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Improvements to the main U.S. weather forecast model

Maybe you have heard meteorologists mention on a broadcast or social media post the GFS model. It stands for Global Forecast System and it is one of the best tools we have to help predict the weather for the upcoming week to two week period. We often compare it to the European model, ECMWF. There are a number of situations where the European model has outperformed the American model (GFS). However, NOAA is always looking for ways to make it better. Of course it takes a lot of funding, research, better data, better supercomputers, and more collaboration between agencies to get some of these advances put in place. They are announcing some exciting upgrades to the model right now, which should improve accuracy and usefulness to meteorologists and the public alike.

Find out all the details of these great breakthroughs in the article below from NOAA.

March 22, 2021

NOAA is upgrading its Global Forecast System (GFS) weather model to boost weather forecasting capabilities across the U.S. These advancements will improve hurricane genesis forecasting, modeling for snowfall location, heavy rainfall forecasts, and overall model performance.

Powerful lightning bolts strike from a sunset thunderstorm in the Arizona desert.

For the first time, the GFS will be coupled with a global wave model called WaveWatchIIIoffsite link which will extend current wave forecasts from 10 days out to 16 days and improve the prediction of ocean waves forced by the atmosphere. Coupling the GFS and wave models will streamline the National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP) production suite by consolidating atmospheric and wave forecast data and distributing them together. The GFS resolution will increase by doubling the number of vertical levels, from 64 to 127. Improvements to atmospheric physics will enhance snow and precipitation forecasting capabilities in this latest upgrade as well.

“This substantial upgrade to the GFS, along with ongoing upgrades to our supercomputing capacity, demonstrates our commitment to advancing weather forecasting to fulfill our mission of protecting life and property,” said Louis W. Uccellini, Ph.D., director, NOAA’s National Weather Service. “Today’s upgrade also establishes a strong foundation for further planned enhancements that will allow for the assimilation of even more data into the model.”

In addition to GFS upgrades, NOAA is concurrently modernizing the Global Data Assimilation System (GDAS). This effort will allow the model to ingest more data from geostationary and polar-orbiting satellites, as well as flight-level wind, temperature and moisture observations from aircraft.

“These upgrades are part of the Next Generation Global Prediction System within the Unified Forecast System (UFS)offsite link framework, which is an ongoing effort to leverage the expertise of the broader weather community and expedite the research to operations pathway,” said Vijay Tallapragada, Ph.D., Chief of the Modeling and Data Assimilation Branch at NOAA’s Environmental Modeling Center (EMC). “By coupling the WaveWatchIII and GFS models, we will extend current wave forecasts and integrate wave forecasting into the global model to streamline model products.”

EMC conducted retrospective and real-time testing, covering part of the 2018 hurricane season and the entire period from May 10, 2019 to the present, for a comprehensive evaluation of the model upgrades. This latest version of the model, called GFSv16, showed improved forecast skills in many areas, including hurricane genesis lead times, snowfall forecasting, and the prediction of extreme rainfall events.

Today’s announcement marks the first major upgrade to the Finite-Volume Cubed-Sphere (FV3) dynamical core-based GFS, which replaced the spectral dynamical core-based GFS in June 2019. The GFS with the FV3 dynamical core brings together the superior physics of the global atmosphere with day-to-day reliability and speed of operational numerical weather prediction.

Learn more about previous GFS upgrades and the history of the FV3 dynamical core at NOAA.


Audio file from NOAA's Global Forecast System (GFS) model upgrade Media Briefing on March 22, 2021.

Media contact
Lauren Gaches, (202) 740-8314

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Tony Schumacher

Lead Evening Meteorologist at WAOW-TV and Chief Meteorologist / Owner of Great Lakes Weather Service, LLC. A Wisconsin native with nearly 30 years experience in weather forecasting and broadcast.

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