IMPACT Meteorology Unit Banner

 Early History of the AMU

For additional information concerning the NWS Melbourne IMU, please contact:
IMU Science Specialist:  Matt Volkmer
IMU Technology Specialist: Pete Blottman
IMU Leadership: David Sharp & Scott Spratt
IMU Administrator: Bart Hagemeyer


‘Turning Science into Service'

NOTE: The information below is taken from a National Research Council (NRC) report titled Meteorological Support for Space Operations - Review and Recommendations. The NRC assembled a panel to review meteorological support related to space operations at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) shortly after the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion on January 28, 1986 and the lightning related destruction of the Atlas-Centaur 67 rocket on March 26, 1987. The development of the "AMU" was one outgrowth of the recommendations from the report.

Applied Research and Forecast Facility ARFF
As new advances in observing and understanding weather systems are achieved, projects must be initiated to translate the advances into new and better forecast techniques that are then transferred quickly and effectively to operational use. Forecasters can gain additional skills through assimilating these techniques into their individual repertoires. However, it is difficult to familiarize forecasters with new techniques while they have ongoing operational duties. Rotating forecasters through frequent training programs is one way of providing technology transfer. Another is by establishing an experimental or simulated forecast environment where forecasters can practice and gain working exposure to experimental activities on a daily basis. In talking with weather support personnel, the panel perceived a general recognition of the efficacy of these concepts, but heard widely differing views on how they should be achieved. The panel is convinced that significant improvement in weather support will require new approaches, increased cooperation, and a larger commitment of resources.  

Efforts to improve weather analysis and forecasting capabilities can be greatly facilitated by a group that is charged with monitoring the research advancements of the scientific community and applying the results to improve weather support for the space program. The need for such a group has been recognized by several agencies, and several operational units within NOAA, including the Spaceflight Meteorology Group at JSC, already have positions designated for these functions. However, the three-person NOAA effort at JSC is below a critically effective staffing level, is not sufficiently broad in scope, and is not located at KSC where it would be most effective.

The panel believes that the creation of an Applied Research and Forecast Facility (ARFF) at KSC would provide an ideal focus for future applications research and the development of new forecasting techniques. The ARFF should have responsibility for operating and evaluating prototype observing systems, developing and evaluating new forecast tools and techniques, and contributing to forecaster training and forecast verification. For such a facility to be successful, it must also have the active involvement of the research and operational communities.

Recommendation: An Applied Research and Forecasting Facility (ARFF) should be established at KSC to promote the development and application of new techniques to improve forecasting for space operations.

Interactions Between ARFF, Operational Units, and Applied Research Groups

The Applied Research and Forecasting Facility should be a mission-oriented interagency facility that is managed by NASA through the newly created Weather Support Office (WSO). Its director should be an atmospheric scientist who has experience in both operational and research meteorology. The staff would ideally include Air Force, NASA, and NOAA personnel, with term and visitor appointments from throughout the atmospheric sciences to provide a further infusion of both research and operational talents. This facility could be created largely from existing resources by streamlining redundant activities and reorienting and reassembling these resources.

The success of the ARFF would depend critically on its developing close working ties with the operational forecast units and establishing an attitude of team effort and mutual support. To promote these relationships, it is vital to have ARFF co-located with the Cape Canaveral Forecast Facility servicing KSC and to rotate operational staff between them regularly. Joint weather discussions should be conducted on a daily basis, as a vehicle to stimulate interaction. 

Clearly, there must be only one source of operational forecasts at KSC, and this responsibility should remain with the AWS forecast team. However, by operating in close proximity, the operational and experimental units can develop a cooperative relationship, where the ARFF scientists and forecasters know the forecast requirements, and the on-line forecasters are receptive to new approaches. Although co-located with the Cape Canaveral Forecast Facility, the ARFF would serve not only those AWS forecasters, but also the AWS forecasters from other detachments and the NOAA forecasters from JSC. Operational forecasters and applied researchers should spend time at ARFF, rotating into the ARFF at regular intervals. 

Figure 5 is a schematic diagram of the components of the ARFF and the routes of interaction between ARFF and other groups. As shown in the diagram, ARFF can be divided functionally into three sections: an Observing Systems and Technique Development (OSTD) Program, a Cooperative Applied Meteorology Program (CAMP), and a Forecaster Education and Training Program. A Weather Support Advisory Committee should assist the WSO in reviewing plans for, and progress of, the ARFF. Each of these components is discussed in a separate section below.

Recommendation: The Applied Research and Forecasting Facility should promote interaction between applied researchers and operational forecasters. To effectively reach forecasters, ARFF should be established adjacent to the operational forecast office at the Cape Canaveral Forecast Facility servicing KSC, and forecasters from KSC and other units should be assigned tours of duty within ARFF. To provide researcher interaction, government and university researchers should also be encouraged to spend time at ARFF.

Applied Research for Weather Support

Many applied research projects have been recommended in this report. Some projects require new equipment that is ready for installation into an operational environment, but they will still require evaluation of the data on a real-time basis to identify and optimize its utility in the local environment. For example, after a NEXRAD radar is installed at Melbourne, Florida, it is likely that the "operational" hail-detection algorithm (designed for the Midwest) will need to be modified empirically to account for the reduced frequency of hail reaching the ground in Florida, where the melting level is normally higher. This type of project is best suited for real- time, in situ investigation. The OSTD in ARFF will conduct these evaluations and be the conduit for improved weather support.

Most research projects will require substantial development efforts before products will be ready for testing in the operational environment. Some of these projects can be done outside of KSC by government and university researchers or by private contractors. Regardless of where the research is to be performed, two items are essential: a prioritized schedule of applied research to be performed and a budget with which to sponsor it. The WSO, with the advice of the Weather Support Advisory Committee, should provide the schedule; WSO should provide the budget. 

The present level of funding at KSC to support all the necessary research initiatives is inadequate. However, even with additional funding, the potential for enhancing research advancements cannot be realized without a restructuring of research funding channels at KSC. The current funding support is fractionated among a number of groups, with little overall coordination, and without a clear focus on the most important problems. Although KSC personnel are dedicated and advances have been made, there appears to be no internal core of expertise qualified to promote or critically evaluate most of the research initiatives.

The panel advocates a well-funded, applied weather research program, operating within ARFF, that heavily emphasized observing systems and development of forecasting techniques and that is coordinated by the WSO. The ARFF should contain a strong internal core of scientific expertise, capable of assessing research proposals and results. Research grants should be made through the facility in support of priorities and directions specified in a comprehensive long-range research plan. Outside peer review of research proposals should be part of the evaluation process. 

Recommendation: Applied research should be consolidated within the ARFF at KSC. ARFF should monitor advances in all areas of atmospheric science to identify new technology that should be deployed in support of the space program, and it should commission studies of this type through a research grants program.

Observing Systems and Technique Development (OSTD)

A central function of the ARFF would be to evaluate new observing systems and analysis techniques, and to develop and test new procedures for operational forecasting. These duties are broad in scope and would encompass many of the activities conducted both in NWS Experimental Forecast Centers and the NOAA Program for Regional Observing and Forecasting Services (PROFS). The ARFF would also have responsibility for monitoring the development of data assimilation systems and mesoscale models and for promoting their application in forecasting mesoscale weather systems in the vicinity of KSC.

The facility should compile good climatological and weather data bases in the vicinity of KSC for use in evaluating new forecast techniques and to aid in assessing the impact of changes in weather related operating criteria. The climatological data required include variables other than those normally encountered (maximum and minimum temperatures, and so on), such as the critical weather elements included in launch and landing weather rules. 

In addition, the ARFF should have responsibility for monitoring operational forecasts and assessing the accuracy of forecasts of parameters identified within the launch and landing weather criteria. This activity is required since accurate and meaningful stratification of verification statistics is an important part of technique assessment that can help eliminate forecaster biases and promote forecaster improvement. 

Recommendation: The Applied Research and Forecasting Facility should be assigned responsibility for testing and evaluating prototype observing systems, developing improved forecast techniques, verifying forecasts, and compiling climatological data.

Forecaster Education and Training

The education and training of operational forecasters is particularly important, especially in view of the special requirements placed on forecasts for launch and landing operations. Another factor is that forecasters rotate through the AWS, and new forecasters must continually be trained. The Air Force has recently initiated several organizational changes to increase the experience level and improve the continuity of forecasters. This unit has developed a professionalism and a strong commitment to quality that provides an ideal base on which to build. 

The Air Force weather office conducts ongoing forecast training activities that should be continued. In addition, the ARFF should have responsibility for augmenting this training, particularly in the understanding of weather situations specific to KSC and in the use of specialized forecast techniques. Training can take place through several media; video tapes, simulated forecasts for launch/landing/recovery operations, lectures, and map discussions are all possible methods. Real-time experience is also recognized as one of the most valuable training mechanisms. Rotating operational forecasters through the ARFF would serve to accelerate the learning process in an environment where daily forecast situations can be evaluated with ARFF staff without the pressure of on-line responsibility. In addition, as new tools and techniques become available, there should be a formal transfer of knowledge, with adequate accompanying documentation. 

Recommendation: Part of the ARFF function should be to establish education and training procedures for operational forecasting.

Cooperative Applied Meteorology Program (CAMP)

Advancements in weather research that support space operations can benefit greatly from the organization of field programs and stimulation of relevant research in the university community. Government agencies have found that cooperative programs with the university community are an effective mechanism for administering programs where flexibility is important in maintaining an edge-of-the-art capability." The panel believes that a Cooperative Applied Meteorology Program (CAMP) with formal university involvement would provide an ideal augmentation of the ARFF. CAMP would coordinate field programs and other research beneficial to operational weather problems, administer a research grants program, and promote strong scientific interactions with the permanent ARFF staff. Establishing this strong university involvement could also serve to attract funding from other agencies and other offices in NASA that support atmospheric research. 

Periodically, it is necessary to bring together a concentration of special equipment, facilities, and talent to achieve breakthroughs in the understanding of specific weather phenomena. These field programs will be particularly important in advancing our knowledge of electrical and microphysical processes in convective and non-convective clouds in the KSC environment, and in determining the predictability of convection from the data provided by new observing systems. 

Making state-of-the-art observing systems available to the research community will enhance interest that is already strongly in evidence. The proposed Florida Area Mesoscale Experiment (FAME) plans a major field program in central Florida in 1990. The observing systems and research objectives outlined in this report, if implemented, should be highly compatible with the interests of any group interested in researching Florida weather. 

Equipment upgrades planned by the National Weather Service are likely to yield better information on weather systems affecting KSC. A NWS NEXRAD radar is planned for installation at Melbourne, Florida; the capabilities and limitations of this radar in contributing to an advanced observing network must be assessed. The NWS also plans to deploy a network of wind profilers over the central United States. With research wind profilers already working in Pennsylvania (Pennsylvania State University) and soon to be installed in Florida (NASA) and Massachusetts (AFGL), there will be a strong desire by the atmospheric science community to deploy wind profilers over the remainder of the East to form a continuous network from the Rockies to the Atlantic. Several universities are already preparing a joint proposal for a Southeast Profiler Network. 

These and other initiatives should be scrutinized and, if appropriate, coordinated by CAMP as part of a concerted effort to improve the understanding and prediction of important weather features in central Florida. 

A Cooperative Applied Meteorology Program (CAMP) should be established within the ARFF to promote the participation of university and mission- agency scientists in field programs advancing weather research and forecasting in the vicinity of KSC or at other launch and recovery sites.

The advanced observing systems, comprehensive data sets, and new techniques developed will provide an attractive facility for research scientists, operational meteorologists, and graduate students to visit, where they can interact with ongoing activities. These visitors would provide a continuous influx of new ideas and approaches and would become aware of important weather phenomena in the KSC area that might stimulate further research on these topics in the scientific community. The University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) might be the ideal organization to administer this program, because it already has experience in the types of activities recommended for CAMP. UCAR has strong university connections, has a Naval Environmental Prediction Center (NMC) Visiting Scientist Program (NEPRF)/National Meteorological Center (NMC) Visiting Scientist Program (VSP), and is in an excellent position to monitor closely related programs going on in NCAR. 

Recommendation: A strong visiting scientist program should be established within CAMP to attract research and operational talents from throughout the nation that contribute to the goals of the ARFF, within the guidelines of WSO.


Return to IMU Home Page
IMU Program History
IMU Program Areas of Focus
IMU Program Past Projects
IMU Program Research Documents
IMU Program Affiliations and Partners
Contact IMU Program
Impact Weather Updates
Weather Graphics - Current
Model Forecasts - Today
Weather Hazards - Today
Lightning Threat is the U.S. government's official web portal to all federal, state and local government web resources and services.