Private Sector Comments
Note: At its meetings and through its web site the committee invited all sectors to provide examples of documented conflicts that had occurred within the last five years. Only private weather companies responded and their comments (with identifiers of companies and individuals removed) were forwarded to the relevant NOAA officials for response. Private sector comments are given in italics and NOAA responses are given in indented plain text.
COMMENTS ABOUT NWS
1. As you may know, our company entered into an agreement with Bauch and Lomb in 1994 to create an Ultraviolet Index that could be used in conjunction with weather forecasts to predict the impact of ultraviolet radiation on skin and eyes. At the time, the government did not have any such index. Through research and development, our company created a UV index. In an independent initiative, another company, in conjunction with another interested partner, also developed a UV index. Daily production of hourly forecasted values began and were published in the media.
As the public became aware, through press releases and other means, of these developments in the commercial weather industry, the U.S. National Weather Service, under the direction of Dr. Elbert W. (Joe) Friday, Jr., began a rushed program to develop their own UV index.
Meetings were held between the commercial weather industry and the National Weather Service over this concern. The ultimate result was that while taxpayer money was spent to recreate what had already been developed in private industry, the National Weather Service limited itself to ongoing daily preparation of its index for approximately 50 cities, valid, for noon only, at each location.
Through the commercial weather industry, both in the newspapers, and on television, radio, and web sites, access by the public to these privately created UV indexes became widespread.
Many in the National Weather Service did not seem pleased by the
situation when the commercial weather industry questioned why it was that the National Weather Service would expend public funds to create a product and produce a service when one was already developed and available from the commercial weather industry in response to what was perceived to be a business and market need.
The governments of Australia and New Zealand began public awareness programs of the dangers of overexposure to the sun in the late 1980s, and Canada started an awareness program in 1992. Alarmed by increasing trends in skin cancers and cataract surgeries, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) launched a similar health awareness program in 1993.
The Canadian government first devised a UV forecast index based upon the incident rate of UV-B radiation reaching the Earth’s surface around noontime to help the public plan to appropriately protect themselves from overexposure. The EPA used the Canadian program as a model. Not having the necessary expertise, the EPA approached the National Weather Service early in 1993 about developing a U.S. Ultraviolet Index similar to the Canadian index. At the same time, several federal agencies (NOAA, USDA and the EPA) were deploying ground based observation networks to measure UV radiation reaching the Earth’s surface. These networks would provide long-term data for purposes of trend detection as well as the necessary validation for any UV index forecast.
In November of 1993, the EPA invited atmospheric scientists, medical specialists and the private meteorological sector to discuss the possibility of a broad coalition. A major concern at that time was that none of the UV-B indices developed by any country included the effects of clouds. In response, the NWS examined the possibility of including existing NWS cloud forecast data in a UV index. After appropriate peer review, validation, and testing, the NWS concluded that including cloud cover in a UV index was feasible.
The EPA as well as television broadcast companies, including The Weather Channel, promoted the NWS development of a baseline UV index available to the broad public in a non-exclusive manner as a public health service. Following further consultations with the commercial meteorology sector and other interested parties, an experimental UV index was made available in May 1994 as a plain text bulletin for 58 cities. The NWS also made its data and the methods used to calculate the index broadly available to the private sector in order that these companies could create value-added products, such as hourly UV forecasts for ski resorts or the many locations for which NWS did not issue a UV forecast.
In cooperation with the American Meteorological Society, the NWS held several meetings during 1995-1996 to work in partnership with the pri-
vate sector to help them expand to specific markets, cover the diurnal cycle, and provide information to cities not covered by the NWS. While some private sector companies did not agree that the NWS should issue any UV index, all parties did agree to work towards a standardized UV index scale.
After providing the UV index for several years with a consistently high degree of validation, (Long et al., Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 1996), in the summer of 1999, the EPA, the CDC, the American Academy of Dermatologists, the American Cancer Society, and members of Congress asked the NWS to expand its coverage beyond the original 58 cities to 160 cities. The EPA, NWS, private sector and medical community representatives met to consider ways to improve coverage. NWS rejected the EPA’s suggestion that NWS provide UV indices for 160 cities. The NWS decided:
To continue to produce the daily UV index at the original 58 cities;
To deliver over the Internet in gridded format the data necessary for the private sector to create UV indices over the entire U.S., and;
Not to produce a contoured map graphic of UV on NWS Web pages.
The NWS has and continues to have good working relationships with most companies within the commercial weather industry and television broadcasters concerning the UV index product. All generally understand the limitations of any one sector’s service, as well as the expanded possibilities for the private broadcasting and commercial meteorology sectors to communicate the UV index and attendant health messages to the public. By continuing to improve the UV index forecast, and by making the numerical output available to the private sector in gridded format for creation of graphical products, the NWS satisfies both its public health and its economic enhancement missions.
2. For many decades, the National Weather Service has utilized an index called Wind Chill to attempt to describe the effect of temperature on humans during windy conditions. It has been known the Wind Chill formula is flawed and significantly overstates cold, yet the NWS has continued to use it for these many decades and publish and distribute charts to the media, emergency managers and the public, which allow one to plot temperature and wind speed and calculate Wind Chill. Based on this formula, the NWS also issues wind chill advisories.
As a result, it can be argued that schools, businesses and other routine daily operations have, on many occasions, been prematurely curtailed while the NWS knew that the overstatement of values was costing the economy millions.
Our company began a research and development project a number of years ago to develop its own index that would better state the weather’s effect on people. A patent is pending on this before the United States Patent Office.
The National Weather Service recently began, what appears to be an urgent drive to create a new Wind Chill index for use in the United States. How these actions related to our company’s pending patent is not yet understood, but the National Weather Service and the consortium it established on the new Wind Chill index, are aware of the fact that a patent is pending.
The National Weather Service has announced that it will put into use the new Wind Chill index this winter of 2001-2002. They have also announced that they are only making certain adjustments to the old Wind Chill index that was used last year and that next year, in the winter of 2002-2003, they will make further changes to the new Wind Chill index they will use this year.
As a result, three different winters will have three different wind chill indices, which are not comparable to one another, all issued by the National Weather Service. In the span of a year and two days, three different NWS wind chill numbers will be valid. Our company believes this will be an issue of confusion for the public. Media outlets may still use the old charts and inconsistency may develop.
Whether the rush to bring out a new, revised Wind Chill index in this problematic fashion, is a response to our company’s initiative is not known. But it does appear to fit the pattern that occurred with regard to the UV index in the 1990s.
The National Weather Service, as part of its mission to help protect lives and property, has issued wind chill warnings and advisories since 1973, as one of its public safety products and services available to the American public. These products and services are regularly upgraded and improved to ensure public safety.
The original version of the wind chill index was based on the 1945 scientific experiments of Antarctic explorers Siple and Passel. This research established an important relationship by recognizing that the combination of the two different elements—temperature and wind speed—could produce an effect greater than either element. However, they were working with the science available in the 1940s, and did not take into account other factors that impact wind chill.
There has been general agreement in the scientific community for the past eight years that new and better science could produce a more accurate and useful wind chill index. Because of the National Weather Service’s responsibility to protect lives, it was necessary to identify and thoroughly re-
search the factors influencing wind chill before making any changes. The final product must provide accurate data which would warn the public of danger to health and life. It was also necessary to create a standardized index that would be the most effective in promoting public safety and coordination between the U.S. and Canada.
The Office of the Federal Coordinator for Meteorological Services and Supporting Research (OFCM) and the National Weather Service created a Joint Action Group for Temperature Indices (JAG/TI) to bring together the best scientists from the academic community and the federal government to carry out the necessary research and testing processes. JAG/TI consists of representatives of the OFCM, several federal agencies (U.S. Air Force, Department of Energy, National Weather Service (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), Federal Aviation Administration, Federal Highway Administration, and U.S. Department of Agriculture), as well as the Meteorological Service of Canada (Environment Canada), the academic research community (Indiana University, Purdue University), and the International Society of Biometeorology (ISB).
Using the advances in science, technology, and computer modeling which have occurred in the past decade, JAG/TI identified the factors other than temperature and wind speed that can impact human safety in severe winter weather conditions, and determined the most accurate way to measure them. These factors were identified, researched, and developed into the new wind chill formula using advanced computer modeling technology.
This formula was then clinically tested using human volunteers at the wind tunnel and climatic chamber of the Defense and Civil Institute of Environmental Medicine in Toronto, Canada. The results of these tests enabled JAG/TI to further improve the wind chill formula, which has been integrated into the computer models that produce NWS weather forecast products.
All the work done by the Weather Service to upgrade the index was carried out as part of the normal work of the NWS Office of Climate, Water and Weather Services. The timing of NWS implementation of a new wind chill index was driven by gradual improvements in the science and technology, and a methodical research, development and testing process which led up to initial implementation in 2001. The U.S. Department of Defense and the OFCM contributed funding, and Environment Canada provided facilities for the testing process.
This new wind chill index provides, for the first time, a specific danger level for frostbite, including warnings of the length of time until frostbite occurs at varying levels of wind chill. It is also the first time that a standardized index has been used for the U.S. and Canada.
Some private meteorological companies have developed their own wind chill formulas. The Weather Service has no problem with that. Indeed, these private efforts may well advance the state of the underlying science if they are subject to peer review and documentation in accordance with the principles set forth in Resolving Conflicts Arising from the Privatization of Environmental Data (National Academy Press, 2001).
3. For a number of years, we actively marketed our services to IDAHO POWER (IP), in Boise, Idaho. As the local utility in southwestern Idaho, IP’s primary service concern was the city of Boise. IP personnel informed me they elected not to subscribe to our custom forecast services, because one of the meteorologists in the Boise NWS office would provide them a “tailored” forecast each morning at no cost. The NWS continued to supply a custom forecast for a number of years, until the Fall, 2000, when energy deregulation issues forced IP to change operational strategy. At that time, IP elected to subscribe to our services, as the NWS office could not provide the data in the required format. Clearly, this is an example of the NWS exceeding mandated policy.
The Boise weather office staff have not provided tailored forecasts to Idaho Power. Idaho Power did receive and use weather information from the NWS. They used the standard NWS Coded Cities Forecast (CCF) and computer generated temperature forecasts in their energy demand model. We believe they also use daily temperature and precipitation observations. All of these products are available to anyone, not made for a specific customer, and are part of the national suite of products.
4. This program from the National Weather Service (http://www.crh.noaa.gov/ict/gfe/temps.htm) duplicates what the private sector has done for years. Our company, literally since Day One of its founding 20 years ago, has produced point-specific hourly forecasts.
Currently, there are two private sector companies that produce animated mesoscale temperature images and both sell them to clients and distribute them through the media. Their products are FutureCast and MyCast. This new NWS program looks almost identical to these existing programs.
The general public simply does not need or use mesoscale hourly forecasts…but energy companies and certain industrial users do. I believe this is both a duplication and violation of the Public-Private Partnership Policy.
NWS forecasters have been formulating point-specific hourly forecasts for many years. For example, surface temperature is one of the primary factors affecting the onset of convection and hazardous freezing conditions associated with winter weather. In order to produce a core set of watch/ warning/advisory/statements one must be able to forecast individual weather elements, such as temperatures, on an hour-by-hour basis. Our forecast grids are on a scale consistent with the state of the art/science in
our forecast models. Increases in time and spatial resolution of NWS forecasts, now and in the past, have been enabled by advancements in the science and technology.
The example cited is a display of information produced by NWS forecasters using the Interactive Forecast Preparation System (IFPS). IFPS, long-planned as part of the NWS modernization and currently being implemented across NWS, allows forecasters to produce forecasts in digital form with higher resolution in space and time. Forecasters produce, manipulate, and publish forecasts in digital form with the resulting digital forecasts driving production of traditional NWS information products. This capability will also allow them to prepare products in multiple formats (e.g., graphics). The product in question is a straightforward graphical presentation of the underlying digital information from one NWS forecast office (Wichita).
The NWS is anticipating distribution of this type of data in various forms including digital data formats. It can then be used by the private sector to reformat and repackage to meet their customers’ diverse needs. IFPS has been broadly publicized, including presentations at meetings of the American Meteorology Society and elsewhere.
5. Why does the NWS feel it needs to make 7 and 14 day public forecasts? Seehttp://weather.noaa.gov/cgi-bin/iwszone?Sites=:ksz083.
On Wichita’s NOAA Weather Radio, a listener can obtain 14 day forecasts (not available on the Web). As Joel Myers says, “Are they going to do 28 day forecasts and expect us to sell the 29th day?” While we were using NWS model guidance as a source of input, the private sector has made 7 day forecasts for 5+ years. This is duplication by the NWS and not required for public safety or consistent with the Weather Service’s core mission.
Weather and climate phenomena are ongoing and dynamic. Historically, forecasters were only able to predict conditions at best a very few days in advance. Advances in science as well as in information and observational technologies now permit predictions in the one to two week time range with some skill, and are beginning to permit forecasting extreme climate events. For the NWS to achieve its core mission of protection of life and property and the enhancement of the economy, it must provide predictions for all time scales up to the limit of scientifically demonstrated skill.
Hence, NWS forecast products can be categorized into three broad categories. The first are short term warnings and forecasts of weather conditions, be they hazardous or benign. Typically, these products have valid time ranges from a matter of minutes for short-duration warnings (e.g., Tornado Warning), to up to 60 hours for Winter Storm Outlooks. In the medium range, there is a need to monitor weather conditions and to
provide emergency managers, planners, forecasters and the public advance notice of potential threats through seven day forecasts, 6-10 day and “Week Two Threats Assessments.” NWS also predicts extreme climate events, such as drought, excessive rain, and temperature extremes as far in advance as possible. Water, energy, transportation and other economic sectors use these forecasts to plan and avoid or mitigate risk. For example, the NWS seasonal climate forecast for 1997-1998 saved Californians $500 million to $1 billion as they were able to take mitigation measures six months in advance of heavy rains.
All of these are part of the national information database that the NWS provides for the protection of life and property and the enhancement of the national economy. We are unaware of any policy principle authorizing NWS to withhold this taxpayer-funded information from the public.
6. This is the form of a National Weather Service AIRMET (hazardous weather for small aircraft) report:
FOS WA 301912 AMD
AIRMET SIERRA UPDT 4 FOR IFR AND MTN OBSCN VALID UNTIL 302100
AIRMET IFR…WA OR CA…UPDT
FROM BLI TO 40SSW FMG TO MOD TO OAK TO FOT TO TOU TO BLI
OCNL CIGS/VIS BLW OVC010/3SM IN CLDS..PCPN AND BR. CONDS CONTG
BYD 21Z THRU 03Z.
AIRMET IFR…WA OR ID MT
FROM YDC TO 50NNE FCA TO HLN TO LKT TO BKE TO PDT TO YDC
OCNL CIGS/VIS BLW OVC010/3SM IN CLDS..PCPN AND BR. CONDS CONTG
BYD 21Z THRU 03Z OVR NRN ID/NWRN MT PTNS AREA…ELSW…CONDS ENDG
FROM EHF TO HEC TO LAX TO 40W RZS TO EHF
OCNL CIGS BLW OVC010 OCNL VIS BLW 3SM IN CLDS AND PCPN. CONDS
CONTG BYD 21Z…ENDG BY 03Z.
AIRMET MTN OBSCN…WA OR CA ID MT WY NV UT
FROM YXC TO GTF TO BPI TO DTA TO BTY TO HEC TO 40W RZS TO FOT TO
TOU TO YDC TO YXC
MTNS OCNLY OBSCD IN CLDS AND PCPN. CONDS DVLPG/ SPRDG EWD DURG
PD…CONTG BYD 21Z THRU 03Z.
This coded report (dating from the days of low speed communications requiring “broken language” communications as a form of data compression) can be easily read by any pilot in the world. While the private sector was first to provide this data in plotted form, I have no problem with the NWS taking its basic aviation text data and plotting it on a simple map. See, for examplehttp://www.awc-kc.noaa.gov/awc/airmets/wsairmet.gif.
While some contend it is “adding value” to plot this data, if that’s the case it is such a low level of added value it is acceptable to me because it is a simple plot and the potential for enhanced aviation safety overwhelms the concern in this case.
Now viewhttp://adds.awc-kc.noaa.gov/projects/adds/flight_path/. This is an entirely different matter. This is not simply aviation weather, it is flight planning. There are a number of commercial weather companies (Jeppessen, Universal, Lockheed, etc.) that do flight planning services. The NWS should not be competing with flight planning companies at even this level, but, it gets worse.
Seehttp://www.awc-kc.noaa.gov/awc/iff/iffdp-menu.html. The NWS will create a custom flight package for international flights. For example, Continental Airlines can call and request a menu of products for a flight from Houston to London. The NWS will deliver it to the fax machine of Continental’s choice, immediately before scheduled take-off and will provide a meteorologist to answer questions, elaborate, etc. (see phone number for that purpose on the Web page). This service did not exist five years ago (how did the airlines ever manage without this service from the NWS?). The NWS decided to duplicate what in-house airline meteorologists and companies like Kavouras, Universal and Jeppessen were already doing.
Aviation Digital Data Service. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has asked NWS to participate in its effort to help the aviation community improve the safety and efficiency of flight planning through the development of an Aviation Digital Data Service (ADDS). The Federal Aviation Act, 49 USC 44720, requires NWS to furnish “reports, forecasts, warnings and other advice to the Secretary of Transportation and other persons” in order to promote safety and efficiency in air navigation. The FAA has tasked a product development team to develop methods to better gather, display, and utilize official National Weather Service aviation weather information. The FAA also created a team composed of govern-
ment, industry, and association representatives, which has endorsed ADDS as a means by which both the FAA weather briefer and the pilot can “view the same weather graphics during weather briefings” (p. 39, FAA Safer Skies: Focused Safety Agenda, March 2000). The ADDS web site, http://adds.aviationweather.noaa.gov/, prominently states: “The Federal Aviation Administration funds and directs the Aviation Digital Data Service and the experimental weather products that it displays. These products have not been developed by and are not endorsed by the National Weather Service.”
International Flight Folder Documentation Program. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) requires all countries to provide international flights with a minimum level of weather services. This requirement ensures flight safety and a consistent minimum level of services worldwide. The U.S. is a signatory to the 1947 ICAO Convention, and the Federal Aviation Act, 49 USC 44720, requires NWS to “establish and coordinate international exchanges of meteorological information required for the safety and efficiency of air navigation.” The services in question— flight documentation—provide departing international flights with ICAO mandated information. The NWS has been providing this service for 50 years.
In 1998, NWS moved to a web-based production and delivery system and consolidated management at the Aviation Weather Center. Previously, the necessary documentation was manually assembled at numerous forecast offices. The Flight Documentation system is operated by the private sector under a NWS contract. The service only provides the minimum information required by ICAO. Most international carriers receive additional information and services from their own in-house meteorological staff or commercial weather firms.
7. Until 1999, the Storm Prediction Center (formerly the National Severe Storms Forecast Center) transmitted a daily list of all reports of tornadoes, large hail and damaging winds occurring during the previous 24 hours. Our company took this list, added reports from local National Weather Service offices that did not make the list and also added reports from the Associated Press’ National Disaster Wire to which we were subscribers. Our company (and other commercial weather companies) then compiled this data into a new list, quality controlled it (i.e., checked the position of severe storm reports relative to the position of radar echoes to eliminate false reports), plotted the reports and (in our case) added radar storm tracks so clients (such as insurance companies, insurance adjusters, shingle companies, etc.) could view the location of storms in between reports so they could interpolate the location of potential losses.
In 1999, the Storm Prediction Center began plotting these reports on colorized maps and making them available on the web in real time. As a
result our company and other commercial weather companies have lost many of their clients for this service. While our product was superior to the National Weather Service’s, many clients cancelled because of a “free” alternative. I estimate the annual loss of revenue to our company in the $15,000 to $20,000 range.
As always, I support making the data available as part of the national infrastructure. However, the general public does not need colorized, real time maps of severe storm reports. This product is of interest to industry and is best served by the private sector.
The National Weather Service, as part of its mission to protect lives and property, issues warnings for severe thunderstorms and tornadoes. The Storm Prediction Center (SPC) automatically collects and compiles reports of these events and sends them out as a table and in graphic format. The purpose of the report is to allow local NWS Weather Forecast Officers and emergency managers downstream from the storms to see the kind of severe weather approaching them. In order to effectively plan for pending events, emergency managers need to know what the approaching storms are capable of producing, e.g., 3/4" hail and tree damage, or F-5 tornadoes, or 3" hail and 100 kt winds.
These products were developed in the late 1970s. Initially, the product was compiled manually and issued on an as time allows basis. Due to staffing reconfiguration with the establishment of the SPC, manual collection was no longer possible and in 1996 production of these products was automated. The data was collected and the products issued hourly. Presently the product is disseminated externally via NOAA Port and internally via AWIPS.
Before 1999, computer limitations precluded putting anything but the report list on the Internet. Now, the only difference between the NOAA Port and AWIPS product and the Internet application is that tornado reports are colored red, hail reports green, and wind reports cyan. The colors help the product serve as a quick guide to forecasters and emergency managers who use this page as a quick reference for severe weather that has occurred upstream of their location. The underlying data on which the severe storm reports are based are likewise publicly available via NOAA Port.
8. The NWS wants to extend its hydrologic modeling activities to small ungauged urban watersheds. This is in conflict with commercial weather services: custom flood warning systems contracted by businesses or other entities. River forecast centers forecast long duration slow rise river response. These events are rarely life threatening and therefore not within the core mission of the NWS. Forecast offices do not have access to cutting edge technology available in the private sector for forecasting small basins
particularly in urban areas. Local hydrologic prediction services for a fee fall within the private sector and not the core mission of the NWS.
The National Weather Service (NWS), as part of its mission to protect lives and property, has issued flood forecasts and warnings since its inception. The Organic Act of 1890 recognized the importance of hydrologic services by stating that the Weather Bureau:
…shall have charge of the forecasting of the weather, the issue of storm warnings, the display of weather and flood signals for the benefit of agriculture, commerce, and navigation, and the gauging and reporting of rivers.
“The gauging and reporting of rivers” has since been transferred to the U.S. Geological Survey. NWS responsibility for “the display of …flood signals” has evolved from the posting of signals and telegraphing of forecasts and warnings to all affected parties to the dissemination of products via a number of mechanisms, including NOAA Weather Wire, NOAA Weather Radio, and the Internet.
NWS River Forecast Centers began forming in the 1940s in response to several disastrous flood events on major rivers across the nation. Taken together, these floods killed thousands of people. Flood-related fatalities still occur, but have decreased annually in spite of increased habitation of flood-prone regions. Unfortunately, deaths still occur even during individual floods considered to be minor in magnitude, and the NWS is devoting resources on several fronts to minimize flood impacts.
The NWS has been developing and using hydrologic models for small stream basins since the inception of its flash flood program in the 1970s. This year, the NWS will implement improved small basin hydrologic modeling capabilities to better meet its mission to save lives and property. The focus is on basins in rural and mixed-use areas. Modeling of small, ungauged urban watersheds is not being emphasized since watershed response to rainfall in urban areas is often controlled by complex storm drain systems. Such networks of underground conduits and concrete-lined channels are beyond the scope of models being considered by the NWS. The NWS acknowledges that such settings are better modeled by specialized entities, such as local flood control districts, and that the private sector may well play an important supporting role.
To ensure that the latest, cutting edge hydrologic modeling capabilities for small basins are developed for its forecast offices, the NWS is sponsoring the distributed modeling intercomparison project (DMIP). Observed data sets for small basins that are representative of those which are operationally available across the U.S. have been posted on the Internet (http://www.nws.noaa.gov/oh/hrl/dmip/index.html). On-line registration is open to all researchers who are invited to test these data sets in their distributed
models, and results are compared to those from other entities to determine the most suitable distributed modeling approach for the operational NWS environment. The transition to operations is planned to occur over the next few years.
9. The NWS has an International Hydrologic Assistance program that provides assistance to other countries based on outmoded technology. The NWS is using taxpayer money to export outdated technology based on 1970s models (Sacramento model). The Department of Commerce or USAID (the U.S. Agency for International Development) could better coordinate business contacts directly providing opportunities to U.S. commercial weather services.
Nearly all funds expended in NWS international technology transfer projects are directed to the U.S. private sector or universities to implement projects. The NWS international hydrology technology transfer projects provide technology transfer, technical assistance and training to developing countries. This program is fully reimbursable and all projects are paid in full by counterpart country governments, donor organizations such as USAID or through loans by international finance institutions such as the World Bank.
The technology used in NWS projects is state-of-the-art. The National Weather Service River Forecast System contains a suite of models and techniques that perform well in the range of climatology, hydrology and topography experienced worldwide. The Sacramento model is only one of the models available to the NWSRFS. It has performed well for the river basins where it has been used to date. Providing credible river and flood forecast capabilities for most river basins requires an integrated hydrologic forecast system which not only uses existing technology and models but provides a flexible operating system for hydrologists to operate. It is important for countries to use operational systems with assured technical assistance and enhancements for the developing national meteorological and hydrological agencies.
10. The Office of Hydrologic Development recently solicited support for a new radar rainfall running total product. Private sector developers have already developed value-added products that could provide better hydrologic application. Either this fact is unknown or the NWS would like to compete. NWS would be within their core mission if they just gave access to base reflectivity and let commercial weather service providers develop value-added products that have commercial value.
The NWS Office of Hydrologic Development (OHD) applies science and technology to create precipitation estimates to support water forecasting and warning services. Development efforts are focused on satisfying NWS operational requirements. Throughout the past decade, NEXRAD rainfall
estimates have been improved, based on science and technological advancements, and tailored specifically for NWS operational use. The example appears to refer to the NEXRAD Digital Storm-total Precipitation (DSP) product which is currently undergoing development. The DSP involves the reformatting of an existing NEXRAD rainfall estimate (the graphical storm-total precipitation product). The DSP product will have enhanced data resolution and be mapped to a grid that is more easily merged with products from adjacent radars within the operational environment of the NWS field offices. This new product will therefore provide our field forecasters with enhanced capabilities for forecasting applications that require quantitative rainfall information. The DSP product will be used within existing NWS precipitation algorithms to support new forecasting techniques to improve flash flood forecasting and warning services. This information also will be disseminated to all in accord with federal information dissemination policies.
11. The NOAA Service Assessment of Tropical Storm (TS) Allison related that flood level in Buffalo Bayou was underforecast by as much as 12 feet. I’ve added some of the relevant findings and recommendations that NOAA/NWS has made after Allison. Findings 1 and 2 suggest that better models are needed and that the AWIPS provides for a site-specific hydrologic model. In this report it is recommended that the NWS work with Harris County to develop a flash flood model to forecast ungauged basins in the local urban area. This service would be in direct competition with commercial weather providers such as ours that already offer and provide like services.
The relevant findings and background may be found at the following linkftp://ftp.nws.noaa.gov/om/assessments/allison.pdf.
Warning and Forecast Services
Finding 1: Forecasting proved to be difficult for some small rivers/ bayous that rose rapidly to record levels. Forecasts for Buffalo Bayou at Shepherd Drive in Houston underforecast the river stage by 6 to 12 feet with little or no lead time. Also, the forecasts for the West Fork of the San Jacinto River near Conroe were not accurate. Both software and procedural problems have been identified by the WGRFC and the NWS Office of Hydrologic Development as contributing to these inaccuracies.
Recommendation 1a: The WGRFC, with the assistance of the NWS Office of Hydrologic Development, should make the necessary software corrections and implement procedural changes needed for small basins that respond rapidly during heavy rainfall. These changes should be made by April 1, 2002.
Recommendation 1b: Regions should evaluate RFC [River Forecast Centers] procedures for small basins that respond rapidly during heavy rainfall. RFCs should be tasked with changing procedures where inadequate.
How rainfall is distributed over a basin also affects how a river responds. With Allison, rainfall was concentrated at the lower end of the basin, and the RFC did not have a precedent for adjusting its procedure. For Buffalo Bayou, the time interval used for the forecast model was set at 6-hour time steps. A 3-hour interval is needed for basins that respond rapidly during heavy rainfall. A software problem existed in the model used to generate the forecasts for the West Fork of the San Jacinto River.
Forecasting proved to be difficult for some small rivers/bayous that rose rapidly to record levels. Forecasts for Buffalo Bayou at Shepherd Drive in Houston underforecast the river stage by 6 to 12 feet with little or no lead time. Also, the forecasts for the West Fork of the San Jacinto River near Conroe were not accurate. Both software and procedural problems have been identified by the WGRFC and the NWS Office of Hydrologic Development as contributing to these inaccuracies. RFCs employ forecast procedures that use data from past floods. When extreme rainfall occurs resulting in record floods, how a river responds becomes less predictable.
Weather Forecast Offices
Finding 2: Because of the small size of the bayous in the Houston area, most are not included in the WGRFC forecast system. Harris County has initiated a project to develop new forecast tools for these small basins and has invited NWS participation in this effort. The NWS Advanced Weather Interactive Processing System (AWIPS) Release 5.1.2 includes a site-specific hydrologic model which can be used for small gauged basins.
Recommendation 2a: The WFO [Weather Forcast Office] Houston/ Galveston MIC [Meteorologist-in-charge] and the WGRFC HIC [Hydrologic Information Center] should meet with the appropriate Harris County officials to determine the NWS role in the project. Once the NWS role is determined, progress will be tracked through the follow-up service assessment reporting process.
Recommendation 2b: Once the AWIPS site-specific hydrologic model is deployed in Build 5.1.2, WFO Houston/Galveston should determine what contribution this model would make to local flood warning operations.
The threat of competition from the government in these areas is a research and development deterrent and risk. We really appreciate your efforts to allow technology development to thrive in the open marketplace.
The National Weather Service, as part of its mission to protect lives and property, issues warnings for river and flash flooding. In many communities, a government-to-government partnership between the NWS and local government flood agencies exists to ensure a coordinated warning effort by sharing forecasts and observational data. The value of these partnerships was well illustrated during the record breaking floods associated with Tropical Storm Allison, June 5-10, 2001.
The effectiveness of the flood/flash flood warning system is significantly diminished when conflicting information is provided to the public and decision makers. The NWS coordinates on a continuous basis with local flood warning and emergency management agencies throughout all phases of a flood threat to ensure the rapid exchange of forecasts, data, and situation reports. The Tropical Storm Allison Service Assessment Team found that such a partnership, between the local NWS Office and the Harris County Flood Control District, resulted in a highly successful and coordinated warning effort.
Finding 1 of the Service Assessment report identified two NWS forecast points where changes in software and internal procedures would produce more accurate forecasts. The subsequent recommendations set options to correct the problems at the specific sites as well as at any other NWS forecast points where similar problems might exist. The scope of the finding and recommendations were strictly internal to the NWS and its mission.
The Assessment Team also learned (Finding 2) that the Harris County Flood Control District was interested in developing small basin flood forecasting models with the assistance of an engineering firm. It was a recommendation of the assessment team that the Weather Forecast Office (WFO) Houston/Galveston and the West Gulf River Forecast Center (RFC) meet with the Harris County Flood Control District to determine what, if any, role the NWS should play in this effort. At the very minimum, the team felt that the Houston/Galveston WFO should be aware and knowledgeable of the initiative to ensure consistent forecast and warning dissemination with the Harris County Flood Control District during future flood threats.
The team also felt that consideration should be given to the site-specific AWIPS capabilities being deployed to meet NWS mission requirements. Perhaps these could serve as an interim step if long-term developmental efforts were required by the district’s engineering contractor.
The team’s recommendations were strictly within the scope of the existing operational partnership between WFO Houston/Galveston and the Harris County Flood Control District. As a partner with the Harris County Flood Control District, the WFO does have the responsibility to cooperate and provide operational support to the local flood warning system. NWS, local government, and private sector partnerships have been the corner-stone of successful local flood warning systems throughout the nation. The findings and recommendations of the Tropical Storm Allison report are consistent with this well-established public-private partnership.
12. Does the NWS give the private sector credit when it uses technology originally developed by the private sector? For example, look athttp://www.crh.noaa.gov/radar/latest/DS.p19r0/si.kict.shtml.
Color radar was developed by Technology Service Corporation of Los Angeles in 1976 (with Len Slesick and others serving as meteorological consultants) and remoting color radar was developed by Steve Kavouras in 1978. Where is the credit from the NWS to the private sector on this web site and others like it? I have not seen one.
Responses for 12 and 13 combined below.
13. During the September 24, 2001, tornadoes in the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Area, the National Weather Service included the following information in one of its tornado warnings:
The tornado is expected to be…Over Hyattsville…2 miles southeast of Bladensburg at 5:16 pm 2 mi. southeast of Adelphi…2 miles southeast of Langley Park at 5:18 Over College Park…3 mi. southeast of Hillandale at 5:20 etc…
“Time of arrival” programs were developed by the private sector for broadcast use in the 1980s. The National Weather Service “adopted” this technology in its AWIPS system for use in NWS storm warnings. Again, I have not seen any indication of credit to the inventors from the National Weather Service.
Response to questions 12 and 13: All significant scientific and technical endeavors build upon prior art, whether generated in the private, academic or government sectors. Unless specific intellectual property restrictions are placed on particular developments, they are in the public domain. All major information systems, public and private, rely on work that has gone before. Such work is generally cited and incorporated into the scientific, engineering or other documentation underlying the particular system. To the extent that such systems utilize patented or other proprietary matter, the terms of their use are governed by contract. Such contracts may or may not require some sort of attribution to be contained in the final output products of such information systems.
From the federal government perspective, there is no policy or regulation specifying that federal agencies must include attribution in their information dissemination products to any or all of the art underlying their information technology systems. As a practical matter, to include attribution of such prior art in federal information products would be akin to the “credits” accompanying a commercial motion picture. To do so would unduly burden both the information system and the information product. Furthermore, as a matter of general policy, should NOAA/NWS need to enter into a contract to incorporate proprietary technology into an infor-
mation system, it would seek to avoid agreeing to a contract clause requiring attribution. There are limited circumstances, e.g., where NOAA/NWS uses proprietary software or services under commercial terms, where attribution is given; for example, “This system is ‘IBM an e-business solution (TM)’ supported.” These may be found at: http://www.nws.noaa.gov/credits.html.
14. Remember the Thailand NWP system. There were three U.S. bidders. The NWS would not give ANY recommendations because it “would show partiality” to one company over another. They could have said all three are responsible and respected companies and are capable of doing a great job. Instead the UK Met Office walked off with all the business totally supported by their government.
During 1997, the National Weather Service was approached by Department of Commerce trade officials on whether the U.S. government could provide support to U.S. consortia bidding on the Thai Meteorological Department’s purchase of a super computer for weather prediction and modeling. Other National Meteorological Services (specifically at least the UK Met Office) were supporting bidders from their countries by offering training to the Thai Meteorological Department in global modeling should their particular national consortium win the contract.
This led to the question of whether NWS could offer similar types of training to the Thai Meteorological Department in support of U.S. companies bidding on the contract. Without intending to favor one U.S. company over another, the NWS reply was: (a) yes, we can offer training if the super computer ultimately contracted for by the Thai Meteorological Department was a vector computer purchased from a U.S. bidder because our global models at the time ran on vector machines, but (b) no, we could not offer training should a U.S. bidder offer a super computer using parallel processing because, at the time, our global models did not run on parallel processing machines.
Subsequently, the Thai Meteorological Department selected a parallel processing computer system and the UK Met Office was part of the winning consortium.
As a general matter, the NWS is willing to provide a reference at the request of a firm which provides goods or services to NWS. Such references would include a general statement regarding whether the goods or services were provided in a timely manner and were acceptable. We are unaware of any specific request for a reference from any of the U.S. bidders on the Thai contract.
15. The more sophisticated the weather computer models become, the more dependent they are on initializing with a data set that is as good as it
can be. Yet everyone who deals with observed weather will agree that in recent years the quality of our observed data set used to initialize the models has been steadily deteriorating. The government is spending billions of dollars to acquire new hardware and software to develop and run these models, but the same emphasis is not being given to ensure that the initial data put into the models is absolutely top quality. Quality control is an extra duty for most if they get time to do it. Training of cooperative observers is also an extra duty for various NWS regional headquarters after they accomplish all their higher priority duties. I’m not aware of anyone with an on site inspection responsibility and authority to ensure data quality. It’s my belief that the government really has their priorities backwards on this issue. It has been estimated that nationally about $2.2 trillion is at risk each year in weather and climate sensitive components of the gross domestic product as determined from the Bureau of Economic Analysis data. For example, in winter a large portion of that risk is due to snowfall which is no longer measured by government automated observing sites. When commercial industry has $2.2 trillion at stake each year, why can’t we pay more attention to the quality of data that feeds our multi-million dollar models? Why can’t we create a function in a government agency that has the responsibility and authority to ensure the observations are the best they can be?
I had the opportunity to visit the National Center for Environmental Prediction (NCEP) recently and I asked, as usual, a lot of questions. I asked one of the team leaders how they quality control the data they use as well as data going into the models and for the most part I was satisfied with the answer. Then the individual added that this quality control is an extra duty and they never have time to look at all the errors their software flags as questionable. Then he added that when the weather is changing most rapidly, their data error counts are highest and because they are so busy with other, higher priority tasks in those circumstances they rarely ever have time to do the data quality control (manual editing). When asked why they operate that way the response was there just aren’t enough people. If these statements are true, the logic trail doesn’t track. Bad data getting into an analysis or forecasting process or modeling effort can only result in a less than desirable output quality. So, first priority must be to ensure the best possible data is fed into every process or model. Or, in other words, only after the data quality is assured should any attempt be made to make a forecast or initialize a model.
Questions 15 and 16 both deal with various issues regarding quality control of observational data, further uses of the data for numerical weather prediction, and archival use for later analyses. The answers have been combined following Question 16 below.
16. The NWS has decided that (probably because of low funding) they
would depend more on cooperative observations. So, during a visit to NCEP, I asked a senior person in that facility who had responsibility to train cooperative observers, as well as check their equipment sighting and calibration. I was told that the regional center forecasters have this responsibility and it is an extra duty very low on their priority list of things they need to accomplish routinely. If this is true, it is reasonable to conclude that the issue of cooperative data quality may receive very little attention. If this is true, this is another example where priorities are exactly opposite to what they should be.
My recommendation is that the NWS obtain the funding to properly deal with this issue of data quality. It may take tens or hundreds of millions of our tax dollars to do it right. If so, that’s what should be requested as we cannot ignore this issue anymore. The public won’t allow it much longer.
I’d suggest that there should be a whole section in the NWS or even some separate agency whose function it is to ensure data quality from start to finish. That means training cooperative observers, physically checking and calibrating equipment, creating procedures and algorithms for manual and automated repair of all errors before they get into forecast processes and models. I am aware that the National Climatic Data Center is doing a lot to quality control data they archive, but that it is also putting the data quality issue at the end of the process rather than at the beginning where it should be.
Properly dealing with data quality from the start may actually be the greatest improvement the NWS could make to bring both observation and forecast quality to the next level of excellence. I believe this is an issue the public will want to support especially if they are given the opportunity to understand what the real benefit can be.
Questions 15 and 16 touch in some way on essentially all of the weather information acquired, produced, distributed and retained by the National Weather Service (NWS) and its parent agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). A complete answer to all of the issues raised is beyond to scope of this exercise. To help organize the response, each of the following topics is discussed briefly below:
Observations from systems operated by NWS/NOAA,
Observations acquired by NWS/NOAA from systems operated by others,
Data assimilation for numerical weather prediction, and
Retention and analysis at NOAA Data Centers.
These should cover the main points of Questions 15 and 16.
Observations from systems operated by NWS/NOAA. NWS/NOAA operates many observing systems based on land, air, sea, and space platforms and using both in situ and remote sensors. These systems provide environ-
mental information, often to meet multiple purposes, designed to meet standards for accuracy, precision, reliability, coverage (e.g., network density), etc., established for each system, with NWS/NOAA maintenance and oversight procedures designed to assure standards continue to be met. It is a challenge to balance system costs, both initial and ongoing, and the value of the information produced. Technological change continually affects these trade-offs.
Since the question is focused primarily on one of these NWS/NOAA observing systems, the Cooperative Observer Program (COOP) Network, our answer uses the COOP Network as an example of the diverse observing systems operated by NWS/NOAA.
The COOP Network has its roots in the early history of the country—the most prestigious award in the COOP program is named for Thomas Jefferson who was a volunteer weather observer. Volunteers provide space for observing systems and are trained by NWS to operate equipment maintained by NWS, with annual site visits to check equipment calibration and siting. Staff at NWS Weather Forecast Offices have specific responsibilities to carry out cooperative observer training and site visits. NWS has had a plan for improving cooperative observations since 1993, and received National Research Council endorsement of the overall technical approach proposed in the plan “Future of the National Weather Service Cooperative Observer Network,” Section 4.
NWS’s plan to substantially refurbish the COOP Network includes systematic quality control, from data collection to archiving and dissemination. For automated cooperative observations transmitted in real time, well-tested quality control procedures used on existing automated systems will be adapted to the COOP Network. Automated procedures will alert network technicians to potential problems.
The modernized COOP Network will utilize approximately 8,000 sites equipped with temperature and precipitation sensors to provide the dense temperature and precipitation observations necessary to track climate variability at regional and local levels. Approximately 1,000 sites in agriculturally sensitive areas will be further equipped with soil moisture, temperature, and evaporation sensors to monitor drought and the water cycle. The high-density, real-time data will improve NOAA’s ability to forecast short-term (24-hour to 2 weeks) temperature and precipitation, including floods. The network will augment existing capabilities with a new source of real-time information for exploitation by the private sector, including the emerging weather risk management sector.
To estimate possible human effects on climate, climate records have to measure long-term trends with high reliability and precision. To meet this goal, NOAA has proposed a Climate Reference Network (CRN) to com-
plement the modernized COOP Network. Both projects were originally conceived as part of a coordinated interagency plan to simultaneously meet climate monitoring needs and repair and upgrade the existing COOP Network.
The CRN will utilize approximately 250 paired sites equipped with a suite of instruments to provide highly accurate, long-term tracking of continental scale climate change. The CRN will provide continuous, highly accurate near-complete measurements of the surface energy balance that meet the exacting requirements of the meteorological and hydrological research community. The daily data will also provide the baseline measurements for calibration of the COOP Network and other observing systems. CRN sites will be carefully selected to best represent the climate regions of the United States and minimize the potential for human-related effects on the sites.
The modernized COOP network will provide the hourly temperature and precipitation data necessary for short-term forecasts as well as local information for inclusion in the climate record. While the CRN will depict each of its 250 sites with great detail, it does little to capture the regional and local nuances that the 8,000 site modernized COOP Network will depict. The detailed information from the CRN, however, will be useful for calibration of the less detailed, but more expansive COOP Network. The two systems will thus work together to form a comprehensive and detailed climate and weather record for the United States. Within the President’s FY03 budget, the COOP modernization initiative will receive funding to modernize 200 COOP locations in the southeastern United States. A plan is being developed to fully modernize the COOP Network over the next six years.
The interplay between the characteristics of the COOP Network and the CRN can be seen as an example of a larger principle—diversity in observing networks provides an opportunity to strike a more efficient balance between observing system capabilities and costs. As another example, the question notes limitations in snow reports from NWS/NOAA automated observing stations. These automated systems provide continuous reports of observations critical to aviation safety and other purposes, but, for now, the most effective way to provide snowfall, snow depth and other selected weather elements is through manual observations by trained observers. NWS is committed to provide the necessary initial training and continuing education now and into the future in the context of the COOP Network modernization.
Observations Acquired by NWS/NOAA from Systems Operated by Oth ers. Although NWS/NOAA operates extensive and diverse observing systems, significant amounts of the data used to forecast weather and climate come from external sources. These external sources are themselves diverse, including international information sources based on agreements
reached through the World Meteorological Organization, and domestic sources from many cooperators and providers. Although NWS/NOAA cannot directly control information provided voluntarily by cooperators, many cooperators work closely with us on data quality issues and some adopt NWS/NOAA standards to varying degrees. It would be prohibitively expensive, and in some cases impossible, to replace these external information sources with sources under NWS/NOAA control, which means NWS/NOAA will always have to assimilate information from both internal and external sources to support numerical modeling.
Data Assimilation for Numerical Weather Prediction. Quality control (QC) is an integral part of the processing of meteorological data used in numerical weather prediction models. Automated QC techniques are a large part of the processing of the nearly 300,000 conventional reports (surface, marine, balloon, aircraft) and 1.9 million satellite observations that flow into the NWS each day. As the forecast modeling and data assimilation systems have become more sophisticated, analyses have become less sensitive to data errors that pass QC. In addition, the data quality and coverage are much better in some areas, so that any questionable data are less likely to pass the QC or have substantial impact on the analyses and forecasts. For example, high quality automated aircraft reports have increased substantially in the last several years and complement improved QC of rawinsonde (balloons released with meteorological instruments) data. Observing systems operated/managed by NWS are subject to various calibration checks to assure data quality and integrity (see above). Separate automated quality control algorithms have been developed for many of the different types of data, some of which are quite sophisticated and attempt to correct commonly occurring types of errors. Other automated techniques involve checking for gross errors, for horizontal and vertical consistency, as well as consistency in time. Automated techniques also compare data to short-term forecasts valid at the same time as the data. All data types are subjected to a final automated check in which each observation in turn is omitted from an analysis and then is compared to the resulting analyzed value and judged on its fit. The decision of whether to reject an observation is based on the results of all the checks, not just one. Manual (interactive) quality control is performed on some of the data that are highlighted by the automated techniques. Meteorologists use satellite pictures, information from the reporting stations and their meteorological expertise to decide whether to override the automated quality control procedures. NWS takes seriously its duty to assure data are adequately checked for accuracy. These data are essential input for all numerical weather and climate forecast models which provide guidance for the preparation of all NWS products.
Satellites already provide over 80% of the observations used in numerical model assimilation. For example, improved satellite data has already enhanced model forecast skill in the Southern Hemisphere substantially. The
National Polar-Orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) along with other planned satellite programs will produce a huge increase in satellite data. Recognizing the challenges associated with satellite data assimilation, NOAA and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) agreed to establish and support the NASA/NOAA Joint Center for Satellite Data Assimilation (JCSDA) to optimize the use of research and operational satellite data in operational numerical prediction systems and to shorten the time between instrument launch and the operational use of the data. JCSDA exemplifies NOAA’s commitment to advanced data assimilation in general.
Retention and Analysis at NOAA Data Centers. NOAA operates several data centers which have responsibility for long-term retention and analysis of environmental data. The question notes the role of one of these centers, the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) in data quality control. NCDC has a statutory mission to describe the climate of the United States, and NCDC acts as the nation’s scorekeeper regarding the trends and anomalies of weather and climate. NCDC’s data and products fulfill needs ranging from building codes to power plant and space shuttle design. The archives at NCDC include both NOAA and external information sources from around the world, and NCDC is a world leader in methods for data post-analysis and quality control. NCDC’s emphasis on quality control is essential to its mission, and will continue even though future data systems become more accurate and more complete.
In summary, NOAA/NWS is committed to providing the best possible observation record within the available resources. The diversity in observing systems is exploited by increasingly sophisticated quality control processes. The continued long-term trend resulting in more accurate numerical weather predictions is a testament to the overall success of this approach. The question implies NOAA/NWS should invest more in observing systems to assure higher quality observations and reduce the demands on data assimilation and quality control in later processing steps. Spending more money on any particular observing program normally results in better data; however resources are always limited. Balancing the strengths within the resources available for any one program against another allows NOAA/NWS to get more efficient and accurate overall results. Opportunities to leverage observations from sources external to NOAA increase the diversity of observational data types while increasing overall efficiency.
17. NIDS Transition. The private sector invented color radar, remote transmission of color radar images and radar networking (i.e., collecting the data from a number of radars and assembling the data into a mosaic). In 1991, four private sector companies, under contract from the National Weather Service, connected to each and every one of the NWS’s new WSR-
88D radars. In 1999, the NWS decided to discontinue the contracts with the private sector companies for radar distribution.
In 1999, the private sector companies were already linked to every NWS WSR-88D radar with a direct connection. Each of the NEXRAD Weather Information Dissemination System (NIDS) providers had its own phone lines, own modem and own hardware. The only single point of failure was the radar itself. The network was fast and extremely reliable as indicated by independent studies conducted by the Federal Aviation Administration and others.
When the NWS made the decision to distribute WSR-88D data on a no-cost basis, it decided to do the entire job itself rather than contracting it to the private sector and taking advantage of the proven infrastructure already in place.
The new NWS radar network is a subset of its AWIPS network. It has multiple single points of failure (including the network hub in Silver Spring). It is slower than the NIDS private sector network (less than 2 sec. vs. 25 sec. on the NWS’s best days) with delays of more than one minute and missed data common occurrences during major severe weather outbreaks —when it is needed the most.
While our company has lost revenue from the Weather Service’s decision to distribute radar data free (on the order of $3,000 per month), I am 100% in favor of the NWS making its radar data available free of charge, as I believe all government data should be free to any citizen or taxpayer.
But, a better solution existed. Rather than the NWS trying to create a network from scratch, a competitive contract should have been awarded to one of the NIDS or other private sector company to provide this service, or, better still, two companies for greater redundancy.
The Commercial Weather Service’s Association has written position papers supporting the National Weather Service’s attempt to upgrade its network and provide redundancy. However, it will likely be 2003 before these problems are fully resolved.
Please refer to Ed Johnson’s presentation at the second committee meeting for background on the history of NWS radar data distribution.
During 1990, NWS entered into an agreement with private vendors for each to collect and distribute radar products from up to 154 NWS, Federal Aviation Administration, and Department of Defense radar sites. The Next Generation Radar (NEXRAD) Information Dissemination Service (NIDS), provided by each of the private vendors, began operation in 1992 and was the sole source of radar products to the other government users and the private meteorological community. Non-government users of the radar products were required to acquire them from one of the private vendors. Each user had to sign a contract with a vendor to receive the
products, which typically restricted their redistribution rights, and to pay the associated fees. The NIDS vendors themselves incurred costs in excess of $1 million annually to support telecommunications and other costs associated with gathering the data.
In 1999, the NWS began an effort to develop a system design and prototype for the central collection and distribution of radar products to replace the NIDS agreement. This was based on a newly validated NWS requirement for the central collection of radar data in order to improve the performance of its numerical forecast models.
The NWS estimated the cost of two approaches for central collection:
Increase the bandwidth of the existing operational Advanced Weather Interactive Processing System (AWIPS) Wide Area Network (WAN) used by the NWS for its internal collection of observations, forecasts, and warnings to also centrally collect the radar products.
Contract for a commercial solution to centrally collect the radar products.
In September 1999, NWS compared the cost and benefits of the two alternate approaches, and selected the option to use the AWIPS WAN, primarily due to the significant cost avoidance by leveraging off the operational AWIPS WAN infrastructure already in place at all NWS offices responsible for the radar product collection.
With regard to timeliness of service, an operational demonstration of the new Radar Product Central Collection/Distribution Service (RPCCDS), which included participation from the private sector, was conducted between September 19 and October 18, 2000. The 30-day demonstration provided objective measurements of the performance of the RPCCDS which significantly exceeded the preestablished criteria: an average of 636,000 products were collected each day from the 154 radar sites with a 99.1% reliability, in an average of 50.3 seconds from the time of collection to distribution to all users. The RPCCDS continues to exceed its preestablished performance criteria; for 2001 the system had a 99.7% reliability and end-to-end collection and distribution of the radar products was completed in an average of 40.2 seconds.
With regard to reliability of service, the hardware and WAN used in the AWIPS system for the collection of the radar products at the field offices and the Network Control Facility (NCF), as well as the radar servers themselves, are highly redundant. The NWS is in the process of putting in place a backup NCF to be collocated with the operational backup AWIPS Master Ground Station, in the event of a catastrophic failure of the NCF in Silver Spring, Maryland. The backup NCF with redundant communications connectivity is scheduled to be operational in September 2002.
The RPCCDS implemented by the NWS offers users several benefits: Users now have multiple radar product access options. The operation of the RPCCDS and termination of the NIDS allowed the NWS to begin offering real-time Internet access to a subset of WSR-88D products in a user-friendly, display-ready, format. Former NIDS vendors now subscribe to the RPCCDS broadcast services, avoiding their previous central collection costs. Additional private vendors subscribe to the RPCCDS broadcast service, thereby increasing competition and offering users a broader range of commercial options of acquiring radar products and value-added commercial services.
18. We believe there is a significant opportunity to enhance the performance and cost-effectiveness of the National Weather Service (NWS) by reconsidering the way the underlying infrastructure for the observing, communication, and data processing systems are operated and maintained.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the NWS operate and maintain several networks of observing systems such as the NEXRAD radar, NOAA Satellites, Automated Surface Observing Systems (ASOS), upper-air observation systems and Wind Profiler radar, and integration systems such as the Advanced Weather Information Processing Systems (AWIPS). Due to the decentralized structure of NOAA and the NWS, responsibility for operation and maintenance of these assets is distributed to a combination of local, regional and national organizations. A typical example of this process is the NEXRAD radar. The Radar Operations Center in Norman, Oklahoma, has responsibility for centralized engineering, meteorological and software support. This responsibility is for all end users, including NWS, the Department of Defense and Department of Transportation sites. However, operation of the radar sites and routine maintenance activities are performed at local NWS offices with more complex maintenance functions performed at either the regional facilities or National Logistics/Reconditioning Centers. These activities, as well as configuration management, are administered and primarily performed by government personnel.
Over $40 million dollars was budgeted in FY 2001 for NEXRAD operation and maintenance. Although the NEXRAD example was cited, a similar approach is used for the other observing and forecast system assets. Although approximately $100 million is allocated for systems operations and maintenance (O&M) in the NWS FY 2001 budget, a significant percentage of the over $500 million spent from Operations and Research is used to fund local forecast office activities, such as routine system operation and maintenance.
We believe there is an opportunity to consolidate much of the O&M activity for the NWS and NOAA observing and forecasting systems. This consolidation would provide an opportunity for private sector involve-
ment. Over the years, it has been demonstrated that these types of man-power-intensive functions are performed more effectively by the private sector, by offering enhanced performance and lower costs to the government. This private sector O&M approach would also benefit NOAA and the National Weather Service by allowing them to focus on their core missions, which include more timely and accurate forecasts for the public. An expanded role for the private sector would also streamline the process for the introduction of new technologies, thus allowing the NWS to realize its strategic goals in a shorter time frame.
In summary, we believe that operation and maintenance of the national meteorological infrastructure provides a significant opportunity for redefining the public-private partnership. This approach is consistent with existing, proven public-private initiatives in the U.S. and will result in better services to the public and greater value for the taxpayer.
Since the 1950s, OMB Circular A-76 has called for those activities that are not inherently governmental to be performed by the private sector whenever economically justified. Over many years, the National Weather Service (NWS) has adhered to that policy and conducted many studies under OMB Circular A-76. Currently, NWS has 555 positions performed under contract by the private sector at a $50 million annual cost, including about 370 that provide maintenance of infrastructure (largely in NOAA Weather Radio, data buoy support, radar engineering support and upper air observations.)
Each year, NWS and NOAA are required by the FAIR Act to conduct an inventory of positions to determine which positions should be classified as Commercial Activities (CA). The inventory is divided between those CA positions that are inherently governmental and are retained in house, and those CA activities that are subject to the A-76 cost comparison process. In 2001, NWS’s inventory totaled 619 CA positions (in addition to the 555 already contracted out). Within the 619 positions are some positions which provide maintenance of infrastructure. NWS’s inventory was approved by NOAA, the Department of Commerce and OMB. In November 2001, OMB published the government-wide FAIR Act Inventory for public comment. No challenges were received from the public or private sector to the NWS portions of the inventory.
President Bush has directed that all agencies consider strategic sourcing of 50 percent of their CA positions over the next five years, with 15 percent being studied by the end of 2003. NWS has identified nine A-76 studies, covering 329 positions, to be performed at the rate of two per year over the next several years to meet the President’s goal. The first study is under way and a second will be started early next fiscal year. These studies will cover all CA maintenance positions that are not considered inherently governmental.
While NWS believes there are opportunities to look at private sector provision of maintenance services, we must also look at the impact on the provision of our core services. NWS’s field electronic technicians are an integral part of our operational teams at our Forecast Offices. Likewise, some software development efforts are for broad based applications that can be reviewed for private sector competition, while other software activities are not amenable to contracting out.
Additionally, cost comparisons of the past have not always shown savings by transferring functions to the private sector. In the area of large systems maintenance, NWS conducted A-76 reviews of both NEXRAD and ASOS in the early 1990s. For NEXRAD the government maintenance alternative cost avoidance was projected at $1.8 million per year over the 20- year life-cycle. For ASOS, government maintenance alternative cost avoidance was projected a $1.1 million per year over a 15-year life-cycle.
In summary, NWS is ready to examine maintenance issues with the private sector, as we have in the past, and, where it makes mission and economic sense, partner with the private sector.
19. It appears that the NWS is no longer simply providing via the Internet weather information that they have developed to carry out their core mission. The agency appears to be further tailoring information for specific users and uses and specific kinds of businesses and even creating an “Ask the Meteorologist” feature to provide “private consulting” at government expense and in competition with the commercial weather industry.
Features on NWS sites such as “Ask the Meteorologist” are intended for purely educational purposes to answer general questions including those about weather phenomena, how to understand NWS forecasts and warnings, etc. NWS has reviewed a large sample of the questions and answers under “Ask the Meteorologist” and identified none which could be considered inappropriate (e.g., provide private consulting). No examples of arguably inappropriate questions/answers have been brought to our attention.
20. The Wichita, Kansas, NWS office has launched a personalized weather forecasting web site. The National Weather Service office sent a personal message to 7 television stations, 5 radio stations, 2 various businesses and 29 government and other agencies (43 in all) soliciting them to use this new NWS service. At least 9 of these are customers of 9 different commercial weather companies. Obviously, they have contacted each one of these companies on an individual basis, something the NWS is not supposed to do.
This is in direct competition with the commercial weather industry and can have only negative impact on those in the commercial weather industry that provide these kinds of services, either by the Internet or more tradi-
tional means. And, appearing to be in violation of federal law and policies, these actions chill the opportunities for weather companies and small businesses in the weather marketplace.
As described above, the NWS had a two month public comment period on the NWS Web redesign. The e-mail from the Wichita office was sent during this comment period to 50 addressees external to NOAA who might be affected by changes to the Wichita office web site. The addressees were 35 emergency managers (30 local, 4 state level, and one Federal Emergency Management Agency contractor) with responsibilities for parts of the Wichita office’s county warning area, and 15 media employees (8 TV and 7 radio) at stations with coverage of some part of the county warning area of the Wichita office. This outreach effort to NWS partners in the emergency management community and to critical local media which carry NWS forecasts, watches and warnings was in no sense an effort to solicit customers away from commercial information suppliers. NWS is generally unaware of any commercial service arrangements which emergency managers and the media may have, and has no desire to interfere with or influence these arrangements.
21. The National Weather Service is directly entering the commercial weather business by soliciting existing customers of the commercial weather industry through the creation of specialized products and services for the use by newspapers (see Dodge City, Kansas, NWS Forecast Office web site). I believe that this activity is prohibited under National Weather Service policy, especially the 1991 Public-Private Partnership Act and a variety of federal laws. Through design or otherwise, we appear to have rapidly growing activity by the National Weather Service that creates competition with the commercial weather industry of the United States, offering free services to specific users and industries at taxpayers’ expense.
On April 4, 2002, Ms. Maria Pirone, President of the Commercial Weather Services Association, sent a letter to NWS complaining of the “Weather for the Newspaper” site on the Dodge City, Kansas, Weather Forecast Office web site. A similar letter from Mr. Barry Lee Myers of AccuWeather, Inc. was sent on April 11, 2002. The site was immediately discontinued, even though all of the information linked to that particular Web page was fully appropriate and otherwise publicly available NWS information. This was done to avoid confusion as to NWS policy. The NWS has never provided, and does not intend to provide, customized print-ready copy to newspapers or other specialized media outlets. NWS information is available to all users on equitable terms under the applicable legal principles outlined in the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995, OMB Circular No. A-130, and other applicable authority. NWS provided prompt responses to both these letters.
22. In our complaint letter to the NWS, we pointed out several websites and practices with what appear to us to be clear violations of the spirit, if not
the letter of the NWS Public-Private Partnership Policy. The NWS response does not really answer the question of whether these practices violate the policy. Rather, it simply attempts to justify the practices by pointing out similar practices on other government web sites. This response begs the question of what applicability NWS policy has vis-à-vis the Internet.
It appears that the NWS cites the Public-Private Partnership Policy as fact in public testimony, but ignores it whenever it suits their fancy. We want to be clear that we do not oppose the NWS use of the Internet for dissemination activities. However, we do find it objectionable when the NWS, with its enormous resources, feels compelled to enhance their Internet offerings by adding features and capabilities designed to compete with commercial web sites (such as zip-code weather and other navigation enhancements). There are plenty of commercial web sites that offer similar data to the public, for free. Who is the NWS attempting to serve with these sites?
The NWS general policy position regarding providing information over the Internet is provided above. NWS’s response to the “complaint letter” which this item appears to address is repeated below for reference:
…the “city/state/zip” search function…allows for easy access to local forecasts and warnings anywhere in the country. This feature, along with other improvements in website navigation, is becoming ubiquitous on commercial websites. It is likewise being implemented routinely on many government websites, including the Administration’s premier “one stop” website, http://firstgov.gov, as well as on Congressional sites. A few examples are the U.S. House of Representative’s website, http://www.house.gov/house/MemberWWW.htm; the Environmental Protection Agency’s “EnviroMapper,” http://www.epa.gov/enviro/html/em/index.html; the Census Bureau’s “Gazetteer,” http://www.census.gov/cgi-bin/gazetteer; and the Department of Energy’s “Insulation Fact Sheet,” http://www.ornl.gov/~roofs/Zip/ZipHome.html. The search features on all of these sites conform with directions from OMB Circular A-130, discussed above, to make effective use of ongoing advances in information technology to promote the utility of government information to all citizens.
The “city/state/zip” search function is also an important component in making information on government web sites more accessible to persons with disabilities. Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act directs all federal agencies to provide, as much as possible, equivalent access to taxpayer-funded information for persons with disabilities. Clickable maps for locating information are difficult to navigate by the disabled, particularly the vision impaired, who need to use screen readers. The careful placement of a city/state/zip navigation feature on the page ensures that people needing to use screen readers can find a forecast about as easily as a non-disabled user can. Meeting the accessibility requirements was an important consideration in NWS’s web page redesign, and NWS is proud of the accessibility award the design has already received.
As one of the hundreds of positive public comments on these enhancements stated:
I like the change you are going to implement. My son and I are both disabled and transportation by ambulance is a necessity. Your consideration of the disabled is welcome and appreciated. We live in Whiting, New Jersey, in a senior village and isolated from the mainstream of many necessities like medical appointments, food shopping, etc. We must rely on other people for help and the volunteer groups are far and in between. Thank you for easier weather info!
NWS web sites are designed to provide convenient access to all users on equitable terms under the applicable legal principles outlined in the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995, OMB Circular No. A-130, and other applicable authority. The city/state/zip search and other navigation features of NWS web sites are designed to meet this objective, not to compete with the private sector.
23. It appears that the weather for the newspaper page on the Dodge City, Kansas, office has been discontinued. However, the NWS has not explained why they have discontinued it, what their overall Internet strategy is, and where this fell within it.
See response to Question , above.
24. My area of interest is very narrowly focused: those text-based severe weather warnings, watches, and advisories issued by the National Weather Service and intended for public dissemination—tornado warnings, severe thunderstorm warnings, flash flood warnings, etc. My concerns involve communications and dissemination issues exclusively, as opposed to the meteorological and/or hydrological content of these NWS “products.”
Since 1994, at NWS request, my company has provided the NWS with monthly logs detailing errors and exceptions (i.e., irregularities) we have observed in the coding and/or formatting of NWS severe weather products. These logs, provided pro bono, clearly establish that over 50 percent of all NWS severe weather products contain coding and/or formatting errors/ exceptions that impede, and often prevent, timely automated (i.e., computer-based) dissemination directly to the public.1
Primary among these dissemination issues is that severe weather products are neither coded nor formatted consistently. Even where NWS policy is clear and unambiguous, product coding and/or formatting for identical product types often varies dramatically among the NWS regions, among various NWS offices within each region, and even within individual NWS
offices. It is equally clear that the NWS does not have in place any kind of real-time (i.e., bounded time) quality monitoring and/or quality control function to identify and/or correct coding errors, formatting errors, or what one manager at NWS Headquarters (NWSH) has glibly described as “creative diversions from policy.”
Conversations with individuals at NWSH who are charged with developing important NWS policy indicate the following:
They have no knowledge of the years of NWSH development effort that preceded them on these major policy matters. It is unclear whether this information is unavailable to them or just that they found it either unusable or too much trouble to organize.
In one known case, a requirements document was revised to conform to the software implementation, i.e., the way the software development programmers had actually coded it—a software implementation that did not conform to preceding policy drafts. This tends to confirm a long-held suspicion that this practice—changing the policy document at the last minute to match the software implementation—may be a common occurrence.
There is often a lack of knowledge of previous NWS practice and of the existence of national and international standards. This often results in staff inventing their own unique coding forms, even when appropriate FIPS, ANSI, and/or ISO standards already exist, are well known, and are well documented.
This example provides extensive documentation of problems with the quality of short duration (tornado, severe thunderstorm and flash flood) National Weather Service (NWS) warnings. NWS is in direct communication with the individual who provided these examples to work out the details of remedial actions. The answers provided here will focus on root causes for NWS data quality problems and actions taken to reduce them. The NWS values the quality control feedback our private sector partners provide—especially when it includes sufficient detail to support thorough problem analysis, as is the case here.
Many of the examples of data quality problems with NWS warnings are the result of discrepancies between the header and the body, of these products. In simple terms, NWS warnings are made up of a header, which contains coded information identifying the type of warning and the times and places for which the warning applies, and a body, which provides further details regarding the threat. Discrepancies between the header and the body can be very serious—for example, if an NWS warning includes a particular county in the body of the warning, but fails to include the county in the header, a cable TV system serving the county might fail to interrupt programming with a crawler for the warning. Over the years,
such automated use of information in the headers has increased, and the information content of NWS headers has been increased to support these services better. As a result, discrepancies between the header and the body of NWS warnings have become both more likely and more important to avoid.
NWS forecasters use a variety of automated systems to support rapid production of short duration warnings. The examples of data quality problems with these warnings have uncovered three general shortcomings in this complex man/machine system, and NWS is taking action to correct each of them.
First, a careful review of NWS policies and procedures which provide instructions for NWS forecasters regarding exactly how NWS warning products must be produced and formatted uncovered areas where greater precision is needed to ensure NWS produces consistent, machine-readable warnings. NWS Directives System Instructions 10-511 (Weather Forecast Office Severe Weather Products Specification) and 10-922 (Weather Forecast Office Hydrologic Products Specification) update the policy for short duration warnings and provide NWS managers and forecasters with clear and concise instructions regarding short duration warning procedures and formats (see http://www.nws.noaa.gov/directives/). NWS has worked with our private sector partners, including the individual providing the examples of data quality problems, to ensure these instructions reflect appropriate standards and are complete, clear, and accurate. Efforts have also been undertaken to ensure that NWS software systems are consistent with these instructions.
Second, discrepancies between the header and body of NWS warnings most typically happens when NWS forecasters manually edit the body of warnings created by automated formatting software but fail to accurately edit the header as well. These manual editing steps can be important to warning accuracy, but NWS needs to ensure the resulting product is consistent with all product format standards. To provide this assurance, NWS will implement a software based Quality Control program for short duration warnings in mid-2003. This program will check warnings for proper coding and format prior to dissemination. NWS partners and customers made significant contributions to the coding and format requirements for this Quality Control program.
Finally, NWS leadership continues to stress quality control to the forecasters at our Weather Forecast Offices. Greater management and forecaster diligence to avoid quality control problems with NWS warnings is already showing results.
The NWS values the quality control feedback our private sector partners and customers provide. We have a common goal to provide the best possi-
ble warning services, and we are working together to address the detailed concerns raised in this item.
25. At the committee’s request, our company has tracked errors in NWS data. Attached are nine representative examples involving inaccurate reports, various adjustments, contemporaneous reports that are of questionable accuracy, and inaccuracies creeping into the climate record.2While we do not normally track these kinds of errors we see them virtually every day. In fact we have a team devoted to reviewing weather statistics to try and create the greatest accuracy for newspaper clients where we face the daily challenge of putting into print accurate information, even though the daily record and climate record as reported by the NWS often contains discrepancies.
Case 1. In element A, the National Weather Service Summary reports low temperature for January 9, 2002, to be 22 degrees at 10:49am. This report was issued as of 4:42 pm January 9, 2002, as per element C. Attached are decoded hourly reports from the official surface observations (element B) which shows that the temperature, on the hour, had not dropped below 40 degrees.
Case 2. In the National Weather Service Max/Min Temperature and Precipitation table (element A), Doylestown reported 0.26 inches of precipitation in the 24 hour period ending at 7am. Our company’s decoded observations (element B) indicated no precipitation had fallen during that 24 hour period of time although precipitation amounts were reported and decoded (element C). The previous day, snow fell at this location (element D). A typical, known error with ASOS equipment is a melting of snow long after the storm has ended and the equipment reporting it as new precipitation when none actually occurred. These should be caught, but the records from the National Climatic Data Center show the 6XXXX code indicating precipitation (elements E and F). The summary for the data from NCDC that goes into the official records indicates hourly precipitation (element G) and a 24-hour total of 0.26 inches of precipitation (element H). Even though this is a preliminary summary, it is unlikely to be caught and is inaccurate.
Case 3. Incorrect data is entering the climatic data stream due to erroneous reports from ASOS equipment. This hourly report from Mt. Pocono, PA, on December 15, 2000, shows 0.09 inches of precipitation being re-
corded (element A) from a clear sky (element E). The summary of the unedited surface weather observations also shows the 0.09 of an inch (element B). The Local Climatological Data summary from NCDC for December 2000, indicates that the water equivalent of 0.09 fell on the 15th (element C) without any significant weather being reported that day (element D). The frozen precipitation from the day before melted on the 15th giving the false reading, and 18 months later, the error still exists in the records kept by the official agency charged with keeping climatological data.
Case 4. Precipitation in areas that do not normally receive substantial rain draws a high level of focus. In the newspaper industry, the deadlines are tight between when the information is collected and when papers must be published, especially along the West Coast. This leaves little time to sort through conflicting reports. The 4:27pm PST report from the National Weather Service office in San Joaquin Valley indicated that 0.18 of an inch of rain fell in Fresno on January 27, 2002, as of 4pm local time (element B). The hourly reports clearly indicated that 0.01 of an inch fell before mid-night local time and that the total should really be 0.17 of an inch (element C). When the midnight report—issued at 12:27am local time—was released, 0.15 of an inch was the official measurement for the day. This amount does not show up anywhere unless any precipitation before 4am local time is thrown out (element D).
Case 5. The next day’s reports from the same NWS office revealed additional problems. Rain totals for the 4:27pm local time report for January 28, 2002, in Fresno indicated that 0.01 of an inch was observed (element A), yet the month to date total was increased by 0.02 of an inch. It was later (4:54pm) corrected to reflect the proper month to date total (element C) based on the actual precipitation for the day (element E). However, the total precipitation for Bakersfield on the 4:27pm report was listed as a trace (element B), which was confirmed by hourly reports (element F). The 4:54pm report changed the precipitation total to 0.16 of an inch increasing the month to date and season to date totals by 0.01 of an inch and increasing the year to date totals by 0.11 of an inch (element D).
Case 6. The 4:26pm local time climate report for Eureka, CA, issued by the National Weather Service on January 8, 2002, indicated that 0.23 of an inch of precipitation fell that day bringing the month and year to date totals to 4.05 inches (element C). The report issued 8 hours later for the entire day January 8, 2002, showed a decrease to 0.04 of an inch of precipitation and a month and year to date total of 3.86 inches (element B). The season to date also was lowered by a similar amount. The report issued by the NWS
at 4:23pm local time the next afternoon (element A) kept the totals at the same level as shown in element B.
Case 7. The hourly observations showed a high temperature on January 28, 2002, in Akron, OH, of at least 59 degrees tying the record for the day set in 1914 (element C). This was a rather noteworthy event and prompted many calls for interviews. By 5pm, the temperature has already begun to drop and the National Weather Service sent out the climate report at 5:25pm local time. This report indicated that the record had been tied at 4:09pm (element B). This is a non-standard reporting time and, more than likely, represented the official high for the day. However, an update was issued at 9:11pm, about 2 hours after the hourly observations indicated that the temperature had actually gotten to 60 degrees, setting a new record for the date. This update (element A) listed the new high as 60 degrees, but it occurred at exactly the same time reported 4 hours earlier (4:09pm).
Case 8. Equipment in the field can break down on occasion. However, that does not explain all of the unusual reports received from ASOS stations. At Harrisburg, PA, the ASOS at MDT showed 7 mile visibility and a clear sky below 12,000 feet (element A) and then suddenly the visibility dropped to 1.5 miles and rain was reported from the clear below 12,000 foot sky (element B). This same type of event has happened before at MDT (element D) and at many other stations for which we cite the example of Houston, TX, which went from 10 miles to 1.5 miles back to 10 miles in a 50 minute period of time during the middle of the day (element C). In that observation, varying visibility between 0.25 of a mile and 5 miles produced the 1.5-mile visibility. Fayetteville, NC, has also visibility errors more frequently than other stations (element E).
Case 9. South Bend, IN, appeared to receive 0.07 of an inch of precipitation on February 16, 2002, with another 0.01 of an inch on February 17, 2002, as reported by ASOS (element A and B). The National Weather Service climate summary through 4pm local time February 16 corresponded with the hourly observations indicating that 0.06 of an inch had fallen (element C).
The NWS midnight summary, however, changed the value to 0.09 of an inch of precipitation (element D) and kept it the next morning. The February 17 summary as of 4pm local time showed that 0.07 of an inch fell (element E) when the hourly reports indicated that 0.01 of an inch fell. Snowfall was also a problem. The 4pm NWS summary February 16 (element F) listed 0.6 of an inch of snow fell (a 10-to-1 ratio standard estimate). The midnight report kept the 10-to-1 ratio and changed the snowfall to 0.9 (element G). The 7:40am local time report the next morning listed a total
snowfall for February 16 of 0.3 of an inch (element H). The month and season totals were adjusted downward as well. That total was maintained on the report through 4pm February 17 when another 0.7 of an inch was added to the reduced totals (element I).
This example presents nine representative cases of seeming problems in various National Weather Service observational summaries and in the climate data records maintained by the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) based on these summaries. A brief discussion of the procedures used to create these summaries is needed to provide a framework to address these cases:
All of the representative cases begin with the Automated Surface Observing System (ASOS) as the initial provider of the information. ASOS continuously monitors the environment and feeds data to NWS Weather Forecast Offices (WFOs). Some WFOs issue an interim climate summary in the late afternoon, derived from an automated ASOS product, to provide an early look at temperature and precipitation information for that day. Each WFO creates and transmits a daily climate summary in the early morning which will include data from the interim climate summaries (if any) for the previous day, updated as necessary given additional information such as Cooperative Observer Program reports (see below).
NWS transmits the daily climate summaries to NCDC where they are collected to form preliminary climate data. NCDC performs further checks and eventual certification of the climate data (with several months lag time), using all available observational data, to create an official climate record.
In the ideal, the ASOS observations would be error-free and representative of actual conditions. Therefore the interim climate summary, daily climate summary, preliminary climate data, and final official climate record would all agree with each other and all reflect the best possible estimate of conditions. As the nine representative cases make clear, this ideal situation is not always met. There are a variety of reasons for this, beginning with the ASOS instrumentation.
Errors in ASOS data are generated in one of two ways:
The ASOS fails to perform as designed, experiences known shortcomings in certain instrumented observations, or is out of service; or
The ASOS is affected by non-meteorological environmental conditions.
When NWS staff are able to identify these errors, they manually correct data in the daily climate summary (but typically not in any interim summaries) to provide the highest quality information available. Thus, discrepancies and differences in reports occur due to either human interven-
tion to correct ASOS errors or human errors made while correcting ASOS errors. With the above as background, the representative cases can be addressed:
Representative cases 2 and 3 are directly related to the shortcoming of the ASOS heated tipping bucket instrument. As is noted by the questioner, this instrument has known shortcomings in measuring snow. In some cases, snow can accumulate and not be measured until it is melted by warming temperatures. These measurements (“late tips”) are then disseminated in the observation. When NCDC performs full quality control processing, checks for these specific situations are made, and when they occur, the data are flagged for further manual review and verification. NCDC can either make a precipitation estimate or mark the observation as missing. NWS recognizes the problems in this area. For some ASOSs, backup observations are available from COOP observers, contract observers, etc. When available, these backup observations are used to correct a faulty precipitation measurement, but for the sites noted in cases 2 and 3 (Doylestown and Mt. Pocono, PA), backup observations are not available. Plans to modernize the NWS COOP network will increase the availability of suitable backup observations. Plans to replace the ASOS instrument itself are also under way (see below).
Representative case 8 has several observations where the ASOS appears to be affected by non-meteorological environmental conditions: The decrease in visibility at observation site MDT (Harrisburg International Airport) appears to be associated with a smoke cloud from Canadian forest fires. There is not enough data to fully explain the situation at Fayetteville, NC, but it appears to be caused by either a condition local to the ASOS instruments or another environmental cause. NWS will investigate the location of this ASOS to determine if the location is adversely affecting the accuracy of observations. The observations from Houston, TX appear to be affected by construction at the airport which created dust interpreted by the ASOS as variations in visibility. In each of these cases, a human observer monitoring the ASOS during the time of the reports attests to the accuracy of the observation, whether the data are automated or edited by the observer.
Most of the representative cases (1, 4, 5, 6, and 9) are the result of inconsistencies due to multiple reports. The data for the interim climate summary uses temperature and precipitation information from ASOS. However, at many NWS offices, including the offices serving Madison (case 1), Fresno (cases 4, 5), Bakersfield (cases 4, 5), Eureka (case 6), and South Bend (case 9), there are alternative sources of reports, primarily COOP sites on or near the airports. If the ASOS is not operating properly or if the data are judged to be incorrect, NWS staff use information from these alternative sources to correct readings or to fill in gaps from the ASOS. The data from the interim (late afternoon) climate summary report is
updated with the latest information and finalized in the daily climate summary issued early the next morning. Thus, when data in ASOS reports are compared to updated data in the early morning issuances, discrepancies are apparent.
Finally, the discrepancy noted in representative case 7 is simply due to a corrected report issued by NWS. The temperature value in the interim climate summary was reported incorrectly and was changed via a corrected climate summary report issued 4 hours later.
NWS standard format for climatological reports is defined in NWS Directives System Instruction 10-501 (Weather Forecast Office Statements, Summaries, Tables Products Specification, see http://www.nws.noaa.gov/directives/).
Planned Improvements. NWS is dedicated to providing observational products which are as accurate as possible using current technology and available resources. At the same time, work is under way to improve NWS observational data and services. The ASOS heated tipping bucket will be replaced with an improved All-Weather Precipitation Accumulation Gage (AWPAG) at selected ASOSs starting in 2003, with the planned upgrade completed before winter of 2004-2005. (AWPAG installation plans do not include every ASOS location; in particular the sites noted in cases 2 and 3 (Doylestown and Mt. Pocono, PA) are not planned for AWPAG installation as of this writing.) Many missing temperature readings, which then require gathering information from other sources, are due to limitations in the current technology of the ASOS dewpoint sensor. A new dewpoint sensor which eliminates these problems is being fielded now. Other ASOS improvements are in various stages of investigation and development.
COMMENTS ABOUT NOAA AND ACADEMIA
26. Over the past 10 to 15 years certain U.S. government weather agencies have become more and more active relative to direct competition with U.S. private industry. This competition is especially noticeable from NCAR/UCAR, FSL and the various labs. It is common for these agencies to directly offer products and services to foreign governments in direct competition to U.S. industry or to exclusively join with a single contractor in the U.S. to market one of their “products.” I believe that these practices either are, or should be, prevented by law. U.S. industry pays the taxes that enable these organizations to develop software and equipment for the common good, not for use against the organizations that enable them to exist. Exclusive links with one contractor are just that—exclusive. If a U.S. government agency has code or hardware that can be marketed in some form, then why
should only one U.S. company be allowed to market it? That certainly is a disadvantage to the other contractors. Finally, while the UK MET and other national weather services are attempting to become “commercial,” it was my understanding that the U.S. government was not on the same path. Why then do the U.S. weather agencies charge for software that can be exploited commercially? One would think, if the software is releasable, that it should be released freely to U.S. industry for use by U.S. business and to help U.S. private industry compete on a more even footing with UK MET (and others) who are trying hard to eliminate the private weather sector in the U.S.
[This comment could not be directed to a specific individual, thus no response is given.]
27. As recently as October 24, 2001, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (parent agency of the National Weather Service) announced its new “Environmetrics” program. See http://lwf.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/climate/research/environomics/environomics.html.
In this program, NOAA and the National Weather Service tie various meteorological parameters to agricultural output and to residential heating demand.
For many years, commercial weather companies as well as meteorologists employed by private sector companies (such as Smith Barney, E.F. Hutton and others), have created various systems for relating meteorological parameters to economic output. The policy clearly defines this as a private sector activity:
c. The private weather industry is ideally suited to put the basic data and common hydrometeorological information base from the NWS into a form and detail that can be utilized by specific weather and water resources-sensitive users. The private weather industry provides general and tailored hydrometeorological forecasts, and value-added products and services to segments of the population with specialized needs.
The National Climatic Data Center has a long history of collecting, quality controlling and analyzing climate information. This history includes an active Climate Monitoring program focused on providing information to the U.S. Administration and the general public on national and regional trends of climate events that impact the nation’s economy and society. Indices have always been a vital part of this program. Drought indices such as the Palmer Drought Severity Index, Growing and Heating Degree Day indices, and the Climate Extremes Index and Greenhouse Response Index are just some examples of indices that provide information on weather and climate conditions that affect the nation’s economy and society. Indices developed as part of NCDC’s National Climate Impact Indi-
cators Program (formerly known as Environomics), such as the Residential Energy Demand Temperature Index (REDTI) and the Moisture Stress Index (MSI) for corn and soybean crops, provide additional quantitative measures of climate’s influence at the national level. The information conveyed with these indices assists the Department of Commerce in its role of providing information that strengthens the understanding of the U.S. economy and is essential to ensuring that political and business leaders have access to pertinent information that is part of any well-informed decision-making process. In addition, the sensitive nature of some indices such as the MSI, which provides indications of overall crop performance prior to the end of the harvest season, dictates that the data be calculated and coordinated with other government agencies, e.g., USDA.
28. FSL is bidding against our company right now in Vietnam to do the NWP. FSL pushed their modeling capability as well as their meteorological workstation. FSL wants to do the flash flood warning system in central Vietnam? No experience here; FSL is really selling against U.S. industry.
To the first comment—FSL has never submitted a proposal or a bid to anyone in VHMS (Vietnam Hydrometeorological Service) for any activity. To the second comment—FSL presented to VHMS in Hanoi in September 2001, an overview of FSL’s organizational structure, information on projects FSL is working on in other Southeast Asian countries and an overview of the WorldWide Weather Workstation (W4) development. This presentation was part of the meeting sponsored by NWS under the bilateral U.S./Vietnam agreement signed in 1/01.
To the third comment—this comment is significantly off base. FSL is not responsible for any interaction with Vietnam with respect to flash flood mitigation, hydrological studies or hydrological forecasting. This is the responsibility of the NWS, and there has been considerable interaction between NWS and VHMS on these topics. I believe the company that submitted these comments knows this. With regard to the second part of the comment—“…FSL is really selling against U.S. industry”—the purpose of FSL’s visit to Vietnam was to gain an understanding of the current level of expertise in Vietnam, make them aware of some of the things FSL is doing and promote the potential for future interaction regarding training, which we are doing in other countries and for which I presented our just-completed Thailand training activities. It is quite difficult to be “selling” anything when there is no proposal on the table, no bid to address and little or no communication between the parties. My only contact with any VHMS personnel after the September 2001 NWS sponsored meeting was at an NWS APEC (Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation) sponsored meeting in Orlando at the AMS annual meeting in January 2002. There I discussed with two VHMS representatives their current situation and agreed with them that training of personnel should precede purchasing of large quantities of meteorological equipment so that the personnel would
understand the purpose of the equipment and how to integrate these products to improve their overall weather forecasting abilities. This type of training, if done by U.S. personnel of course, can lead to the exposure of the trainees to U.S. products, which in turn leads to purchases of these products. We have seen this happen in several countries. Finally, regarding Vietnam, there have been no letters, e-mails or phone calls by me to further promote the general discussion that took place at the APEC meeting in January.
FSL’s Position on Working in Other Countries. U.S. industry does not do application training and training on how software systems can be integrated into operational weather activities—FSL does. Through this training, the level of weather and forecast knowledge is enhanced so that the country’s operational weather organization can appreciate the value of U.S. services, computer products and meteorological equipment with respect to improving their regional, province and local forecasts. Our mission is technology transfer and we welcome industry partnerships through Federal Business Opportunity announcements or through different types of agreements which encourage U.S. industry to work with us. Through our international activities, we introduce technology to countries which can lead to sales for U.S. companies. For example, our interactions with CWB (Central Weather Bureau of Taiwan) influenced purchases of U.S. products of greater than $20 million for computers, network upgrades and mass storage and over $14 million for Doppler radars. Quite straight-forwardly, our foreign visitors work on specific workstations, with specific computer networks and applications and meteorological equipment. When they return to their home country, they want to purchase these products with which they are familiar.