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NCAR News Release

2003-30 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: July 28, 2003

NCAR Signs Agreement with Six Government Agencies to Develop Powerful Forecast and Research Tool


David Hosansky
UCAR Communications
Telephone: (303) 497-8611
E-mail: hosansky@ucar.edu

BOULDER— The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) has signed an agreement with six government agencies to develop a landmark weather modeling system for both research and forecasting. NCAR is providing research support and maintenance for the community model and will make it available through the center’s Web site.

The new system, called the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF, pronounced "wharf") model, is a cooperative effort among NCAR, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Weather Service and Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research, the U.S. Air Force, the U.S. Navy, the Naval Research Laboratory, and the Federal Aviation Administration's Aviation Weather Research Program. NCAR's primary sponsor, the National Science Foundation, is providing funding for NCAR's work on the project.

The community model, conceived by researchers and forecasters in the late 1990s, is now in the testing stage. The National Weather Service's National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP) is planning to begin using it for high-resolution forecasts in September 2004, and the other agencies subsequently will use WRF for their specialized operational needs.

"WRF's purpose is both to improve our understanding and prediction of mesoscale weather and to promote closer ties between the research and operational forecasting communities," explains Joseph Klemp, an NCAR scientist and coordinator of the WRF project. "With WRF, it will be a much more straightforward process to move research advances into operations."

WRF builds upon current models, such as the MM5 (a mesoscale model developed by NCAR and Pennsylvania State University) and Eta (developed by NCEP). The new community model is designed to be modular, and it has flexible options that can be configured for both research and operations. For example, it uses standard interfaces for its physics so scientists can "plug and play" their own physics packages within the model. To track important small-scale events, such as hurricanes and thunderstorm clusters, finer-resolution grids can be "nested" within the main grid. The model also uses a state-of-the-art computer code, developed by an interdisciplinary team, which can be run on a wide range of computer platforms ranging from a desktop workstation to the most powerful supercomputer.

With its advanced cloud microphysics and powerful computational procedures, WRF is expected eventually to generate forecasts so detailed that they will resemble radar images. It will feature a fine-scale horizontal grid of 1 to 10 kilometers (0.6 to 6 miles), compared with horizontal grids in existing operational models that are at least 12 kilometers (7.5 miles). The finer resolution will enable researchers to simulate individual thunderstorms, along with such hard-to-capture features as gust fronts.

Researchers can also link WRF to other specialized computer models to gain more insights into the atmosphere. For example, a scientist will be able to couple WRF with an ocean model for more accurate hurricane analysis, or with a chemistry model to track the formation and movement of chemicals such as ozone. These capabilities will form the basis for future operational forecast models of hurricanes and air quality.

NCAR will maintain and support WRF as a mesoscale model to facilitate wide use in research, particularly in the university community.

"Research advances will have a direct path to operations, thereby providing society with better forecasts," says Bob Gall, head of both the U.S. Weather Research Program and NCAR's Mesoscale and Microscale Meteorology Division. "This link between research and operations makes WRF unique in the history of numerical weather prediction in the United States."

WRF is a long-term research effort. Even after the model comes into wide use, it will evolve as scientists develop new technologies. "The modeling components will continue to be upgraded," Klemp says. "We have laid the infrastructure for the continued advancement of this model over time."

On the Web:

WRF home page


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The National Center for Atmospheric Research and UCAR Office of Programs are operated by UCAR under the sponsorship of the National Science Foundation and other agencies. Opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views of any of UCAR's sponsors. UCAR is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action employer.

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Last revised: Monday, July 28, 2003 1:02 PM