Computer weather models

One of the most powerful tools meteorologists use in their work is the computer model of the atmosphere. These models use mathematical representations of the existing physics of the atmosphere, and step forward in time to provide plausible forecasts for various weather parameters for the future. 

Because of advances in the understanding of atmospheric physics, better methods of observing the atmosphere (assessing the initial conditions for each model run), more sophisticated modeling techniques, and more powerful computers, the models have shown significant improvement in predictive power over the past few decades. They are certainly not perfect, but they are able to identify situations that, even with a full understanding of the physics, would cause human forecasters to struggle. 

By working our way backwards (already knowing the result!) through the panels in Figure 4, it is fairly easy to see where the energy that resulted in the nor’easter came from. It is much more difficult, though, to look at just the first or second panels in that figure and make the forecast that a powerful storm will develop five or six days later. The voluminous calculations made by the mathematical models allow them to sort out all of the waves of different sizes and strengths in the atmosphere in ways that objective human analysis just cannot manage.

Ken McKinley