Tuesday, 13 January 2004
Operational forecasting of weapons of mass destruction (WMD)
The Department of Defense has assigned the WMD forecasting mission to the Naval Atlantic Meteorology and Oceanography Center (NLMOC), Norfolk, VA for terrorist attacks within the United States. Within 30 minutes of receiving the intelligence (what, where, when), the Navy’s operational forecasters choose the optimal weather input, run the dispersion model and output a plume forecast. Completed several times daily 24/7 since well before 9/11, each forecast is sent to the Joint Task Force, Civil Support and the US Coast Guard who respond appropriately. NLMOC also gives regular feedback to developers of the Joint Effects Model at Naval Surface Warfare Group, Dahlgren, VA
Two years of this operational experience in WMD forecasting have uncovered lessons of practical interest to mesoscale weather and dispersion modelers. Some examples are the importance of frontal positions and movement, the differing forecast needs of contingency management vs. first responders, decision trees which compensate for incomplete intelligence, on-site risk assessment by response teams, geo-rectified plumes to predict contaminated ground, empowering color blind users, inputs of street address rather than lat/lon, etc. No operational weather model is sufficiently and reliably accurate for such high-stakes forecasting. These practical insights may be useful to dispersion and mesoscale model developers.