Functional and structural agility is important for the NWS. Agility enables efficient response to the evolving technological, economic, and policy environment so that the NWS can better meet user needs. Although the MAR improved NWS agility, further evolution has been limited and there is substantial room for improvement. A more flexible staffing structure does not need to be viewed as a threat to staff or the National Weather Service Employees Organization (NWSEO). Given the substantial increase in skill and responsibility envisioned in the Weather-Ready Nation Roadmap (NWS, 2012), it follows that the NWS might well explore ways to better instill agility in its workforce. In the future, the workforce will need an increased capability to interact with third-party providers of weather information with the goal of raising general weather awareness and improving the communication of specific weather threats.
The broad vision of the Weather-Ready Nation paradigm means that a thorough and objective look at the structure of the NWS is appropriate. This chapter presents ways the NWS, through an examination of the scientific and technical aspects of its structure and through workforce training, might increase its agility to face the challenges of the future. In 2012, Congress requested an additional study to examine NWS operations.1 This chapter discusses possible realignment of NWS offices in more detail than in Chapter 1, but the Committee did not have the charge or the expertise to provide a recommendation about restructuring. Rather, several possibilities are outlined, realizing that the follow-on study requested by Congress may come up with different possibilities. This chapter provides details and sub-recommendations in support of Recommendation II. Recommendation II and its sub-recommendations are intended to inform the follow-on operations study.
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
1 “NOAA shall enter into a contract with an independent organization with experience in assessing Federal agencies for the purposes of evaluating efficiencies that can be made to NWS operations. This review shall include consultations with emergency managers and other user groups as well as NWS employees. Any recommended efficiencies should not result in any degradation of service to the communities served by local forecast offices and River Forecast Centers, nor should such recommendations place the safety of the public at greater risk. This review shall not be undertaken until the National Academy of Sciences completes its review of the NWS modernization, which will include recommendations on the NWS workforce and composition and how NWS can improve current partnerships with Federal and non-Federal partners and incorporate new technologies for improved services. The findings and recommendations of the National Academy of Sciences review should inform this new independent assessment” (U.S. Congress, 2012).
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).
The NWS field office structure established during the MAR was designed to provide more nearly uniform coverage of service across the contiguous United States. In the broad sense, that goal has been accomplished reasonably well. Uniform service does not necessarily require uniform geographical office coverage. It does require, as much as is scientifically and technically possible, uniformity of data and information as input to and verification (for future improvement) of forecast services. For example, the spatial resolution of the NEXRAD radar beam degrades linearly with increasing distance, and the height above the ground covered by the lowest scan increases at an even faster rate. For information (other than remotely sensed data) about the situation in the more distant areas, the forecasters rely on data from ASOS-type automated sensors and reports communicated from persons in the area. Under those conditions the actual distance of the forecaster from the area being served becomes immaterial.
The NEXRAD radars are situated away from major population centers to avoid such things as beam occultation by tall buildings and the copious urban radio frequency interference (RFI) environment. At the time the MAR was planned, the costs of wideband communications dictated that the WFOs should be located at or near the NEXRAD sites. In some cases, this meant moving away from the previous Weather Service Forecast Office (WSFO) location within such a population center, with concomitant diminishing of the ease of communicating with emergency managers and other key responders in that center.
The burgeoning capability now available for low-cost wideband communications relaxes the constraint for proximate location of a WFO and NEXRAD. That makes it possible to consider some further realignment of the WFO structure. For example, in view of the increasing importance of linkages to, and communication with, key segments of local populations, it might be advantageous to relocate some WFOs to sites more convenient to the major centers being served. In doing so, provision would be needed to avoid single-point-of-failure configurations such as that which impacted the Huntsville area during the April 2011 tornado event (NWS, 2011a). Other potential benefits of office relocation include the opportunity to locate offices in hardened facilities2 and to pay rent to avoid capital costs associated with maintenance.
Furthermore, regionalization of some functions might enhance the overall NWS capability to provide critically needed services to its customers. This regionalization could take any one of a myriad of different possible forms and need not be established in the same way across the entire country. Although not endorsing any particular strategy, the Committee has identified some plausible courses of action regarding the future functions and related structure of the NWS. These include business as usual, optimized collocation, and regionalization of selected NWS functions.
Business as Usual
The current post-MAR structure of the NWS could be maintained going forward. The most obvious advantage, of course, is continuity. The 122 WFOs could keep their slate of responsibilities covering many fronts. Little or no immediate cost would be involved.
However, the Weather-Ready Nation Roadmap as set forth by the NWS expects the local staff at each office to expand their skill set, duties, and responsibilities well beyond basic weather forecasting and warning functions (NWS, 2012). It will be challenging for forecasters and related staff to take on such varied tasks, with or without the help of the newly created emergency response specialists (ERSs) that are dispatched to areas where high-impact weather events are occurring or expected.
As it stands now, staffing at the WFOs generally maintains two meteorologists on duty for each shift. Out of the 16 man-hours, 4 to 8 hours a day are invested in generating the public or “zone” forecasts. This includes time for data and model analysis and interpretation, ingesting and modifying gridded data
2 A “hardened facility” is one that can withstand natural or man-made disasters, including acts of terrorism.
into workstations, running the appropriate programs to produce the forecasts, and post-editing forecasts before they are issued. One forecaster is generally responsible for this process. A second forecaster is responsible for aviation, fire, and other short-term products (Molleda, R., NWS Miami WFO, personal communication to member of the Committee).
Keeping in mind that—as reported in this Committee’s first report—the WFOs are “staffed for fair weather” (NRC, 2012a), any severe weather or flood threats require careful planning by local management to ensure that there is enough staff to adequately issue life-saving advisories and warnings without compromising the issuance of the routine forecast products. If a weather event “blows up” beyond expectations or occurs unexpectedly, the WFO meteorologists on shift can end up being spread too thin (Proenza, 2011). Maintaining the current functional structure of the NWS will require continued vigilance to avoid these situations. Because there is a need for field office meteorologists to invest appropriate time in analyzing local weather patterns, there needs to be flexibility in the system to enable other resources, either in the same or other offices to assist in these tasks. This will be needed to address the increasingly complex impact-weather support tasks required under Weather-Ready Nation.
The post-MAR locations of WFOs are largely based on proximity to their respective NEXRAD radar. This has led to some forecast offices not being optimally located within their community. Instead of being located in a population center close to key partners such as broadcast media and emergency managers, WFOs are often located outside major population centers.
Under this scenario, the NWS could reconsider the location of its WFOs. For example, many WFOs could simply be moved closer to the primary community within their area of responsibility. Depending on the community, new locations could be chosen for their proximity to broadcast media markets or emergency management facilities. Such a restructuring would also allow the NWS to achieve the benefits of collocation. The Committee’s first report (NRC, 2012a) discussed the advantages of collocating a WFO within university or research facilities, and such collocation could aid in R2O/O2R. Other options for collocation include local emergency management facilities (e.g., the Houston/Galveston WFO) or other key partners. In addition to collocation of WFOs, other parts of the NWS could benefit from collocation. For example, NOAA could consider collocating relevant ESRL research units with NCEP in the National Center for Weather and Climate Prediction to improve the transition of R2O in numerical weather prediction.
Regionalization of Selected NWS Functions
Under the recently proposed Weather-Ready Nation paradigm, the NWS expects its professional staff at both the local and the regional level to be able to provide critical decision support before, during, and after a wide variety of potential weather and weather-related high-impact events (NWS, 2012). Although traditionally the emergency management community and local broadcast media outlets have been the only direct beneficiaries of this office-to-office linkage or professional-to-professional contact, now the spectrum of potential partners or users of this critically important hydrometeorological support has widened. The list of field office staff duties—ranging from the lead forecasters to the supporting hydrometeorological technicians—now includes many tasks that were not considered part of the workday prior to Weather-Ready Nation (NWS, 2012). This is particularly true in times of impending severe weather.
Several NWS Service Assessments have described how it is often only through careful planning by local managers and the assigning of overtime shifts that the NWS can provide adequate life- and property-saving weather-warning services to their area of responsibility (NRC, 2012a). As such, unexpected but potentially dangerous weather events can suddenly arise and overwhelm the staff on duty. In addition, the skill set of the meteorologists, hydrologists, management, and supporting staff has had to expand. Incremental and continual training is required so that staff learns new techniques or augments its knowledge and skills.
A significant percentage of the man-hours on each work shift at the NWS field offices is spent by staff studying observational and remote sensing data, analyzing the synoptic weather scenario, and comparing NWP models from varied sources, all in an effort to come up
with a forecast for the local area of responsibility. While in the past this forecasting task could arguably only be completed in situ, rapid technological changes—not the least of which is the expanding utility of the internet—allow for meteorologists to prepare forecasts for locations hundreds or thousands of miles away. Regardless of where a forecast is written, it is generally or greatly based on the output from NWP models. Model output serves as a basis for nearly all weather forecasts accessed by the public over the NWS web pages. As part of the forecast process, the meteorologists at the field offices use the AWIPS workstations to view a map of their area of responsibility with forecasted values derived directly from NWP output. The forecaster may or may not adjust the forecast based on his or her expertise and experience. The final product—gridded forecast data—then serves as the basis from which the public can retrieve a forecast by choosing a zip code, city name, or point on a map. Local knowledge of phenomena, terrain, and infrastructure is an important factor in forecasting, and it needs to be accounted for in any potential regionalization of functions.
An in-depth statistical analysis of the relative comparison of the local product to the NWP-produced guidance will be necessary before the NWS considers moving some or all of this public forecasting task to regional centers, freeing up the meteorologists (up to 8 man-hours a day) at the field offices to be able to focus on high-impact weather event warning, coordination, communication, and enhanced support for its core partners, the additional responsibilities proposed by the Weather-Ready Nation Roadmap (NWS, 2012). The responsibility for hazardous weather outlooks, advisories, and warnings would still reside at the local offices (as deployed today to coincide with NEXRAD Doppler radar coverage) in coordination with forecasters at the regional forecast centers. Field office meteorologists would still be responsible for aviation and marine weather forecasts. In evaluating its function and structure, the NWS will need to consider how much involvement in day-to-day fair weather forecasting is necessary to fulfill its mission to protect life and property during severe weather. Such a consideration would include a statistical analysis of the added value of the human element in day-to-day fair weather forecasting, as well as the value of experience in such forecasting in improving severe weather forecast skill.
The most important benefit from the regionalization of the public weather forecast task is to diminish the chances of the local staff being overwhelmed during severe weather outbreaks. The extra time at the local offices can be invested in the increasingly important role of coordinating and communicating impact-weather decision support. More time would also be available for training. Keeping in mind Lesson 4 from the Committee’s first report, the NWS would need to engage the members of its workforce whose career would be affected by any change in the NWS structure and to consider the financial and social effects of relocation on personnel.
Meanwhile, the public’s access to a quality forecast cannot be compromised. While there may be local weather pattern nuances for each city or county, it is reasonable to think that a team of forecasters with the tools that the NWS provides, including increased NWP accuracy and associated statistical guidance, would easily be able to produce a forecast that is just as accurate as one produced locally. This is already common practice in the private sector, which is often under pressure to produce a very exact and highly tailored forecast based on clients’ requests.
The reader is reminded that these three possible modes of office realignment are advanced purely for illustrative purposes, and the Committee does not endorse any one of them. Indeed there may be other appropriate forms of restructuring.
River Forecast Center Workflow
In addition to examining its overall structure, the NWS might also do well to examine the workflow at its RFCs. As identified in this Committee’s first report, one of the core services NWS hydrologists provide is the quality control and integration of critical hydrometeorological data (NRC, 2012a). RFC staff often spends an inordinate amount of time performing manual, subjective quality control of hydrometeorological data and excessive time in developing and populating relational databases to attribute such data prior to forecast activities. Although this activity can have a beneficial impact on hydrologic forecasts in some areas, it implies that major workflow issues center around the development of quantitative precipitation estimate (QPE) and quantitative precipitation fore-
cast (QPF) products for use in streamflow forecasting activities, thus limiting time for other necessary activities. Poorly maintained precipitation and streamflow measurement stations, loss of stations, out-of-date measurement technology, and poor or untimely communication of station data all serve to increase forecast uncertainty and consume valuable RFC hydrologist labor time to either reject problem data or render such observations useful. Frequently, suspect observations are manually adjusted or “tuned” to achieve desired streamflow model results. While this approach offers some flexibility in forecasting efforts, it presents logical complexities in model performance assessment and potentially limits opportunities for sustained improvement in model prediction skill.
Furthermore, continued investment of labor to tedious and somewhat subjective quality control and attribution efforts reduces the amount of time service hydrologists can spend on forecast innovation and forecast product development efforts. More accurate, more reliable, more cost-effective technology exists for collecting and quality-controlling hydrometeorological observations but will require capital investment and training to implement as was noted in Chapter 2. As such, elements of NWS hydrologist workflow are intimately intertwined with NWS surface observing network deficiencies and these issues need to be resolved in tandem.
Generally, NWS hydrologic forecasters are characterized as being extensively “in-the-forecast-loop,” (i.e., in-the-loop), meaning that numerous hands-on, subjective, often time-consuming tasks are required in order to generate basic forecast products. As discussed above, this is particularly true for data quality control and attribution tasks, but it is also true for other forecast workflows, including hydrologic prediction model state and parameter adjustment, database querying, and model execution. The problem is that many of the same issues could be addressed through the adoption of more objective, automated data assimilation and ensemble generation techniques that have been developed and validated in the hydrologic research community, including OHD, over the past 20 years. Furthermore, copious manual, subjective manipulation of forecasting workflows likely results in excessive forecaster-to-forecaster forecast quality variance either within or between RFCs. Placing the hydrologic forecaster “over-the-loop,” as opposed to “in-the-loop,” would shift forecaster duties to general forecast job management, model data assimilation, uncertainty quantification, forecast interpretation, product development, and forecast communication. In essence, time saved from laborious subjective data quality control and attribution tasks needs to be reallocated to continual quantitative, objective system assessment, forecast production, and communication and model R&D.
Learning from the Past
Since the April 1957 tornadoes in Dallas, Texas, the NWS has been conducting internal evaluation of its performance after significant hydrometeorological, oceanographic, or geological events that result in fatalities. The current NWS Service Assessment guidelines allow for initiation of a team of reviewers when one or more of the following criteria are met: “Major economic impact on a large area or population, multiple fatalities or numerous serious injuries, extensive national public interest or media coverage, or an unusual level of attention to NWS performance.” In the 55 years since the first National Disaster Survey Report, the NWS has authored almost 150 assessments across tornado, hurricane, flood, winter storm, wildfire, and tsunami events. In each instance, the assessment is led by an internal NWS team working with other NWS employees and an occasional external scientist working as a subject matter content consultant. A thorough review of these documents and the recommendations made in them suggests that the NWS has been lax in implementing changes or unable for a variety of reasons to respond to changes that have been recommended throughout the years. In one specific example, recommendations directed at improving the communication of warnings to stakeholders (i.e., emergency managers) have been repeated in recommendations in Service Assessments for the past four decades. Increased attention and an effective management chain for implementing the recommendations and monitoring the agency’s performance in responding to these Service Assessments would lead to greater agility within the NWS.
To better understand and improve the performance of forecasts and warnings, assessments of significant false alarm events, those that result in substantial public and emergency management action, also need to be
carried out. The current system of assessments, which focuses only on performance after significant events, may have created a perverse incentive to over-forecast events, leading to a large and increasing number of false alarms. Indeed, for flash floods the false alarm ratio has doubled over the past ten years, while for tornadoes the false alarm ratio has failed to decline since 1985, staying constant at around 80 percent (NRC, 2012a). False alarms may result in a decrease in confidence in official warning sources (Dow and Cutter, 1998), although the likelihood of people responding to a warning is less likely to be reduced if the reasons for the false alarm are understood and explained (Atwood and Major, 1998; Sorensen, 2000).
For a better understanding of fatalities during hazardous weather events, assessments need to go beyond forecasts and warnings to also include sirens and other alerts and ultimately address decisions made by the public during warning situations. Many elements are beyond the direct control of the NWS. For example, emergency managers, broadcast media, and newer social media subscription services all create and enhance information that eventually reaches the public during a hazardous hydrometeorological, oceanographic, or geological event. Assessing the performance in the chain of events through all these elements requires a broader view of performance assessment. Composing assessment teams with memberships that include additional stakeholders beyond NOAA would bring a broader set of expertise and perspective to these reports. This, in turn, would spread understanding and insights to the wider enterprise. Moreover, having an independent entity conduct these evaluations could help to maintain the broad perspective and participation.
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.
Any organization that possesses a significant service component as part of its core mission is intimately dependent on the capabilities and continued training of its workforce. This fact is particularly relevant for scientific and technical enterprises such as the NWS. A series of major workforce evolutions were undertaken as part of the MAR, and this Committee found that the process of evolving the workforce was highly successful by many measures (NRC, 2012a). To support the recommendations in this report and the objectives laid out in the Weather-Ready Nation Roadmap (NWS, 2012) the workforce will again require a significant upgrade in skills and training.
The proposed Weather-Ready Nation paradigm includes a host of new skills that will be required for proper execution of new forecaster duties, particularly with regard to interactions with key stakeholders, decision makers, and third-party service providers. The proposed emphasis in improving core capabilities of the NWS, as articulated in Chapter 2, will also place new demands on NWS staff at function levels ranging from the WFOs to the national centers and on to management. For example, there will be a growing need for scientists with multidisciplinary expertise at the national centers as environmental models are coupled and advanced.
Based on the objectives laid out in the Weather-Ready Nation Roadmap (NWS, 2012) and in other sections of this report, it is evident that skill requirements for NWS staff will accelerate in both breadth and depth of subject matter. The type and volume of new foundational datasets to be created by the NWS of the future will quickly overwhelm staff with only basic or “classical” meteorological training. This is particularly true with respect to the interpretation and use of probabilistic data assimilation and prediction datasets, but it also applies to basic observational data that are created
from new observing platforms such as polarimetric and phased-array radar or hyper-spectral satellite imagery. The forecaster of the future will need to increasingly rely upon, but still understand, automated and objectively created data and forecast products and their error estimates and will need to largely disengage from manual, rote subjective manipulation. The forecaster will increasingly work to integrate and interpret foundational datasets in the execution of essential functions such as the issuance of watches, warnings, advisories, and guidance. Not only will the depth of knowledge required extend beyond traditional meteorological training, the breadth of skill sets required will as well. These subject matters include but are not solely exclusive to meteorology, hydrology, information technology (IT), and risk management.
The Committee notes that the Weather-Ready Nation Roadmap proposes to expand workforce skills primarily by selective retraining (NWS, 2012). The Committee finds that the required depth and breadth of new skills can only partially be obtained by retraining, and forecasters and other personnel with new skills will need to be hired. It is possible that a restructuring along the lines of the options discussed earlier in this chapter could open up positions for new hiring. When approaching new hiring, the NWS would be wise to consider ways in which multidisciplinary teams could achieve the required breadth of skills and expertise set out in the Weather-Ready Nation Roadmap. This would allow individuals on the team to possess the necessary depth of skills in their respective disciplines.
In many ways, staff at the WFO, regional center, and NCEP laboratory has already begun transitions, but it is apparent to the Committee that the pace of scientific and technological change is outpacing the evolution of the workforce. As such, the following recommendations on accelerating the breadth and depth of the workforce are offered.
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.
Basic educational degree requirements are necessary but insufficient for building a highly efficient and agile workforce that can meet the requirements put forth in the Weather-Ready Nation Roadmap. The skill sets that will be required to accelerate foundational dataset creation as well as their effective interpretation and use at the forecast office/center level frequently exceed the basic curricula requirements of existing undergraduate programs. Many topical areas require advanced study either in graduate programs or in continuing education training modules. This is not only for meteorological disciplines but also for non-meteorological disciplines in which forecasters of the future will be required to work.
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.
As discussed in Chapter 2, operationally related research is a key aspect of NWS core capabilities. A highly agile and efficient workforce requires the capability to integrate proven research findings into operations (R2O) and translate operational experience into tractable research questions and needs (O2R). Fostering this capability is difficult because it requires cultural flexibility in staff to function in both operational and
research environments, and it requires staff to be literate and up to date on research issues. Similarly, it requires research entities—at national centers, in academia, or in other enterprise partners—to be literate regarding operational protocols and aware of operational demands. Such capabilities presently exist in some parts of the NWS, but those attributes are not widely distributed throughout all centers and all offices and therefore inhibit R2O and O2R activities. In addition, more generally, this reduces the overall agility of the NWS. Existing capabilities for external research collaboration need to be extended and include designated forecast staff in the WFOs and at NCEP.
The breadth and rapid acceleration of weather, water, and climate enterprise activities is resulting in the development of new weather- and water-related products and services. Although many of these products and services are developed within the NWS, many are not. At times many of these products and services may be able to contribute significant benefit to NWS services and, equivalently, many NWS products and services may be able to significantly enhance partner activities. To optimize the generation and flow of information throughout the entire enterprise, the NWS will need to develop a culture of collaboration and, where appropriate, leveraging. The Committee recognizes the complexity of this issue; thus, broader interactions between the NWS and the entire enterprise are discussed in Chapter 4.
This Committee’s first report recognized that effective leadership can play an instrumental role in motivating and affecting change in the workforce (NRC, 2012a). However, the process for instituting change cannot only be top-down. Open and functional communication mechanisms are required to facilitate constructive dialogue as well as the bottom-up communication of needs and opportunities.
Hydrologic Workforce Training
An ongoing, challenging legacy of the MAR is that the qualifications for hydrologist positions were not updated to require degreed hydrologists. Negative consequences of this staffing challenge include limitations in the capability of RFCs to calibrate and improve their hydrologic models, and delays in integrating new observational or analytical technologies into the hydrologic forecasting workflow or to rapidly adopting new hydrologic modeling techniques such as ensemble prediction and data assimilation. This issue was noted in a mid-MAR review of hydrometeorologic operations (NRC, 1996) and remains an issue today. The staffing profile for hydrologists is imbalanced; of 600 hydrologist positions, only about 200 are degreed hydrologists, and the limited opportunities for career advancement of hydrologists create difficulty in recruiting new employees (Carter, 2011).
The lack of capacity to efficiently experiment with and innovate science-based hydrologic forecasting techniques, coupled with an overly regimented workflow that emphasizes hands-on, subjective processing of foundational data, suggests that NWS hydrologic prediction technology is potentially becoming out of date and, perhaps most importantly, does not possess an immediate capability to evolve.
Calibration of NWS-hydrology forecast models remains a fundamental issue in NWS hydrologic prediction services. Presently, most of these activities are largely contracted out to a long-standing private consulting firm. This is not to say that the procedures used are deficient or suboptimal from a model calibration perspective and the NWS-developed guidelines for how this work is to be executed. The trade-off is that RFC staff, particularly new staff, has fewer opportunities to develop deep expertise on model implementation, calibration, or model assessment activities. In essence, the present arrangement of having staff focus on the tedious data quality control work while contracting out core hydrologic model calibration and assessment activities has the potential to unnecessarily inhibit RFC staff from developing core model assessment and calibration skills and therefore limits its capability to innovate improvements in the modeling systems it uses.
Finally, continuous assessment of service hydrologist skill sets appears to be lacking. It is not clear that the present staff possesses the requisite mastery of modern computational model programming skills (e.g., scientific languages, parallel computing architectures), mastery of the construction and use of new “Earth System Models,” a current understanding of hydrologic data assimilation methodologies, or command of the preparation and interpretation of meaningful ensemble predictions. A fundamental understanding of how current state-of-the-science hydrologic forecast models
are constructed, initialized, and executed is imperative if the forecaster is to assume their position over-the-loop, as recommended earlier in this chapter. For the forecasters to have the opportunities to acquire these skills, there will need to be fundamental changes in the forecast workflow.
Staff training will play an important part in upgrading service hydrologist capacity to implement the necessary changes in prediction technologies. Existing Cooperative Program for Operational Meteorology, Education, and Training (COMET) modules for hydrology are deemed by many to be too narrow and too elementary for the envisioned staff capacity development. While COMET is good for teaching some topical fundamentals, or for some basic cross-training activities for non-subject-matter experts (e.g., teaching hydrology to degreed meteorologists), or for teaching some new standards of practice, the educational needs of service hydrologists today are far deeper. The needs of NWS hydrologists to develop a state-of-the-science evolutionary culture go far beyond those criteria. Consequently, the reeducation of service hydrologist staff, akin to the transition of the meteorological workforce under the MAR, needs to be considered. In the end, RFCs need to be staffed by degreed hydrologists and hydrometeorologists with broad and deep expertise in hydrologic modeling, hydrometeorological processes, and hydrologic data analysis.
The National Weather Service (NWS) service-hydrologist staff requires re-education and continual re-training 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.