UCAR Collaboration With The Weather Company To Improve Weather Forecasts Worldwide

The Model for Prediction Across Scales (MPAS) enables forecasters to combine a global view of the atmosphere with a higher-resolution view of a particular region, such as North America. Image Credit: UCAR

June 21, 2017 – The University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) today announced a new collaboration with The Weather Company, an IBM business, to improve global weather forecasting. The partnership brings together cutting-edge computer modeling developed at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) with The Weather Company’s meteorological science and IBM’s advanced compute equipment.

“This is a major public-private partnership that will advance weather prediction and generate significant benefits for businesses making critical decisions based on weather forecasts,” said UCAR President Antonio J. Busalacchi. “We are gratified that taxpayer investments in the development of weather models are now helping U.S. industries compete in the global marketplace.”

UCAR, a nonprofit consortium of 110 universities focused on research and training in the atmospheric and related Earth system sciences, manages NCAR on behalf of the National Science Foundation.

With the new agreement, The Weather Company will develop a global forecast model based on the Model for Prediction Across Scales (MPAS), an innovative software platform developed by NCAR and the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

MPAS offers a unique way of simulating the global atmosphere while providing users with more flexibility when focusing on specific regions of interest. Unlike traditional three-dimensional models that calculate atmospheric conditions at multiple points within a block-shaped grid, it uses a hexagonal mesh resembling a honeycomb that can be stretched wide in some regions and compressed for higher resolution in others. This enables forecasters to simultaneously capture far-flung atmospheric conditions that can influence local weather, as well as small-scale features such as vertical wind shear that can affect thunderstorms and other severe weather.

Drawing on the computational power of GPUs — graphics processing units — such as those being used in a powerful new generation of IBM supercomputers, and on the expertise of NCAR and The Weather Company, the new collaboration is designed to push the capabilities of MPAS to yield more accurate forecasts with longer lead times. The results of NCAR’s work will be freely available to the meteorological community. Businesses, from airlines to retailers, as well as the general public, stand to benefit.

Mary Glackin, head of weather science and operations for The Weather Company, said, “As strong advocates for science, we embrace strong public-private collaborations that understand the value science brings to society, such as our continued efforts with UCAR to advance atmospheric and computational sciences.”

“As this partnership shows, society is on the cusp of a new era in weather prediction, with more precise short-range forecasts as well as longer-term forecasts of seasonal weather patterns,” Busalacchi said. “These forecasts are important for public health and safety, as well as enabling companies to leverage economic opportunities in ways that were never possible before.”

Both UCAR and NCAR are headquartered in Boulder, Colorado, with additional operations in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and Washington, D.C.