Weather Forecasting by Computer | a study by Robin Stewart
December 9, 2003     

The economic benefits of good weather forecasts are wide-ranging: safely and cost-effectively routing ships and planes; military planning; preparing for storms, floods, and droughts; and everything in between.  Because of this, the atmosphere is probably the most-studied complex system in history.  Increasingly detailed computer models have been developed in order to apply the exponential growth in computational power over the past half century to improving our predictive ability. 

Although our scientific understanding and observation systems have also improved, computer speed continues to be the limiting factor in the accuracy of weather forecasts, and improvements are further restricted by the chaotic nature of the atmosphere.  In this paper I will explore the history and future of computers in weather forecasting as a case study of current trends in predictive computer modeling (as distinct from computer use for basic scientific research).  I will then discuss the implications of such computer models in the quest towards a sustainable world.

Figure 0
Figure 0: Output from a modern computer atmosphere simulation plotting predicted temperature and wind speed. The U.S. is outlined in brown in the bottom half. I made this animation with photos from this site.




Numerical Weather Prediction Computers Meet Weather Forecasting
Futures Implications References