2020 — A Remarkable Year for the UFS

By Hendrik Tolman and Richard Rood
Co-Chairs of the UFS Steering Committee

Bottom-line, upfront: 2020 was the year when the Unified Forecast System (UFS) went from an idea of a concept to a tangible reality. At the core of this reality are the first UFS code release and Graduate Student Tests (GST) that early in the year made the UFS a community asset and documented its viability.

One of us [Hendrik] gave a TEDx talk on November 14th remembering that in the not very distant past, it would take several months, a team of a few people, and even a powerful supercomputer to be able to run some of NOAA’s operational weather models. The talk went on to recognize that scenario has changed drastically. With the first UFS release (the Medium-Range Weather Application v1.0.0) in March, anyone can now alone and in one day set up NOAA’s Global Forecast System (GFS) on a wide range of computers accessible by all. This first UFS release is the game-changer that we needed to make the American operational weather model available and usable for both research and operations. We can now start working on a process where a much broader community can contribute directly and collaborate to improve operational environmental modeling using the UFS as common ground.

Since March, we have seen other numerical weather prediction code unification efforts, with most operational forecasting applications at NCEP now using a single Finite-Volume cubed (FV3) atmospheric dynamical core. We have seen additional releases of UFS application components that are all critical to keeping the present momentum of the UFS going, for instance, the Model Evaluation Tools (MET), the Community Common Physics Package (CCPP), the Earth System Modeling Framework (ESMF), and the JEDI data assimilation framework. We published a new GST for testing the Medium Range Weather Application.

Starting earlier this year, NCEP and the UFS community have made great strides in planning for simplifying all regional convection-allowing models into a single Rapid Refresh Forecast System (RRFS) framework. Simultaneously, the UFS-R2O Project rolled out this year formalizes NOAA’s commitment to the UFS by focusing resources directly on research-to-operations (R2O) outcomes, making the first step towards more holistic management of a UFS-based operational production suite. Finally, we are also close to publishing a first UFS strategic plan and an updated governance document.

The train has left the station, but we are still far from our envisioned destination. Over the next year, we will need to focus on critical things like workflow development (including the linkage between data assimilation and modeling), application releases, and GSTs to cover the entire holistic coupled ensemble vision for the UFS, simplification of the production suite, and governance of the end-to-end Innovation To Operations (I2O) process.

None of the progress we have seen over the last few years would have been possible without the UFS community-wide commitment. It is fantastic to see your dedication to the community modeling vision, with many of you fitting this work into your “day job.” It has been an absolute pleasure to work with all of you as members of the UFS community.

We wish you all Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year, with many more UFS milestones to reach!