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Terry’s Take: Weather models…the key to detecting and forecasting winter storms

Posted on: 3:37 pm, February 27, 2013, by , updated on: 03:49pm, February 27, 2013

Terry Swails Weather Blog

When it comes to detecting and forecasting winter storms, I rely on long range weather models that in some cases are run out as far as 16 days.  Several major countries produce these models which essentially simulate what the atmosphere will look like at designated times.  The United States produces 2 key models developed and produced by NCEP, the National Center for Environmental Prediction located in Silver Springs, Maryland.

500mb chart

500mb chart

These incredibly complex tools allow forecasters the ability to see storm tracks and the energy within them that creates our daily weather.  The models are so advanced they can pinpoint the pressure, temperature, and moisture that will lead to significant weather events.

Snowstorms are especially intriguing to me because with today’s super computers and technology, we can usually see potential snow makers at least 7 days before they arrive.  That’s before even a hint of clouds or precipitation has developed here in the Midwest.

Once I detect a piece of energy, I look at multiple models with the intent of finding a consistent solution regarding track and intensity.  My decisions are usually based on the GFS or European models when I start honing in on the details of a forecast.  Due to the fact the models are run multiple times a day, I’m constantly getting new bits of information on how the storm is trending.  A week out there can be big variances but as the event draws closer, the models generally converge on a consistent and reliable depiction, especially 24-36 hours before the storm strikes.

Surface map

Surface map

It’s kind of like putting a jigsaw puzzle together with wiggly lines and numbers instead of a picture.  For me it’s fascinating and challenging work.  It can be frustrating but when all the pieces come together and the picture becomes clear, there’s no better feeling of accomplishment.  In fact, I’m up to the challenge right now!