SR SSD 2001-04
Using a Cell Phone to Send Products Via the Internet
John A. Lewis III
On October 26, 2000, all phone lines from the Weather Forecast Office (WFO) in Little Rock, Arkansas, were non-operational from 400 pm to about 1000 pm CDT. A construction crew at a local church cut through about 900 phone lines, including the lines that served the WFO. While the WFO was apparently receiving timely data in AWIPS (Advanced Weather Interactive Processing System) through a satellite connection, and forecasters on duty were able to compose weather products, the products could not be transmitted to the outside world due to the phone line outage. Due to the disabled phone lines, the WFO normally would have been declared non-operational, and its duties would have transferred to surrounding WFOs. However, because WFO Little Rock was partly operational and the weather was non-severe, an alternate means of sending the products was devised. The products were disseminated via cell phone through the Internet to the WFO in Memphis, the primary backup office for WFO Little Rock.
2. Devising a Method to Send Weather Products
As the evening shift (400 pm to midnight) began, it was believed that products were reaching the outside world. Products were storing perfectly in AWIPS, making it seem that communications were functioning normally. However, it is office practice to check EMWIN (Emergency Manager's Weather Information Network) to verify products are updating. When EMWIN was checked, it was noticed the products were outdated. WFO Memphis was then alerted of the situation via cell phone, and that office was informed several products were ready to be disseminated, but communications were down and the products could not be sent. While on the cell phone, the senior forecaster at Little Rock came up with the idea to use the cell phone to send products to Memphis, where the products could then be sent to AWIPS. The electronics technician (ET) on duty at Little Rock verified the cell phone could be used in that capacity, and it was decided to try this method.
3. Using a Cell Phone to Send Weather Products
An adapter was available to the ET at Little Rock (Fig. 1) which was used for acquiring ASOS (Automated Surface Observing System) data while out in the field. The adapter was normally plugged into a cell phone, with a phone line connecting the adapter to a laptop computer. The adapter is also compatible with other dialing devices such as a fax machine, and it has the ability to provide devices with a dial tone (from the cell phone), which would not be the case without the adapter.
On the evening of October 26, the adapter was initially used with a fax machine. Products were sent via fax to WFO Memphis, were retyped there and were sent to AWIPS. Within two hours, the senior forecaster at Little Rock decided to try to access the Internet with the adapter using a laptop. The goal was to e-mail the products so that Memphis could directly edit the products without retyping. The only obstacle was connecting to the Internet, which requires an account. To make a connection to the Internet, the forecaster used his personal account.
Fig. 1: The Motorola S1936C, which is used to connect
a cell phone to a dialing device (such as a laptop computer
or a fax machine).
4. Results of the Product Sending Experiment
Forecasters at Little Rock and Memphis conferred after the event to assess this approach to inter-office backup. The question was, in this situation was this approach - manipulating already existing products - preferable to (easier than) the normal full back-up approach. The Memphis forecaster was pleased with the alternative and planned to discussed the option with his MIC.
It must be noted that the weather in the Little Rock county warning area on October 26, 2000 was relatively inactive. There was some rain in western Arkansas, but there was no severe weather, therefore, most of the products sent via the Internet were routine forecast and aviation forecasts. While sending products via the Internet may have been acceptable that evening, disseminating short-fused products such as warnings in the same manner would not have been prudent. Considerable time is required to access the Internet, prepare and send e-mail messages, retrieve the messages and extract products, and then to send the products to AWIPS. The Internet would not have been an option for products which needed to be sent as soon as possible.
On the evening in question, if significant weather had been expected WFO Memphis would have been alerted to assume full back-up responsibility for WFO Little Rock. For sending long-fused products as in this situation, however, the cell phone-to-Internet connection worked well and relieved the adjacent WFO of more additional work than necessary. It would have taken time to prepare WFO Little Rock products from scratch, and it may have required WFO Memphis to call in additional personnel to assist. In the end, all products reached customers in a timely manner and without extra manpower.
The author would like to thank Renee Fair, Meteorologist-in-Charge, and George Wilken, Science and Operations Officer, both of WFO Little Rock, for their suggestion to document this product sending experiment. Because the experiment was successful, they are exploring ways to integrate the approach into WFO Little Rock operations.
The author would also like to thank Mary King, electronics technician at WFO Little Rock, for introducing the cell phone adapter, and for helping to set up the laptop to Internet connection. Forecaster Lance Pyle helped compose more than his share of products during the event while I (the senior forecaster) explored communications options. Finally, the author would like to thank Memphis forecaster Steven Cromer who, through communication with WFO Little Rock and his efforts, helped make the product sending experiment successful that evening.