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Assessment of the Current Status of the U.S. Weather Research Program THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES Advisers to the Nation on Science, Engineering, and Medicine National Academy of Sciences National Academy of Engineering Institute of Medicine National Research Council Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate Commission on Geosciences, Environment, and Resources June 2, 2000 The Honorable D. James Baker The Undersecretary for Oceans and Atmosphere United States Department of Commerce Washington, DC 20230 Dear Dr. Baker: In response to your request to Dr. Bruce Alberts, at its meeting on April 3-4, the Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate (BASC) reviewed the current status of the U.S. Weather Research Program (USWRP). Bill Hooke, the Director of the USWRP Program Office, presented the overview. David Evans, NOAA Assistant Administrator for Oceanic and Atmospheric Research, Steve Nelson of NSF's Atmospheric Sciences Division, and Bob Schiffer of NASA also presented material describing their agencies' contributions to the USWRP. A lengthy question and answer session to clarify various issues relating to the program followed the initial presentations. Prior to the review, the USWRP Program Office furnished the BASC with detailed background material on the plans and priorities of the program. The BASC wishes to thank the Program Office through you for their support of our review. The discussions reinforced the longstanding view of the BASC of the importance of the USWRP, as expressed in several reports and documents. The NRC's National Weather Service Modernization Committee (NWSMC) stressed the importance of the USWRP for the success of the NWS modernization (NRC, 1996). The BASC report The Atmospheric Sciences Entering theTwenty-First Century (NRC, 1998) identified the USWRP as a desirable mechanism for coordinating weather research, including observational, theoretical, and modeling efforts, across all the federal agencies. This view was reinforced by the NWSMC report A Vision for theNational Weather Service: A Roadmap for the Future (NRC, 1999). The BASC review of the transition from research to operations identifies the USWRP as an effective mechanism for implementing new science into the operational meteorological services (NRC, 2000, in review). The board agrees with your letter that the USWRP is vital if the nation's operational weather services are to meet rapidly growing national needs for weather predictions and to fully utilize new developments in science and technologies in support of the national agenda. The USWRP was successful in mobilizing the atmospheric sciences academic community and a diverse range of agencies and institutions to focus on aspects of the atmospheric sciences that could have a direct impact on the operationalforecast problems. Over 200 university scientists participated in ‘Prospectus Development Teams' that developed science
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Assessment of the Current Status of the U.S. Weather Research Program plans in key areas such as hurricanes, tornadoes, precipitation processes, and data assimilation. The USWRP Scientific Steering Committee (SSC) selected two of these key areas as initial priorities—hurricanes at landfall and quantitative precipitation forecasting. The atmospheric science community owes a debt of thanks to Richard Carbone and the USWRP Office of the Lead Scientist for conceiving the process of Prospectus Development Teams and subsequent prioritization by the USWRP SSC. The resulting plans and priorities were refined over a period of 2-3 years and enjoy strong acceptance by the scientific community. The board applauds the work done by Louis Uccellini (as head of the Interagency Working Group) and the SSC to ensure that the program goals and NWS goals are congruent. Although the BASC was not requested to explicitly review the implementation plans for these priority areas, the board did so prior to the meeting and found them to be reasonable. The board believed the program logic as provided in Hooke's overview to be compelling. In its discussion, BASC noted the convergence and synergy of the U.S. national plans for weather and climate research. Data assimilation, predictability, and improved NWP are key to both weather research and climate. In climate studies improved NWP models are anticipated as key tools to be used in mapping air-sea fluxes to better understand the linkage between the oceans and the atmosphere. In addition, to improve the knowledge of climate, one must understand how a sequence of strong synoptic weather events may be one of the important mechanisms by which the atmosphere drives the ocean. We applaud and wish to encourage this developing partnership. That said, the BASC has some concerns relating to (1) program management and (2) continuing review. Program Management The BASC believes the importance of this program is understated in the various materials that are readily available to the public and policy decision-makers. The BASC recommends that the USWRP management produce levels of documentation that clearly define the vision, strategy, and implementation plans for the program. These documents should be written for the informed laity. In contrast, most of the material on the present USWRP web site is aimed at the research meteorologist. While it is important to communicate the program to this constituency, it is also important to inform the public and governmental readers about the program. (The BASC notes that the excellent overview briefing provided to the board by Dr. Hooke has now been added to the USWRP web site, thereby better explaining the program.) You asked that the BASC examine the plans agencies have in place to support the USWRP using their FY 2000 appropriated funds and their FY 2001 proposed funding contained in the President's budget.1 The board was provided detailed information on the funding allocation for the previous years. However, questions to the NOAA managers indicated that the 1 It should be noted that the BASC concentrated on the direct, new funding explicitly identified as USWRP funds and did not address the indirect supporting activities of the various government laboratories or other programs. The USWRP web site shows a potential program level, to meet all goals of the program, of $134 million. This level has clearly not been reached in actual agency requests or appropriations. The BASC was asked only to review the applications of the direct line items in the appropriated budgets, not to make judgements on the adequacy of the present funding levels.
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Assessment of the Current Status of the U.S. Weather Research Program explicit funding that is to be made available from NOAA to the program office is never known at the outset of a given fiscal year; in fact, FY 2000 funding levels and allocations still contain uncertainties. In the board's view, this approach to funding by NOAA is undesirable and needs to be improved. In contrast, the other agencies have already committed FY 2000 funds to the research programs they support under the USWRP. The allocations that have been made appear consistent with the priorities established within the USWRP. With respect to the planned FY 2001 budget, the BASC was encouraged to see an increase in the NOAA budget request for an additional $1 million above its present base of $3 million. The other agency representatives indicated that they intend to maintain their present level of funding for the program (approximately $2.5 million for NSF, $1 million for NASA, and $125,000 for the U.S. Navy). The budget narrative that was submitted to Congress to support the NOAA request seemed in line with the priorities of the USWRP. Detailed discussions however revealed that the $1 million increase was really composed of $500,000 in ‘new' funds and an equal amount as an adjustment to base of the atmospheric sciences laboratories in NOAA. The BASC is concerned that this will, in effect, reduce the amount of funding for contributing research in meteorology, and consequently, harm the health of the NOAA laboratories. In his presentation, Hooke discussed the attempts to make end users and their needs an important starting point for programmatic decision making. From the subsequent discussion, however, it was clear that while the USWRP has made progress in incorporating user needs in the planning process, there is still considerable room for improvement in quantifying the societal benefits that could result from improved weather forecasts. The board recommends that the agencies place greater emphasis on user-centered research2 in this program, particularly because you have identified the USWRP as a major program for developing new capabilities for the National Weather Service. Hooke emphasized that hurricanes at landfall and quantitative precipitation forecasting were only the initialpriorities, and that funding for other priority areas would be deferred until these two initial efforts are funded. In the board's view, atmospheric pollution/air quality/ chemistry and their relation to weather conditions represent an important priority that has received insufficient attention, especially in view of the implementation over the next few years of increasingly stringent environmental regulations concerning pollutants and particulate matter. The BASC recommends that as you continue to fund the initial priorities, you initiate planning to deal with subsequent priorities in the future, using the same planning/prioritization framework. The board further believes that certain preliminary field efforts proposed for USWRP such as The Hemispheric Observing System Research and Predictability Experiment (THORPEX) in the Pacific Ocean are of significant interest to the climate community because of the data that could be obtained on climate processes, particularly through the CLIVAR and GEWEX programs. There is opportunity in the recognition that the increased understanding of weather processes is essential to understand the impacts of changes in the climate patterns. The 2 An example would be the research needed to provide an emergency manager with the information needed in the evacuation of threatened areas. The research could include such areas as better understanding of information content, effectiveness of various methods of delivery, required lead times for evacuation, etc.
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Assessment of the Current Status of the U.S. Weather Research Program BASC and its committees have begun to explore some of these relationships and urge the USWRP managers do the same, looking for synergies and opportunities to cost share. Although your letter indicated that the Department of Energy (DoE) is part of the program, we understand that it is not at the present time. The board recommends that you continue to use your role on the Federal Committee on Meteorological Services and Supporting Research to bring other agencies such as FEMA, USGS, DoT, and DoE into the program. Continuing Review Your letter asked the BASC to examine the plans the agencies have in place to support the USWRP using their FY 2000 appropriated funds and their FY 2001 proposed funding contained in the President's budget. Given the current nature of the program operations as described above, the board found this impossible to do in a meaningful way because NOAA had not yet made its allocation decisions. We understood agency representatives would be meeting in May to accomplish this allocation and that following that meeting you intended to work with your counterparts at other agencies to build a firmer plan for beginning the FY 2002 budget process. We therefore recommend that you take these steps to put the program on a more solid footing within NOAA, through the concrete allocation of base funds, and within the inter-agency context in preparation for the FY 2002 budget. As the National Research Council 's advisory body for the atmospheric sciences, BASC, as a part of its continuing activities, can serve as a mechanism for reviewing the plans and progress of the program in the context of the overall research program and the balance of weather related activities. Again, the BASC appreciates the opportunity to comment on this important program and looks forward to continued interaction with you on this vital subject. It might be appropriate to consider this as a major agenda item at the next joint meeting of the Federal Committee for Meteorological Services and Supporting Research and the BASC. Sincerely, Eric J. Barron Chair Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate
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