The Future of Weather Forecasting and Potential Roles to be Played by NCAR

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Wednesday, 20 January 2010: 2:15 PM
B303 (GWCC)
Kelvin K. Droegemeier, Univ. of Oklahoma, Norman, OK

The first computer-based weather forecasts produced by John von Neumann and colleagues in the late 1940s marked an historic event in weather and climate science, setting the stage for the first operational numerical predictions within the next few years. Shortly thereafter, and motivated in part by the nascent field of numerical weather prediction as well as important technological developments and challenges emerging from World War II, a small cadre of visionaries took part in a National Academies study that identified the need for a national research center in the US to tackle challenging problems in atmospheric science that lay beyond the capabilities of academic research programs. The outcome was what is known today as the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), the largest of five Federally Funded Research and Development Centers (FFRDCs) supported by the National Science Foundation.

Building upon the rich 50-year history of accomplishment since NCAR's founding, this presentation looks at challenges and opportunities in weather and climate forecasting during the next two decades and potential roles to be played by NCAR. Opportunities will be driven by new observing systems, high performance parallel computers having millions of processors, numerical models far different from those in use today both in computational constructs as well as their treatment of physical processes, new geo-referenced and grid-based communication capabilities, and vastly improved understanding of the atmosphere, oceans and lithosphere as well as the manner in which humans affect and react to them. Yet these same capabilities also will provide challenges unseen since von Neumann's day.

Deep issues will need to be addressed including the fundamental predictability of phenomena across many time and space scales as a means for improving skill and practical value as well as guiding resource investments. The manner in which forecast information will be integrated into decision making, for example in a completely new air traffic management framework, in financial markets, and in energy and environmental policy, will require vastly new capabilities but, moreover, much different ways of thinking both within the research and policy communities. Finally, in an era where higher education is undergoing its most profound change in the past 100 years, NCAR's relationship with its academic partners, and its role in research, and the provision of facilities and other community resources, must be carefully considered to maximize its value and to ensure effective stewardship.