What is “The European Weather Model” and Why Should I Care?
When you have a job to do it all comes down to the tools you use - whether it's laying tile, sheet-rocking an addition, or predicting the weather. You want to use the tool that consistently does the best job, right?
To be able to predict the weather with any level of accuracy beyond 12-24 hours requires weather models, simulations of how the atmosphere SHOULD behave in the coming days. The atmosphere is a fluid, and complex mathematical equations describe how particles in this fluid will move over time. Of course they're all wrong, and some are wrong more often than others. Which leads us to ECMWF, the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts. There is a case to be made that ECMWF, subsidized by 35 European countries, although imperfect, is consistently the best weather model in the world.
Like most people I defer to what works, based on personal experience. And in recent years many meteorologists have reached the conclusion that I have over time: ECMWF, The European Model, is more accurate. The graphic above shows accuracy differences between NOAA's GFS global model and ECMWF from 2007 to 2020. ECMWF accuracy (blue graph) is better. 1 is perfection, and as you can see ECMWF is not perfect, but consistently better than NOAA's GFS model.
At the risk of oversimplification, there are many reasons why ECMWF is better. The European model is run by The European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts in Reading, England. Unlike NOAA, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which runs dozens of models, ECMWF runs one global model at high resolution. All efforts and resources have been focused into perfecting this one weather simulation.
There are other factors involved, including demonstrably better data assimilation (getting the most recent weather observations into the ECMWF model faster) - a steady pipeline of meteorological research - and better physics being applied to improve the ECMWF model at a quicker pace. The result: ECMWF is arguably the best weather model on the planet today. Unfortunately, it is not free and available in the public domain, like NOAA's models. If you want to check the ECMWF for the Northland you need to subscribe to a service that makes this output available.
ECMWF was first to predict that Hurricane Sandy would not sail out to sea, but hook inland, toward the New Jersey coast in late October, 2012. For many meteorologists that was one (of many) aha-moments in deciding which model to rely on most days. The graphic above is from a corporate weather briefing I issued for Superstorm Sandy.
The dark art of meteorology is knowing which weather models to believe and which to ignore, and when. Every storm scenario is different and weather models are tools, not Gospel. I refer to the European model on KOOL's airwaves many mornings and if push comes to shove I defer to ECMWF over the scores of other models available today.
NOAA may yet catch up with accuracy, but until then I'll hedge my weather bets. It may be a bit wonky, but yes, when you're going out on a weather-limb, models matter!