Tropical Cyclone Prediction

Superior storm prediction is a long-term process of combining different models, expanding data inputs, and improving resolution.

Tropical cyclones are the most significant peacetime threat to the safety of naval personnel and assets, and for decades the reliable prediction of tropical cyclone intensity has been one of the greatest challenges in meteorology. Prior attempts to model and predict the intensity of hurricanes were unsuccessful because of insufficient data resolution, inadequate representation of lower atmosphere physical processes, and a lack of coupling to the ocean to represent air-sea interactions.

In 2001-2006, the Office of Naval Research (ONR) sponsored the Coupled Boundary Layer Air-Sea Transfer (CBLAST)-Hurricane initiative to improve our understanding of the exchange of heat, moisture, and momentum in the extreme conditions beneath hurricanes. The unique observations collected during CBLAST were used to develop improved tropical cyclone ocean-air coupling; when implemented in high-resolution dynamic models, they became capable of simulating a realistic pressure-wind relationship in a hurricane for the first time.

Coupled Ocean-Atmosphere Mesoscale Prediction System (COAMPS-TC) model of Hurricane Irene off North Carolina in 2011.This shows Hurricane Irene off North Carolina in 2011 as depicted by COAMPS-TC. The simulated radar reflectivity is dependent on the model forecast of precipitation and is analogous to radar reflectivity from weather radars.
(Photo courtesy of Naval Research Laboratory Marine Meteorology Division)

In 2008 the Naval Research Laboratory adapted the Navy’s operational weather prediction model to create the Coupled Ocean-Atmosphere Mesoscale Prediction System (COAMPS-TC), for tropical cyclone prediction. Subsequent ONR observing programs provided additional new understanding of storm-scale processes, ocean influences, and high-altitude processes, further improving the model.

An operational version of COAMPS-TC was introduced in 2013, supporting naval operations in all ocean basins threatened by tropical cyclones. After two seasons of operational hurricane prediction, COAMPS-TC was described as one of “the most significant advances in storm intensity forecasting in 30 years” by a former director of the National Hurricane Center. Today, the model is a critical component of the ensemble of models used for the National Hurricane Center’s tropical storm predictions.

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