During the 1980s and 1990s, the National Weather Service (NWS) undertook a major program called the Modernization and Associated Restructuring (MAR). The MAR was officially completed in 2000. No comprehensive assessment of the execution of the MAR plan, or comparison of the promised benefits of the MAR to its actual impact, had ever been conducted. Therefore, Congress asked the National Academy of Sciences to conduct an end-to-end assessment. That report, The National Weather Service Modernization and Associated Restructuring: A Retrospective Assessment, concluded that the MAR was a success: “weather services have great value to the Nation, and the MAR was well worth the investment” (NRC, 2012a).
TODAY’S KEY CHALLENGES
Now, twelve years after the official completion of the MAR, the challenges faced by the NWS are no less important than those of the pre-MAR era. The three key challenges are
• Keeping Pace with accelerating scientific and technological advancement.
• Meeting Expanding and Evolving User Needs in an increasingly information-centric society.
• Partnering with an Increasingly Capable Enterprise 1 that has grown considerably since the time of the MAR.
THE EVOLVING CONTEXT
These challenges are made more difficult by the external context, two areas of which are of particular importance:
• Budget resources are uncertain and will likely be constrained for the next decade.
• Operational performance standards against which NWS is measured, including those set by international weather service counterparts and private-sector entities, are increasingly high.
Additional important contextual issues include: the rapid, transformative pace of technological change will continue; the number and type of observational data will expand greatly; there will be continued concentration of infrastructure investment and population growth in vulnerable areas; climate change implies the possibility of changing weather patterns; and the international dimensions will continue to evolve.
RESPONDING TO THE CHALLENGES
Meeting the key challenges within the contextual drivers will require NWS to evolve its role and how it operates, making it more agile and effective. This report
1 The “enterprise” includes all entities in the public, private, nonprofit, research, and academic sectors that provide information, services, and infrastructure in the areas of weather, water, and climate. For the purposes of this report, “enterprise” is often used as shorthand to refer to those enterprise elements outside the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that it can draw on in its mission. The non-NOAA portion of the enterprise is now of equal or greater economic size compared to the NOAA portion.
presents three main recommendations for responding to these challenges.
Prioritize Core Capabilities
The NWS needs to prioritize the core capabilities that only the NWS can provide so as to deliver the products and services upon which the public and the entire weather, water, and climate enterprise depend. These core capabilities include creating foundational datasets, performing essential functions such as issuing forecasts, watches, and warnings, and conducting operationally-related research. Because the quality of NWS core capabilities underlies the relationship of trust and reliance among the NWS, the public, and the rest of the enterprise, and consistent with Lessons 1, 2, 3, and 5 from NRC (2012a), the Committee makes the following overarching recommendation.
Recommendation I: Prioritize Core Capabilities
The National Weather Service (NWS) should
1. Evaluate all aspects of its work that contribute to its foundational datasets, with the explicit goal of ensuring that those foundational datasets are of the highest quality and that improvements are driven by user needs and scientific advances. As part of this initial and ongoing evaluation effort, clear quality and performance metrics should be established. Such metrics would address the technical components of NWS operations, as well as the efficiency and effectiveness of the flow of weather information to end users.
2. Ensure that a similarly high priority is given to (a) product generation and dissemination, (b) the brokering and provision of data services, and (c) development and enhancement of analysis tools for maintaining a common operating picture (COP).
3. Engage the entire enterprise to develop and implement a national strategy for a systematic approach to research-to-operations and operations-to-research.
To aid the NWS in implementing Recommendation I, the Committee makes the following supporting recommendations:
Recommendation I.a: Technology Infusion
The National Weather Service (NWS) should continue technology infusion programs that have been effective subsequent to the Modernization and Associated Restructuring. Parallel support from the National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information (NESDIS) is needed to continually upgrade satellite capabilities. Such infusion programs should include both hardware and software development.
Recommendation I.b: Numerical Weather Prediction
The National Weather Service (NWS) global and regional numerical weather prediction systems should be of the highest quality and accuracy, with improvements driven by user needs and scientific advances. To achieve this goal, the NWS should give priority to upgrading its data assimilation system and increasing the resolution of its deterministic and ensemble modeling systems. The product development process can be improved by developing a systematic approach to research-to-operations through collaboration with users and partners in the entire weather, water, and climate enterprise, both in the United States and around the world.
Recommendation I.c: Observational Data Metrics
To increase the capability of its numerical weather prediction systems to keep up with technological advances and prioritize investments in data assimilation and observations systems, the National Weather Service (NWS) should develop and advance software tools to monitor the impact of observations on numerical weather prediction and downstream forecast systems.
Recommendation I.d: Probabilistic Forecasts
The National Weather Service (NWS) should take the lead in a community effort to provide products that effectively communicate forecast uncertainty information. The format for communicating probabilistic forecasts requires careful design using cognitive research. Calibrated probabilistic forecasts would be produced by statistical post-processing of forecast ensembles, and improvement efforts should focus on increasing the resolution and accuracy of the ensemble forecasts.
Recommendation I.e: Hydrologic Prediction Metrics
The National Weather Service (NWS) hydrologic prediction services should coordinate with other enti-
ties in the hydrologic prediction community to continue and expand a set of common, objective model metrics from which operational and experimental models may be inter-compared and continually assessed.
Recommendation I.f: Incremental Upgrades
As an absolutely necessary condition for success, although insufficient by itself, the National Weather Service (NWS) should have an ongoing capability for development and testing of its incremental technical upgrades. This will allow the NWS to advance its capabilities to respond to new scientific and technological possibilities and to enhance its service to the nation.
Evaluate Function and Structure
The current structure of the NWS primarily reflects the functions of the weather, water, and climate enterprise in the 1990s. Technology, including improvements in communications and computer forecast models, has changed much of the rationale for the present organizational structure of the NWS. In view of the directions outlined in the Weather-Ready Nation Roadmap for expanding the role of forecasters and other NWS staff (NWS, 2012), it would be prudent to evaluate the NWS’s organizational and functional structure. Based on these considerations, Lesson 4 from NRC (2012a), and a Congressional request for a new study to examine potential efficiencies in NWS operations, the Committee makes the following overarching recommendation.
Recommendation II: Evaluate Function and Structure
In light of evolving technology, and because the work of the National Weather Service (NWS) has major science and technology components, the NWS should evaluate its function and structure, seeking areas for improvement. Any examination of potential changes in the function and organizational structure of the NWS requires significant technical input and expertise, and should include metrics to evaluate the process of structural evolution. Such an examination would include individual NWS field offices, regional and national headquarters and management, as well as the National Centers and the weather-related parts of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) such as the National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NESDIS) and the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR).
To aid the NWS in implementing Recommendation II, the Committee makes the following supporting recommendations:
Recommendation II.a: Post-Event Evaluations
The National Weather Service (NWS) should broaden the scope of the system for evaluating its forecasts and warnings to include false alarms that result in substantial public and/or emergency management response as well as significant hydrometeorological, oceanographic, or geological events. It should consider whether having an independent entity conduct all post-event evaluations of performance after false alarms and significant events would be more effective. These evaluations should address the full scope of response issues, from forecasts and warnings to communication and public response, and be conducted by an appropriate mix of individuals from within and outside the NWS. They should also include instances of relative success (minimal or no loss of life) to learn valuable lessons from these episodes as well.
Recommendation II.b: Forecast Offices
Because it is impractical to expect each individual at the Weather Forecast Office level to possess all of the requisite skills to capitalize on the quantity and quality of new foundational data being produced, the National Weather Service (NWS) management should consider expanding its vision of team structures and functions within individual offices and between local offices and regional offices and national centers.
Recommendation II.c: Workforce Evolution
To create a workforce that is fully able to utilize improved core capabilities and optimally serve the public, the National Weather Service (NWS) should develop performance metrics-based approaches to assessing staff skill sets to identify areas where enhanced capabilities are needed. The NWS should involve the entire enterprise in working with the academic and research communities to design new curricula to
address pre-employment and during-employment education and training needs. The NWS should also work with the American Meteorological Society to update and expand the credential criteria to reflect the future educational needs of NWS personnel. The National Weather Service Employee Organization should be engaged as early as possible in the development of both performance-based metrics and improved curricula.
Recommendation II.d: Hydrologist Staff
The National Weather Service (NWS) service-hydrologist staff requires reeducation and continual retraining if NWS hydrologic prediction services are to be able to adopt current state-of-the-science prediction methodologies and instill the evolutionary culture required for optimal hydrologic services.
Leverage the Entire Enterprise
The weather, water, and climate enterprise has evolved considerably since the beginning of the MAR in the 1980s. At that time, NWS was viewed as the primary source of all weather, hydrology, and climate information. Today, the private sector and other non-NWS organizations generate and deliver a wide variety of information that complements what is available from NWS.
The Committee views improved NWS-enterprise interaction as a way to enhance the NWS’s capability to accomplish its mission of serving the public. The Committee thinks this is especially important at a time when it is seeking to enhance its service (NWS, 2012). Leveraging the entire enterprise provides one means to further NWS’s mission of serving the public. Regarding the role of the NWS within the broader enterprise, and consistent with Lesson 5 from NRC (2012a), the Committee makes the following overarching recommendation.
Recommendation III: Leverage the Entire Enterprise
The National Weather Service (NWS) should broaden collaboration and cooperation with other parts of the weather, water, and climate enterprise. The greatest national good is achieved when all parts of the enterprise function optimally to serve the public and businesses. This process starts with the quality of core NWS capabilities but is realized through the effectiveness of NWS-enterprise relationships. A well-formulated enterprise strategy will also return direct benefit from the enterprise to the NWS, especially in areas of shared research, technology development, observational data sources, and improved end-user access to NWS-generated information.
To aid the NWS in implementing Recommendation III, the Committee makes the following supporting recommendations:
Recommendation III.a: Secondary Value-Chain
The National Weather Service (NWS) should seek to better understand the functioning of the secondary value-chain, including ways in which it complements the primary value-chain. When appropriate, it should identify new or evolved NWS data and services that can enhance public value delivered through the secondary value-chain, the benefits associated with such services, and any challenges or risks in implementing them. To the greatest extent possible, this should be accomplished through collaborative efforts with corresponding enterprise partners.
Recommendation III.b: Major Systems Procurement
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) as a whole should strengthen its systems engineering and procurement processes for major systems, including ground-based sensor, gauge, and radar networks, satellites and ground processing, and major communications and processing systems so as to achieve more productive and cost-effective interactions with the enterprise partners developing and building such systems.
THE OUTCOME: A NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE SECOND TO NONE
Meeting today’s challenges will require changes over as much as a decade. Fortunately, the MAR established a solid foundation as a starting point. The recommendations presented in this report will help the NWS address these challenges, making it more agile and effective. This will put it on a path to becoming second to none at integrating advances in science and technology into its operations and at meeting user
needs, leading in some areas and keeping pace in others. It will have the highest quality core capabilities among national weather services. It will have a more agile organizational structure and workforce that will allow it to directly or indirectly reach more end users, save more lives, and help more businesses. And it will have leveraged these capabilities through the broader enterprise. This approach will make possible societal benefits beyond what the NWS budget alone allows.