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Home arrow Articles arrow Remote Sensing , Earth Imaging arrow Computer Model Monitors Dangerous Surf Conditions     

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Computer Model Monitors Dangerous Surf Conditions E-mail
Written by NOAA   
02 July 2004
NOAA's WAVEWATCH III numerical ocean-wave prediction computer model can provide important information about potentially dangerous surf conditions resulting from storms hundreds or even thousands of miles away.

NOAA image of NOAA WAVEWATCH III product showing wave heights in the Atlantic Ocean on July 1, 2004.Using information from this model, forecasters from the NOAA National Weather Service as well as private sector weather information providers will be able to alert beachgoers, boaters and others in the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico to possible unsafe conditions. (Click NOAA image for larger view of NOAA WAVEWATCH III product showing wave heights in the Atlantic Ocean on July 1, 2004. Please credit “NOAA.”)

While tracking Hurricane Isabel, for example, meteorologists used NOAA WAVEWATCH III to pinpoint areas that would experience the most extreme wave heights three days in advance. In these offshore areas, wave heights were consistently in excess of 50 feet, or five stories high, with the individual highest waves probably more than 100 feet.

NOAA WAVEWATCH III was created by scientists at the NOAA Environmental Modeling Center. It has provided consistent and reliable predictions of potentially dangerous wave heights that could have devastating impacts to lives and property along the shore and in offshore waters. The model provides meteorologists and many other users a better understanding of coastal swells, surf conditions and better insight of probable impacts from hurricane and tropical storm winds and waves.

“Accurate predictions of extreme wave conditions are not the only important products of the NOAA WAVEWATCH III model,” said Hendrik Tolman, a scientist at the NOAA EMC. “What many people may not realize is that if a major hurricane is striking the Caribbean it can also result in dangerous waves and surf conditions in the Gulf of Mexico and up the East Coast as far north as Long Island and Cape Cod. Similarly, surf conditions can become dangerous days before the storm arrives on the coast.”

“The real issue is safety,” said Joseph Sienkiewicz, a scientist at the NOAA Ocean Prediction Center. “Every year, deaths are attributed to high surf and rip currents generated by hurricanes that are hundreds or even thousands of miles offshore.”

NOAA scientists have worked on this model since 1993.

“Today we see years of hard work paying off,” said Tolman. “Today’s success is with the model, but it is also with the basic elements of the model that consist of computing power, direct access to ocean and atmospheric data, software development, and a better description of the physics involved that have produced the strong foundation on which we stand.”

The NOAA WAVEWATCH III Model is a set of operational global and regional models that predict wave heights using wind conditions as predicted by weather models. A numerical prediction model is a simplified mathematical description of the physical processes that govern weather and waves, applied to the raw computing power of modern computers.

“Many meteorological centers around the world have run wave prediction models in conjunction with weather models for several decades,” Tolman added. “NOAA however, is presently the only organization in the world that produces specialized high-resolution operational wave products for hurricanes with a state-of-the-art wave model. NOAA, through the NOAA National Centers for Environmental Prediction, started producing these products in a test mode in 2000, and operationally in 2001.”

With an increased number of people living in coastal areas and the volume of maritime commerce now occurring over the seas, NOAA continues to invest its time and energies in trying to mitigate losses that could happen due to high winds and waves. In the future, the resolution of this model will become finer, enabling NOAA scientists to more accurately predict wave conditions on the high seas, in the coastal zone and on the beach.

The NOAA National Weather Service operates the most advanced weather and flood warning and forecast system in the world, helping to protect lives and property and enhance the national economy. The NOAA Environmental Modeling Center, which is part of the National Weather Service and one of the National Centers for Environmental Prediction, develops and improves numerical weather, climate, hydrological and ocean prediction through a broad program of applied research in data analysis, modeling and product development in partnership with the broader research community.

NOAA is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and providing environmental stewardship of the nation’s coastal and marine resources. NOAA is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

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Last Updated ( 02 July 2004 )
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