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Computer Model to Give Greater Sense of Intensity and Size

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Computer Model to Give Greater Sense of Intensity and Size PostMon Jun 12, 2006 9:01 pm  Reply with quote  

"More ominously, in an era in which the
public has high expectations for meteorological pronouncements, Wilma
had defied predictions."

Yet this 25 y/o weather forecaster blackballed from the meteorological community for taking a different stance on global warming than a(Dr. Sparling whom is a lead researcher for NASA's JCET Office)in a paper(Dec 2001) at UMBC had no trouble forecasting it 12 days in advance.

"New Aid for Storm Forecasters"
...Computer Model to Give Greater Sense of Intensity and Size
(Source: Washington, 6/12/006)

MIAMI -- Scientists at the National Hurricane Center normally deliver
findings in a just-the-facts style of prose: wind speeds, pressure
readings, compass points. But their description of last year's
Hurricane Wilma betrayed a sense of wonderment.

The storm, which strengthened unexpectedly and set records for
intensity, was, in the words of the final report, "unprecedented,"
"explosive" and "incredible." More ominously, in an era in which the
public has high expectations for meteorological pronouncements, Wilma
had defied predictions.

"The bottom just dropped out," said Naomi Surgi, a hurricane scientist
at the Environmental Modeling Center, which is part of the National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "We had never in the Atlantic
seen that kind of storm intensification. None of the models forecast

Meteorologists have made steady improvements in predicting the path of
a hurricane, cutting errors roughly in half over the past 15 years or
so. But they have long struggled to predict a storm's strength, a
critical element because it determines who should and who will

This hurricane season, forecasters have hopes of improving their
record in predicting storm intensity.

A new computer model, developed by the Environmental Modeling Center
and described as the "next generation" in tropical storm forecasting,
will be at the disposal of forecasters at the National Hurricane
Center here.

Built with $3 million in federal funds, according to Surgi, the
Hurricane Weather Research and Forecast Model is expected to improve
forecasts of hurricane intensity, size and rainfall.

In far more detail than its predecessors, the new computer model will
envision the full three-dimensional hurricane, the circulation at its
core and the varying winds from its bottom to its top, several miles

"We think it will have a more accurate physical representation of what
goes on in the inner core of a hurricane," said Edward N. Rappaport,
deputy director of the National Hurricane Center. "We're not sure
we're going to see a monumental advance in the very first year, but
this will set the framework for more accelerated improvements."

The model will also monitor and predict the waves and ocean
temperatures beneath the hurricane, working in finer detail than
previous attempts and seeking out "hot spots" in the ocean that might
boost intensity. "It is very high-resolution," Surgi said.

Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center rely on about five to 10
models for any particular forecast, Rappaport said, with one known as
the "GFDL" as the lead model. The new forecasting model is expected to
supplant that.

Wilma eventually walloped the island of Cozumel, Mexico, last October
as a Category 4 storm, then battered the Yucatan peninsula. It finally
headed to South Florida, making landfall as a Category 3 and causing
the largest disruption to electrical service in state history.

But what may be the lasting impression of Wilma is its rapid
strengthening -- and what it reveals of forecasters' gaps in
knowledge. Before striking Mexico, Wilma exploded over a 24-hour
period from a tropical storm to a raging Category 5 hurricane.

It was superlative in many respects. The speed of its development is
believed to have been unprecedented. It had at one point the smallest
eye known to the National Hurricane Center staff -- two nautical miles
in diameter -- and the central pressure at the time of peak intensity
was a record low for an Atlantic hurricane.

"It is fortunate that this ultra-rapid strengthening took place over
open waters, apparently void of watercraft, and not just prior to
landfall," the tropical cyclone report on Wilma says in the
understatement typical of such reports.

Forecasters did a relatively decent job at predicting its track,
according to the report. But it noted that the errors in predicting
intensity were "quite a bit larger than the average."

Predicting storm intensity is considered a critical challenge among
forecasters because so many people depend upon forecasts of intensity
to determine whether to flee an oncoming storm.

Emergency managers determine evacuation orders depending on the
predicted intensity. Residents make their own calculations regarding
whether to obey.

Coastal residents of the southeastern states have long been familiar
with hurricane forecasts, and many simply ignore evacuation calls if
the approaching tropical cyclone is a Category 1 or even a Category 2.

The uncertainty in the forecast intensity and track of storms forces
emergency managers to make broader preparations than might be
necessary, and when they prove unnecessary the inconvenience dulls the
public's willingness to take precautions the next time.

"We have to base our evacuations on a worst-case scenario," said
Jonathan Lord, an emergency manager in Miami-Dade County, noting that
evacuation orders there assume that the storm will be one category
stronger than forecast. "Look what happened to Wilma overnight."
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