and communications system to help forecasters integrate, visualize, and analyze all sources of weather data. The system allowed communication between each weather forecast office and distribution of centrally collected data and centrally produced analysis and guidance products, as well as satellite data and imagery.
To take advantage of these modern technologies, the NWS restructured their field office organization. Prior to the MAR, the NWS had a two-tiered office structure: 52 Weather Service Forecast Offices (WSFOs) had a core component of professional meteorologists and 204 Weather Service Offices (WSOs) were staffed with observers and meteorological technicians. This structure was replaced with a single-tiered system of 122 Weather Forecast Offices (WFOs). The intent was for WFO locations to be more evenly distributed across the nation, to provide more uniform provision of weather services and greater interaction with communities, specifically local media and emergency management. The combination of modernized technology and a reorganized operational structure contributed to improvements in forecasts on time scales of minutes to weeks, time scales that were the focus of the MAR. For example, the probabilities of detection and forecast lead times for both tornadoes and flash floods improved after the MAR. However, the false alarm ratios for tornadoes and flash floods have remained high. Hurricane track forecasts improved after the MAR, whereas hurricane intensity forecasts still need improvement.
No comprehensive assessment of the MAR plan and its execution, or comparison of the promised benefits of the MAR to its actual impact, has been conducted. Therefore, Congress asked the National Academy of Sciences to conduct an end-to-end assessment that addresses the past modernization as well as lessons learned to support future improvements to NWS capabilities. This report contains Phase I of the committee’s work, a retrospective assessment of the MAR with a focus on lessons learned from the effort to plan, deploy, and oversee the MAR. Phase II will apply the lessons learned from the MAR to develop actionable recommendations for the NWS on how best to plan, deploy, and oversee future improvements, and will be presented in a later report.
Overall, the MAR led to a greater integration of science into weather service activities and improved outreach and coordination with state and local government, emergency management, and communities. The technological improvements provided forecasters with a wealth of new data and observations, allowing them to provide more accurate and timely forecast and warning services to the nation. The stated objective of the MAR in the Strategic Plan prepared by the NWS was
to modernize the NWS through the deployment of proven observational, information processing and communications technologies, and to establish an associated cost effective operational structure. The modernization and associated restructuring of NWS shall assure that the major advances which have been made in our ability to observe and understand the atmosphere are applied to the practical problems of providing weather and hydrologic services to the Nation.
It is clear that the NWS succeeded in the deployment of observational, information processing, and communications technologies that have improved weather and hydrologic services. The MAR significantly increased the amount of data and information available to field forecasters, the private sector, and the general public. The forecast and warning products produced by the post-MAR NWS are greater in both quantity and quality. However, the cost-effectiveness of the operational structure is difficult to assess quantitatively, because of the challenges involved in assessing the value of decreased loss of life and property as a result of improved forecasts and warnings.
This summary presents the committee’s findings and lessons about the MAR as a whole, as well as more detailed findings and lessons about six specific elements of the MAR: (1) management and planning; (2) modernization of technology; (3) restructuring of forecast offices and staff; (4) national centers; (5) partnerships; and (6) oversight and advisory groups. The evidence and analysis supporting these findings and lessons are contained in the main report.
FINDINGS AND LESSONS LEARNED
The committee has two findings and one lesson about the MAR as a whole:
• The National Weather Service (NWS) had been unable to keep up with the pace of technological advances and had nearly become obsolete by the 1980s.