U.S. Numerical Weather Prediction: Time for a Restructuring?

U.S. Numerical Weather
Prediction: Time for a
Clifford Mass
University of Washington
First Symposium on the Weather and Climate Enterprise
Austin, Texas, January 7, 2013
“Mediocrity is self-inflicted.”
Walter Russell
U.S. NWP starts with huge advantages
• Largest meteorological research community
• Largest governmental weather prediction
• NWP began in the U.S. and most NWP
breakthroughs began here. And still do.
• Largest collection of governmental (e.g., NOAA
OAR, GFDL) and quasi-governmental research labs
(e.g., NCAR) in the area.
• Vigorous private sector with substantial expertise
in NWP and interest in NWP products.
• The NWS has an excellent office system for
interfacing with local communities.
With all those advantages, the U.S.
has lost leadership in NWP
• Our global model (GFS) is clearly inferior to
the ECMWF model-both for deterministic and
ensemble-based forecasts.
• Other nations have higher resolution and
better post-processed mesoscale ensemble
• We have stagnated in the area of model postprocessing.
A consistent
story: ECMWF
is best and the
U.S. GFS is
tied for
second place
with UKMET
Graphics courtesy of NCEP
ECMWF model is usually the most
skillful for major storms: like Sandy
…and the media and others have
The most disturbing part of this is
story is not that we are behind the
Europeans and others, but that we are
well behind what this nation is capable
of (which is far beyond ECMWF)
And this secondary status is
completely unnecessary and selfinflicted.
In this talk I will discuss some of the
reasons for U.S. NWP falling behind…
• Poor leadership and lack of vision.
• Inadequate computer resources.
• Lack of cooperation between research and
governmental NWP.
• Lack of enterprise-wide coordination,
prioritization and planning.
• Structural organizational problems in NOAA.
• Lack of extramural research support by
• A willingness to accept mediocrity.
Lack of computer resources
• NCEP’s Environmental Modeling Center (EMC)
is responsible for a very wide range of
numerical forecasts (global high-res and
ensembles, national/regional high res and
ensembles, wave and storm surge models,
climate models, etc.), but has FAR less
computation resources than ECMWF which
does only global prediction.
Lack of Computer Resources
• ECMWF has two machines, each with 24546 cores
and a computational ability of .75 petaflops.
These machines are #37 and 38 on the worldwide
list of top 500 computers.
• The National Weather Service has two computers
that are not even on the top 500 list. Each has
4992 processors and an ability to do .07
• The NWS has less than 10% of the computer
power as ECMWF and has many more
Implications of inferior
computational resources
• ECMWF has the computer power to run their
high-resolution global forecast at 16 km
resolution, while ours is 25 km.
• Their global ensemble forecasting system has
twice the resolution as ours.
• They can use an advanced data assimilation
approaches (e.g., 4DVAR).
• The U.S. runs a coarse, inferior regional
ensemble system (SREF).
But climate simulations get the
big machines!
NOAA's Fairmont, .38 petaflop
DOE's Sequoia-20 petaflops
DOE’s Titan-20, 27 petaflops
… and many more!
Fairmont Computer
Jane Lubchenco : “It will help us tackle the great big huge problem of
generating better information about climate change at the regional scale.”
Poor organization in NOAA
• The research supporting NWS NWP is NOT in
the NWS, but in NOAA.
• Thus, the heads of NCEP and EMC do not
control the folks that provide the critical
research for their mission (e.g., NOAA OAR,
GFDL, etc.)
• The result is inefficiency, working at cross
purposes, and slowed Research to Operations
(R to O).
Research and operations needs to
be in one entity
NWP Research
Operational NWP
There is very little coordination of
the research and operational
U.S. NWP: The Uncoordinated Giant
A prime example: Weather Research and
Forecasting (WRF) model
• After years of separation between the research
and operational communities (e.g., Eta model
versus MM5), many hoped that the NWS and
NCAR could develop one mesoscale model that
the entire community could use.
• Never happened…the NWS went its own way
with the Eta and NMM models, research
community went with WRF ARW.
• An unnecessary tragedy for our profession.
But WRF became a brand name,
with little meaning!
Lack of Coordination
• There is no group that coordinates the
research and development of the U.S. NWP
community to deal with pressing problems:
– Deficiencies in boundary layer schemes
– Optional approaches for creating mesoscale
– High-resolution data assimilation.
– And many more.
• The result? Progress is slow and money is
Lack of Coordination
• One National Academy Committee after
another has recommended that NCEP/EMC
needs to have an advisory committee: never
• Might the proposed Weather Commission be
a move in the right direction?
Lack of rational observing system
• Recently, the media has been abuzz about the
expected gap in polar-orbiter weather satellite
coverage, suggesting weather forecasting skill
would decline.
• The NOAA/NWS polar orbiter acquisition
program has been characterized by
mismanagement for years, not only delaying
the next generation satellites, but costing the
nation billions of dollars.
Rational observing system design
• NOAA/NWS needs to assess the optimal
collection of observations, including dropping
old data sources that are no longer
needed. There is a rational way to do so
through Observing System Simulation
Experiments (OSSEs) and Observing System
Experiments (OSEs).
• NOAA/NWS has done very little of this and
billions of dollars of hardware is being
purchased without a clear understanding of the
impacts of new sensors and satellites.
And there is much more I have not
had time to talk about….
• Lack of extramural support by the National
Weather Service for applicable NWP research.
• Glacial progress towards developing highresolution ensembles and probabilistic
forecasts, with only one individual at NCEP
working full time on this critical issue.
• NWS leadership from the military that have
not had the background and experience to
lead a highly technological entity.
No time…
• Fifty year-old NWP post-processing
approaches (MOS) still dominates.
• Inadequate model verification effort.
• No public strategic plan or vision document
for U.S. NWP.
So what needs to be done?
• Secure a much bigger computer (10-500x) for
NCEP or allow the NWS to take over Fairmont
or another government machine.
• Establish a framework for community
cooperation and coordination.
• Move NCEP’s EMC into NOAA and combine
with relevant groups in OAR.
• Begin a rational approach to observational
system design.
But most of all U.S. operational
NWP need more priority, more
leadership, and vision
The problem is much larger than
the National Weather Service.
The End