ESRL Quarterly Newsletter - Spring 2009

NASA image of wildfire smoke plume.

NASA image of wildfire smoke plumes.

Technology Export

Australian meteorologists are now using customized ESRL technology to issue detailed, daily weather forecasts for the Victoria region, including parts of Australia hit hard by wildfires this year. This is the second international technology transfer for the Graphical Forecast Editor, or GFE, which is also being used in Taiwan for marine forecasts.

GFE was developed in ESRL’s Forecast Systems Laboratory, now the Global Systems Division, and the system has been operational in the US National Weather Service since 2004. GFE translates the geographical outputs of weather models into gridded data points, so users can click on a location and obtain a detailed forecast.

Before GFE, US forecasters used model output as guidance, then typed out forecasts associated with geographical regions. To obtain a forecast for a particular point, a user would either rely on the regional forecast, or would call up a forecaster and ask for a new analysis at the point of interest.

Now, forecasters in the Bureau of Meteorology’s Victorian Regional Forecast Centre are using GFE to prepare gridded databases of forecasting output, from temperature and clouds to precipitation and winds.

In February, devastating bushfires struck central and eastern Victoria, killing at least 210 people and destroying thousands of homes. The fires occurred on an exceptionally hot and windy day, with many places recording a record maximum temperature.

“The GFE provided a number of important operational benefits to support the provision of fire weather forecasts during this event,” Jon Gill, GFE Project Manager in the Bureau of Meteorology, wrote in an email. The GFE, combined with other weather packages used by forecasters, enabled “exceptionally accurate” forecasts, Gill said. The Premier of Victoria was able to warn citizens, the day before the worst fires, “I’ve been briefed on the latest weather forecast for tomorrow and it’s going to be, probably by a long way, the worst day ever in the history of the State in terms of the temperatures and the winds.”

GFE also helped forecasters send detailed, site-specific forecasts to the field, both leading up to fires and during firefighting, when conditions were changing rapidly and updates were critical, Gill wrote.

Before the fires, the day after the Bureau of Meteorology began using GFE, Gill sent an email thanks to ESRL’s GFE Team (Carl Bullock, Tracy Hansen, Tom LeFebvre, Mike Romberg, and Mark Mathewson of the Global Systems Division). “Firstly, you gave us a terrific system to start with…. Secondly, your help in further developing the GFE to our requirements has been superb,” Gill wrote.

The State Agency for Meteorology in Spain is in the planning stages for adapting the GFE for their operations. During the American Meteorological Society meeting in January, an official from the Meteorological Society of India asked LeFebvre for detailed information on GFE, and expressed interest in using the system for weather forecasting in India. Several private companies are also using GFE for their operations.