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Scientists Say Numerical Weather Forecasting Is Nearing Its Limits

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in the 60s, mathematician and meteorologist Edward Lorenz hypothesized that there is a limit to how far in advance precise weather prediction is possible.

A new study proved that he was right. A team of researchers said that they found that limit, which they believe is about two weeks on average.

"Edward Lorenz proved that one cannot predict the weather beyond some time horizon, even in principle," stated Kerry Emanuel, a professor of atmospheric science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "Our research shows that this weather predictability horizon is around two weeks, remarkable close to Lorenz's estimate."

Finding The Limit Of Advanced Weather Prediction

Since the 80s, a new day of predicting power has been added with each decade. Right now, weather forecasts provide prediction to up to nine to 10 days in the mid-latitudes where most of the planet's population reside.

The new study suggests that upcoming technology can only add four to five more days over the coming years. The researchers tested this limit by using two of the world's most advanced numerical weather prediction modeling systems: the European Center for Medium Range Weather Forecasting and the next generation global prediction system of the United States.

They fed the two state-of-the-art modeling systems with a near-perfect picture of initial conditions and tested how the models will recreate real-world weather events. The researchers reported that both simulations predicted weather patterns with accuracy for about two weeks.

"We used state-of-the-art models to answer this most fundamental question," stated Fuqing Zhang, the lead author of the study. "I think in the future we'll refine this answer, but our study demonstrates conclusively there is a limit, though we still have considerable room to improve forecast before reaching the limit."

Importance Of Accurate Weather Prediction

Accurate weather prediction is not only useful for planning a trip and whether to dress warmly for the day. It can also help the authorities prep prior to weather events such as evacuations due to flooding or evaluation of energy supply.

The researchers explained that advances in weather forecasting can bring economic and social benefits. Better data collection, an algorithm that integrates the data into models, and improved computing power can push forward the current prediction systems and reach the limit.

The study appears in the Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences.

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