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U.S. claims 'breakthrough' in weather forecasts


WASHINGTON -- Improvements in the ability to predict Pacific Ocean water temperatures has lead to a "breakthrough" in weather forecasting, scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced yesterday.

The key is a large network of instruments providing better measurements of temperature and weather patterns in the Pacific, which in turn allow more realistic computer models of future water temperature variations.

Scientists then use these models to forecast climate conditions around the globe.

The new technique will allow considerable improvements in forecasting accuracy, said Jagadish Shukla, a George Mason University earth sciences professor who has worked with NOAA in developing the new forecasting method.

The temperature of the Pacific Ocean affects weather patterns around the world more than any other single factor. For example, if during a Pacific warming period more heat is released into the atmosphere, this heat then warms other parts of the globe.

Rodney Weiher, NOAA's chief economist, said the new forecasting technique could save millions of dollars in areas of the economy vulnerable to nature's whims by allowing people to plan better for coming weather trends.

"Essentially what it does is reduce error and reduce wasted resources," Mr. Weiher said.

The actual accuracy of the new technique awaits full tests.

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