Here's a contribution to the big blow in England. I was scheduled to land at Heathrow the morning of the 16th and we sat at Dublin for 6 hours waiting for the storm to clear. The weather at Dublin was clear and calm. My comments are based on my participating in an NRC study for NOAA a few years back; it concerned future needs for computer support to weather models. I'm giving you this from memory but I'm sure that the general facts are correct. Within the last 10-15 years or so, there were two examples of severe weather in this country that forecasters missed: the Johntown flood in western Pennsylvania from unprecedented rains, and the big blizzard in the Northeast, which interestingly had been forecast by a smallish private weather service used by some of the trucking companies. The explanation from the weather types was that each of them had been a mesoscale phenomenon — too small to be included or visible in the global weather models but too large to fall within the capabilities of local forecasters. The mesoscale effects seemingly had been overlooked by the WX types and had just been appreciated at the time we were doing our study. The large 5-day weather models which typically run once or twice each day on some huge computer are upper atmosphere models. They work at a prescribed pressure profile which it seems to me is 200 millibars, corresponding roughly to jet altitudes. As such they predict the large effects in weather patterns. The local forecaster uses inputs from satellites, from the large models, and from local and nearby data sources. But his ability to predict is limited to an area perhaps 100 miles or so across. The mesoscale phenomena are a few-to-several hundred miles in extent and are lower atmosphere behavior. The WX types have two problems in getting models to handle them: first, building the models themselves which must include things that the upper atmosphere models can ignore (e.g., topographic effects, ground-air heat transfer, effects of large lakes and/or rivers), and getting the data to drive the models. The models will have to have a very fine mesh to handle the detail needed, and consequently the data sources will also have to be fine grained. As of 7-10 years ago, the work on the models was just starting. I do not know the present status. I suspect that the London and southern England storm was mesoscale in size. It definitely was neither a tornado nor a hurricane although both labels were used by the media. It clobbered an area a few hundred miles across but Ireland was untouched. In addition since the English weather often comes from the west, there is a lack of weather observations to drive any models or forecasts. Aircraft are too high for the observations needed by mesoscale models, and surface vessels do not normally send up WX balloons nor take the usual WX measurements. The damage to London and southern England was stupendous. Some of the parks (e.g., Hyde Park) were closed because of the amount of downed trees, broken branches and trash. Flooding was extensive and one train ran into a river when the undermined bridge gave way. Winds in London were the highest ever recorded. The problems continued through the following week. Reporting on the telly was confined primarily to damage; there were only a few comments about the failure to forecast but no recriminations or blaming. No mention of mesoscale effects either. Relevance of all this to RISKS: you never can be sure how well a model represents the real world that it purports to describe and mimic.
1. The UK met office uses a Cyber 205 to prepare its forecasts - It also predicted bad weather over north France. The problem was that the weather had not read the forecast and moved north very rapidly after the last forecast run of the day. 2. Without exception the British press has blamed the "computer" for the lack of warning of bad weather. Now we all know that unless there was some sort of hardware problem(which there wasn't) it is the software that may, and only may, be at fault. Is this confusion a "risk"? It is certainly a misconception and if future funding of the UK Met office is cut as a result is will surely be a risk to all the people who depend on the very good work that is done there. Geoff. Lane. University of Manchester Regional Computer Centre
> Cyber 205 supercomputer as part of its investigation following last week's > hurricane-force winds. The office has been criticised for failing to > predict the speed and path of the storm... > >My understanding is the main reasons for lack of success in predicting >the winds were a) lack of data (the storm came from over the sea -- >fairly normal in Britain! — where there are few weather stations) and >b) lack of computing power (and lack of good algorithms?). Please don't completely equate computing power to the problem of these models. Also don't blame machine manufacturer (we have both a 205 and an X-MP/48). There was a recent Scientific American article on the problems of weather models (cover was a grid), but a better article appears: %A Joseph J. Tribbia %A Richard A. Anthes %Z NCAR %T Scientific Basis of Modern Weather Prediction %J Science %V 237 %N 4814 %D 31 July 1987 %P 493-499 There is a specific section on why forecasts are inaccurate. It's not just algorithms. The equations of weather are basically good equations. Read the article, its more detailed than I wish to summarize here. >Subject: Terrorism (Re: RISKS-5.45) > >The computer center at U.C. Santa Barbara was taken over by protesters in >the spring of '75. Although the computer room was secured behind locked >. . . >One operator inside shut the machine down immediately. Then the protesters >ushered (all?) the operators out, and took over the entire building - taping >printouts over all the windows and doors. They threatened to destroy the >computer if their demands (more money for radical leftist groups) weren't met. > >Bill Swan sigma!bill Hi Bill-- Yes, Don Davis told us about when he was kicked out. I did not recall it was for "radical leftist groups," unless you count the Chicano Studies program as such. We have to be careful in distinguishing political judgments. (Are computer people naturally conservative?) My suggestion is that if the original requester is interested in acts of terrorism against computers, contact Computerworld or maybe Donn Parker (SRI) might have a list. CW did publish a list of acts including the bombing (and death) at Wisconsin in the 1970s, and several bombings in Europe. Happens ALL the time. --eugene miya
Re: Jim Anderson's complaints about the term "Civil Disobedience" One may admire or despise some or all acts or practitioners of civil disobedience, but it's simply incorrect to claim that the term stems from efforts of contemporary newspapers, radio and TV to distort reality with euphemisms implying polite behavior. The term originated in the mid-19th Century and has nothing to do with "civil" as in "civility". It is based on "civil" as in "civil rights" or "civil servant" — that is civil (adj) 1 a: of or relating to citizens; b: of or relating to the state or its citizenry;... 5: of, relating to, or involving the general public... Dave Redell
Last week somebody told me that Dan Rather had reported that a Japanese plane, the MU-2, has had 100 crashes which have now been traced to a computer problem. Supposedly, the computerized autopilot will, under certain conditions, not let the pilot have control back. I did not hear this myself and since nobody has reported it in Risks, I have a suspicion that the story is not correct. Did anyone hear the Dan Rather telecast? Nancy
The following paragraph is taken (without permission) from p. 14 of the November 2 "Business Week". I thought it was an amusing little bug report. I tried to imagine how it could happen... you'd think we'd have alphabetical order down pat by now! Some copies of our special bonus issue, The Corporate Elite: Chief Executives of the Business Week Top 1000, contain mistakes in the alphabetical index of chief executives on pages 341-350 and in the guide to how to read the CEO profiles on page 350. Because of a computer problem, certain letter combinations with "f" were omitted from company names and the guide. jerry ryan (allegra!cord!gwr) Bell Labs, Liberty Corner NJ
There is a new series on BBC1 television called "Welcome to my World" which raises some of the topics we are / ought to be discussing. Anyone out there seen it and got any comments ? It's on BBC1, Sundays, at 2305 until 2335. Clive D.W. Feather +44 1 606 7799 x 235
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