Time to Give the Euro Model Its Due

Is The U.S. Falling Behind in Weather Forecasting?

Back in late August 2005, the National Hurricane Center was one of, if not the only one, the lone bright spots in terms of the federal government’s handling of Hurricane Katrina. The NHC forecast performed very well, and helped save many more lives along the Gulf Coast. Overall, hurricane forecasting has improved significantly, especially in the area of determining the future track of these storms. However, in recent years, the United States has begun to yield its leading position in the world of forecasting, particularly in numerical weather prediction.

Over the past several seasons, the European Model has done quite well in a several notable storm tracks including Hurricanes Irene (August 2011) and Sandy (October 2012), and most recently with Tropical Storm Karen.  While media outlets have begun doing a great job in depicting storm solutions from both the Euro and the GFS (American) models, there always appears to be a nudge toward the GFS.  

At the time of the Karen’s emergence in the Southern Gulf of Mexico, the European model was spot on with Karen having it ending up as a weaker storm or depression on a westerly track into Louisiana.  Meanwhile, the GFS had the storm taking a more easterly track, being a stronger storm, and possibly a hurricane by the time it was forecasted to come ashore in the area of Mobile, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle.

In the end, the Euro fared much better than the GFS as it correctly anticipated the effects of dry air and shear on Karen.  The storm had notable success with the track of Hurricane, or Superstorm Sandy.  Back then, the European model had indicated as early as October 22nd of last year that Sandy, which was a depression at the time, was going to come ashore in the Mid-Atlantic by the following week as hurricane, nor’easter, or hybrid type storm. Eventually, the GFS as well as the other models came in line with the Euro forecast, but it took another few days before that happened.

Prior to this season, the Euro model had gained the respect of many tropical experts.  Many had grown to favor the ECMWF, another name for the Euro, in forecasting the development and track of tropical storms and hurricanes according to John Nelander’s Weather Matters blog at the Palm Beach Daily News.  This development has been making many in the meteorological community wonder if the United States is beginning to lose its place as the leader in weather forecasting.  Cliff Mass, who writes for his own weather blog, cited the lack of funding and resources, proper management, and effective leadership has caused the U.S. to fall behind the Europeans in numerical weather prediction.

With government agencies such as NOAA and the NWS receiving less and less money from a U.S. government that continues to have problems managing its money by putting more and more resources into such things as defense, there is less than adequate computer power, which is necessary for providing higher resolution models with a vast amount of data points.  NOAA is gradually becoming more like NASA, where instead of it leading the way in its field, it is fighting with the Weather Channel and Accu-Weather among others for the attention of viewers.

Despite the increasing success of the Euro model in recent years, there are still some media outlets that give models such as the GFS the benefit of the doubt in recent storms such as Sandy and Karen. The bias brings up comparisons to the time of the Galveston Hurricane of 1900 when the U.S. Weather Bureau discounted the forecasts by its Cuban counterparts, which did a better job forecasting the monster Ctaegory Four storm.

Bottom line is that it is time that we all gave the European model its due. The United States should use this as an opportunity to learn from the Euro, but also challenge itself to reclaim its leadership role in weather forecasting.