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provements in weather forecasts and warnings over the past
several decades and is now poised to make even more spectacular
advances. The main stumbling block to realizing significant
progress in basic research and operational meteorology is the need
for better measurements of the atmosphere, oceans, and land
surface, and the need to better understand and delineate optimal
combinations of measurement systems for specific forecast problems.
Our nation has invested heavily in environmental satellites, and
this investment has been paid back many times in improved
understanding of the atmosphere and better warnings of hazards
ranging from hurricanes to severe thunderstorms and tornadoes.
However, observing systems of great importance, some of low cost,
have been allowed to deteriorate. Examples include research Doppler
radar facilities, global rawinsonde coverage, small research
aircraft for boundary layer studies, and research surface mesonets.
Meanwhile, the measurement of atmospheric water vapor continues to
be vastly inadequate for a number of purposes, ranging from
quantitative precipitation forecasting to climate prediction. In
some cases, we have just begun to realize the potential benefits of
certain types of measurements, such as soil moisture and the
detailed structure of the tropopause. We must stand back and take a
hard look at the costs and benefits of all existing and
proposed measurement systems, from the perspective of basic
scientific progress and societal need, with a blind eye toward the
objectives and budgets of individual federal agencies.
If we elect to take a rational and well-thought-out approach
toward observations in support of basic research and operational
objectives, there is every reason to believe that the potential
exists for great advances in understanding and prediction. A proper
accounting of land surface physics and irreversible processes in
the atmosphere may lead to large increases in the skill of seasonal
forecasts. Better measurements of atmospheric water vapor and of
cloud microphysical processes, particularly those involving ice,
may allow us to solve a number of outstanding problems such as
predicting the development and movement of mesoscale convective
systems and the response of atmospheric water vapor and cloud cover
to climate change. Advanced applications of ensemble and adjoint
techniques to numerical weather prediction may reveal, in near real
time, those parts of the atmosphere that are particularly
susceptible to initial error, allowing us to target such regions
for observational scrutiny and thereby greatly reduce numerical
forecast errors. Better in situ observations in the atmospheric and
oceanic environment of hurricanes may lead to dramatically improved
forecasts of the motion and intensity of these great hazards. These
are but examples of what we can expect to achieve in the coming
decades if we take the right approach now.