SR SSD 2000-16
Manning the Southern Region Operations Center (ROC)
This past spring, Southern Region Headquarters (SRH) sent a request for volunteers to temporarily staff the Regional Operations Center (ROC) at SRH. Following the modernization and reorganization of the NWS, state and federal agencies with regional responsibilities now must deal with multiple NWS county warning areas, which emphasizes the need for these agencies to have weather information from one source - as was generally the case with the old WSFO concept. The SRH ROC provides that source, and the opportunity for temporary details to work in the ROC helps WFO and RFC staff obtain a broader perspective of region-wide operations.
All Southern Region meteorologists or hydrologists who would feel comfortable coordinating critical weather information and briefing high-ranking officials from various agencies, were encouraged to volunteer. Nine individuals were selected to cover the period from April 3 through October 13, 2000. Each volunteer was scheduled for a four week period, with a one week overlap between assignments. The ROC volunteers mainly work with personnel from the SRH Meteorological Services Division (MSD), but they are encouraged to explore other divisions, time permitting, to gain a better understanding of the SRH's operational and administrative support functions. During my assignment I had the opportunity to attend seminars at SRH presented by visitors from the OSF in Norman and another Southern Region WFO. I also participated in a local AMS chapter meeting at NWSFO Fort Worth.
My temporary duty at the ROC was from April 24 through May 19. During my first week, I was under the wing of the first volunteer, Mark Frazier, from NWSFO Memphis. Mark quickly spun me up on the operational duties expected of the ROC volunteer. Since Mark and I were the first two field volunteers in this program, there were a few kinks to work out. I made it part of my duties to help better define and organize the duties of the future volunteers.
Main ROC Duties
Weather Surveillance and Briefings
The main objective for the ROC position is to monitor weather across the entire Southern Region, and be prepared to give verbal or written support to the SRH staff, NWS Headquarters, other NOAA agencies, local WFOs, DEMs, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), national or international media, and the general public. Briefings are especially crucial during on-going severe weather, flooding, times of high fire danger/wildfires, and tropical and/or winter weather events which impact the region.
If the Storm Prediction Center placed any portion of Texas in a moderate or high risk for severe weather on the Day 1 or Day 2 Outlook, then the Texas DEM would be briefed on the location, main threat(s), and timing of the particular event(s). Briefings to the Texas DEM usually occur around 9 AM CDT, and then again around 3 PM. The 9 AM DEM briefing occurs just after the routine morning SRH weather briefing, and the MSD "blast up" meeting. During the "blast up" meetings, which typically last around ten minutes, each MSD program leader provides a quick overview of their expected work schedule for the day.
One of the first things I realized during my experience at SRH was the nearly daily stream of events across the region which require action on the part of the MSD staff. Whenever weather-related deaths and/or major damage occur, or any weather event has caused or was expected to cause heightened media attention within the region, a "For the Record" report is written. These reports are meant to brief the staff at both regional and national headquarters, and they are usually composed in a memo format to be distributed via cc:Mail. I had the opportunity to assist in writing a few of these reports during my one-month stay.
Under the guidance of MSD, the ROC person is also expected to assist in preparing operational readiness reports for WFOs which are expected to experience particularly bad weather, such as a moderate or high risk of severe weather, or a hurricane/tropical storm watch/warning. The affected office(s) are queried on the status of their staffing and equipment. If any potential problems are noted, then SRH quickly moves to make arrangements and help alleviate the situation. The results of the call(s) would then be summarized briefly, and sent via cc:Mail to staff within SRH to make sure everyone is apprised of the day's situation.
Hurricane Operations Office
The Southern Region Hurricane Operations Office (part of the ROC) gears up whenever any portion of the Southern Region is placed in a tropical storm or hurricane watch/warning. The main function of the Hurricane Operations Office is to ensure support to the affected offices on a 24-hour basis. During the tropical storm season it may become necessary for the ROC volunteer to participate as a member of the Hurricane Operations Office staff. Unfortunately, time constraints did not allow me to gain a full understanding of this operation.
Quality Control of Severe Weather Products
Time permitting, the ROC person is expected to Q/C all severe weather warnings and statements across the region. During active weather patterns this can be a particularly challenging task, but it is very important. During my TDY assignment I reviewed hundreds of severe weather products across the region and was usually very impressed by the efforts and quality of the products produced by forecasters in the various offices.
Some of the most noteworthy events which occurred during my stay were:
- Damage to the NOAA P-3 Hurricane Hunter aircraft by severe thunderstorm winds at Galveston (May 2).
- The Los Alamos, New Mexico, wildfire (May 5 - end of May).
- A multi-car accident in southeast Mississippi which caused several deaths (May 7).
- A tornado-related death near Lake Whitney, north of Waco, Texas (May 12).
The damage done to the P-3 left the aircraft non-operational for a few weeks, preventing it from finishing its semi-annual tour across the rest of the Gulf Coast. By far, the event which consumed most of my time was the Los Alamos wildfire. I assisted MSD in the compilation of several reports summarizing all fire weather products written for the event, and comparison of the forecasts to observations. The reports were used for briefings at various levels in the NWS, and with outside agencies, both regionally and nationally.
Overall, I feel that my experience while manning the ROC was very productive and worthwhile. I was not only fortunate enough to be a part of several major events, but more importantly, I had the privilege of working side-by-side with some of the most dedicated and professional people I have had to the opportunity to work with during my eight years in the National Weather Service. All of the people at SRH, especially in MSD, made me feel I was part of their team from day one, which made one month go by like one day.
I highly recommend other people volunteer for such an assignment to the SRH ROC at the next opportunity. It's a great way to gain a regional perspective of NWS operations in a relatively short amount of time.
I would like to thank my MIC, Ira Brenner, for allowing me the opportunity to leave my office for one month, and Dave Rittenberry for working his "scheduling magic" to free me for the trip. This was a task not easily achieved, but it was greatly appreciated. Last but not least, thanks to my co-workers at the Tampa Bay office for covering a month of my shifts.