1

Introduction

In 1900, the head of the weather forecast office in Galveston, Texas, assured citizens that an approaching storm posed no threat. Eight thousand went to the beach and barrier island to watch the rising tide and perished in “Isaac's Storm.” Almost four decades later, the “38 Hurricane” roared up an unwarned Narragansett Bay into New England, killing more than 200 people. In 1992, Hurricane Andrew was closely monitored from space and earth, and its track was correctly forecast as it moved into Homestead, Florida, and across the state. Although Andrew's property damage amounted to $30 billion—one of the most costly natural disasters in the United States—the loss of life was less than 1 percent of that sustained in the Galveston disaster 90 years earlier.

The United States experiences a greater variety of extreme weather events than does any other country.3 Because of this variety and the societal impacts of these events, great demands are placed on forecast

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The unique geographic structure of the North American continent accounts for this. The continent has a major north-south mountain range, but no east-west range of any significance. As a result, the warm moist air from the Gulf of Mexico can clash with the cold air from the polar regions, releasing the energy to fuel the severe weather activity experienced by the United States. Almost 1,000 tornadoes occur in this country during an average year; they are almost unheard of in Europe.



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FROM RESEARCH TO OPERATIONS IN WEATHER SATELLITES AND NUMERICAL WEATHER PREDICTION: CROSSING THE VALLEY OF DEATH 1 Introduction In 1900, the head of the weather forecast office in Galveston, Texas, assured citizens that an approaching storm posed no threat. Eight thousand went to the beach and barrier island to watch the rising tide and perished in “Isaac's Storm.” Almost four decades later, the “38 Hurricane” roared up an unwarned Narragansett Bay into New England, killing more than 200 people. In 1992, Hurricane Andrew was closely monitored from space and earth, and its track was correctly forecast as it moved into Homestead, Florida, and across the state. Although Andrew's property damage amounted to $30 billion—one of the most costly natural disasters in the United States—the loss of life was less than 1 percent of that sustained in the Galveston disaster 90 years earlier. The United States experiences a greater variety of extreme weather events than does any other country.3 Because of this variety and the societal impacts of these events, great demands are placed on forecast 3   The unique geographic structure of the North American continent accounts for this. The continent has a major north-south mountain range, but no east-west range of any significance. As a result, the warm moist air from the Gulf of Mexico can clash with the cold air from the polar regions, releasing the energy to fuel the severe weather activity experienced by the United States. Almost 1,000 tornadoes occur in this country during an average year; they are almost unheard of in Europe.

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FROM RESEARCH TO OPERATIONS IN WEATHER SATELLITES AND NUMERICAL WEATHER PREDICTION: CROSSING THE VALLEY OF DEATH models to predict weather events, and substantial interest is focused on the causes and effects of climate variability. As the United States moves into the twenty-first century, both individuals and organizations throughout the nation are reaping the rewards of, and are ever more dependent on, more than a century of ever improving and expanding national weather and climate services. The Bureau of Economic Analysis (Department of Commerce) estimates that activities sensitive to weather and climate account for 42 percent of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product (NRC, 1998a). For this reason, accurate weather forecasts and climate projections continue to be an increasingly critical component of most public and private decision-making processes. There is strong evidence that improvements to forecast models and products will provide more accurate and timely forecasts, which can be used by decision makers to better protect life and property and expand opportunities to stimulate economic activity, enhance national competitiveness, and improve environmental management (Pielke and Kimpel, 1997). This report focuses on two important aspects of the weather forecasting system in the United States: the National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP) with its Environmental Modeling Center (EMC) and the meteorological satellite programs of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The study from which this report results is described in Appendix A. The purposes of this report are: to examine issues related to the efficient transfer of weather and climate research findings into improved operational forecasts, to review agency plans for the transition process at EMC and NPOESS, and to recommend actions that will improve the transition process, thereby enhancing the utility of the nation's investment in weather and climate research and associated observational systems. The nation has invested considerable resources in the development of research and technologies to meet the present demands 4of its citizens for 4   The term demand is not used in this report in the strictest economic sense. The government provides the basic weather services in this country and therefore the usual demand–price relationship does not exist. The many customers of weather services express their needs and desires for information that will improve their operations. For example, the emergency manager of a coastal community demands greater accuracy in the hurricane forecast to enable better performance in the evacuation of the community as the storm approaches. These are real needs and the government, in carrying out its mandate for the protection of life and property of the citizenry, needs to respond. Several examples of these expanding needs or demands are discussed in this chapter, but for a more detailed discussion of the many users of weather services and their needs, the reader is referred to NRC, 1998a, and NRC, 1999c.

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FROM RESEARCH TO OPERATIONS IN WEATHER SATELLITES AND NUMERICAL WEATHER PREDICTION: CROSSING THE VALLEY OF DEATH improved forecasts. These investments include ongoing meteorological research programs sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF), NOAA, NASA, major elements of the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP), including NASA's Earth Observing System (EOS) satellites, as well as technological improvements such as the modernization of the National Weather Service (USGCRP, 1999; NRC 1998a, 1998c, 1999c). However, current weather and climate forecasting services are under considerable stress just to meet daily demands and have limited capabilities and resources for efficient integration and exploitation of new research results. Thus, many potential benefits to the nation promised by the research breakthroughs are as yet unrealized. The outputs of the forecast system are products that guide decisions about future actions. The decision maker may be an individual, a private business, a non-governmental organization, or a government agency. The information may be based on past, present, or future climate and weather. In general, past information is used to define the context (climatology) in which climate information affects a decision. Present weather and climate information is used to define short-term actions. Simple statistical inference about future weather or climate or predictions based on dynamic models can be used to guide decisions about future actions to be taken by users sensitive to weather and climate. EXPANSION OF THE FORECASTING FAMILY As a result of the significant improvements in forecast capability achieved during the past decade, the demand for other specialized forecast applications—and the potential for substantial new public benefits—has grown rapidly in recent years. The public has become accustomed to ever improving forecast products that are incorporated more frequently into daily decision-making. Weeklong forecasts, not viewed as credible two decades ago, are now an indispensable part of our planning processes. New products have also shown their worth. For instance, solar

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FROM RESEARCH TO OPERATIONS IN WEATHER SATELLITES AND NUMERICAL WEATHER PREDICTION: CROSSING THE VALLEY OF DEATH ultraviolet radiation forecasts, developed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the NWS, alert beach goers to the need for sunscreen and other precautions against harmful exposure to the sun. The National Weather Service Modernization Committee of the NRC described the future requirements for services in the report A Vision for the National Weather Service: Road Map for the Future (NRC, 1999c): Environmental information, both global and local, will become a part of the international information infrastructure that individuals and organizations use on a daily basis. Business customers will use worldwide environmental information to plan operations in the global marketplace. At the same time, customers will also require information for specific times and places. Location-specific business decisions, such as when to start pouring concrete in a construction project or whether to shut down operations in response to tornado or hurricane warnings, will be made with the help of decision support systems that include environmental data targeted for a specific place and time. It will soon be possible to deliver several new forecast products that will, at first, be unfamiliar to the public, but will become as indispensable as our present weeklong weather forecasts. A detailed discussion of the various scientific areas supporting these products is contained in the technical chapters of the report The Atmospheric Sciences Enteringthe Twenty-First Century (NRC, 1998a). Examples of new products include the following: Threats to life and property and the costly and disruptive nature of evacuations are resulting in demands for improved hurricane forecasts of storm track, intensity, and precipitation. It is estimated that the evacuation of the southeast and mid-Atlantic coastal area, in the face of approaching Hurricane Floyd in September 1999, had an economic impact of approximately $2 billion (Pielke, 1999). Improved forecasts of hurricane track and intensity will reduce the necessity and attendant cost of overwarning. While lightning poses one of the greatest dangers to life and property in the United States, at the present time only general forecasts of lightning likelihood are produced (e.g., 60 percent chance of thunderstorms in the evening) (NWS, 1994). With increasing accuracy of small-scale weather system forecasting and better understanding of the physics

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FROM RESEARCH TO OPERATIONS IN WEATHER SATELLITES AND NUMERICAL WEATHER PREDICTION: CROSSING THE VALLEY OF DEATH of lightning, soon it will be possible to provide specific forecasts of lightning occurrences (i.e., the probability of lightning strikes at specific times and places). This will not only be useful to those scheduling outdoor activities, but it will also allow electric utilities to prepare for disruptions that may accompany a serious lightning storm. Increasing concern over the consequences of energy production will result in demand for improved planning and operations in power production. Improved temperature forecasts will result in significant savings in fuel costs and a more efficient electric industry (Keener, 1997). Not only will the energy industries need improved short-term forecasts for near-term operations and plans, the improvements in seasonal to interannual forecasting are increasing the demand for products and services on that time scale. The accurate seasonal outlook prior to the 1997–98 El Niño event allowed utilities to realize savings of about $500 million (Changnon, 2000). For reasons not completely understood, the occurrence of asthma is increasing. Certain combinations of humidity and air pollution aggravate asthma. With substantial progress being made in understanding atmospheric chemistry and modeling transport of atmospheric chemicals and aerosols, setting the stage for operational forecasting of atmospheric chemical composition (NRC, 1998a, 1998c), it should be possible to produce useful forecasts of pollution levels that might trigger asthma attacks. The strong ties between air temperature and air quality and the associated negative impact of poor air quality on all aspects of human respiratory health are creating demands for a whole new suite of air quality forecasts. Space weather hazards are becoming increasingly important to the performance and reliability of space-borne and ground-based communication and observation systems because of the increased sophistication of the deployed systems. The demand for space weather forecasts will grow as large constellations of satellites are launched in low earth orbit over the next several years. With the development of increasingly sophisticated technologies and the expansion of human activities into near-earth space, there will be an increasing need to forecast the changing fluxes of energetic particles, geomagnetic fluctuations, short wavelength solar radiation, and other upper atmosphere/near space conditions (NRC, 1998a). Fortunately, an unprecedented armada of spacecraft is providing the required data, and there has been tremendous progress in research modeling of space weather phenomena. The

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FROM RESEARCH TO OPERATIONS IN WEATHER SATELLITES AND NUMERICAL WEATHER PREDICTION: CROSSING THE VALLEY OF DEATH National Space Weather Program now seeks to implement operational space weather forecasting based on these advances. Clean, safe water is essential to human well-being. Recent research has uncovered some remarkable results that have significant implications for requirements for forecasting products. For instance, cholera outbreaks have been shown to be related to oceanic physical conditions and the resulting algal types and concentrations. Thus, we are now in a position to forecast the conditions leading to cholera outbreaks around the world. Other water-related forecasts dealing with water availability and quality will also be possible and will complement current drought and flood forecasts. The potential links between climate variability and ecosystem impacts (food, forage, timber, fiber, water) are being enumerated currently in the first U.S. National Assessment of Climate Change Impacts. This linkage is expected to result in a growing demand for improved projections of future climate conditions. The potential is enormous. The demand for new and diverse forecasting products will continue to grow and, with implementation, these expanded products will promote increased human safety and stimulate economic benefits in the United States and elsewhere. The foundation for these products is NOAA's forecasting capability, which can improve by capitalizing on U.S. investments in weather and climate research and technology. 5 Just as NOAA's traditional weather forecasting products have spurred the growth of private companies that provide tailored weather products for their clients, this increased demand will also facilitate more rapid growth of private sector enterprises structuring specific products for their clients or customizing or extending government-provided products. However, until current research advances are incorporated effectively into operational forecasts, the nation will not realize the attendant benefits of its research investment. It is important to understand the transition process and to ensure its efficient operation. Otherwise, impediments that may exist now will become more problematic in the future as a consequence of anticipated expanded demands on the nation 's weather and climate forecasting. 5   Atmospheric Research Recommendations 2 (Extend a Disciplined Forecast Process to New Areas) and 3 (Initiate Studies in Emerging Issues) from the ‘Twenty-First Century Report' urge the necessary activity to meet the new and increasing demands for weather and climate products and services.

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FROM RESEARCH TO OPERATIONS IN WEATHER SATELLITES AND NUMERICAL WEATHER PREDICTION: CROSSING THE VALLEY OF DEATH In order to focus attention on the transition issues, Chapter 2 further defines and describes the linkages between the research and operational communities required to effect transitions across the ‘Valley of Death.' Chapter 3 and Chapter 4 then focus on critical elements of the U.S. weather and climate forecasting enterprise. The first critical element discussed in Chapter 3 is the Environmental Modeling Center (EMC) of the National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP). The second critical element, highlighted in Chapter 4, involves environmental satellites and related data systems. The transition from research to operational satellites is of major importance, as both climate and weather communities are highly dependent on satellite information.