Neighborhoods about to be hit by tornadoes and pilots heading into turbulence will get more warning from the National Weather Service starting today.
At least, that’s the promise of a new forecast model that has been under development for the past five years by the U.S. Earth Systems Research Laboratory.
The system, called the high-resolution rapid-refresh model, can look at areas 2 miles across, compared with a minimum of 8 miles previously, and create a three-dimensional picture of the atmosphere an hour in advance.
Zooming in on the resolution will provide a more detailed snapshot of what is happening, said Geoffrey DiMego, branch chief and meteorologist at the weather service’s Environmental Modeling Center in College Park, Maryland. He said he likes to compare it to a digital camera.
“The more pixels you have in your picture, the clearer it is,” DiMego said by telephone.
A couple of real-world applications of this became apparent when the model was being tested during the past year.
A forecast for the area near Newark Liberty International Airport showed a mass of rainstorms that forced flights to divert from their scheduled path. With the 2-mile resolution, it became clear that there were corridors through the turbulent weather that planes could have used, avoiding delays.
In another case earlier this year, twin tornadoes tore across Nebraska, said Geoffrey Manikin, a meteorologist at the center. While there was a general warning of severe weather across the region, the area where the storms hit started the day with relatively benign conditions.
The new model, however, picked up the possibility of trouble later in the day. That is the kind of help meteorologists across the U.S. are going to have from now on.
Manikin said that although the model couldn’t pull out details of the twin tornadoes that erupted, it still would have allowed local authorities to prepare sooner for the potential.
The weather service has had a high-resolution model that ran every six hours, DiMego said. Today’s model will run every hour, giving meteorologists five more looks at what may be coming.
The model will also help snow forecasting, Manikin said. The line where rain turns into snow will become clearer, along with the location of pockets of particularly heavy snow. It will be the kind of information cities and towns need to prepare when a storm looms and it may give extra hope to children wishing for a snow day.