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The National Weather Service Modernization and Associated Restructuring: A Retrospective Assessment (2012)

Chapter: Appendix D: National Weather Service Offices Collocated with Academic Institutions: Summary of Questionnaire Responses

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Suggested Citation:"Appendix D: National Weather Service Offices Collocated with Academic Institutions: Summary of Questionnaire Responses." National Research Council. 2012. The National Weather Service Modernization and Associated Restructuring: A Retrospective Assessment. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13216.
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D


National Weather Service Offices
Collocated with Academic Institutions:
Summary of Questionnaire Responses

When Colocation Occurred: Colocation of National Weather Service (NWS) offices on or near the campuses of universities occurred between 1993 and 1998 with the earliest being in State College, PA, around 1993 (Middle Atlantic River Forecast Center [RFC] and Weather Forecast Office [WFO] State College) and the most recent being WFO Fairbanks in 1998. In some of these cases, interactions had already begun prior to colocation, in the 1980s, and had progressively increased through COMET, internship, and other programs.

How Close NWS Offices Are to Campus: Five of the NWS offices interviewed are located on campus (National Hurricane Center [NHC] Florida, WFO Fairbanks, WFO Honolulu, WFO Raleigh, and WFO Tucson). Three offices are located adjacent or close to campus from a few blocks to a 25-minute walk (NWS Albany, WFO Rapid City, and WFO Denver/Boulder). Five offices are located in the same city (Middle Atlantic RFC, WFO Reno, WFO San Francisco, WFO Seattle, and WFO State College)—though technically on campus they are in a research park or annex about one to three miles away. In cases where there is lack of true colocation, this appears to be a disadvantage, as discussed later.

How Successful Colocation Is with Regard to Regular Interaction: The results here appear to be somewhat varied but, overall, the responses indicate successful sustained, regular, and beneficial bidirectional interactions at 9 of the 12 NWS offices. The extent of these does not appear to be correlated with how close the NWS offices are to the campuses, although true colocation seems to have provided clear benefits.

Three of the five “On Campus Offices” (WFO Honolulu, WFO Raleigh, and WFO Tucson) report very extensive bidirectional interactions, while the other two (WFO Fairbanks and NHC Florida) report no “regular” interactions, with interactions being more on an as-needed basis.

Very strong, mutually beneficial interactions appear to have developed at WFO Raleigh (North Carolina State University). These include NWS-hosted internship courses offered for credit and with competitive selection of students (the course was highlighted in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society in October 2005), monthly integration of students into NWS activities and projects, participation of NWS staff in the NCSU student chapter of AMS, collaborative projects funded through CSTAR and COMET, and research meetings/workshops many times a year to discuss successes and challenges of funded research, meteorological challenges for focus in future research proposals, data gathering efforts, etc. Beneficial interactions at WFO Tucson (University of Arizona) include research collaboration, communicating weather, water and climate issues to the community, and providing an academic institution easy access to an operationally oriented organization. Within any one year period, WFO Tucson is usually involved in two research projects with faculty and graduate students, jointly conducts press

Suggested Citation:"Appendix D: National Weather Service Offices Collocated with Academic Institutions: Summary of Questionnaire Responses." National Research Council. 2012. The National Weather Service Modernization and Associated Restructuring: A Retrospective Assessment. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13216.
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conferences on science issues and participates in three to five meetings associated with integrating advances in science into an operational setting. Similar benefits appear to be realized at WFO Honolulu (University of Hawaii).

Similarly the three “Near Campus Offices” report fairly successful interactions. WFO Denver/Boulder reports multiple daily interactions ranging from weather briefings to side-by-side work in the forecast operations area, regular interactions such as project and science presentations and participation in seminars and workshops at NCAR, UCAR, CIRES (University of Colorado) and CIRA (Colorado State University) providing strong educational experiences for NWS staff. NWS Albany is engaged in active CSTAR grants, hosts 16 University of Albany interns each year, employs two to three students per year, and benefits from University conference facilities. The WFO Rapid City reports participation in seminars, substitute teaching, a severe weather spotter class by the WCM, collaborative research meetings, and the SOO serving on thesis and dissertation committees.

Three of the four “Same City” offices in Pennsylvania (Middle Atlantic RFC, WFO Reno, and WFO State College) report extensive student engagement (some leading to careers with the NWS) that provides “hydrologic familiarization training” to meteorology students, including some teaching. WFO San Francisco reports limited interactions. WFO Seattle benefitted from and contributed to the collaboration with University of Washington atmospheric scientists on the science of weather forecasting. This led to improvements in the understanding of the local weather of the Pacific Northwest. University of Washington atmospheric scientists did a lot to improve weather observations locally and WFO Seattle benefitted from this.

How Colocation Impacts NWS Functions: Co-location appears to benefit NWS functions at most of the offices, through (1) improved precipitation forecasts during some heavy rainfall events; (2) feedback from faculty; (3) student involvement in operational forecasting and data collection; (4) shared research projects (resulting in more rapid integration of science findings into NWS operations thereby improving forecasts and warnings); (5) access to unique datasets (imagery and high-resolution/ensemble model runs) that would not otherwise be available; (6) access to robust Internet connections; (7) being able to identify top students for recruitment; and (8) continuing education of NWS employees. However the latter suffers from inadequate funding support. Outreach is also improved by being able to take advantage of university outreach programs and career fairs. In the case of WFO Honolulu, the collaboration results in Hawaii-specific research on issues that would not be studied without University participation and resources.

Again, the most extensive benefits appear to be at WFO Albany, WFO Denver/Boulder, WFO Raleigh, and WFO Tucson, these being the ones reporting the most active and extensive interactions. In fact, WFO Denver/Boulder reports that one academic actually works a forecast shift once a month under the supervision of a lead forecaster and often joins the discussion of the forecast on other days. In another vein, Raleigh reports being able to take advantage of the NCSU recycling program to properly dispose of an estimated one-half ton of recycled materials.

How Colocation Impacts University Functions: Colocation appears to benefit University functions at most of the locations, through (1) guest lectures and/or teaching provided by NWS staff; (2) participation in collaborative research opportunities and grant proposals—both directly and through letters of support; (3) participation on student thesis committees; (4) participation in (and providing data and projects for) student term projects; (5) easier student/faculty access to radar/precipitation products; (6) internships, career experiences, and employment opportunities provided to students; (7) input provided regarding faculty hires; and (8) ability of University to tout the nearby NWS forecasting facilities and internship opportunities to help them recruit and retain top students. Conversely, it appears that numerous students at collocated Universities take advantage of NWS career opportunities.

Again, WFO Raleigh reports very extensive benefits from the close partnership including sharing of data and building of critical datasets used by the North Carolina State Climate office (also collocated). WFO

Suggested Citation:"Appendix D: National Weather Service Offices Collocated with Academic Institutions: Summary of Questionnaire Responses." National Research Council. 2012. The National Weather Service Modernization and Associated Restructuring: A Retrospective Assessment. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13216.
×

Tucson reports that colocation brings expertise in applying research in an operational setting to the university. WFO Rapid City reports an interesting student volunteer program that is run as a course for credit. In an interesting arrangement, rent monies paid by WFO Honolulu to the University of Hawaii are used to support a full time Graduate Research Assistant, two summer teaching assistants, six undergraduate student assistants and some operational costs.

Other Benefits of Colocation: In general, colocation offers excellent working facilities with good security, an easy commute, a nice campus atmosphere, and an unparalleled opportunity for the NWS staff to interact with the academic community. In many cases such colocation provided early access to advanced Internet connectivity, this being instrumental in the development of operational research programs. WFO Rapid City reports that the interaction helps keep the NWS staff from becoming too internally focused. WFO Fairbanks reports that colocation enhances outreach and facilitates collaborations that would otherwise be difficult to accomplish. Further, students get unique access to the forecast office and staff, and are often able to gain insights into operational forecast decision making that are not easily taught in the classroom. Active discussion/debate between forecasters and faculty during significant weather events (such as tropical cyclones) benefits both sides. WFO Denver/Boulder reports that the ability of the WFO to provide input at early stages in the research-to-operations process helps to ensure a better product for the National Weather Service and the weather enterprise at large. WFO Raleigh reports that recruits note that the benefits of collaborative research, professional development, educational opportunities, and/or increased activity or energy are important reasons for their interest in the office.

Challenges/Difficulties Reported with Respect to Colocation: While challenges with respect to colocation differ from site-to-site, one common theme is the lack of sufficient funding to support the activities that benefit from colocation. In almost every case, more benefits would likely accrue if more moneys and/or FTEs could be devoted to university collaborative activities. WFO Rapid City would like to dedicate more of an FTE to collaboration. The Middle Atlantic RFC would like to offer paid student internships on a regular basis and provide more opportunities for Middle Atlantic RFC staff to take course work at Pennsylvania State University.

In a different vein, there can be difficulties related to the nature of the facilities. For example, the experience of WFO Honolulu indicates that colocation can raise difficulties with regards to access to staff and visitor parking. This can cause security issues for shift workers. Meanwhile WFO Raleigh points out that in a facility directly-owned by NWS, the office is more able to solve facilities-related problems on its own or through providers of its choosing. In a facility leased from a campus, facilities issues must usually be directed to campus facilities personnel with more complex procedures to be followed (work orders, facilities modification form completion and approvals, etc.) to get work accomplished. Sometimes, apparently very simple work needs to be completed by University personnel at a cost, due to the need to comply with state law and liability issues. On the other hand, when colocation is not directly on campus, the lack of close proximity poses a real drawback because it does not allow for the kind of valuable informal gatherings that are critical to true interaction.

A unique challenge appears to exist in regard to the colocation of the NHC at Florida International University. In this case, the basic problem seems to be that the University foci do not include ones that are directly related to what NHC or NWS does, so collaboration has been difficult. This may point to the need for more careful attention when pairing NWS offices with Universities. The colocation of WFO San Francisco with the Naval Postgraduate School has also been less than optimal. Interaction between the WFO and the University has been minimal, and the location is very inconvenient. Most constituents and partners of WFO San Francisco are now a one to three hour drive away. The WFO reports losing interaction with the San Francisco media market since moving to Monterey.

Suggested Citation:"Appendix D: National Weather Service Offices Collocated with Academic Institutions: Summary of Questionnaire Responses." National Research Council. 2012. The National Weather Service Modernization and Associated Restructuring: A Retrospective Assessment. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13216.
×

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Suggested Citation:"Appendix D: National Weather Service Offices Collocated with Academic Institutions: Summary of Questionnaire Responses." National Research Council. 2012. The National Weather Service Modernization and Associated Restructuring: A Retrospective Assessment. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13216.
×
Page 95
Suggested Citation:"Appendix D: National Weather Service Offices Collocated with Academic Institutions: Summary of Questionnaire Responses." National Research Council. 2012. The National Weather Service Modernization and Associated Restructuring: A Retrospective Assessment. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13216.
×
Page 96
Suggested Citation:"Appendix D: National Weather Service Offices Collocated with Academic Institutions: Summary of Questionnaire Responses." National Research Council. 2012. The National Weather Service Modernization and Associated Restructuring: A Retrospective Assessment. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13216.
×
Page 97
Suggested Citation:"Appendix D: National Weather Service Offices Collocated with Academic Institutions: Summary of Questionnaire Responses." National Research Council. 2012. The National Weather Service Modernization and Associated Restructuring: A Retrospective Assessment. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13216.
×
Page 98
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The Modernization and Associated Restructuring (MAR) of the National Weather Service (NWS) was a large and complex re-engineering of a federal agency. The process lasted a decade and cost an estimated $4.5 billion. The result was greater integration of science into weather service activities and improved outreach and coordination with users of weather information. The MAR created a new, modernized NWS, and, significantly, it created a framework that will allow the NWS to keep up with technological changes in a more evolutionary manner.

The MAR was both necessary and generally well executed. However, it required revolutionary, often difficult, changes. The procurement of large, complex technical systems presented challenges in and of itself. The MAR also affected the career paths and personal lives of a large portion of the field office workforce. The MAR created a new, modernized NWS, and, significantly, it created a framework that will allow the NWS to keep up with technological changes in a more evolutionary manner.

The National Weather Service Modernization and Associated Restructuring presents the first comprehensive assessment of the execution of the MAR and its impact on the provision of weather services in the United States. This report provides an assessment that addresses the past modernization as well as lessons learned to support future improvements to NWS capabilities.

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