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The Forecast Is: Better Weather Predictions for the Navy

Posted June 12, 2013

The U.S. Navy has adopted a new global weather forecasting model with the support of the Office of Naval Research (ONR) to the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL).

The Naval Global Environmental Model (NAVGEM) became fully operational this spring, and today serves as a cutting-edge prediction system for Navy planners who depend on reliable weather forecasts.

“When a global weather model for the Navy gets replaced, that is huge news,” said Dr. Ronald Ferek, ONR program officer. “The previous forecasting model had been in use for over 20 years.”

The Navy’s Fleet Numerical and Meteorology and Oceanography Center, which provides meteorological data to U.S. forces, switched over to NAVGEM in March. It is being used to provide detailed, accurate global forecasts up to10 days out.

The system could inform Navy operations for years to come. It is particularly important as U.S. fleet presence increases throughout the Asia-Pacific region, known for intense weather events like typhoons.

Accurate forecasts are critical for naval commanders who need all-weather capability to avoid damaging high winds and seas. This includes to plan and conduct military operations, execute timely evacuations of vulnerable assets, and plan humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, which the Navy has supported over the years.

NAVGEM is one of the most sophisticated computer models in the world. It will give Navy leaders, quite literally, a clearer picture of what the weather is going to be like across the globe as they deploy the fleet. “The new system runs at a higher resolution than the previous global model,” said Ferek. “With NAVGEM, the Navy can get better, more detailed forecasts. More ‘skill’ than in the past.”

“The particular algorithm developed with ONR funding allows very efficient computation,” said Dr. Simon Chang, NRL Marine Meteorology Division superintendent, “making it feasible for NAVGEM to run at much higher resolution, on smaller operational computers.”

The path to better forecasts is not easy, and requires years of research, testing and development. “It was tough to make weather computations significantly more efficient,” said Ferek. “But the principal investigators at NRL said ‘We need to do this,’ and I could see it was going to be really useful.”

NAVGEM was supported by PEO C4I-Program Executive Office Command, Control, Communications, Computers and Intelligence for advanced development, and ultimately deployment. The development team was honored recently with the Navy’s prestigious 2012 Acquisition Excellence Award (Technology Transition Award) for its NAVGEM work.

More remains to be done, however.

While NAVGEM gives military leaders better global data, the Navy also needs forecast models that can provide localized high-res weather analysis. With ONR support, NRL and academic partners have developed the Coupled Ocean/Atmosphere Mesoscale Prediction System-Tropical Cyclone (COAMPS-TC), which looks at the detailed meteorological process of dangerous tropical storms, and gives accurate predictions of a storm’s intensity one-to-five days out.

The COAMPS-TC effort will work in conjunction with NAVGEM to provide accurate long-term and short-term forecasts for Navy leaders. “Think of it as your weather news on television,” said Ferek. “The long-term forecasts use the equivalent of the global model. The next-day forecasts rely on more detailed, or mesoscale, models like COAMPS-TC.”

ONR provides the science and technology necessary to maintain the Navy and Marine Corps‘ technological advantage. Through its affiliates, ONR is a leader in science and technology with engagement in 50 states, 70 countries, 1,035 institutions of higher learning and 914 industry partners. ONR employs approximately 1,400 people, comprising uniformed, civilian and contract personnel, with additional employees at the Naval Research Lab in Washington, D.C.

By David Smalley, Office of Naval Research

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