Of Particular Significance

European Weather Model Does It Again?

POSTED BY Matt Strassler

POSTED BY Matt Strassler

ON 02/07/2013

We’re gearing up for another big-time storm predicted for the northeastern United States — we’ve had more than we need over recent months — so before we perhaps lose power (or you do)…

…I want to remind you that Sean Carroll and I were interviewed last night by science writer Alan Boyle.  My impression is that the conversation (which touched on issues involving the Higgs particle, dark matter, and the nature of science as a process) went well, and I hope that you enjoy it.  Just click on this link http://www.blogtalkradio.com/virtually-speaking-science/2013/02/07/sean-carroll-matt-strassler-alan-boyle , endure the commercial, and you should get the radio broadcast (just about 60 minutes).

As for that big blizzard threatening Boston with over two feet (0.6 meters) of snow, and winds over 60 miles (100 km) per hour, along with some coastal flooding, it is interesting that the European Weather Model, which did the better job on forecasting Hurricane Sandy, appears to be doing better on this one too.  The US-based Global Forecasting System may again have been a bit late to the party.  The difference in the scientific approach of the two forecasting models was described in a previous post, after Sandy, thanks to one of my readers; if you missed it then, you may find it worth a read now.

Well, it will be interesting to see how the reality plays out; but given how well the European model forecast Sandy, it would seem prudent not to underestimate this storm.  Be careful out there!

[Note Added: Julianne Dalcanton, professor of astronomy at the University of Washington, pointed me to her university colleague Cliff Mass’s article about various problems at the US National Weather Forcasting agency.  See also this article.  This is seriously disturbing stuff, if you live in the U.S.]

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15 Responses

  1. I have read each of your posts with interest. As a veteran emergency management professional (30+ years), I also wish to state that in my not so humble opinion, the NWS and more particularly the Tropical Prediction Center does an excellent job. I can attest from practical experience beginning with Hugo on the Northeast coast of SC, that the NWS hasn’t missed the mark on the track and timing of any storms during that period. The root of the problem lies with state and local government leaders who aren’t practiced in planning for, responding to and recovering from these events. During my tenure in SC, it seemed as though we were preparing for a minimum of at least two storms each season. You do that year after year and your practices become muscle memory. In fact, the southeast coast, Florida and all of the gulf states, except LA, have become fairly adept at tropical storm/hurricane planning and response. The problem with the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast states is that they don’t have any subject matter experts on staff who have actually managed a major hurricane let alone conducted a major evacuation or population relocation. You couple that shortcoming with the arrival of FEMA’s region III folks and you have a disaster waiting to happen, even if the storm loses its tropical characteristics. I don’t mean to be harsh on these folks, but their difficulties with Sandy could have been minimized had someone in a position of authority had sufficient experience to extrapolate the probable storm surge impacts. Sandy is the second instance, beginning with Isabel in 2003, wherein inexperienced state and local officials didn’t understand surge dynamics and how they impact coastal and other low lying areas. That isn’t a problem you can lay at the feet of the NWS.

  2. Atmospheric pattern of “dancing rhythm”?:
    Suppose there are N non-interacting classical particles in a box, so their state can be described by the {xi(t),pi(t)}. If the particles are initially at the left of the box, they can eventually occupy the whole box according to the Newtons law. In this case, we call the gas expand and this process is irreversible.
    Nevertheless, Newtons laws also have time-reversal symmetry, so we should be able to construct an initial condition such that particles occupy the whole box (i.e. not all particles in the left chamber) will all move to the left chamber. Here are the simple questions:
    How to select the initial condition {xi(0),pi(0)} if you can solve the set of equation of motion.
    Why the gas expansion is irreversible even though you can select the initial condition above.

    since electrons and positrons can produce two W bosons, and since physics going forward in time behaves identical to physics operating backward in time (time-reversal symmetry), then two W bosons can be used to produce an electron and positron.

    Expansion of space time and time-reversal symmetry:
    The physics behind thermodynamics is perfectly reversible, but we don’t see broken eggs reassembling themselves because it’s extremely improbable for this to happen ?

  3. Dan D.
    I’ve never met Mr Bastardi and have no sense of his reputation, but he certainly nailed the Sandy forecast and deserves credit for that, not an ‘ad hominem’ dismissal.
    In re the quality of the NWS call, there are thousands of New Yorkers who found their cars floating along the East Side. They clearly did not get much warning about a storm surge. Nor did Con Ed, else they would not have had power on substations as they got submerged.
    Overall, to claim that the Sandy forecasting was handled ‘rather well’ is rewriting history, at least imho. From the perspective of the tax paying public, it was a disaster. It is hard for me to understand why this is not creating real pressure for change, especially in an institution that depends on continued public support.

  4. NHC provides its review of Sandy


    The critique of the watch/warning actions surrounding Sandy’s U.S. landfall begins on page 21. NHC hurricane specialists do their best to minimize confusion in the ‘heat of the moment’. Sandy was so unusual in many respects. It’s so easy for those not in the “hot seat” to criticize their actions afterwards.

    1. Mark,

      Indeed, I have several friends in the NWS (as well as the private sector) and one who has worked at the NHC in the past. I don’t envy any of them the hot seat, especially dealing with a storm as unusual as Sandy, as you said. No matter what forecast decision they made, some people somewhere are going to be in the short end for whatever reason.

  5. In response to Dad D.:
    As a New Yorker, I saw that the physical and human cost of Sandy was greatly exacerbated by the foolish decision to remove Sandy from hurricane status, because of legalistic definitional hair splitting. That downgrade certainly misled Mayor Bloomberg and the city bureaucracy and caused them to take less forceful action than they might have otherwise. The NWS warning of the storm surge risk was similarly muffled. Private forecasters such as Joe Bastardi at the Weatherbell site rang the alarm early and loudly, both concerning the likely NY area landfall as well as the storm surge potential, when the NWS was still showing Sandy dissipating out to sea. This was not the NWS’s finest hour and efforts to rewrite this history should be rejected.

    1. Hi etudiant,

      I actually agree to some extent with you about the removal of hurricane status for Sandy. This was indeed confusing for much of the public, even if it was technically meteorologically correct (although it wasn’t a “downgrade’, more of a “sidegrade”). I don’t claim to know what the best procedure is for handling events like this, but we certainly need to reexamine this closely. But, the city leaders should have known better, in my opinion. Certainly they were consulting with the NHC and NWS every step of the way. If they weren’t, that’s foolishness on their part, not the NWS. But that’s my opinion.

      As far as Bastardi is concerned, I’m sorry, but he’s notorious for hyping up storms virtually every chance he can get. It stands to reason that if one does this enough, eventually one is going to be correct. But, he’s just one private forecaster. I have no problem with the vast majority of them, and there are certainly examples of government forecasters who have these sorts of “hyping” tendencies as well.

      No, it wasn’t the NWS’s finest hour, but it was far from its worst. How my defense of the fact that they *forecasted* the storm well–setting aside the acknowledged issues with dropping hurricane status, which really isn’t a forecasting issue–can be construed as rewriting history, is beyond me. The NWS has plenty of flaws, and Cliff Mass and others do a good job of pointing those out, but the actual *forecasting* of Sandy was handled rather well.

  6. Mass posted another article on the Northeast Blizzard and model performance. It’s becoming a hobbyhorse for him.

    A personal observation on Sandy. Yes, the ECMWF model did predict the unusual turn towards the East Coast before the GFS. However, in the coming days when critical decisions to place watches and warnings along the coast, the GFS was more accurate with its U.S. landfall. The ECMWF model was too intense and too far south, while the GFS was pretty much spot on with Sandy’s landfall.

  7. Being an insider within the NWS, the relationship between my agency and NOAA has always been strained even during the best of times. For several years now, its has gotten worse because budgets have been flat or declining. The NWS consumes a large part of the NOAA budget each year due to a large labor workforce and an entrenched and powerful employee union that resists any attempts by NWS or NOAA management to lower labor costs. For several years the funding crisis was so bad that NWS was ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’ — taking money allocated by Congress for modernization projects to meet payroll without its authorization. A BIG no-no. The NWS Director and the CFO had to resign, and NOAA staff were furious because they were called down by Congress to get a chewing-out because they didn’t catch it. So its gone from bad to worse since NOAA no longer trusts NWS when it comes to budgets. Its really a love-hate relationship. NOAA knows NWS has a good reputation with Congress and the general public, so a bit of that rubs off on NOAA. Perhaps the solution is to get Congress to earmark money for NWS modernization plans including NWP, instead of letting NOAA have the final say.

  8. etudiant, “bad forecasting of Hurricane Sandy”? Really? The evidence is quite against your assertion. The NWS had an outstanding forecast of Hurricane Sandy, as good or better than we can possibly hope for given the current state of technology and science. This is a matter of public record: anyone can dig up the numerical and human forecast products for the storm and see that the NWS had a very good handle on it. Remember that the NWS uses ECMWF products in its forecasts, and doesn’t just rely on its own models. In any case, the GFS forecasts for Sandy were quite good once we got within the 4-5 day lead time. Its not that the NWS models are terrible, it’s just that, on average, the ECMWF performs better in the longer ranges (5 days+). You do also realize that virtually all U.S. private forecasting agencies rely extensively on NWS products, and not the other way around?

    But this is really irrelevant to the question at hand. What Cliff Mass is arguing (and I agree some of what he says, disagree with some, and just don’t know enough about the political/bureaucratic situation in NWS to have a qualified opinion on the rest) is that we can do better with our current NWP enterprise in the U.S. by just being smarter about how we allocate funds to various organizations. I urge folks to not take this too far and read into this that the current NWP enterprise in the U.S. is somehow worthless. We do a lot of things really well, and we are still better than anyone else, IMHO at short-range convective forecasting. Sometimes I wonder if perhaps we should concede the long range to ECMWF and focus on improving our short-range capability.

  9. It is not surprising that the US lags in storm prediction.
    We have a corporation dominated government and most large corporations pay for private forecasters, hoping for competitive advantage.
    So there is no direct pressure to fix the obviously disfunctional NOAA bureaucracy or to improve the stepchild status of the NWS.
    Moreover, there is no visible sign of any real media outrage, even though the evidence is that the bad forecasting of Hurricane Sandy mislead local government and cost lives.

  10. To all of y you in the North-East:

    I wish you shelter from the storm,
    a cozy fire to keep you warm,
    but most of all when snow flakes fall
    I wish you love.

    (Nathalie Cole: Ï wiah you love”.

  11. Conversation was enlightening Professor, I have missed it listening in live.
    It gave great insight into how Higgs mechanism connected to…
    /If most of the universe was made up of dark energy then the core of the universe could contain large amounts of dark energy. So, our universe would be a dark energy containment field…I think. This could explain why gravity behaves the way it does…dark energy could be seeping into the shell (universe) and creating gravity allowing things to remain intact. The energy release from the dark energy within the core could be causing the rapid expansion?/ … so gravity is the negative to positive pressure(mass) of the dark matter?
    Also, How science is funded? Compelling towards technologies, curb under collective mentality and Plutocracy?
    Moreover, it also touched the faith in a gentle manner.

  12. Gravity is not about mass, it is about energy – momentum more generally- said Einstein.
    /The space between clusters of galaxies expands, like the rest of the universe, at an accelerating rate. (Gravity keeps the clusters themselves the same size.)/-
    So there is direction of propagation for every particle’s field – in same direction – Is it true or false ?

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