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The Hydrometeorological Prediction Center

About the HPC

The mission of the HPC is to provide forecast, guidance, and analysis products and services to support the daily public forecasting activities of the NWS and its customers, and to provide tailored support to other government agencies in emergency and special situations.

Click here for a brief history of the HPC.

Click here to view a slide presentation describing the HPC in more detail, including

1) Vision and mission
2) Partners and customers
3) Products and services
4) Value added by HPC forecasters
5) HPC plans

The primary functions of the HPC:

Quantitative Precipitation Forecasts (QPF)

The QPF desk prepares and issues forecasts of accumulating (quantitative) precipitation, heavy rain, heavy snow, and highlights areas with the potential for flash flooding.   The basic QPF products are primarily directed to the NWS forecast offices and are available on the Internet for public use.  The heavy snow forecast products, in association with the short-range public forecast products (described below), serve as a coordinating mechanism for the NWS winter storm watch and warning program.  Through a continuous watch for excessive rainfall, heavy snow, and winter storms, this desk ensures that the highest quality forecast products are constantly available.  

The QPF desk is co-located with the National Environmental Satellite Data and Information Service (NESDIS), and together they comprise the National Precipitation Prediction Unit (NPPU).  NESDIS meteorologists prepare estimates of rainfall and current trends based on satellite data, and this information is used by the QPF short term forecaster as part of the input for individual 6-hourly forecasts that cover the next 12 hours.   With access to WSR-88D/Doppler radar data, satellite estimates, and NCEP model forecast data as well as current weather observations and HPC analyses, the forecaster has the latest data for use in preparation of short-range precipitation forecasts.  Meteorological reasoning discussions are regularly written and issued with the forecast packages to explain and support the forecast.

Winter Weather Forecasts

The Hydrometeorological Prediction Center (HPC) Winter Weather Desk issues heavy snow and icing operational products.  These products provide support to the NWS winter weather watch/warning/outlook program.  These forecasts are for the contiguous United States (CONUS) and are routinely issued from September 15 to May 15.  Graphical forecasts are issued twice daily at 0900 UTC and 2100 UTC (4AM/PM EST respectively), although updates may be warranted by rapidly changing conditions.

The Winter Weather Desk issues probabilistic heavy snow and icing guidance products for Days One, Two, and Three.  The forecasts represent the probability that freezing rain or combined snow/sleet accumulations will meet specific criteria in a 24-hour period.   These products are issued in probabilistic form to better represent the forecast uncertainty associated with a particular event.  Specific (deterministic) accumulations for a particular location in the United States can be obtained from the National Weather Service home page.   The probabilistic graphics combined with the deterministic forecasts provide a user two elements; the most likely amount expected from an event and a sense of "what's possible" in terms of accumulations.

The Winter Weather Desk produces a heavy snow and icing discussion that provides the meteorological reasoning for the 24-hour probabilistic heavy snow and icing guidance graphics for Days One, Two, and Three.  This text message is used by internal and external clients including NWS field offices, Department of Homeland Security, FEMA, the White House, Department of Commerce, FAA, and the general meteorological community (private sector and the media).

Short Term Forecasts

The short range forecasters are responsible for preparing forecasts for the time period of 6 through 60 hours.  These products are issued twice daily using guidance from the NWS's Global Forecast System (GFS) and North American Mesoscale model (NAM), as well as guidance from the European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF), the United Kingdom's Meteorology Office (UKMET), the Meteorological Service of Canada, including ensembles.   Coordination with the surface analysis, model diagnostics, quantitative precipitation, winter weather, and tropical forecast desks is also performed during the short range forecast process.   The short range forecast products include surface pressure patterns, circulation centers and fronts for 6-60 hours, and a depiction of the types and extent of precipitation that are forecast at the valid time of the chart.  In addition, discussions are written on each shift and issued with the forecast packages that highlight the meteorological reasoning behind the forecasts and significant weather across the continental United States.

Medium-Range (days 3-7) Public Forecasts

The medium range forecasters are responsible for preparing forecasts for days 3 through 7.   These forecasts are issued twice per day (preliminary and final issuances) using guidance from the NWS medium range forecast model (GFS) as well as models from the European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasting (ECMWF), the United Kingdom's Meteorology Office (UKMET), Canadian model, the Navy NOGAPS model, and ensemble guidance from the GFS, ECMWF, Canadian, and North American Ensemble Forecast System (NAEFS).  

The medium range forecast products include: 1) surface pressure patterns, circulation centers and fronts for days 3-7; 2) daily maximum and minimum temperatures and anomalies for days 3-7; 3) Probability of Precipitation in 12 hour increments for days 3-7; 4) total 5-day precipitation for days 1 through 5 and 5) 500mb height forecasts for days 3-7.   In addition, a narrative is issued for each set of forecasts highlighting forecast reasoning and significant weather over the Continental United States.  Separate forecasts, similar to the 5-day mean products, are prepared for Hawaii.

Experimental Alaska Medium-Range (Days 4-8) Public Forecasts

The Alaska medium range forecasters review the latest deterministic and ensemble model guidance (e.g., GFS, Global Ensemble Forecast System, or GEFS; Canadian GEM Global; Canadian GEM Ensembles; ECMWF; ECMWF Ensembles; Navy NOGAPS; UKMET; and the North American Ensemble Forecast System, or NAEFS) to compose the most likely forecast for Alaska and surrounding areas valid on days 4-8.

The Alaska Medium Range Discussion, 500 hPa height graphics, and surface fronts and pressures graphics for days 4-8 are issued experimentally, so they may not update regularly.  Additionally, gridded guidance for the forecast period is issued experimentally for the following fields:
  1. Day 4-8 Maximum/Minimum Temperature Grids;
  2. Day 4-8 12-hr Probability of Precipitation Grids; and
  3. Day 4-8 derived Dewpoint Temperature, Cloud Cover, Precipitation Type, and Wind Speed/Direction Grids.
Each of the grids will be downscaled to 5-km horizontal resolution.

The NCEP/Environmental Modeling Center (EMC) is currently developing a method to derive downscaled 10th and 90th percentile values for Maximum/Minimum Temperature and Wind Speed from the NAEFS, which can be adjusted by the Alaska medium range forecaster.  These values are intended to complement the aforementioned grids for days 4-8 by giving an indication of what is meteorologically possible as well as a measure of uncertainty in the forecast, and should become available during 2008.

Numerical Model Diagnostics and Interpretation

The purpose of the HPC Model Diagnostic Discussion is to provide objective information and subjective interpretation concerning the current runs of the NCEP short range numerical models.  The HPC model diagnostic meteorologist prepares the Model Diagnostic Discussion twice per day corresponding to the 0000 UTC and 1200 UTC model runs.  This narrative consists of three sections: 1) An evaluation of the initialization of the NAM and GFS.  The meteorologist compares the model analyses with available observed data (radiosondes, aircraft, surface observations, satellite imagery, etc.), and notes features that do not appear to be properly represented and have an adverse impact on the models' forecasts after the analysis time.   2) A review of model trends and biases.  This section describes how the models are trending in their evolution and progression of important features when compared to previous runs.  This section also includes any significant persistent errors that recent model forecasts have been making with respect to a particular feature or over a general region.  3) A description of model differences and preferences.   The meteorologist reviews how the suite of models from the latest forecast cycle differ from each other in their forecasts of significant features.  Where differences exist, he or she takes into account other available models from previous cycles (ECMWF, UKMET, Canadian, NOGAPS, ensembles, etc.) and the information in 1) and 2) above to formulate a preferred model or model blend.

Surface Analysis

The HPC Surface Analysis is part of the NWS Unified Surface Analysis and a collaborative effort with the Ocean Prediction Center (OPC) and the Tropical Prediction Center (TPC).  The HPC focuses on the synoptic and mesoscale features over North America, north of 31N.

The Surface Analysis itself is a manual analysis of surface fronts and pressure over North America and adjacent oceans at three hour intervals.  The Analysis utilizes a variety of weather data in addition to observations of surface weather conditions, such as upper air observations, global satellite imagery, Doppler radar, and model mass fields to ensure that the product is meteorologically consistent and of the highest quality.

Tropical Cyclone Forecasts

The HPC is the official back-up center to the National Hurricane Center (NHC).  In this capacity, the HPC is responsible for issuing all tropical cyclone products, including discussions, graphics and watches and warnings that would normally be issued by the NHC for any tropical system in the Atlantic Ocean or eastern Pacific Ocean basins, if NHC is unable to so for any reason.

During the tropical weather season which runs from May 15-November 30, the HPC has several other routine duties pertaining to tropical weather forecasting.  The first duty is to provide track forecast guidance to the NHC whenever there is a tropical cyclone in the Atlantic Ocean basin west of 60W longitude.   As required, this guidance is provided to the NHC four times daily for use in the tropical cyclone package issued by the NHC at 0300 UTC, 0900 UTC, 1500 UTC and 2100 UTC.  The HPC also participates in the Hurricane Hotline call with the NHC and other forecast offices and government agencies for tropical cyclones in the Atlantic Ocean basin west of 60W longitude.

Another duty of the HPC tropical desk is to provide the rainfall statement for tropical cyclones that are expected to make landfall.  This statement is included in the Public Advisory issued by the NHC, and is a forecast of expected rainfall amounts that will occur with the tropical cyclone.

Finally, the HPC tropical desk also has the responsibility for issuing Public Advisories whenever a tropical cyclone has made landfall in the U.S. or adjacent parts of Mexico, has weakened below tropical storm status, and the NHC is no longer issuing advisories on the system but the system is still capable of producing flooding type rains.  This HPC Public Advisory will continue to be issued until the flooding rainfall threat is over.  The advisory will contain information on how much rainfall has occurred with a particular tropical system, and will also include forecast information on the remnants of the system.

International Desks 

The International desks have a variety of responsibilities, principally the training of foreign visitors in the use of Numerical Weather Prediction products.  The International desk routinely hosts visitors from Central and South America and the Caribbean.  Visiting meteorologists train, and also generate forecasts for their own national centers, and assist HPC forecasters with QPF related to tropical cyclones in Central America and the Caribbean.

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Page last modified: Thursday, 13-Mar-2008 12:50:45 GMT