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When Weather Matters: Science and Services to Meet Critical Societal Needs 1 Introduction Does weather matter? Weather is an integral part of daily life (Figure 1.1). Weather has enormous impact on the economy, public health, and safety in the United States and worldwide. Although the benefit of public weather forecasts and warnings cannot be fully measured in economic terms alone, a recent survey has nevertheless estimated its annualized value at about $31.5 billion, compared to a $5.1 billion cost to generate the information (Lazo et al., 2009). The goal of weather prediction is to provide information that people and organizations—including public officials, government agencies, businesses, and private citizens—can use to reduce weather-related losses and enhance benefits. Weather and weather forecasts matter for a wide range of societal1 goals, most notably protection of life and property, public health and safety, and support of economic prosperity and quality of life in conjunction with many issues, such as water resource management, sustainable energy development and food production, and transportation. Weather-related disasters result in significant loss of life and property and disruption to communities and businesses. Between 1980 and 2009 there were 96 disasters in the United States that each caused at least a billion dollars in damage due to very high impact weather events along with total losses exceeding $700 billion (NCDC, 2010; Figure 1.2). On average for the period 1999 to 2008, there were 629 directly caused weather fatalities (NWS, 2010; Figure 1.3), but averages do not tell the whole story. In 1995, there were 1,362 direct weather fatalities, of which more than half were caused by a severe heat wave in Chicago. The most disastrous weather year in the last half century in the United States was 2005, due in large part to 1 Economic considerations are a type of societal consideration; thus, in the remainder of this report, the term “societal” includes “economic.” The “social sciences” are an assembly of scientific disciplines that address social and economic issues; see the introductory paragraphs of Chapter 2 for a more detailed discussion.
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When Weather Matters: Science and Services to Meet Critical Societal Needs FIGURE 1.1 This figure shows weather forecasts are integral to the daily life of the U.S. public as well as to U.S. economic activity and public safety. It illustrates the frequent use of weather forecasts for different types of decisions by members of the U.S. public, based on results from a survey of 1,465 respondents. The survey question asked “On average, year round, how often do you use weather forecasts for the activities listed below?” As the figure illustrates, weather forecasts are used frequently by many members of the U.S. public for a variety of activities. SOURCE: Lazo et al. (2009). the destruction and death resulting from Hurricane Katrina; in all, 2005 had nearly 1,500 direct weather fatalities and more than $100 billion in property and crop damages. The annual impacts of adverse weather on the national highway system and roads are staggering: 7,400 weather-related deaths; 1.5 million weather-related crashes; more than 700,000 weather-related injuries; $42 billion in economic loss; and nearly 1 billion hours per year of weather-related delays (BTS, 2007). In addition, $4.2 billion is lost each year as a result of air traffic delays attributed to weather (NOAA, 2010). For comparison, the average economic loss from the effects of airborne volcanic
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When Weather Matters: Science and Services to Meet Critical Societal Needs FIGURE 1.2 Number and magnitude of U.S. weather disasters that exceeded $1 billion for the 30-year period 1980 to 2009. Although the dashed red curve accounts for inflation-adjusted damages, it does not account for the effects of increasing social vulnerability, increasing coastal populations, and expensive coastal development (e.g., Pielke et al., 2008). SOURCE: NCDC (2010). ash on U.S. air transportation is about $70 million per year2 (Kite-Powell, 2001). Weather is also a major factor in the complex set of interactions that determine air quality, and more than 60,000 premature deaths each year are attributed to poor air quality (Schwartz and Dockery, 1992). Better forecasts and warnings are reducing these numbers, but much more can be done. HISTORICAL DEVELOPMENTS IN U.S. WEATHER RESEARCH The past 15 years have seen marked progress in understanding weather processes and the ability to observe and predict the weather. At the same time, the United States has failed to match or surpass progress in operational numerical weather prediction achieved by some other nations and failed 2 This average does not include the recent Eyjafjallajökull eruption. The U.S. State Department reported on April 20, 2010, that “The economic ramifications caused by the activity of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano are mounting, with airlines reporting losses on the scale of $200 million per day following the shutdown of many European airports, and a wider impact moving across the globe as trade goods transported by air have been unable to reach their markets.” Source: http://www.america.gov/st/business-english/2010/April/20100420163812esnamfuak6.422061e-02.html.
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When Weather Matters: Science and Services to Meet Critical Societal Needs FIGURE 1.3 10- and 30-year average number of fatalities directly attributable to weather in the United States, not including weather-caused traffic deaths. There are not 30 years of data available for heat-, cold-, winter storm-, or wind-related deaths; therefore only 10-year averages are shown for these events. SOURCE: NWS (2010). to realize the prediction potential we believe is achievable.3 In addition, there has also not been a commensurate focus on the social sciences and their role in problem identification, analysis, and response. As a result, the United States is not mitigating weather impacts—death, injury, disruption, and property and economic losses—to the extent possible. During the 1990s, federal agencies supported a number of weather research and research-to-operations (R2O) planning activities. For example, the U.S. Weather Research Program (USWRP) began as a multiagency research program whose purpose was to identify key gaps in the understanding and simulation of all types of severe weather and their societal impacts in order to accelerate the rate at which weather forecasts were improved. The USWRP was overseen by a scientific steering committee that convened 11 3 An in-depth review of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Weather Service (NWS) National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP) organized by the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research at the request of NCEP was under way at the time of the 2009 BASC Summer Study workshop. The review report was recently completed and is available online at http://www.vsp.ucar.edu/events/NCEP_reviews_2009.html.
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When Weather Matters: Science and Services to Meet Critical Societal Needs Prospectus Development Teams (PDTs) and several community workshops, whose purpose was to identify research opportunities for improving the scientific understanding of severe weather and its operational forecasting. These PDTs and workshops were the starting point for a number of efforts including field campaigns and testbeds that are operating today. (Table 1.1 includes reports of the PDTs and USWRP workshops as well as the numerous National Research Council [NRC] reports that have addressed weather research.) MOTIVATION FOR THE CURRENT STUDY Every few years, BASC works with its core agency sponsors (the National Aeronautics and Space Administration [NASA], NOAA, and the National Science Foundation [NSF]) to design a Summer Study that serves as an opportunity for scientists, industry, and the agencies to exchange information and views about a contemporary issue. A major component of these studies is a summer workshop designed to facilitate candid discussion on a topic identified by BASC members as timely and important. Given the importance of weather to a wide variety of stakeholders and societal goals, and the Board’s consensus that U.S. weather research is not currently realizing its full potential, the 2009 BASC Summer Study workshop focused on weather research and the transitioning of research results into operations (R2O). The 2009 BASC Summer Study workshop examined the progress, priorities, and future directions of weather research and R2O activities in the United States (Appendix D). The workshop was designed to give the committee input and feedback from a diverse set of about 50 weather professionals and stakeholders from academia, the private sector, and government (Appendix E). In organizing the 2009 BASC Summer Study workshop, the committee drew upon the broad range of issues identified in publications that summarized the findings of the various USWRP PDTs and workshops together with numerous reports prepared by the NRC (Table 1.1 lists all of the reports that were considered). The committee used this information to establish broad themes for each of the five different working groups that convened at the 2009 BASC Summer Study workshop (see Appendix E for the workshop agenda); the five workshop themes were (1) socioeconomic impacts; (2) observations/data assimilation/model development; (3) very high impact weather; (4) quantitative precipitation and hydrologic predictions; and (5) the unique challenges of topography and urbanization. The
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When Weather Matters: Science and Services to Meet Critical Societal Needs TABLE 1.1 Representative List of Publications Since 1995 That Provide Recommendations for Weather Research and Research-To-Operations. Year Type Reference Title 1995 NEXRAD Panel NRC, 1995a Aviation Weather Services: A Call for Federal Leadership and Action 1995 NRC Report NRC, 1995b Toward a New National Weather Service: Assessment of NEXRAD Coverage and Associated Weather Services 1995 USWRP PDT-1 Emanuel et al., 1995 Report of the First Prospectus Development Team of the U.S. Weather Research Program to NOAA and the NSF 1996 USWRP PDT-2 Dabberdt and Schlatter, 1996 Research Opportunities from Emerging Atmospheric Observing and Modeling Capabilities 1996 USWRP PDT-3 Rotunno and Pietrafesa, 1996 Coastal Meteorology and Oceanography 1997 USWRP PDT-4 Smith et al., 1997 Local and Remote Effects of Mountains on Weather: Research Needs and Opportunities 1997 USWRP PDT-6 Pielke et al., 1997 Societal Aspects of Weather 1997 USWRP PDT-7 Emanuel et al., 1997 Observations in Aid of Weather Prediction for North America 1997 USWRP Workshop USWRP, 1997a Workshop on the Social and Economic Impacts of Weather 1997 USWRP Workshop USWRP, 1997b Hurricane Landfall Workshop 1997 USWRP Workshop USWRP, 1997c Workshop on Data Assimilation 1998 NRC Report NRC, 1998a The Atmospheric Sciences: Entering the 21st Century 1998 NRC Report NRC, 1998b The Meteorological Buoy and Coastal Marine Automated Network for the United States 1998 USWRP PDT-5 Marks and Shay, 1998 Landfalling Tropical Cyclones: Forecast Problems and Associated Research Opportunities 1998 USWRP PDT-8 Fritsch et al., 1998 Quantitative Precipitation Forecasting 2000 NRC Report NRC, 2000a Assessment of the Current Status of the U.S. Weather Research Program 2000 NRC Report NRC, 2000b From Research to Operations: Weather Satellites and Numerical Weather Prediction: Crossing the Valley of Death 2000 USWRP PDT-9 Droegemeier et al., 2000 Hydrological Aspects of Weather Prediction and Flood Warnings 2000 USWRP PDT-10 Dabberdt et al., 2000 Forecast Issues in the Urban Zone 2000 USWRP Workshop USWRP, 2000 Workshop on the Weather Research Needs of the Private Sector 2002 NRC Report NRC, 2002 Weather Radar Technology Beyond NEXRAD 2002 USWRP Workshop USWRP, 2002 Warm Season QPF Workshop 2003 NRC Report NRC, 2003a Critical Issues in Weather Modification Research
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When Weather Matters: Science and Services to Meet Critical Societal Needs Year Type Reference Title 2003 NRC Report NRC, 2003b Fair Weather: Effective Partnerships in Weather and Climate Services 2003 NRC Report NRC, 2003c Tracking and Predicting Atmospheric Dispersion of Hazardous Material Releases: Implications for Homeland Security 2003 NRC Report NRC, 2003d Weather Forecasting Accuracy for FAA Traffic Flow Management: A Workshop Report 2003 USWRP Workshop USWRP, 2003a Workshop on Design and Development of Multifunctional Mesoscale Observing Networks in Support of Integrated Forecasting Systems 2003 USWRP Workshop USWRP, 2003b Air Quality Forecasting Workshop 2004 NRC Report NRC, 2004 Where the Weather Meets the Road: A Research Agenda for Improving Road Weather Services 2004 USWRP PDT-11 Dabberdt et al., 2004 Meteorological Research Needs for Improved Air Quality Forecasting 2005 NRC Report NRC, 2005a Flash Flood Forecasting Over Complex Terrain: With an Assessment of the Sulphur Mountain NEXRAD in Southern California 2005 NRC Report NRC, 2005b Improving the Scientific Foundation for Atmosphere-Land-Ocean Simulations 2006 NRC Report NRC, 2006a Completing the Forecast: Characterizing and Communicating Uncertainty for Better Decisions Using Weather and Climate Forecasts 2006 NRC Report NRC, 2006b Toward a New Advanced Hydrologic Prediction Service 2007 NRC Report NRC, 2007a Earth Science and Applications from Space: National Imperatives for the Next Decade and Beyond 2007 NRC Report NRC, 2007b Environmental Data Management at NOAA: Archiving, Stewardship, and Access 2007 NRC Report NRC, 2007c Strategic Guidance for the National Science Foundation’s Support of the Atmospheric Sciences: An Interim Report 2008 NRC Report NRC, 2008a Evaluation of the Multifunction Phased Array Radar Planning Process 2008 NRC Report NRC, 2008b Satellite Observations to Benefit Science and Society: Recommended Missions for the Next Decade 2009 NRC Report NRC, 2009b Observing Weather and Climate from the Ground Up: A Nationwide Network of Networks
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When Weather Matters: Science and Services to Meet Critical Societal Needs five working groups then identified research and transitional problems, challenges, needs, and opportunities in eight overlapping areas that frame the organization of this report: socioeconomics, observations, weather modeling and predictability, hydrologic modeling, quantitative precipitation estimation and forecasting, impacts forecasting, urban weather, and renewable energy siting and production. The contents of this report are based on both the 2009 BASC Summer Study workshop and its working group deliberations, as well as the expertise and judgment of the committee members and their discussions at subsequent meetings. Achievements and Challenges In assessing the state of U.S. weather research and operations, the rate of progress, and the need for advancing research and transitioning results into operations, it is helpful to identify a baseline or reference point. The committee examined progress over the past 15 or so years because that is an interval long enough to assess achievement yet short enough to gauge the recent rate of progress. It also is a period when numerous reviews and assessments were undertaken. One study in particular, The Atmospheric Sciences Entering the Twenty-First Century (NRC, 1998b), stands out for its breadth and depth. The report identified two imperatives and three major research recommendations. The imperatives were seen as critical and they constituted that study’s two highest priority recommendations. Both imperatives pertained to the state of observations, and the need for (1) optimizing and integrating existing observation capabilities, and (2) developing new observation capabilities. It is not surprising, then, that the present study also identified a similarly widespread need for improved observations throughout the set of recommendations. This need was further articulated in the decadal survey, Earth Science and Applications from Space: National Imperatives for the Next Decade and Beyond (NRC, 2007a) that brought critical attention to the deterioration of U.S. satellite observing capabilities.
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When Weather Matters: Science and Services to Meet Critical Societal Needs The major research recommendations of the 21st Century report were both diverse in their scope and insightful in their relevance. The report called for resolution of interactions at atmospheric boundaries and among different scales of flow; extension of a disciplined forecast process to new areas such as climate, chemistry, air quality, and space weather; and initiation of studies of emerging areas, including climate, weather and health, water resources, and rapidly increasing emissions to the atmosphere. Since the mid-1990s and the release of the 21st Century report, the United States has achieved an impressive array of advances both in weather research and in transitioning many research results into operations. Among those important achievements, the following are several notable examples: Completing full implementation in 1997 of the NWS Modernization Program (e.g., NRC, 1999) that had begun in the 1980s, highlighted by its capstone project—deployment of 166 WSR-88D NEXRAD Doppler radars, and subsequently initiating a program in 2009 to field test the feasibility of upgrading these radars with dual-polarization capability for hydrometeor classification and improved quantitative precipitation estimation Doubling tornado warning lead times from 6 minutes in the early 1990s to about 13 minutes in the current decade, while almost tripling flash flood warning times from 17 to 45 minutes over the same interval. Unfortunately, the annual average number of tornado deaths for the 6-year period 2000 to 2005 was 44, which is unchanged from the corresponding average for 1990 to 1995. Decreasing the 72-hour mean hurricane track forecast error for the Atlantic Basin from approximately 480 km (1991–1995) to approximately 280 km (2003–2008), and decreasing the corresponding 24-hour mean error from approximately 150 km to approximately 110 km Developing more sophisticated research ensemble and probabilistic research predictions, and advanced research data assimilation systems Implementing a number of infrastructure programs to facilitate testing research products and their transition to operations, such as the Joint Center for Satellite Data Assimilation, the Developmental Testbed Center, and numerous testbeds (e.g., hurricane and hydrologic testbeds) Implementing in 2004 a limited-area operational 24-hour prediction product for near-surface 1- and 8-hour ozone concentrations, and a
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When Weather Matters: Science and Services to Meet Critical Societal Needs corresponding CONUS (contiguous United States) capability that went operational in 2007 Establishing in 1994, the nation’s first comprehensive statewide surface mesonet in Oklahoma, which has since built out to include 120 stations. Today there are about 70 disparate federal, state, local, and private mesonets throughout the country comprising more than 27,500 surface stations.4 Although the list of accomplishments is important and encouraging, there are numerous areas where much more needs to be done to better observe and understand weather processes, more accurately and reliably predict weather and weather impacts, and mitigate the negative and often disastrous human, economic, and physical consequences of weather (Figure 1.4). Examples of current challenges include the following: NEXRAD, the U.S. weather radar network, is unable to observe three-quarters of the planetary boundary layer, where people live and much weather is spawned. Today, forecasts provide predictions of weather variables, but predictions of weather impacts would also be valuable. Forecasts of wind and solar irradiance for alternative (or renewable) energy production and management are in their infancy and are woefully inadequate. Improved observational capabilities for soil moisture and profiling the lower atmosphere are lacking yet widely and urgently needed. U.S. satellite capabilities are deteriorating. Hydrologic forecasts are needed to better predict flooding, save lives and property, and manage water resources. Hurricane intensity forecasts still have alarmingly low skill, as does the quantitative prediction of warm-season precipitation; both are major challenges in weather and impacts prediction. Charge and Approach The committee was charged (Appendix D) with using the information and insight from the 2009 BASC Summer Study workshop and previously published works to address questions about U.S. weather research and R2O activities: What has and has not been achieved? What may no longer be rel- 4 See http://madis.noaa.gov/mesonet_providers.html.
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When Weather Matters: Science and Services to Meet Critical Societal Needs FIGURE 1.4 The Great Galveston Hurricane of September 8, 1900 destroyed the city and killed more than 8,000 people (top). More than a century later on August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina made landfall on the Louisiana coast, inundating the city of New Orleans and neighboring areas (bottom). Despite a nearly perfect 48-hour track forecast, Katrina caused more than 1,000 direct weather fatalities and more than $81 billion in property and crop damages. SOURCE: NOAA (2007) and iStock Photo.
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When Weather Matters: Science and Services to Meet Critical Societal Needs evant? What current issues were not previously anticipated? And what could be done in the short term to reinvigorate agency and interagency planning for weather research and R2O activities in the United States? It is important to note that this study does not critique earlier USWRP or NRC documents, nor does it formally review current agency planning documents. This report represents a sense of the weather community as discussed by the workshop participants and the committee; it is not a comprehensive, in-depth assessment of the state of U.S. weather research and the transition of research findings and products into operations. Further, the report does not seek to address important issues uniquely related to climate research nor does it touch on intra- and interagency organizational procedures and practices. Instead, the report puts forth the committee’s judgment on the most pressing high-level, weather-focused research challenges and R2O needs, and makes corresponding recommendations. Organization of the Report This report covers three broad areas—socioeconomics, established needs, and emerging needs. Chapter 2 focuses on the pressing and pervasive need for socioeconomic research and applications in virtually all topical areas. Socioeconomic considerations are presented first to avoid the too-often stereotyping that has occurred in the past when social science has been considered only in hindsight rather than as a primary element of the problem and the solution. Socioeconomic considerations provide much of the motivation for research and R2O activities in nonhydrostatic modeling, quantitative precipitation forecasting and hydrologic prediction, and mesoscale observations. Such considerations are also an integral part of very high impact weather, urban meteorology, and renewable energy production. Socioeconomic needs also motivate and support a growing emphasis on understanding the linkages between climate and weather through a spectrum of spatial and temporal scales. Thus, socioeconomic considerations are woven throughout the meteorological community’s activities and its priorities. Chapter 3 covers four topical areas that have been addressed in previous studies but that continue to require considerable attention, albeit with increased priority, resources, and a sense of urgency. These are labeled established needs for weather research and the transition of research results into operations. Four established needs are identified. All are in various stages of development but none have been resolved despite having been identified as pressing in numerous previous studies. The four established
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When Weather Matters: Science and Services to Meet Critical Societal Needs needs and issues include global nonhydrostatic coupled modeling, quantitative precipitation estimation and forecasting, hydrologic prediction, and mesoscale observations. Chapter 4 addresses several research and R2O needs that have come to be recognized in the United States over the past 5 to 10 years as increasingly important, but that are only in the early stages of understanding or implementation. These are labeled emerging weather research and transitional needs, in contrast to the established needs discussed in Chapter 3. Three high-priority emerging needs were identified in the 2009 BASC Summer Study workshop and subsequent committee discussions; they are very high impact weather, urban meteorology, and renewable energy production. The reader may wonder why very high impact weather is included here as an emerging need rather than in the preceding chapter as one of several established needs. The answer lies in the emphasis on forecasting weather impacts in conjunction with the traditional focus on forecasting weather per se. Urban meteorology had been recognized in the United States in the 1960s as an important topic, and much seminal urban meteorological research was conducted until the early 1980s when it was abruptly deemphasized. A reemphasis on the meteorology of the urban zone and its societal import began again in the 1990s and continues today. Lastly, the meteorological challenges associated with the special needs of the renewable energy industry have come into sharp focus over the past 5 or so years. In all three emerging areas, much remains to be done. Virtually all research and transitional needs have both established and emerging aspects, and so many of the established challenges and needs cited in Chapter 3 are closely coupled to the emerging needs discussed in Chapter 4, and vice versa. A few research and R2O needs, such as hurricane track and intensity forecasting and air quality prediction, are conspicuous by their absence as named sections in the report. However, they are included in the discussions within several of the other sections (e.g., global nonhydrostatic coupled modeling, urban meteorology, and very high impact weather, to name but three). Finally, Chapter 5 provides a few summary comments while the appendixes provide references, definitions of acronyms and abbreviations, biographical sketches of the committee members, and details of the 2009 BASC Summer Study workshop that served as the backbone of the study. THE CHALLENGE It is crucial that the weather enterprise address these established and
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When Weather Matters: Science and Services to Meet Critical Societal Needs emerging issues and the research needed to develop the capacity to deal with them, and transfer important research results into operations. We need to start by recognizing that as the world and the United States’ challenges have changed, the scientific research priorities and operational priorities need to change as well. As such, this report and its recommendations are relevant to all parties in the weather enterprise: agency decision makers, policy makers, research scientists, private-sector applications specialists, teachers, public and private user groups and organizations, and the general public. In particular, this report is intended to inform NASA, NOAA, and NSF program managers and policy makers of the many priorities that need to be addressed in guiding the future of U.S. weather research and operations.