UNC Asheville's National Environmental Modeling and Analysis Center
Plays Key Role in Providing Critical Data During Hurricane Charley
As residents of Florida try to recover from the devastating blow delivered on Friday, August 13 by Hurricane Charley, scientists at the
National Environmental Modeling and Analysis Center
(NEMAC), located at the University of North Carolina Asheville, are assessing the performance of the computer models that are used to predict the path of Charley and other killer hurricanes.
Baron Advanced Meteorological Systems, a NEMAC partner, produced a forecast model that correctly identified the track of Hurricane Charley. The model, running on supercomputers in Asheville and Raleigh, N.C. was used by five local TV stations in Florida and North Carolina to warn residents that the path of the storm was different than what was originally forecast.
Forecast models are used in the efforts to protect life and property by government officials who make evacuation decisions as a storm approaches. To the casual observer this may appear to be a straightforward process, but atmospheric scientists know that producing an accurate forecast for the path of a hurricane is an extremely complex and difficult task.
"The performance of our model during Hurricane Charley is extremely encouraging" said Dr. Greg Wilson, president of BAMS. "As the hurricane was moving northward past Cuba, every forecaster in the region was trying to determine where the strongest part of the hurricane would cross the Florida coast and our model consistently indicated that the storm would make landfall in the Fort Myers area."
Most of the computer models were forecasting a landfall near Tampa, but for days the BAMS model was forecasting that Charley would take a more easterly route and make landfall around Fort Myers, putting it on a direct path to later hit the highly populated city of Orlando.
Hurricane Charley did make landfall just to the north of Fort Myers with the eye of the storm passing over Charlotte Harbor. The storm then continued northeastward cutting a path across Florida, producing 105 mph winds at Orlando International Airport and maintaining hurricane strength as it crossed into Volusia County on Florida's east coast. As it moved along the Atlantic coastline, Hurricane Charley did batter the North Carolina coast, but because the BAMS forecast was correct, Emergency Management and state officials in North Carolina were better prepared to deal with the storm and its effects on the region between Raleigh and the coast, Wilson said.
Over the next several weeks, NEMAC scientists will look closely into the performance of the model to assess why it performed so well. "It is just as important to know why the BAMS model was so successful in forecasting the actual landfall and path of Charley as it is to know why the other models missed it," said Wilson.
BAMS recently relocated its operational headquarters to the Asheville area from Research Triangle Park.
"The efforts of local leaders like Congressman Taylor who have brought high-speed communications and high performance computing in Asheville make it possible for weather technology companies to do business here," said Wilson.
Asheville is becoming a hub for weather and environmental data. The National Climatic Data Center (NCDC), the world's largest archive of weather data is located in downtown Asheville, as are Education and Research Services (ERS) and the Education and Research Consortium of the Western Carolina (ERCWC) which provide access to real-time radar data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Weather Service.
"The development of Centers like NEMAC is an important part of the mission of UNC
Asheville." said John Stevens, acting NEMAC director. "Centers build an environment that benefits the institution and its students while enhancing economic development of the surrounding region by building collaboration between academia, government, and the private-sector."
NCDC, BAMS, ERS, and ERCWC are all working with the Center at UNC Asheville to bring new research and technology to Western North Carolina.
NEMAC, a national center for the modeling and analysis of environmental data, was established at UNC Asheville in February 2004. NEMAC coordinates basic and applied research projects, and serves as an information center regarding funding and collaborative opportunities for joint research and the commercialization of environmental technology. The Center has received more than $2.7 million in grants and contracts since its start.
- Pamela McCown, NEMAC Communications, 828/350-2422
- Merianne Epstein, UNC Asheville Public Information Director, 828/251-6676