SR SSD 2000-15
A Field Forecaster Visits the NOAA Science Center
Kennard "Chip" Kasper
The focus of the National Weather Service (NWS) through the beginning of the 21st century will be to build upon the NWS modernization. The vision is to provide a seamless suite of weather, water, and climate products and services with time scales ranging from minutes to years (NWS 1999). In order to fulfill this mission, forecasters at Weather Forecast Offices (WFOs) and the National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP) need to continue to learn new ways to exploit the improved technology available through the NWS modernization. Further, it will be critical for meteorologists at all levels of the NWS to work together, taking advantage of individual strengths and expertise, in order to realize the NWS vision from the local level (WFO) to the national level (NCEP and NWS Headquarters). This attachment describes my visit as a field forecaster to the NOAA Science Center in Camp Springs, Maryland, and NWSH in Silver Spring, Maryland.
As part of the NWS modernization and restructuring, NCEP was formed in the mid-1990s from the former National Meteorological Center. It consists of seven service-oriented centers which generate environmental prediction products, and two central support centers which develop and maintain the NWP models on which predictions are based. McPherson (1994) describes NCEP and its operation as an integrated organization. The September 1989 issue of Weather and Forecasting also contains several articles that provide insight on the history of NMC.
Block and Stripling (1996) describe how coordination visits to national centers by forecasters from WFOs (i.e., from "the field") can increase forecast skill and technological proficiency, as well as improve communication among forecasters at the various field offices and personnel at the national centers. Similar to Block and Stripling, I visited the national centers at the NOAA Science Center (a.k.a. "World Weather Building") for three full days in September 1999. Five national centers are located in Camp Springs: the Hydrometeorological Prediction Center (HPC), the Marine Prediction Center (MPC), the Climate Prediction Center (CPC), the Environmental Modeling Center (EMC), and NCEP Central Operations (NCO). During my familiarization visit, I toured the NOAA Science Center and visited with personnel at HPC, MPC, and the National Environmental Satellite Data and Information Service (NESDIS) Satellite Analysis Branch (SAB).
My familiarization at HPC included interaction with operational forecasters at the following desks: Quantitative Precipitation Forecasts (QPF), Short-Range Public Forecasts, Medium-Range Public Forecasts, Surface Analysis, and the International Desks. The mission of the HPC is to support the operations of NWS WFOs and River Forecast Centers by providing analyses, synoptic weather prognoses, and hydrometeorological (rainfall and snowfall) guidance to assist in producing value-added end products for NWS users. What follows, in chronological order, is a synopsis of each day that I spent in Maryland.
a. Day One
The day started at HPC's QPF desk, which prepares and issues forecasts of accumulating (quantitative) precipitation, heavy rain, heavy snow, and also highlights areas expected to have the potential for flash flooding. The basic QPF products are primarily created for use by NWS WFOs, but are available for anyone to use. The QPF desk is collocated with a component of NESDIS that prepares estimates of rainfall using satellite analysis. Together the two desks comprise the National Precipitation Prediction Unit. I interacted with the two QPF forecasters as they prepared their morning products and assisted them with hand analyses of upper air plots. The QPF forecasters integrate a variety of satellite, radar, and surface data along with NWP model guidance to prepare their products for the entire country.
At midday I attended the HPC map discussion where the short-range and medium-range public forecasters presented their analyses, reasoning, and predictions for the future state of the atmosphere for both the short- and medium-range time periods. They also entertained questions and addressed comments from the diverse group of scientists in attendance, including public and marine forecasters, NWP developers, management, as well as other visitors. The discussion, enhanced by this diverse audience, fostered a healthy environment for understanding and interaction among the various disciplines.
The rest of the afternoon was spent with the NESDIS Satellite Analysis Branch (SAB). The mission of the SAB is broad and diverse, owing to the incredible potential that satellite technology affords the atmospheric scientist for evaluating a number of environmental phenomena. The SAB is located in the NOAA Science Center on the same floor as HPC and MPC. Environmental phenomena analyzed by SAB include volcanic activity, tropical cyclones, snow/ice cover, fires, and precipitation. The SAB also produces wind vectors from cloud movements that are ingested by operational NWP models. The cloud-drift winds are analyzed by an objective, automated computer program that tracks individual cloud elements to determine the wind vector. Interestingly, the height (low-, medium-, or high-level) of individual cloud elements is inferred from an Aviation (AVN) model analysis or forecast field, and not by satellite imagery.
Of interest on this particular afternoon was recently-formed Tropical Storm Harvey. The SAB is mandated (along with the Air Force Weather Agency) with providing satellite estimates of tropical cyclone intensity to the Tropical Prediction Center (TPC)/National Hurricane Center (NHC). The intensity estimates at SAB are prepared using the "Dvorak Technique" (Dvorak 1975). Ironically, during my visit, Tropical Storm Harvey was threatening the WFO Key West County Warning Area, which made this application of the Dvorak Technique particularly interesting. The access SAB has to high-resolution satellite imagery is astounding; they can view any sector on the planet, including the poles!
b. Day two
I spent the morning of day two with HPC's Short-Range Public Desk. The primary task of this desk is to predict the evolution of weather systems over the continental U.S. during the next two days. Short-range forecasters utilize short-range NWP models (Eta, AVN, and the NGM) as their primary guidance. This forecaster is also responsible for coordinating with TPC/NHC when a tropical cyclone exists in the Atlantic Basin anywhere west of 60 W (and over the Pacific Ocean east of 140 W). The short-range forecaster will prepare a tropical cyclone track forecast utilizing short- and medium-range models, send the associated latitude/longitude coordinates to NHC, and then discuss their reasoning over the Hurricane Hotline via regularly-scheduled conference calls. Having worked at two coastal NWS offices, I was particularly interested in this interaction from the HPC perspective as I was previously only familiar with being on "the other end of the line." In summary, HPC utilizes primarily short- and medium-range guidance in the preparation of their forecasts, whereas NHC utilizes a variety of guidance, including statistical, dynamical, and statistical/dynamical tropical cyclone track models. HPC's expertise in short- and medium-range model trends/biases is an important contribution to the overall NWS tropical cyclone forecasting process.
During the middle portion of day two I attended midday map discussions at both MPC and HPC. Again, the audiences, questions, and concerns were diverse and fostered a healthy atmosphere of communication and understanding--elements critical for progress in any field.
Later in the afternoon I interacted with several MPC meteorologists. The mission of the MPC is to issue warnings, forecasts, and guidance in text and graphical format for maritime users. The MPC also applies quality control measures to marine observations from ship, buoy, and automated marine platforms around the world, identifying and eliminating gross errors prior to being assimilated into NWP model runs. In addition, the MPC provides track forecast points to and coordinates with TPC/NHC for tropical cyclones in the Atlantic Ocean east of 60 W. MPC's methodology in this regard is similar to that of HPC; however, MPC's expertise is forecasting atmospheric conditions over the Atlantic Ocean whereas HPC's expertise lies in forecasting the atmosphere over the North American continent and adjacent coastal waters.
c. Day three
I worked with two forecasters at the Medium-Range Public Forecast Desk. These forecasters are responsible for preparing forecasts for the three to seven-day time period. The model guidance they utilize include the NWS Medium Range Forecast (MRF) model, the Navy Global Atmospheric Prediction System (NOGAPS) operational global spectral model, the European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasting (ECMWF) global model, the United Kingdom's Meteorology Office (UKMET) global model, the Canadian model, the "MRFX" (a semi-operationally run experimental version of the MRF), as well as various ensemble products. The medium-range forecasters are also responsible for coordination with TPC/NHC for the three to seven-day period when tropical cyclone activity is ongoing in the Atlantic Basin and over the eastern Pacific Ocean.
Since the Key West WFO is the southernmost WFO in the continental United States, is predominantly characterized by a tropical climatological regime, and is less than 90 miles from a foreign country, I was particularly interested in learning about the activities of the International Desks. These desks prepare discussions and forecasts for the Caribbean region, Central and South America, and Saudi Arabia. The International Desks were formed by the desire of several South American countries to better identify and forecast climate anomalies associated with the 1989 El Nino/Southern Oscillation. As a result, the World Meteorological Organization began sponsoring meteorologists from Caribbean and Latin American countries at the NCEP International Desks for a few months at a time. From this beginning, an effective collaborative program has ensued, taking full advantage of the subjective forecast experience of the visiting meteorologists and combining it with the technology available at NCEP and the resident (in-house) model interpretation skills.
The collaboration has improved the forecast skills of visiting (and resident) meteorologists, and has provided a forum for consistent improvements to NWP models and their associated performance in this area of the world. Michel Davison is the International Desk Coordinator who oversees an impressive training program. Mr. Davison took time to show me the various activities of the International Desks as well as discuss the Tropical Desk in more detail as this desk possesses the greatest potential for impact on the field forecaster at our office. The training is comprehensive and involves subjective analysis of raw data, model interpretation in the tropics, and the application of various conceptual models (e.g., easterly waves), exceptions to conceptual models (e.g., positively-tilted versus negatively-tilted easterly waves), and their representation in NWP model output.
After attending another midday HPC map discussion, I spent my final afternoon at the NOAA Science Center with two members of the HPC Surface Analysis Team. This team issues analyses of surface fronts and pressure systems over North America and adjacent waters at 3-hr intervals from 0000 to 0600 UTC and from 1200 to 1800 UTC and over the North Pacific Ocean every 12 hours. Analysts start with a background sea-level pressure field from an Aviation model analysis or forecast field and make use of the most recent visible or infrared satellite images. All available surface and upper-air observations, Doppler radar, and global satellite data are graphically integrated to provide the most accurate, meteorologically consistent, and complete analysis possible. Routinely preparing a surface analysis for an entire continent provides these analysts with an exposure to a variety of weather patterns and regimes, a resource that should enhance skill as a forecaster.
The National Center Advanced Weather Interactive Processing System (NAWIPS) is the tool used for most product preparation at the national centers. It was developed by the Transition Project at NCEP for use by the national centers due to their unique mission and more national perspective, which differs significantly from the local perspective of the WFOs. The NAWIPS, like AWIPS consists of software that ingests, analyzes, displays, and integrates various types of hydrometeorological data. Data types include NWP model, surface, upper-air, satellite, radar, and text data. NAWIPS runs on UNIX workstations that support Xwindows and Motif software. NAWIPS includes the General Meteorological Package (GEMPAK) software and a set of graphical user interface programs. Perhaps the most valuable application in NAWIPS is the NMAP (NAWIPS Meteorological Analysis Package) software, which allows forecasters to manipulate and integrate graphical data for analysis and preparation of graphical forecast products. The NMAP software is very powerful and used extensively by meteorologists at HPC, MPC, and other NCEP service-oriented centers.
3. NWS Headquarters
During the last two days of my visit to the Washington area I visited and interacted with personnel at NWS Headquarters in Silver Spring. Although a reorganization is now underway, at the time of my visit the NWSH organization comprised three administrative entities, namely, the Assistant Administrator's Offices, the Headquarters Offices, and the Joint-Government Supporting Office. Each of these offices is further divided into various specialized offices. The Assistant Administrator's Offices include Industrial Meteorology, International Activities, and the Office of the Chief Financial Officer. Headquarters Offices include the Office of Hydrology, Office of Meteorology, Office of Systems Development, and Office of Systems Operations. Finally, the Joint-Government Supporting Office is the Office of the Federal Coordinator for Meteorological Services and Supporting Research (OFCM).
a. Day four
Ibegan my NWSH familiarization in the Office of Meteorology (OM), probably the office with the most contact day-to-day with field office operations. In fact, several people who currently work at OM have worked at field offices in the past. OM is responsible for developing the overall policy and operational guidelines for NWS meteorological products and services. OM also has played a significant role in NWS MAR by leading the effort to establish and develop a formal process of validation and verification of the modernized services.
Eli Jacks and Mike Dion provided me with an overview of OM activities, introduced me to several members of the staff, and explained the proposed NWS National Strategic Training and Education Plan (NSTEP). The NSTEP mission is to ensure that the NWS's training needs are met through the maintenance of an efficient and effective work force and by facilitating the transfer of scientific developments into operations. NSTEP essentially clarifies the roles of the three NWS training providers - the NWS Training Center (NWSTC), the Center for Operational Meteorology, Education, and Training (COMET), and the WSR-88D Operational Support Facility's Operations Training Branch (OSF/OTB) - and places them under a single administrative umbrella that will be better equipped to respond to realistic field training and education needs.
Next, I met with Robin Radlein of OM. Ms. Radlein presented a very interesting summary of the AWIPS "Requirement Process." After this meeting, I walked away with a true respect for the magnitude of the AWIPS implementation from the administrative, legal, financial, scientific, technological, and political perspectives, to name just a few. Later in the morning I visited the Techniques Development Laboratory for the first of three occasions during my NWSH familiarization. This initial exposure to TDL was at their TDL "Plans Briefing." The TDL Plans Briefing is a meeting at which TDL personnel present an overview of current research activities and probable implementation plans for the upcoming quarter. I was fortunate to have timed my visit to be able to attend this infrequent meeting. The briefing was co-presented by Paul Dallavalle of the Synoptic Scale Techniques Branch and Wilson Shaffer of the Marine Techniques Branch. A full slate of products were described in their plans.
During the early afternoon, Dick Thigpen of the Office of System Operations (OSO) gave me a tour of the OSO NWS Telecommunication Gateway (NWSTG) and the AWIPS Network Control Facility (NCF). The NWSTG includes the central communications switching station (i.e., the "gateway") which is the NWS telecommunications hub for data acquisition and distribution. It includes the satellite uplink to the AWIPS Satellite Broadcast Network. The NWSTG also operates the Automated Surface Observing Station (ASOS) Observing and Monitoring Center (AOMC), a component of NWSHQ that field personnel interact with on a routine basis. The NCF is responsible for delivering weather data products to the AWIPS systems and overseeing the AWIPS monitor and control functions. Field personnel interact with personnel from NCF on a routine basis as well. A wealth of information about the OSO is available on their Web page. The amount of hardware and software associated with the NWSTG is truly amazing. In addition, Mr. Thigpen assured us that all systems were "Y2K-ready!"
Next, I met with Scott Kiser of the Office of Public Affairs. Mr. Kiser described the activities of the Office of Public Affairs and explained how WFO products are used first-hand in their mission. Specifically, the Local Storm Reports (LSRs) issued by the WFOs are used extensively by the Office of Public Affairs in the preparation of reports and briefings delivered to various government officials, the media, and the public. In addition, the Office of Public Affairs helps to answer a wide array of questions that members of the media, general public and government have about NWS issues, products and programs. Moreover, they are responsible for preparation of "Service Assessments" and various public educational literature.
My final stop on day four was the office of Mr. Dallavalle of TDL's Synoptic Scale Techniques Branch (SSTB). Mr. Dallavalle is well-known to anyone familiar with Model Output Statistics (MOS). We discussed several issues regarding the strengths and weaknesses of MOS, current research, and future developments, including implementation of the AVN-based MOS in the near future. The SSTB of TDL has recently updated their home page with verification statistics as well as a wealth of MOS information.
b. Day five (final day)
My first meeting of the day was with Dr. Shaffer of the TDL Marine Techniques Branch. Dr. Shaffer and I discussed improvements in the Sea, Lake, and Overland Surges from Hurricanes (SLOSH) Display Program-a user-friendly software application developed by Dr. Shaffer and his colleagues. The display program is based on output from the SLOSH model, which was developed primarily by the late Chester Jelesnianski. The SLOSH model is the basis for the "hazard analysis" portion of coastal hurricane evacuation plans. Hundreds of hypothetical hurricanes are simulated with various Saffir-Simpson categories, forward speeds, landfall directions, and landfall locations. At the end of each model run, a grid overlaying the basin of interest depicts the high-water mark achieved for each cell given the hypothetical situation. These depictions are combined by NHC into composites which portend the possible flooding due to the storm's forward path and spiraling winds. Dr. Shaffer also described improvements and vagaries of the SLOSH grid encompassing the Florida Keys. The SLOSH Display Program is available on-station to all coastal WFOs as a CD-ROM.
Next, I visited with Sam Contorno of OM, who directs the Collaborative Science, Technology, and Applied Research (CSTAR) program. The CSTAR program was established by OM to bring the current NWS-academic collaborative activities into one structured program. The program's goal is to create a cost-effective transition from basic and applied research to operations and services.
My final scheduled stop at NWSH was at the Office of Strategic Planning (OSP) where I met with Wendy Levine, John Sokich, James Washington, and Director Ed Johnson to discuss Vision 2005: NWS Strategic Plan for Weather, Water, and Climate Services 2000-2005. This meeting was very enlightening both for me and, I believe, for the attending staff of the OSP as well. Since the NWS is such a diverse agency encompassing resources and personnel across a broad geographic region, it is logistically impossible for field personnel to have frequent personal contact with fellow NWS employees working at other offices and headquarters. The open forum in which the OSP employees and I interacted for nearly two hours afforded direct communication among all present with the goal of understanding each of our roles, and how each could best move toward our goal of fulfilling the NWS mission. The OSP is made up of eager individuals who openly solicit feedback from all field personnel regarding the latest NWS Strategic Plan and how best to accomplish our goals. The next step will be to implement the Strategic Plan effectively throughout all components of the NWS.
Finally, Hank Robinson of OM gave me an impromptu tour of the NOAA Central Library, which is located in the NOAA building next door to the one housing NWSH. As the station librarian for WFO Key West I was very interested in this side trip, and was impressed with the NOAA library's large and diverse collection of contemporary and historical articles, including Benjamin Franklin's "lightning paper!" NOAA's Central Library maintains a collection of more than one million books, journals, technical reports, and other sources that support research in meteorology and related fields, all of which can be signed out by any interested WFO.
I am grateful to have had the opportunity to experience such an eye-opening trip. Through this attachment, I have tried to communicate some of what I have learned. No amount of reading, however, can replace the experience of actually visiting the NOAA Science Center and NWSH, observing the technology first-hand, and interacting face-to-face with other meteorologists and other personnel in one's organization.
The benefits derived from visiting the World Weather Building include learning new methodologies with respect to weather analysis and forecasting; having the opportunity to ask direct questions regarding NCEP operations and obtain answers in person; realizing the wealth of guidance available from NCEP to the field forecaster; and being exposed to new and powerful technologies (e.g., NAWIPS, NWP improvements).
The benefits derived from visiting NWSH include understanding the sometimes confusing administrative structure of the NWS and where each component fits in light of the overall mission. I also gained an appreciation for various legal, financial, and political matters that the field forecaster does not have to address on a routine basis; learned more about research and development problems and accomplishments, and now realize the need for direct field to headquarters interaction and communication.
I hope in the course of my visit I was also able to impart some information and concerns from the perspective of the of the Key West forecast office to other NWS and NESDIS staff members with whom I visited.
Block, R. and S. Stripling, 1996: Linking the WSFO Tropical Forecaster with the National Centers: Report of Trips to NCEP's Hydrometeorological Prediction Center and Tropical Prediction Center. NWS/SR/SSD Technical Attachment 96-51.
Dvorak, V.F., 1975: Tropical cyclone intensity analysis and forecasting from satellite imagery. Mon. Wea. Rev., 103, 420-430.
McPherson, R.D., 1994: The National Centers for Environmental Prediction: Operational climate, ocean, and weather prediction for the 21st century. Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc., 75, 363-373.
NWS, 1999: VISION 2005: National Weather Service Strategic Plan for Weather, Water, and Climate Services 2000-2005.