It was October 2012 when the European weather prediction model beat its American counterpart in forecasting Hurricane Sandy’s hard left turn into the U.S. coastline. What scientists had known for years — that the European forecast model was superior to the American — caught the attention of the U.S. public and Congress.
Since then, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, with funding support from Congress, has worked intensely to improve the American model. It has boosted its computing power, improved the way it brings in data, and enhanced how it simulates weather systems at small scales. Yet, more than six years later, it still trails the European model in overall accuracy.
Neil Jacobs, the acting head of NOAA and a meteorologist, is committed to closing the gap between the models. Since being appointed to the Trump administration, he has made one of his top priorities installing a process that will allow U.S. forecast modeling to reach its potential and become world-class.
As part of its 2020 budget request, to the tune of $15 million, NOAA has proposed the establishment of the Earth Prediction Innovation Center (EPIC), which it says “will advance U.S. weather modeling and reclaim international leadership in the area of numerical weather prediction.”
In an interview, Jacobs blamed recent U.S. modeling shortfalls on a lack of research investment. He said the United States now spends about the same amount on operating its flagship model, the Global Forecast System (GFS), as it does on research initiatives to improve it. By contrast, the European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts spends roughly five times as much on research. Jacobs said he’d like to see NOAA “grow research five times” to keep pace.
This is where EPIC comes in.