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Posted at 11:12 AM ET, 05/16/2012

Is climate change research holding back advances in weather forecasting?

We’ve discussed, to some extent, the question of whether large expenditures in NOAA’s budget on satellites (relative to funding of the National Weather Service) has slowed progress in numerical weather prediction. University of Washington’s Cliff Mass, who has addressed that issue as well, posed another critical question today in a thoughtful, provocative blog post: “Why is the U.S. government providing hugely more computer resources for climate prediction than weather prediction?”

Mass contends that the Federal emphasis on long-term climate prediction is a mistake, and that improving our short-term weather forecasts should be a much higher priority.

This following excerpt from Mass’ blog post captures the essence of his argument:

The bottom line is that the computational power available for climate simulations, for understanding and predicting climate change over the next few decades to a century, absolutely dwarfs what is available for predicting the weather and for understanding how weather systems work.

This makes no sense.

Mass - who is not a global warming skeptic - agrees climate change research is critical, but states the need for better weather models trumps the need for better climate models. To support this argument, he notes:

* U.S. has some of the world’s most extreme weather; he refers to the onslaught of billion dollar weather disasters in 2011

* Better forecasts would save lives and protect property

* Small countries with less extreme have superior weather forecasting computing resources such as England and South Korea

* Having better weather forecasts will help us more effectively adapt to climate change

Mass also makes the point that climate change models may have reached a point of diminishing returns in their capabilities: “...there are many groups around the world doing the same type of global climate simulations--and quite frankly all the better models get essentially the same results,” he writes.

(Admittedly, climate researchers might argue the opposite - that weather prediction models are fairly far along but that there is much more capacity for discovery and advancement in climate prediction models.)

Like Mass, I also believe man-made global warming is real and support climate research. But I think he’s raised a fair question that the weather and climate enterprise should examine and debate.

Ideally, the budget environment for weather and climate research wouldn’t be an either/or situation. State of the art computing resources should be available to both areas.

But during a time when our nation faces a fiscal crisis and the government is having to make tough choices about what the highest priorities are - leadership within NOAA and Congress should take a close look at the balance of resources and whether computing power and personnel for advancing weather forecasting is getting a big enough piece of the pie.

By  |  11:12 AM ET, 05/16/2012

 
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