A newer and better version of NOAA's Global Forecasting Model (GFS), also known as the "American" in the weather forecasting community, went live last week. It should significantly improve weather forecasting. It may beat the performance of the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) model, and here is why.

Today, numerical weather models are practically indispensable in giving guidance to forecasters. The models perform billions of calculations to simulate weather patterns' motion in the Earth's chaotic atmosphere. This type of forecasting is possible because movements of the atmosphere follow natural laws, expressed in mathematical equations.

These numerical models are collections of mathematical formulas that run on powerful computers, producing forecasts for a specific location over predetermine time intervals.

One of the models that I rely on the most is the WAVEWATCH III™ that provides state-of-the-art ocean wave forecast globally. I have used different versions of this model since the early-1990s. As you can imagine, it is also used by surfers and others who enjoy or rely on the ocean for their livelihood.

With this latest version, WAVEWATCH III™ is now coupled to the GFS, which will improve the prediction of ocean waves forced by the atmosphere, like the winds.

This is a considerable advancement, something that I have always hoped for. However,

With the new version came new links, but Jessica Meixner, Physical Scientist at the National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP), directed me to the updated FTP site for WAVEWATCH III™, and I was off and running.

The first thing I noticed was the wave and GFS forecast was extended from 10 days out to 16 days.

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The GFS resolution increased by doubling the number of vertical levels, from 64 to 127 or, in other words, up to nearly 50 miles into the sky from the previous 33 miles. This increased resolution will improve temperature, rain, and snow forecasting. It will also enhance the prediction of extreme weather events like severe thunderstorms that can produce microbursts, hail, lightning, and tornadoes.

According to NOAA, "This substantial upgrade to the GFS, along with ongoing upgrades to our supercomputing capacity, demonstrates our commitment to advancing weather forecasting to fulfill our mission of protecting life and property," said Louis W. Uccellini, Ph.D., director, NOAA's National Weather Service. "This upgrade also establishes a strong foundation for further planned enhancements that will allow for the assimilation of even more data into the model."

The United States pioneered the groundbreaking science of computer weather modeling. However, according to many meteorologists, the ECMWF model has proven more accurate than the GFS model.

Unlike the GFS model predictions, which are free to the public and available on many websites, the European Model charges for much of its products.

If you would like to explore the European Model's output, the Weather Underground has an application on their website called wundermap. It can be viewed at www.wunderground.com/wundermap/

Like cheering for your favorite athletes in the Olympics, hopefully, with these new enhancements, the American model will once again be considered the best in the world.

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John Lindsey is Pacific Gas and Electric Co.’s Diablo Canyon Power Plant marine meteorologist and a media relations representative. Email him at pgeweather@pge.com or follow him on Twitter @PGE_John.

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