Did you know that NOAA operates a forecasting system that predicts water conditions on the Great Lakes? Whether you’re wondering about a lake’s temperature, currents, or water level changes, NOAA’s got you covered! This fall, NOAA implemented newly updated versions of the Lake Superior and Lake Ontario portions of this system, and added ice forecasts to all five lakes.
GLOFS forecasts Great Lakes conditions
The publicly available Great Lakes Operational Forecast System (GLOFS) is a NOAA automated, model-based prediction system aimed at providing improved predictions of these conditions in the five Great Lakes (Erie, Michigan, Superior, Huron and Ontario) for the commercial, recreation, and emergency response communities. GLOFS models use current lake conditions and predicted weather patterns to forecast the lake conditions for up to five days (120 hours) in the future. GLOFS predictions enable users to increase the margin of safety and maximize the efficiency of commerce throughout the Great Lakes.
NOAA’s National Weather Service (NWS) and National Ocean Service (NOS) work together to run GLOFS operationally on NOAA’s High Performance Computing System. By running on NOAA’s High Performance Computing System, GLOFS has direct access to National Weather Service operational meteorological products that are required for reliable and timely operations.
A major update for Lakes Ontario and Superior
A key goal of NOAA’s Research branch is to continually make forecasts better, and GLERL scientists play a major role in improving the models that constitute GLOFS. Like the rest of GLOFS, the Lake Ontario and Lake Superior portions – Lake Ontario Operational Forecast System (LOOFS) and Lake Superior Operational Forecast System (LSOFS) – were originally based on the Princeton Ocean Model. As of October 2022, they’ve now been upgraded with higher-resolution versions that are based on a newer computer model.
The new LOOFS and LSOFS use the Finite Volume Community Ocean Model (FVCOM), coupled with an unstructured grid version of the Los Alamos Sea Ice model (CICE). The new model provides users with higher resolution of nowcast (near-present conditions) and forecast guidance of water levels, currents, water temperature, ice concentration, ice thickness and ice velocity out to 120 hours in the future, and it updates four times per day. By invoking advanced model schemes and algorithms, LOOFS and LSOFS are expected to generate a more accurate model output than their former versions.
Before they were ready to become operational, the new versions of LOOFS and LSOFS were run experimentally at GLERL for several years, where they underwent extensive testing and evaluation. GLERL played a key role in developing these models and ran them as part of the Great Lakes Coastal Forecasting System (GLCFS) – an experimental version of GLOFS that GLERL uses to prepare new models to become operational.
With this transition, the GLOFS models for all five Great Lakes have now been upgraded to FVCOM versions, as the Lake Erie model was upgraded in 2016, and the Lake Michigan-Huron model was upgraded in 2019. A new FVCOM-based model for the Huron-Erie Corridor, which includes Lake St. Clair and both the St. Clair and Detroit Rivers, is scheduled to be added to GLOFS in 2023. Read more about the LOOFS and LSOFS transition here.
GLERL has been improving GLOFS for over 30 years
GLOFS is based on the Great Lakes Forecasting System, originally developed by The Ohio State University (OSU) and GLERL in the late 1980s and 1990s under the direction of Dr. Keith Bedford (OSU) and Dr. David Schwab (NOAA GLERL). The original forecasting systems utilized the Princeton Ocean Model (POM) and used a set of uniformly structured bathymetric grids. The first routine nowcast, using a low-resolution grid for Lake Erie, began at OSU in 1992.
Starting in 2002, GLERL’s semi-operational GLCFS was expanded to five lakes using medium-resolution grids (5 – 10 km) and 48-hr forecasts were added. This version was successfully transferred from research to operations at NOAA NOS in 2010. The transition to operations at NOAA NOS was a joint effort between NOAA GLERL, NOS Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services (CO-OPS) and NOS Office of Coast Survey (OSC) Coast Survey Development Laboratory (CSDL), private industry, and academia (OSU).
NOAA GLERL has continued to make improvements to the experimental GLCFS; these include increasing the grid resolution (2 – 10 km), adding ice dampening and an ice model, and extending the forecasts to 120 hours during the period of 2006-2014 (generation 2). The current 3rd generation of the GLOFS is what you see run by NOS today, with a resolution of 200m to 2.5km and producing 120-hour forecasts.
The development and implementation of LSOFS and LOOFS is a joint project across several NOAA offices and external partners.
- NOAA National Ocean Service Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services
- NOAA NOS Office of Coast Survey
- NOAA Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory
- Finite Volume Community Ocean Model development group at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth
- NOAA National Weather Service National Centers for Environmental Prediction Central Operations