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Ocean Prediction Center - Q&A About Marine Forecasting

How well did the Ocean Prediction Center forecast "the Perfect Storm"?

The storm was quite well predicted by the marine forecasters at the OPC. About a day in advance, a "dangerous" storm warning was issued. The term "dangerous" was very rarely used at that time and when it was employed it was usually after the fact. One of the changes OPC made since "the Perfect Storm" has been to use terms such as "dangerous" or "very violent" to describe unusual situations, when appropriate, to get the mariners' attention.


Was there a Ocean Prediction Center back in 1991?

The OPC also formerly known as the Marine Prediction Center had not yet been formed in 1991, but there was its predecessor the Satellite and Marine Section of the National Weather Service. It consisted of about 12 marine forecasters who produced their forecasts primarily in a text format although there was some graphical material produced for the Pacific Ocean.


How many forecasters make up the OPC today?

The OPC now consists of 20 marine forecasters staffing four desks 24 hours per day 7 days per week. Anyone who visits the OPC comes away with the understanding of the strong sense of dedication these forecasters have to providing the best possible warnings and forecasts to the mariners who traverse the world's bodies of water.


What marine forecast advances have been made since 1991?

There have been great advances in ocean wave forecasting due to the development of improved wave models. Also, the accuracy of atmospheric models three to five days into the future has improved significantly. New methods of display on sophisticated workstations have permitted us to understand and interpret model output better than ever. Another important change has been that OPC expanded its product suite to include a large number of graphical (radiofacsimile) forecasts out to 96 hours. These all translate into superior products for mariners. The advent of satellite-based wind observations such as from scatterometers, although incomplete in coverage, have allowed us to determine initial conditions in storms more accurately. All this has resulted in more accurate forecasts further into the future for the mariner.


What technology advances are in store?

We are looking forward to higher-resolution and more accurate atmospheric and oceanic-wave models and more extensive coverage from satellite-based wind and other observations. New OPC products are under consideration such as longer-range graphical wave charts and storm-track forecasts. Improvements in communications technology are on the horizon, particularly in the area of the satellite communication of graphical forecasts to ships at sea. Additionally, OPC will continue to take advantage of evolving Internet capabilities to make all its products as widely available as possible.