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An Eye on Earl: RENCI Models the Path of Hurricane as Its Heads Towards the East Coast

As Hurricane Earl strengthens and heads closer to North Carolina’s coast, RENCI researchers are tracking its every move with a Weather Research Forecast (WRF) model that plots the storm’s course on a grid, with each point in the grid representing a 3 kilometer by 3 kilometer box.

The model’s 3 km resolution is significant because it means scientists do not need to use parameterization schemes—a method used to predict the collective effects of many clouds that might exist within a grid box—in the model.

Parameterizations often result in models that underestimate a storm’s intensity, says Brian Etherton, a senior atmospheric scientist at RENCI. Storm intensity also affects the storm track, so RENCI’s model predicts a somewhat different track than the models run by the National Center for Environmental Prediction (NCEP), the National Weather Service division that provides most of the commonly used forecasting products.

“Our model shows Earl coming closer to the coast than the NCEP forecasts,” says Etherton. “The National Weather Service offices in Raleigh, Wilmington and Morehead City are all looking at our output. It is a research tool that we can compare to other models. When the storm is over we can evaluate our model and its value in predicting the track and intensity of Earl.”

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The high reolution WRF model was developed in collaboration with Gary Lackmann, an atmospheric scientist at North Carolina State University.

In addition to the WRF model, RENCI scientists are modeling coastal storm surge and waves associated with Hurricane Earl. Those models show that waves up to 4 meters high (more than 12 feet) might occur off the North Carolina coast by Friday. The models will also show storm surge, or the height of water pushed inland by the storm, as the storm moves closer to North Carolina.

All the models are run twice a day using RENCI’s Dell/Intel supercomputer Blue Ridge, which is capable of 8 trillion calculations per second.

View Hurricane Earl Storm track:

View animated loop of Earl’s track:

RENCI (the Renaissance Computing Institute) applies advanced technology resources and expertise to problems identified by the state of North Carolina and to university research initiatives. Its research contributes to the development of the next generation of technology infrastructure and cyber tools. Founded as a major collaboration involving UNC Chapel Hill, Duke University and North Carolina State University, RENCI is a statewide organization based at UNC Chapel Hill with facilities at campuses across North Carolina. For more see

Karen Green | Newswise Science News
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