As the blizzard barreled toward the Northeast last week, Weather Channel meteorologist Carl Parker told NBC News, “The European model, which is generally the best model we have, has continued to insist there is going to be this really big storm but the other models are not bullish on it at all.” Thus, America’s fading ability to forecast extreme weather was embarrassingly exposed for the second consecutive superstorm. The European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts promptly and accurately tracked Hurricane Sandy’s landfall last fall on the coast of New York and New Jersey, and did the same with last weekend’s winter storm in New England.
The European center uses more powerful computers and extra layers of data that provide a higher “resolution” for scientists to make predictions. Not only are the National Weather Service’s models weaker, but they will fall even further behind if Congress fails to replace the aging satellites that provide the vast majority of US weather information.
In December, a study endorsed by the federal government found that without data from the polar-orbiting satellites, whose sensors will begin to fail by 2016, the National Weather Service’s forecast for Sandy would have put it hundreds of miles out at sea, leaving millions of people with far less time to prepare. The importance of early, reliable forecasting was vividly on display in both the hurricane and the blizzard; early preparation saved countless lives and prevented extensive damage. In an era of climate change, when the overall forecast for extreme weather is ominous, Congress, the White House, and the National Weather Service must come up with a new strategy to meet the challenges of future storms.