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Introduction

The mission of the National Weather Service (NWS) is to “provide weather, water, and climate forecasts and warnings for the United States, its territories, adjacent waters and ocean areas, for the protection of life and property and the enhancement of the national economy. NWS data and products form a national information database and infrastructure which can be used by other governmental agencies, the private sector, the public, and the global community” (NWS, 2011b). Public, marine, and aviation forecasts are provided routinely by the NWS, as well as unscheduled short- and long-fused advisories and life-saving warnings when conditions warrant. Seasonal and longer-term climate forecasts and warnings are also provided by NWS, and its observations are a critical part of the long-term climate record.1

In the 1980s, it became clear that to take advantage of new technologies in the most cost effective manner, and to provide better weather services to the nation, the NWS needed to change. The concept of a modernized and restructured weather service with a single tiered office structure, as contrasted with the existing two-tiered structure, emerged. A central part of this plan would be to replace the network of Weather Service Forecast Offices and Weather Service Offices with Weather Forecast Offices (WFOs), with principal staffing by professional meteorologists supported by meteorological technicians. Each office would have roughly the same size staff and area of responsibility—an area sized to allow for effective outreach and coordination with the user community, including the media and emergency management agencies. It was determined that about 120 WFOs evenly distributed across the country would be adequate to provide the services required.

In addition to the forecast office changes, important technological changes were planned and implemented. Surface meteorological observations would be automated and improved, allowing for the redeployment of staff positions to result in a workforce focusing on severe weather forecasts and warnings, and user community outreach. A Doppler radar network would be designed to give as complete national coverage as possible. The National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NESDIS) would develop and deploy a new series of satellites in both geostationary and polar orbits. Computer upgrades would allow the National Meteorological Center (NMC) to continue to improve numerical weather prediction products used by the forecaster as guidance in forecast and warning development. Finally, an advanced data processing and communications system would be the heart of the redesigned NWS forecast office, providing an interactive display and work platform with access to all data and information from radars, surface and upper-air observations, satellite imagery, and output from the NMC. Data from local networks would also be accommodated

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1 Climate describes the variable aspects of the air-water-land surface system that operate at time scales longer than weather, typically beyond two weeks to a month. Thus a climate record is a long term (multiple years) record of observation data for temperature, precipitation, and other variables. Routine NWS climate forecasts include 6- to 10-day climate forecasts, 8- to 14-day forecasts, monthly forecasts, and seasonal outlooks with lead times of 12.5 months. Climate warnings include hazard assessments, drought outlooks, and warnings of emerging large-scale climate patterns such as El Niño and La Niña.



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1 Introduction T he mission of the National Weather Service Forecast Offices and Weather Service Offices with ( NWS) is to “provide weather, water, and Weather Forecast Offices (WFOs), with principal staff- climate forecasts and warnings for the United ing by professional meteorologists supported by meteo- States, its territories, adjacent waters and ocean areas, rological technicians. Each office would have roughly for the protection of life and property and the enhance- the same size staff and area of responsibility—an area ment of the national economy. NWS data and products sized to allow for effective outreach and coordination form a national information database and infrastructure with the user community, including the media and which can be used by other governmental agencies, emergency management agencies. It was determined the private sector, the public, and the global com- that about 120 WFOs evenly distributed across the munity” (NWS, 2011b). Public, marine, and aviation country would be adequate to provide the services forecasts are provided routinely by the NWS, as well required. as unscheduled short- and long-fused advisories and In addition to the forecast office changes, impor- life-saving warnings when conditions warrant. Seasonal tant technological changes were planned and imple- and longer-term climate forecasts and warnings are also mented. Surface meteorological observations would be provided by NWS, and its observations are a critical automated and improved, allowing for the redeploy- part of the long-term climate record.1 ment of staff positions to result in a workforce focus- In the 1980s, it became clear that to take advantage ing on severe weather forecasts and warnings, and user of new technologies in the most cost effective manner, community outreach. A Doppler radar network would and to provide better weather services to the nation, the be designed to give as complete national coverage as NWS needed to change. The concept of a modernized possible. The National Environmental Satellite, Data, and restructured weather service with a single tiered and Information Service (NESDIS) would develop and office structure, as contrasted with the existing two- deploy a new series of satellites in both geostationary tiered structure, emerged. A central part of this plan and polar orbits. Computer upgrades would allow the would be to replace the network of Weather Service National Meteorological Center (NMC) to continue to improve numerical weather prediction products used by the forecaster as guidance in forecast and warning 1 Climate describes the variable aspects of the air-water-land surface system that operate at time scales longer than weather, typi- development. Finally, an advanced data processing and cally beyond two weeks to a month. Thus a climate record is a long communications system would be the heart of the rede- term (multiple years) record of observation data for temperature, signed NWS forecast office, providing an interactive precipitation, and other variables. Routine NWS climate forecasts include 6- to 10-day climate forecasts, 8- to 14-day forecasts, display and work platform with access to all data and monthly forecasts, and seasonal outlooks with lead times of 12.5 information from radars, surface and upper-air obser- months. Climate warnings include hazard assessments, drought vations, satellite imagery, and output from the NMC. outlooks, and warnings of emerging large-scale climate patterns Data from local networks would also be accommodated such as El Niño and La Niña. 7

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8 THE NWS MODERNIZATION AND RESTRUCTURING: A RETROSPECTIVE ASSESSMENT (NWS, 1989, 1990). The comprehensive strategy for BOX 1.1 Committee on the Assessment of reorganizing the field office structure and upgrading the National Weather Service’s Modernization observing and forecasting technologies would be called Program Statement of Task the National Weather Service Modernization and Associated Restructuring (MAR). During the 1980s and 1990s, NOAA launched a major pro- gram to modernize the National Weather Service (NWS), investing Between 1989 and 2000, the nation invested an $4.5 billion to modernize NWS technologies to advance weather estimated $4.5 billion to implement the MAR (GAO, forecasting. No complete assessment of the entire end-to-end 1997a, 1998a). New observational and computational NWS modernization enterprise has been done, thus Congress has systems were planned and deployed, and the NWS field asked the National Academy of Sciences to conduct an assessment office structure was redefined around new concepts for of the now-completed National Weather Service modernization. observing, forecasting, and service delivery to capitalize The project should not only address the past modernization, but also focus on lessons learned to support future improvements on the investments in these new systems. The NWS to NWS capabilities. It should address high-impact weather and workforce was restructured around these concepts and new science and technologies that allow for even better forecasts; substantial investments in training and recruitment the integration of new technologies and better models into NWS developed a more professional workforce with the skills operations; workforce composition and structure; and improv- necessary for the modernized NWS. Overall, the MAR ing current partnerships with private industry, academia, and led to a greater integration of science into weather ser- other governmental agencies. Finally, the project should provide advice on how NWS can best plan, deploy, and oversee these vice activities and improved outreach and coordination future improvements based on lessons learned from the NWS with state and local government, emergency manage- modernization. ment, local media, 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 STUDY APPROACH AND METHODOLOGY for time scales of minutes to weeks, time scales that The committee was formed in the fall of 2010 and were the focus of the MAR. will complete their charge over the course of approxi- mately two years. To carry out the first part of its charge, STUDY CONTEXT AND CHARGE TO THE the committee held three in-person meetings during COMMITTEE which they heard input from a range of stakeholders and participants in the MAR. The committee reviewed The MAR was officially completed in 2000. No the literature, oversight reports, NWS documents, comprehensive assessment of the execution of the and other relevant information, and met by phone. A MAR plan, or comparison of the promised benefits critical aspect of the committee’s information gathering of the MAR to its actual impact, has been conducted. process was visiting several WFOs. Each committee Therefore, Congress asked the National Academy of member visited their local WFO, spoke with staff about Sciences to conduct an end-to-end assessment that their perspectives on the MAR, and saw the MAR addresses the past modernization as well as lessons technologies in action. In addition, the committee sent learned to support future improvements to NWS capa- a questionnaire to WFOs colocated with university or bilities (U.S. Congress, 2009; Box 1.1). other research facilities to assess the effects of the MAR This report contains Phase I of the committee’s on weather research and the transition of research-to- work, a retrospective assessment of the entire NWS operations, as well as the partnership between NWS modernization program with a focus on lessons learned and academia. This report is an assessment of the MAR from the effort to plan, deploy, and oversee the mod- and, as such, only considers technologies and other ernization. Phase II of the committee’s work will be aspects of weather services that were officially part of presented in a later report. Phase II will apply the les- the MAR planning and execution, as described in the sons learned in Phase I to provide NWS with recom- Strategic Plan (NWS, 1989). With the passage of time mendations on how best to plan, deploy, and oversee some records of events relevant to the MAR have gone future improvements.

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9 INTRODUCTION missing, and many of the people involved are no longer from 1989 to 2000. The discussion is structured around with us. That makes it difficult for the committee to six major elements of the MAR: (1) management and reconstruct a comprehensive history, and some gaps in planning; (2) modernization of technology; (3) restruc- this assessment are therefore inevitable. turing of forecasts offices and staff; (4) national centers; (5) partnerships; and (6) oversight and advisory groups. Chapter 4 describes the Impact of the Modernization ORGANIZATION OF THE REPORT and Associated Restructuring, comparing the results This report is organized chronologically. Chapter of the MAR with the Promised Benefits discussed in 2, Pre-Modernization Environment and Planning, Chapter 2, and covering the period after 2000. The dis- summarizes the state of weather observation and fore- cussion is structured around the same six components casting technologies, as well as NWS operations and as Chapter 3, as well as a discussion of some additional organizational structure in the 1980s. Finally, the chap- impacts. Both Chapters 3 and 4 present specific Find- ter describes both the Execution Objectives and the ings about the major aspects of the MAR. Finally, Promised Benefits of the MAR. Chapter 3 describes Chapter 5 presents the committee’s Key Findings about the Execution of the Modernization and Associated the MAR as a whole and an assessment of the lessons Restructuring, comparing it to the Execution Objec- learned from the committee’s analysis of the execution tives discussed in Chapter 2, and covering the period and impact of the MAR.

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