incorporate more scientific advances more rapidly for improved weather forecasts out to three or four days," said Louis Uccellini, director of the National Centers for Environmental Prediction.

Officials expect the new forecasting system to generate high-resolution forecasts with detail so great they resemble radar images. It will feature a horizontal grid that will cover one to 10 kilometers (0.6 to 6 miles). The higher resolution will enable scientists to simulate individual thunderstorms and hard-to-capture features such as gust fronts and strong winds. Scientists will also be able to make future air-quality forecasts by tracking the formation and movement of atmospheric particles such as ozone and haze-producing aerosols.

Air Force officials want to test military applications of the new system, said Col. Charles Benson Jr., commander of the Air Force Weather agency.

"We're excited about the new opportunities WRF provides to help weapons systems navigate through and around mission-limiting weather to strike enemy targets and acquire battle damage assessments," he said.

The WRF infrastructure will facilitate the transfer of technologies between operational forecast centers in NOAA and the Defense Department. The model uses a state-of-the-art computer code that can be run on a variety of computer platforms, including the Earth Simulator supercomputer.

Funding for the program will come from the U.S. Weather Research Program, participating agencies and the National Science Foundation.

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