This chapter focuses on the state of the National Weather Service (NWS) in the 1980s, prior to the official start of the Modernization and Associated Restructuring (MAR) in 1989. During the period preceding the MAR, improved radar and other observation systems were already under development, the numerical weather prediction operations at the National Meteorological Center (NMC) were improving steadily, and the operational application of data and information from both polar orbiting and geostationary satellites had become a critical component of atmospheric observation and improved forecasting capability. However, the NWS could not fully realize the benefits of these rapidly evolving technological improvements within their existing organizational structure, staffing, and physical infrastructure. The MAR execution objectives were to address this problem, yielding several promised benefits.
In the 1980s, surface observations were being made manually, and were often inconsistent between observers and locations. Forecaster workstations, themselves a fairly recent innovation, operated across multiple computing systems, all with limited computational capability. The NWS radar network was composed of three different types of radars that could determine echo structure and intensity, important for tornado detection and forecasts, but had no capability to measure wind speeds; there were significant gaps in coverage, particularly in the West. The field office structure with approximately only one WSFO per state limited relationships between forecasters and local communities, especially in states with large populations and multiple media markets.
Prior to the MAR, NWS, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and Department of Defense (DOD) staff manually made surface observations. Methods of weather observation had changed very little in the 100 years preceding the MAR (McNulty et al., 1990), and studies had found large variations in manual observations from individual to individual, and from site to site (Chisholm and Kruse, 1974; Woodall, 1966). In addition, the growing aviation industry increased the demand for surface observations. The desire to better address mesoscale weather events (e.g., severe thunderstorms, hail, and tornadoes) required a denser network of observing stations taking frequent and continuous observations.
The NWS and FAA teamed with the DOD (i.e., Air Force and Navy) to begin the process of replacing manual surface observations at approximately 250 airports, which were not always recorded around the clock, with the Automated Surface Observing System (ASOS). The three agencies designed ASOS to improve upon the manual surface observation practices and standards, operate 24 hours a day, seven days a
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2 Pre-Modernization Environment and Planning T his chapter focuses on the state of the National particularly in the West. The field office structure with Weather Service (NWS) in the 1980s, prior approximately only one WSFO per state limited rela- to the official start of the Modernization and tionships between forecasters and local communities, Associated Restructuring (MAR) in 1989. During especially in states with large populations and multiple the period preceding the MAR, improved radar and media markets. other observation systems were already under devel- opment, the numerical weather prediction operations Technology at the National Meteorological Center (NMC) were improving steadily, and the operational application of Surface Observations data and information from both polar orbiting and geo- stationary satellites had become a critical component Prior to the MAR, NWS, Federal Aviation Admin- of atmospheric observation and improved forecasting istration (FAA), and Department of Defense (DOD) capability. However, the NWS could not fully realize staff manually made surface observations. Methods of the benefits of these rapidly evolving technological weather observation had changed very little in the 100 improvements within their existing organizational years preceding the MAR (McNulty et al., 1990), and structure, staffing, and physical infrastructure. The studies had found large variations in manual observa- MAR execution objectives were to address this prob- tions from individual to individual, and from site to lem, yielding several promised benefits. site (Chisholm and Kruse, 1974; Woodall, 1966). In addition, the growing aviation industry increased the demand for surface observations. The desire to better PRE-MODERNIZATION address mesoscale weather events (e.g., severe thunder- WEATHER SERVICE storms, hail, and tornadoes) required a denser network In the 1980s, surface observations were being made of observing stations taking frequent and continuous manually, and were often inconsistent between observ- observations. ers and locations. Forecaster workstations, themselves a The NWS and FAA teamed with the DOD (i.e., fairly recent innovation, operated across multiple com- Air Force and Navy) to begin the process of replac- puting systems, all with limited computational capabil- ing manual surface observations at approximately 250 ity. The NWS radar network was composed of three airports, which were not always recorded around the different types of radars that could determine echo clock, with the Automated Surface Observing Sys- structure and intensity, important for tornado detec- tem (ASOS). The three agencies designed ASOS to tion and forecasts, but had no capability to measure improve upon the manual surface observation practices wind speeds; there were significant gaps in coverage, and standards, operate 24 hours a day, seven days a 11
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12 THE NWS MODERNIZATION AND RESTRUCTURING: A RETROSPECTIVE ASSESSMENT week, and increase the spatial resolution of surface Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL). By the late 1960s observations by expanding from 250 to almost 1,000 it was evident that the technology could reveal storm airports around the country. The network was intended signatures of potential value in forecast and warning to automate the observation and dissemination of applications (Donaldson et al., 1969); a tornado vortex temperature, dew point, visibility, wind direction, wind signature was identified in the echoes from a 1973 speed, barometric pressure, cloud height and amount, Oklahoma storm (Burgess et al., 1975). However, it and the type and amount of precipitation. The goal took the introduction of real-time computing and the was acquisition of spatially and temporally uniform development of color display technology in the early measurements, continuous observation and reporting, 1970s to provide a means for bringing the data from and more observing sites nationwide. a single Doppler radar to meteorologists in a conve- niently usable fashion. In the mid-1970s the NWS jointly teamed with the Radar DOD and the Department of Transportation (DOT) The NWS weather radar system in the 1980s in anticipation of the need to replace the WSR-57, comprised some fifty-odd WSR-57 and WSR-74S WSR-74, and FPS-77 radars deployed over the pre- ( Weather Surveillance Radar) S-band “network” radars ceding 20 years, to form the Joint Doppler Operational and nearly seventy WSR-74C C-band “local warning” Project ( JDOP; Whiton et al., 1998). The experiments radars. These radars displayed the storm echo pat- and tests performed at NSSL and by the NWS and terns and measured radar reflectivity, related to storm USAF Air Weather Service in 1976 and 1977 showed intensity, in a semi-quantitative manner. Coverage at that Doppler radar provided much earlier detection of mid-levels for the atmosphere was fairly broad east of severe and tornadic storms, and could also detect gust the Rockies, but only spotty farther west. The WSR- fronts that might present a hazard to flight operations 57s in particular were aging and becoming difficult and at airports. expensive to maintain. Thus the need for a replacement On the basis of the successful JDOP demonstration system in the not too distant future was becoming of the potential value of Doppler radar to the missions of pronounced. the NWS, the USAF, and the FAA, development of the Fortunately, the development of the Next Genera- NEXRAD system got under way in earnest in 1979: the tion Weather Radar (NEXRAD) was well under way Office of the Federal Coordinator for Meteorological long before the nominal beginning of the MAR. Early Services and Supporting Research (OFCM) approved work using 3.2 cm (X-band) wavelength short-range a NEXRAD concept document and established a tri- continuous-wave (CW) Doppler radar technology agency NEXRAD Program Council (NPC); the NPC had demonstrated capability to detect tornadic wind approved formation of a Radar Test and Development speeds (Smith and Holmes, 1961) in addition to mea- Branch (later to become the Interim Operational Test suring reflectivity. However, that system was limited Facility, then the Operational Support Facility, and by inability to determine range to the target and by e ventually the Radar Operations Center); and the problems with loss of signal intensity in conditions Office of Management and Budget (OMB) directed involving precipitation. For routine operational appli- the OFCM to conduct a tri-agency cross-cut study for cations, the development of pulse-Doppler technology NEXRAD. Finally, NOAA approved establishment of for long-range weather radar (at longer wavelengths a NEXRAD Joint System Program Office ( JSPO) to less subject to attenuation) was needed to furnish both move forward with the development, contract award, range and velocity information (Whiton et al., 1998). and deployment of a NEXRAD network. An NRC Improvements in data processing and display technol- report (NRC, 1980) added momentum to the effort ogy were also needed to present the information in to implement an operational Doppler weather radar usable formats. capability. The NPC formed a NEXRAD Technical Work on the pulse-Doppler technology also began Advisory Committee in 1980 to provide recommen- around the late-1950s (Rogers, 1990), first under U.S. dations on newly-developed capabilities that are ready Air Force (USAF) auspices and later at the National for implementation as well as engineering and scien-
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13 PRE-MODERNIZATION ENVIRONMENT AND PLANNING tific developments needed to improve the NEXRAD With the costs of wideband communication links at the capabilities. Thus the NEXRAD development process time, the principal users had to be located not far from was under way well before the nominal beginning of the radar site proper. In some cases the radar site was the MAR. In fact, the NEXRAD system was eventu- to be moved from city locations (which suffered from ally designated officially as the WSR-88D, the “88” extensive ground clutter, a “cone of silence” or coverage signifying the year when the basic design was finalized, gap, and radio frequency interference [RFI] problems) the year before the MAR officially began. to more rural locations. While new or modified opera- Congress appropriated the first funding for tional offices or centers were specifically not part of NEXRAD in the fall of 1980. The JSPO issued Joint the NEXRAD system at this stage (though the costs Operational Requirements and NEXRAD Technical for such things were later included in the estimated Requirements (NTR) documents in 1981 to initiate cost of the NEXRAD system; GAO, 1991a), under the process of system development and procurement the restructuring some of those locations also became ( Whiton et al., 1998). Work by the three System Defi- preferred locations for the new WFOs. nition Phase contractors indicated that modifications to the NTR would be needed to define an affordable Satellites system. With those revisions accomplished two Valida- tion Phase contractors began work in 1983; this phase, The National Environmental Satellite, Data, and including Initial Operational Test and Evaluation (Part Information Service (NESDIS) is the National Oce- 1), was completed in 1987 and led to the selection anic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) line of the Unisys design for the Limited and Full-Scale office responsible for satellites and in this capacity was Production phases. During that period a different a major contributor to the MAR. Only a combination vendor promoted the idea of using C-band radars as a of geostationary and polar-orbiting satellites can pro- less expensive alternative to the S-band design, but a vide the spatial and temporal coverage and resolution 1985 “Blue Ribbon Panel” headed by Raymond Kam- required to measure the atmosphere and Earth system mer reviewed the revised NEXRAD requirements for weather and climate information. As early as the and found them to be “on target” and directly related late 1980s and early 1990s there was an understanding to weather and public safety needs (ROC, 2011; U.S. that modernization of the observing satellite systems Congress, 1985). The Unisys prototype arrived at the was expected to lead to improvements in Numeri- Operational Support Facility (OSF) in late 1988 for cal Weather Prediction (NWP). NWP models use further operational test and evaluation, with production input data describing temperature, moisture, and wind readiness established at the end of 1989—by which parameters in the atmosphere. These data are obtained time the official MAR was under way. via various observation technologies; however, none Meanwhile, the site-survey contractor had begun are as globally complete and areally consistent as those work in 1983 to identify prospective sites for the from satellite data. Upgrades to the sounders, includ- NEXRAD network. A NEXRAD Siting Handbook ing microwave sounders, were of particular interest to issued in 1983 ( JSPO, 1983) outlined the planned NWP. approach for deploying the radars. Insofar as possible, Geostationary satellites, consistently stationed existing radar sites or other user facilities were to be above the same point on Earth, are important for near- used, simplifying problems of land acquisition, site continuous monitoring of the tropics and mid-latitudes access, and utilities. Guidance in the Siting Handbook within a hemispheric view, but do not capture the polar indicated that radar coverage was to be the primary regions as well. A set of polar orbiting satellites, each requirement. After preliminary surveys, in-depth sur- crossing above the equator at a different local time, veys were conducted of promising candidate sites. A work together to provide coverage of the entire Earth, detailed report was prepared for each survey, focusing including the poles. Each polar satellite observes a given on coverage and cost issues (including particularly the point on Earth’s surface and the atmosphere above it cost of wideband communication between the radar only twice a day. Although the polar system observa- site and the location of the principal users of the data). tions have lower temporal resolution in comparison
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14 THE NWS MODERNIZATION AND RESTRUCTURING: A RETROSPECTIVE ASSESSMENT to those from the geostationary system, they have the of the MAR and was one of the major components of advantage of being at a higher spatial resolution due the modernization. Kalnay et al. (1998) document the to the much lower orbital altitude. In addition, the evolution of numerical weather prediction techniques temperature and vapor soundings derived from polar within the NWS against the backdrop of evolving orbiters have better vertical resolution. The complete computing capacity from the 1950s through the mid- global coverage that the sounder data provides is used 1990s. Computing capacity increased approximately for initiation of global NWP models. In addition, the six orders of magnitude (in terms of “flops” or “floating polar-orbiting satellites provide better all-weather point operations per second”) since the NWS under- performance. took NWP activities in the late 1950s. Two emerging The launch of the Television Infrared Observation capabilities helped define and drive the MAR objec- Satellite (TIROS-1) in 1960 began significant strides tives for more uniform and scientifically-based forecast forward in synoptic scale weather interpretation with products: the power to generate timely and accurate routine global cloud observations from the system of information content and the uniformity of nationally polar orbiting satellites (NRC, 1999b). The images distributable forecast products afforded by the grow- proved valuable in data-sparse areas, particularly in ing computational capacity. Managing, disseminating, detecting and tracking tropical storms over the oceans and interpreting this expanding volume of information (NRC, 1997b). content required changes in many areas. The downscal- Beginning with the launch of the Applications ing of numerical prediction results to specific guidance Technology Satellite (ATS-1) in geostationary orbit in information that forecasters could utilize for their 1966, meteorologists obtained full disk images of Earth specific location was another important development. and its cloud cover every 20 minutes. The spin scan cloud camera implemented on the ATS-1 geostation- Forecaster Workstations ary platform enabled observations of weather systems in motion during daytime (Purdom, 1996). Since then, Before the deployment in the late 1970s and early each new series of geostationary satellites has incor- 1980s of the Automation of Field Operations and Ser- porated improvements in both instruments and data vices (AFOS), a computer-based forecaster workstation provision. Improvements in the instruments included technology, the communication infrastructure of the addition of infrared and microwave channels to the vis- NWS consisted of teletypewriter and facsimile circuits. ible channels on the imager, allowing nighttime obser- AFOS consisted of a set of mini-computers and tele- vations, and addition of a sounder capability to observe phone communication systems organized as “regional the vertical structure of the atmosphere. Since its first loops” supported by hub-and-spoke networks that launch in 1975, the Geostationary Operational Envi- interconnected each Weather Service Forecast Office ronmental Satellite (GOES) data has been a critical and its Weather Service Offices. The communications part of NWS operations by providing cloud and water system was vulnerable to failure, especially in severe vapor imagery to the National Centers through direct weather conditions (high winds, ice storms, etc.). In receipt. The GOES series of satellites also began to the late-1980s, the AFOS system became increasingly assist in provision and transmission of additional data. technologically obsolete and not worth modification or For example, starting in the mid-1970s the GOES upgrading (NBS, 1988). Major advances in meteoro- Data Collection System (DCS) was implemented, logical instrumentation and measurement techniques allowing for the relay of data from remote, ground- were providing new data and information, contribut- based data collection platforms through the satellite to ing to improved weather forecasting and warning. a central processing facility. The Advanced Weather Interactive Processing Sys- tem (AWIPS) project addressed the AFOS problem and was intended to harness the rapidly advancing National Centers Computing Capacity technologies. AWIPS later served as the backbone of The need to modernize computational capacity at the MAR, providing forecasters with a system to use NWS national centers was well recognized at the time all available NWS sources of data. The first release
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15 PRE-MODERNIZATION ENVIRONMENT AND PLANNING ernization of the NWS (U.S. Congress, 1988).1 The of AWIPS was not a true “modern architecture” but a lengthy set of codes operating on updated, higher strategic plan would set forth the basic service improve- throughput, hardware. The software was later rewritten ment objectives of the modernization. It would describe to become the modern, modular, open architecture it the critical new technology components as well as the is today that can accommodate upgrades and improve- associated staff and operational changes necessary to ments such as AWIPS-II, presently being staged for fulfill the objectives of weather and flood forecasting operational deployment. and warning service improvements. In response to the Congressional request, the NWS prepared, in March 1989, the Strategic Plan for the Mod- Operations ernization and Associated Restructuring of the National The NWS had a two-tiered office structure prior to Weather Service. The Strategic Plan stated the objective the MAR. The first tier of 52 Weather Service Forecast of the MAR as follows: Offices (WSFOs), about one per state, had a core com- [t]o modernize the NWS through the deployment ponent of professional meteorologists. The WSFOs of proven observational, information processing and prepared general forecasts for their assigned region of communications technologies, and to establish an associated cost effective operational structure. The responsibility and provided severe weather warnings for modernization and associated restructuring of NWS their immediate local area covered by the station radar. shall assure that the major advances which have been They also recorded local observations and often had made in our ability to observe and understand the upper-air radiosonde observing responsibility. The sec- atmosphere are applied to the practical problems of ond tier of 204 Weather Service Offices (WSOs) was providing weather and hydrologic services to the Na- staffed with observers and meteorological technicians. tion (NWS, 1989). Some WSOs had local weather radars and had local The Strategic Plan emphasized that the MAR responsibility for issuing severe weather warnings. All would be dependent on the development and imple- WSOs had surface observing responsibility and some mentation of several major technologies including performed upper-air observations. Some WSOs were open only part time. • Automated Surface Observing System (ASOS): It is difficult to obtain comprehensive data regard- an automated electronic sensor instrument system to ing the skill level, or performance metrics, of the NWS replace manual weather observations at all NWS (and general weather forecasting prior to and during the many other) surface observing locations, and increase MAR. Forecast verification data is collected centrally, the number of observing locations; and is made available to NOAA employees, and to • Next Generation Weather Radar (NEXRAD): other government employees and researchers on a a network of advanced Doppler radars to measure case-by-case basis. However, some data are available the motions of the atmosphere responsible for severe for tornado and flash flood warnings (see Figure 4.3). weather such as tornadoes, to detect heavy rainfall and For example, in the late 1980s, about 40 percent of hail, and to increase lead times for prediction and warn- tornado occurrences were detected, with an average ing of severe weather events and flash floods; warning lead time of five minutes and a false alarm • Satellite Upgrades: a new series of geostationary rate of about 80 percent. There was a similar detection meteorological satellites to provide higher spatial and rate of about 40 percent for flash floods, with a warning temporal resolution imagery and data to aid shorter- lead time of near 10 minutes, and a false alarm ratio of range forecasts and warnings, and a new series of polar about 60 percent. orbiting meteorological satellites to provide improved, EXECUTION OBJECTIVES 1 Public Law 100-685 was later replaced by Public Law 102- In November 1988, via Public Law 100-685, Con- 567, which included the same requirements for a Strategic Plan and gress instructed the Secretary of Commerce to prepare National Implementation Plan as well as more detailed guidance for a 10-year strategic plan for the comprehensive mod- the execution of the MAR.
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16 THE NWS MODERNIZATION AND RESTRUCTURING: A RETROSPECTIVE ASSESSMENT all-weather, atmospheric data to assist in longer term degradation of weather services provided to the affected forecasting; area” (U.S. Congress, 1992). An independent advisory • National Centers Advanced Computer Sys- committee, the Modernization Transition Committee tems: a t en-fold increase in computing power to (MTC), was established to provide a review of each certi- support the National Centers. Along with numerical fication and advise the Secretary (U.S. Congress, 1992). weather prediction model improvements, this improved national guidance for forecasts and warnings; and PROMISED BENEFITS • Advanced Weather Interactive Processing System (AWIPS): an advanced computer and commu- The overall objective of the MAR was to improve nications system to help forecasters integrate all sources weather services while simultaneously establishing a of weather data. The system allowed communication more cost efficient organization. The specific benefits between each weather forecast office and distribution of the NWS hoped to achieve with the MAR included centrally collected data and centrally produced analysis and guidance products, as well as satellite data and • more uniform weather services across the Nation; imagery (NWS, 1989). • improved forecasts; • more reliable detection and prediction of severe In Public Law 100-685, Congress also requested weather and flooding; that one year after submission of the Strategic Plan, • more cost effective NWS; and the NWS prepare and submit an initial implementa- • higher productivity for NWS employees (NWS, tion plan with annual revisions. The NWS published 1989). in March 1990 The National Implementation Plan for The NIP, while still stating the overall objectives of the Modernization and Associated Restructuring of the National Weather Service (NIP). The NIP planned a the MAR as stated in the Strategic Plan, expanded and transition to the modernized NWS that would be clarified the list of specific goals to include driven by service requirements and accomplished in two distinct stages. This staging was associated with the • operational realization of a predictive warn- period of time between the deployment of new observa- ing program focusing on mesoscale meteorology and tional systems such as ASOS and NEXRAD, and that hydrology; of the new information processing system, AWIPS. • advancement of the science of meteorology and The staging would provide a stabilization period to hydrology; allow field offices to adjust to, and gain familiarity with, • development of NWS human resources to the new Doppler radar system and data, and high reso- achieve maximum benefit from recent scientific and lution surface observation data (NWS, 1990). technical advances; Stage 1 would be characterized by an improve- • user acceptance and support of NWS modern- ment in severe weather detection capability. This ization and associated restructuring service improve- would result from meteorological interpretation of the ment objectives; new and enhanced observational data made available • strengthening cooperation with the mass media, by the deployment of ASOS and NEXRAD (NWS, universities, the research community, and the private 1990). Stage 2 would be characterized by operation of hydrometeorological sector to collectively fulfill the a reliable predictive warning program. Forecasters using Nation’s weather information needs from provision of AWIPS would have the necessary tools to integrate, severe weather warnings and general forecasts for the analyze, and interpret all the various data and informa- public as a whole, which is a Government responsibility; tion, and rapidly disseminate products (NWS, 1990). to provision of detailed and customer specific weather Congress required that no WSFO or WSO be closed, information, which is a private sector responsibility; consolidated, automated, or relocated unless the Secretary • achievement of productivity gains through of Commerce certified to the appropriate Congressional automation and replacement of obsolete technological committees that “such action would not result in any systems; and
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17 PRE-MODERNIZATION ENVIRONMENT AND PLANNING • operation of the optimum NWS warning and MAR, the NWS would have obtained the capability forecast system consistent with service requirements, to forecast and warn of severe weather events with lead user acceptability, and affordability (NWS, 1990). times of tens of minutes and with increased geographic specificity. By the end of Stage 2 of the implementation of the
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