SR SSD 2000-09
SHADOW FORECASTING AND THE SPIN-UP OF PUBLIC
Ron Block and T. J. Turnage
During the 1990s, the National Weather Service (NWS) embarked on a major two-stage Modernization and Associated Restructuring (MAR) plan tasked to guide the agency's expanding mission into the 21st century. The first stage was highlighted by the deployment of the NEXRAD Doppler Weather Radar (WSR-88D) and the Automated Surface Observing System (ASOS) to all offices in the NWS, including the Weather Service Offices (WSOs), which evolved into NEXRAD Weather Service Offices (NWSOs). During the late 1990s, the second and final stage was initiated by the deployment of the Advanced Weather Information Processing System (AWIPS), followed by a graduated spin-up of NWSOs into Weather and Forecast Offices (WFOs). This process emphasized the transfer of public, marine, and fire weather responsibilities from former Weather Service Forecast Offices (WSFOs) usually responsible for an entire state to WFOs responsible for only a portion of a state or a multi-state area. One of the primary goals of MAR was to develop smaller County Warning Areas (CWAs) of responsibility, thereby providing better services.
The Tallahassee, Florida office (TLH) is one such transitional NWSO that assumed full WFO responsibilities on November 15, 1999. Like other future WFOs, TLH increased its staff, including the addition of five senior forecasters. Likewise, TLH engaged in shadow forecasting with adjacent WSFOs, which involved "practice" forecast products that were internally disseminated for review and use by the parent WSFOs.
Although many offices have been involved with the transition to WFO status, TLH is unique in the way it prepared for its spin-up. This paper will discuss the spin-up procedures developed by TLH, where a blending of innovation, local resources, team play and management support resulted in an office confident and prepared to assume WFO status.
TLH has traditionally had short-term forecast, and warning responsibility for a 48-county CWA that encompasses southeast Alabama, southwest and south-central Georgia, and the Florida eastern Panhandle and Big Bend (Figure 1). The top of Table 1 lists TLH's forecast product responsibilities prior to shadow forecasting. The TLH CWA encompasses two time zones and portions of three states, with three separate WSFOs requiring forecast coordination. Each WSFO follows different local policies concerning product format and issuance, and each state has its own criteria for the issuance of certain types of products (e.g., fire weather products). This variation among the three states and WSFOs resulted in extra challenges for TLH during the shadow forecast process.
The NWS Southern Region Headquarters (SRH) drafted a Public and Marine Implementation Plan (PMIP), which specifically itemized the tasks NWSOs would need to complete prior to becoming a WFO. However, the plan was deliberately vague about how each office should achieve these tasks, which gave individual offices the freedom to determine the most effective ways to complete their tasks.
3. THE PUBLIC TEAM CONCEPT
The key of successful task completion at TLH has been the intra-office team. This style of organization was promoted by the TLH Management Team (MT), headed by the Meteorologist-In-Charge (MIC). Separate teams were developed at TLH to handle public forecasts and warnings, marine weather, fire weather, tropical weather, hydrology, office safety, and office technology. Each team was tasked to develop and address their own action items. The first three teams were involved primarily with shadow forecasts; however, the technology team ensured that the office computer systems were ready to prepare and disseminate the shadow products. Most of the other teams already existed prior to Stage II, however inter-team coordination was, and continues to be, crucial.
Of all the teams listed, the Public Forecast, Warning, and Services Team (PT) oversaw the broadest scope of activities guiding the spin-up process. The PT was formed in late 1998 after nearly all the new staff members had arrived at TLH. It consists of a Team Coordinator (TC), four other operations personnel in the senior and journeyman forecaster ranks, and a Hydrometeorological Technician (HMT). It was hoped that this mix of members would represent the widest possible spectrum of office input. Following the MIC's guidance, the PT began developing public product policy, scheduling regular team meetings, and establishing realistic time tables, workable action items, and appropriate focal points to oversee their execution. By the end of 1998, the PT had determined what needed to be done to allow TLH to successfully attain WFO status within the next year.
PT meetings were scheduled about every six weeks. Timing these meetings was critical, since all members worked rotating shifts and maximum attendance was desired. They first reviewed current office policies and their potential influence on later spin-up operations. Then the PT developed a time line through November 1999 that fulfilled the requirements of the PMIP (Table 2).
Several weeks before each meeting, the TC solicited input and distributed to team members an agenda of action items to make the most of the meetings. Action items were then delegated and discussed at the meetings. Between meetings, the TC utilized e-mail or met with individual PT members to solicit feedback and status reports on their delegated assignments. Following each meeting, the MT reviewed the list of action items and subsequently met with PT representatives to implement or modify them. All meetings were summarized and this information was made available to the rest of the staff through memoranda or office intranet postings. This gave the whole staff an opportunity to voice their input on the direction the PT was taking. Each ensuing PT meeting reviewed accomplishments, modified goals as necessary, and introduced new action items. This allowed progress to be documented and submitted to the MT, which assured them that SRH PMIP requirements were being met in a timely manner.
It was especially important to publicize the progress of the PT because many tasks overlapped with other office teams. For example, many product dissemination issues were best handled by the Technology Team. To prevent a duplication of efforts, most teams posted their progress on the office intranet or with office memoranda. For the more important and complicated overlapping tasks, team coordinator meetings were scheduled. Most forecasters at TLH served on more than one team, which facilitated inter-team coordination.
4. THE PUBLIC TEAM STRATEGY
The PT determined that, given staffing and training concerns, shadow forecasting would be a two stage process beginning around July 15. They developed a preliminary office schedule featuring double forecaster coverage with public and mesoscale forecast desks. A radar shift was also scheduled to coincide with the normal times for most active convection (Noon - 8 PM). Duties were designed to be equitably divided between the two forecaster desks, and forecasters alternated between desks to ensure adequate cross-training. Each shift team leader had the authority to decide which forecaster completed each duty - but for the most part, shift teams followed PT guidelines.
Shadow forecasting was divided into two stages, each lasting two months. The initial stage emphasized the practice of composing new products (see bottom of Table 1). This included public products such as the ZFP, AFD, CCF, and various NPWs. The most important goals during this period were using proper format, meeting deadlines, and fine-tuning the schedule. Every attempt was made to disseminate all shadow products. However, on the few occasions when staffing and/or weather overload occurred, the forecaster had the option to call the parent WSFOs and defer product issuance to them. This resulted in a more flexible schedule for the staff, allowing additional time for forecasters to undergo the personal training required by the PMIP.
Beginning September 15, TLH began its second stage of shadow forecasting. Appropriate staffing and shadow product issuance became mandatory, even at the expense of authorizing overtime. The PT also quality-controlled products, and the TC relayed to the staff any product errors detected by the parent WSFOs. The second stage lasted the next two months until Stage II WFO status was realized.
The spin-up process at TLH required an extensive rewrite of the public sections of the Station Duty Manual (SDM). Fortunately, WFO Melbourne Florida (MLB) had recently revised their SDM. Each PT member was therefore assigned MLB SDM sections to modify for TLH. Upon final approval by the MT, the modified sections were incorporated into the TLH SDM. During the SDM rewrites, frequent contact was made with WSFOs to ensure that TLH's policies would match those already in effect throughout the three-state CWA.
The SOO and PT coordinated closely on training issues. Prior to the initiation of shadow forecasting, the PT conducted a hands-on office workshop on how to prepare and disseminate the ZFP, CCF, and NPW. Station drills were issued every other month by the PT to ensure personnel stayed proficient with operations and products. A listing of drills issued by the TLH office teams can be seen in Table 3.
5. OFFICE VISITS AND COORDINATION
Most TLH forecasters arrived on station within the two years prior to November 15, 1999. This resulted in a lack of familiarity with the geography, climatology, hydrology and demographics of the CWA. There was the potential for coordination problems between TLH and the WSFOs during the shadow forecast process. Thus, they focused on fostering and maintaining contact with all adjacent offices, which would benefit TLH both during and after the transfer of responsibilities.
Contact with adjacent offices included exchanging notes and lessons learned on shadow forecasting, and visiting each office within the limits of TLH staffing and budget. The MT was extremely supportive of this plan and took great efforts to make these trips feasible. MTs at surrounding offices were briefed on TLH visits, which resulted in positive feedback and fostered professional relationships.
Site visits were considered very beneficial because the travel familiarized forecasters with the CWA and surrounding areas, and more important, the office visits provided a way to share ideas, forecast techniques, and office innovations. Personal contact made the process of inter-office coordination less awkward. These visits emphasized the fact that inter-office cooperation would still be crucial even after November 15 when full WFO status would be realized.
The TC established contact with his counterparts at adjacent NWSOs in Jacksonville and Tampa, Florida (JAX and TBW, respectively) and Mobile, Alabama (MOB) which were all on the same spin-up timetable. This contact lead to an exchange of information, suggestions and office trends concerning shadow forecasting, which proved mutually beneficial.
The first PT visit occurred in April 1999 to MLB, who had just attained WFO status. MLB therefore served as an excellent model to learn from the spin-up process. This trip was followed in May with visits to the co-located River Forecast Center (RFC) and WSFO in Peachtree City, Georgia (ATL). PT members became familiar with hydrologic aspects of the CWA and established close bonds with the RFC. The TC was invited to return the next month to present a paper on hurricanes. Discussions about shadow forecasting and hydrology with the ATL MT set the tone for very positive inter-office relations.
In August, PT members visited WSFO Birmingham (BHM) where the MT and a myriad of forecasters discussed shadow forecasting, local research and suggested methods to improve forecast products. This same month, the TC reported for temporary duty at the National Hurricane Center (NHC), which is co-located with WSFO Miami (MIA). This gave him the chance to discuss with NHC staff Gulf hurricanes and coordination between the NHC and TLH. He also exchanged ideas with the MIA staff about shadow forecasting. Thus, PT members were able to visit all three parent WSFOs, a Stage II WFO, the RFC, and the NHC during the initial months of the shadow process.
Additionally, PT members participated in Cooperative Program Management (CPM) trips, visits to Emergency Management Centers, SKYWARN training sessions, and other outreach activities, which enhanced their customer contacts as well as knowledge of the geographic and meteorological peculiarities of the CWA. Even brief contact with local citizens provided insight not readily available by other means. These visits significantly increased knowledge of the CWA, culminating in a very smooth and successful transition to Stage II.
Tallahassee, like other spin-up NWSOs, was tasked with developing and executing a plan to assume public forecast responsibilities. Its location presented unique challenges, including dealing with the vagaries of three states with different governments and policies, three parent WSFOs with varying office policies, and two time zones. In late 1998, the TLH PT developed a plan designed to utilize office resources to rise to a level not only in compliance with the PMIP, but also able to give the TLH staff the necessary confidence to successfully assume WFO status.
This plan centered around the development of the PT. The MT ensured the PT would reflect office diversity and priorities, and then they gave them a mission to develop public product policy. Once the PT was established, action items were routinely developed by the PT, and formally approved by the MT, which paved the way to shadow forecasting.
From the start, it was deemed essential that TLH develop professional relationships and learn from others more experienced in the issuance of public products. Consequently, great emphasis was placed on developing contacts with adjacent offices to share lessons learned, followed by visits to parent WSFOs, NWSOs, the RFC, and national centers. This proved instrumental in fostering relationships, avoiding misunderstandings and gleaning key technology. Visits with non-meteorologists also provided insight not otherwise available. The combination of a proactive PT, unfettered MT support, consistent contact with users and other meteorologists, and numerous site visits propelled TLH to a level of ability and confidence to assume full WFO responsibilities in a way that is considered unique among NWS offices.
The authors thank Irv Watson and Paul Duval (TLH SOO and MIC, respectively) for reviewing this paper and offering helpful suggestions and graphics for its improvement. We also express our gratitude to all the mentioned NOAA/NWS offices that aided in the spin-up process. And last but not least, thanks to the entire NWS TLH staff for their input and contribution both to this paper and to the successful spin-up.
Public and Marine Transfer Implementation Plan, NOAA/NWS Southern Region Headquarters, Fort Worth, TX, 1998.
Figure 1. NWSO Tallahassee's County Warning Area
Table 1. NWSO Tallahassee's Public Team Timeline
Update shift duty checklists
Arrange filing system for analyzed charts and maps
Archive all issued products
Separately file all non-routine products
Initiate new 2-log book setup
Winter weather drill
Initiate staff checklists
Conduct workshop on Non-Precipitation Warning (NPW) products
Severe Weather Drill
Begin forecast verification on AFD
Initiate quality-control program on public forecast products
Determine updated list of focal point duties
Commence double forecaster coverage
Begin Rewrite of relevant Station Duty Manual (SDM) chapters and sections
Initial visit to Melbourne
Determine each WSFO shadow role
Second PT visit to MLB
Colloborate with Technology Team to ensure all computer systems are ready for shadow forecasting
Shadow forecasting commences
Begin filing system for tropical products
NOAA Radio Weather Radio Drill
AWIPS familiarization ends
Formal forecast training begins
Identify and utilize local forecast aids and case studies
July 1 - 15
Visits to WSFOs begin
Ensure readiness of PC and software
Service backup drill
Transfer of all public and marine services to TLH
Table 2. Forecast and Warning Products
Issued prior to Shadow Forecasting
Area Forecast Discussion (AFD)
First period update for Zone Forecast Product (ZFP) in Florida counties
Terminal Aerodrome Forecast (TAF) for 5 locations
Transcribed Weather Briefing (TWEB) for 2 routes
Short Term Forecast (NOW)
Hazardous Weather Outlook (SPS)
Convective Warnings (SVR, TOR, FFW)
Some Non-Precipitation Warnings (NPW)
River Flood Warnings and Statements (FLW,FLS)
Special Marine Warnings (SMW)
Coastal Flood Warnings (CFW)
Hurricane Local Statements (HLS)
All of the above, and the following:
Coded City Forecast (CCF)
Zone Forecast Product and extended forecast for entire CWA (ZFP)
All Non-Precipitation Watches and Warnings (NPW)
Flood and Flash Flood Watches (FFA)
Coastal Waters Forecast (CWF)
Fire Weather Team
Fire Weather Forecast (FWF)
Smoke Dispersion Product (SMF)
Spot Weather Forecast
Table 3. List of Station Drills Proctored by Various Teams
emergency and non-routine scenarios and service backup
Hurricane Local Statement
Table 4. Key Accomplishments of the Public Team