The predictability of weather and climate
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The last thirty years have seen the development of comprehensive numerical models of the large-scale circulation of the atmosphere, based on physical principles. Such models are quite skillful at describing the evolving weather up to a few days ahead, despite imperfect theory and inadequate observational data. Yet even a hypothetical perfect model, which exactly represented the dynamics of the real atmosphere, and which used data from the best conceivable observing system, could not produce an accurate forecast of indefinitely long range. Any forecast must eventually lose skill because of the intrinsic instability of the atmosphere itself.
This limitation on the predictability of the detailed evolution of the atmosphere (“weather”) does not preclude the possibility of seasonal and longer-range forecasts of means and other statistical properties (“climate”). However, we are only beginning to learn what aspects of climate may be predictable, and what theoretical tools and observational data will be required to predict them.
KeywordsAtmosphere Numerical Model Observational Data Long Range Physical Principle
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