Science and Society

Research at the NWSC goes beyond the atmospheric and Earth sciences. Developing our understanding of these systems translates into a direct benefit for society. From human health and safety, to resource management and policy, our work helps us adapt and prepare in a changing world.

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Making the Skies Safer

Wind shear is no longer the threat it once was to aviation, thanks to a system developed by NCAR scientists and colleagues across the scientific community to warn pilots about wind shear at airports. NCAR has also developed online icing maps, which show pilots areas of hazardous icing conditions that could cripple their aircraft. This work has been credited with preventing an average of eight accidents per year, saving lives and reducing costs by over $60 million annually.

Predicting the Power of Wind

A partnership between Xcel Energy and NCAR has produced a wind forecasting system that is widely considered—both nationally and internationally—to be one of the most advanced of its kind. Its highly accurate forecasts mean that Xcel Energy can anticipate when it will have enough wind energy to meet customer needs, enabling it to power down traditional coal- and gas-fired plants to save money. The system, which came online in September 2009, has already reduced wind energy prediction error by 40% and, in 2010 alone, saved Xcel Energy’s customers over $6 million.

Forecasting for Human Health

“The NCAR forecasts can help us determine which populations will be in most need of immunizations. Getting advance notice of changing humidity is one of several factors we can consider in the immunization program, which we hope will save thousands of lives.”
—Stéphane Hugonnet, Pandemic and Epidemic Diseases Department, World Health Organization



Inside the NWSC

Supercomputers are like brains, capable of doing many different things at once. Your brain does the equivalent of millions of calculations even for very simple tasks, like taking a drink of water. Your brain processes information and tells your body what to do: it sees where the cup is, tells your hand how far to reach, how tightly to grasp it and how to move it to your mouth. You might not even aware that your brain is doing all that work – unless you think about it!