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Agencies team up to accelerate Earth system prediction
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Agencies team up to accelerate Earth system prediction

Goal is improved short and long-term prediction of weather, climate, ocean and sea ice conditions

Accurately predicting the weather - at short and long time scales - is among the most complex and important challenges faced by science. Protecting the nation’s security and economic well-being will increasingly rely on improved skill in forecasting weather, weather-driven events like floods and droughts, and long-term shifts in weather, ocean and sea-ice patterns.

A new paper co-authored by officials from NOAA Research and NOAA’s National Weather Service, other federal agencies, and the military, captures the 60-year history of U.S. numerical weather prediction and details a five-agency strategy underway to coordinate and accelerate the America’s environmental prediction capability.

“This is our grand challenge,” said Craig McLean, assistant NOAA administrator for NOAA Research. “We need tools like these to improve our ability to make smart long-range investments, to build infrastructure that’s more resilient to severe weather and to protect public safety, commerce, and national security.”

The National Earth System Prediction Capability, or National ESPC, is a collaboration between the NOAA, NASA, the Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation, and two military branches - the U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force.

The partnership’s goals are to coordinate a national predictive capability with common requirements and standards and develop a national research agenda. The research plan would focus on enabling operational capability to produce a seamlessly integrated system of short- and long-range operational predictive tools for weather, ocean, and sea ice conditions from five-day forecasts to 30-year climate outlooks.

The paper was published in the February issue of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society.

While the National Weather Service’s High Resolution Rapid Refresh model has distinguished itself as the international gold standard for real-time, cloud-resolving atmospheric weather models, the authors say that a push to improve predictive capability for time scales ranging from weeks to decades needs to be a priority.   

"There’s a growing need among emergency managers and water resources managers for skillful, reliable and actionable weather forecasts and climate outlooks, all with longer lead times,” said Louis W. Uccellini, director, NOAA’s National Weather Service.  “We are embracing the collaboration among researchers, forecasters and modelers to help us develop the better predictive capabilities that are required to serve our users and partners’ needs and to build a Weather-Ready Nation.”

Developing an effective National ESPC will require increased coordination among the members on research efforts focused on critical technologies. Collaboration will also be needed to profit from advances in computer hardware and software development, common metrics and coordinated testing of models and ensembles, and build on existing close working relationships between operational prediction centers. While a good deal has been written about streamlining the path of research products to operational status, the authors point out that completing the circle, by improving feedback from operations to researchers, will also be vital to shape the path of research and testing new technology.

NOAA brings several noteworthy contributions to this partnership. 

●     The National Weather Service’s Next-Generation Global Prediction System program will provide a weather-scale, fully coupled (air-ocean-land-ice) numerical weather prediction system forecasting out to 30 days. 

●     Multiple NOAA research laboratories and programs support both extended predictability research as well as specific prediction contributions. 

●     NOAA’s Subseasonal Experiment will test an experimental multi-model ensemble prediction system out to 45 days. 

●     Additionally, NOAA is supporting research models to provide experimental seasonal ensemble predictions and supplement operational models supporting products extending out 12 months as part of NOAA’s National Multi-Model Ensemble.

The U.S. government has recognized the value of supporting environmental predictive capabilities since the Joint Numerical Weather Prediction Unit was organized in 1954. 

The National ESPC is the most recent effort to coordinate the expertise and resources of key federal agencies to address the need for predictive skill for weather, oceans and sea ice on time scales from days to decades. The Office of the Federal Coordinator for Meteorology is helping coordinate this new effort.

For more information, please contact Theo Stein, NOAA Communications, at 303-497-6288 or by email at

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Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR) - or "NOAA Research" - provides the research foundation for understanding the complex systems that support our planet. Working in partnership with other organizational units of the NOAA, a bureau of the Department of Commerce, NOAA Research enables better forecasts, earlier warnings for natural disasters, and a greater understanding of the Earth. Our role is to provide unbiased science to better manage the environment, nationally, and globally.


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