TODAY   |  October 31, 2012

British meteorologists predicted Sandy’s course

When scientists at the European Weather Centre in England saw a cold front from the north joining with a hurricane to send it into the northeast, they’d rarely seen anything like it. Without their forecasts over a week ahead of time, the human outcome could have been worse. NBC’s Keir Simmons reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> back now at 8:21 with more of the widespread damage from sandy. it's been described as a once in a lifetime storm, but a week ago there was one group of scientists who saw it coming and let us new. nbc's keir simmons caught up with them. keir, good morning.

>> reporter: good morning, matt. thousands of miles from the storm here in england, that group of scientists were making cutting-edge calculations last week providing an early warning of the damage sandy would do. it was a storm warning that must have seemed incredible to some. and because it was so early helped millions of americans prepare for the worst. one week ago today, last wednesday, al relayed a dire forecast on "today." scientists in europe predicting sandy would hit the east coast .

>> the european model keeps it hugging the coast, and by early tuesday morning it's inland in the northeast.

>> reporter: early call came from the european weather center in england, 250 staff posting 150 million weather observations every day but have seen nothing like this. a hurricane making a left hook into the northeast. when you first saw this, what was your reaction?

>> obviously we were concerned. even eight days ahead we could see the tropical cyclone developing she to assess the odds of sandy hitting the east coast , their super computer had created 51 forecasts, all had one outcome.

>> all took the storm north and then towards the eastern seaboard .

>> reporter: by the weekend, the american and european models had converged. without these forecasts the human cost might have been far worse. essentially you and the other 250 scientists working here probably saved lives?

>> i think it certainly motivates all of the people who work here.

>> reporter: and global warming could make their work more important than ever.

>> if it turned out to be the case that such storms became more common, then our weather forecasting models need to factor that in.

>> reporter: if the weather patterns are changing, then so is our ability to predict them. already the scientists are planning more research to help them and all of us plan for the future. because if it's true, as new york's governor says, that we are now dealing with extreme weather patterns in a way we haven't seen, then centers like the one you've just seen are more important than ever, and, matt, that warning from al last week was so important.

>> certainly was. keir simmons , good work on their part and yours, by the way.