Making a Model: European meteorologists strive to make accurate storm predictions

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With hurricane season upon us, it probably won’t be long until we’re paying attention to cones of concern and spaghetti models. It turns out one of the most precise models comes from halfway round the world. 7’s Kevin Ozebek has tonight’s special assignment report, “Making a Model.”

When weather with the power to take lives and destroy homes churns off our coast, forecasting becomes crucial.

Vivian Gonzalez 7Weather meteorologist: “Now I want to show you the forecast models.”

Among all the models in this spaghetti chart, one is produced thousands of miles away but has earned a lot of respect here at home.

Phil Ferro, 7Weather chief meteorologist: “The European model has been one of the most consistent with this system.”

What we call the Euro model comes from the ECMWF. That’s short for the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts.

Kevin Ozebek: “Why do you track the systems that could impact us, like hurricanes?”

Rebecca Emerton, ECMWF meteorologist: “What was once a tropical cyclone in the Atlantic can really impact our weather in Europe.”

British-born Rebecca Emerton and Linus Magnusson of Sweden are part of a team that pools together the best minds in meteorology from 34 European countries.

They care a lot about our weather.

Linus Magnusson, ECMWF meteorologist: “The weather that happens over Florida today will affect the forecast for Europe in four to five days time.”

Phil Ferro: “So here’s the European model.”

What we see of their model comes to us in the form of easy-to-read graphics and weather maps.

But the forecast that ends up in Phil’s weathercast starts on super computers inside ECMWF headquarters in Reading.

Rebecca Emerton: “Just the amount of data and calculations required is absolutely huge, so you need pretty huge super computers to run that kind of process.”

Rows of servers take in weather data. Then the super computers put that data into the model.

Which is a set of equations so long, it’s made of two million lines of code.

Linus Magnusson: “Even if they look simple on paper, they are impossible to solve without the computer.”

Linus and Rebecca may be all the way across the pond, but it was severe weather in our country that sparked their interest in tracking tropical weather.

Rebecca Emerton: “I was out in Florida with my family back in 2004 when Hurricane Charley hit.”

Belkys Nerey, 7News anchor: “Charley’s obliterating part of the West Coast.”

Rebecca remembers watching the storm coverage as she hunkered down in Orlando.

Rebecca Emerton: “I remember listening to the tornado warnings and seeing the tornadoes start to form and hiding in the laundry room with duvets over our heads. It was scary, but it brought out this fascination to understand and learn more about these forecasts.”

For Linus, his fascination stems from Superstorm Sandy.

Linus Magnusson: “From a scientific perspective, it was fascinating to see, how the models were able to predict the cyclone going towards New York.”

As Sandy brewed along the Atlantic, the ECMWF model predicted her turn to the Northeast Coast days before the U.S. National Weather Service model forecast the same.

Look how the two models compare to how the storm actually tracked.

Linus Magnusson: “Even if there is an element of competition, we both want each other to be good.”

That’s because neither European nor American meteorologists can predict Mother Nature’s every move with 100% certainty.

So the more models, the better, especially as we enter another hurricane season.

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