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During the 1980's, NOAA leadership has worked to more clearly focus the agency's attention on the highest priority Federal responsibilities in environmental science and services. Agency management was refined with an eye towards simplicity and the efficient management and direction of related programs. For example, the National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service was created to consolidate NOAA's satellite and data management activities. Similarly, NOAA's ocean and coastal resource management activities were combined with mapping, charting and geodetic programs into the National Ocean Service. The old Office of Research and Development has evolved into the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research which now manages major research efforts to support improvements to NOAA's service arms, and fulfill the agency's responsibilities for leadership in science to improve our understanding of the oceanic and atmospheric components of the global earth system. Throughout the 1980's, management and programmatic decisions have all focused on successful fulfillment of NOAA's primary mission and ultimate goal -- the prediction of environmental changes on a wide range of time and space scales in order to protect life and property and provide industry and government decision-makers with a reliable base of scientific information. The following sections summarize some of the highlights of this dynamic agency's recent history.

Weather Services

Since the National Weather Service probably touches the lives of more of our citizens each day than any other element of NOAA, or Commerce for that matter, let's start there. The 1980's have seen NOAA and the Department of Commerce embark on a billion dollar effort to modernize the National Weather Service. The modernization is largely founded on the implementation of three new technologies referred to as NEXRAD, AWIPS and ASOS. These programs will provide tomorrow's forecasters with advanced tools for observing and forecasting small-scale, fast breaking weather events like tornadoes, severe thunderstorms, and flash floods -- weather events which annually claim an average of 60 lives and hundreds of millions of dollars in damage in this country alone.

The weather radar is a valuable instrument for detecting and monitoring the movement and development of severe storms. It is a byproduct of the radar technology developed during the second World War in the 1940's. But the units in today's national radar network are limited in that they cannot routinely detect weather phenomena indicative of tornado development. Nor can they detect accurate rainfall amounts or precise areal coverage of rainfall. Because of their age and limited spare parts, these radar units are difficult to service.

Formal efforts to procure a national next generation radar -- NEXRAD -- system began in fiscal year 1983 with funding for technology validation. The Weather Service hopes to begin deployment of the radar by 1990. It will incorporate technology that is expected to advance tornado warnings from one to two minutes to more than 20 minutes. NEXRAD also will provide valuable precipitation rate and areal information to improve flood and flash-flood warnings and water management forecast services when used with computer models of drainage basins.

A key feature of the NEXRAD radars is the application of the so-called "Doppler Effect," named after the Austrian physicist Johann Christian Doppler who determined that moving objects shift the frequency of sound, light or radio waves that they emit or reflect. An example of a Doppler frequency shift is not real, only apparent, as in the case of a blaring automobile horn that is first high and then drops in pitch as the car approaches and then passes an observer.

In its application to weather radar, the "Doppler Effect" allows the operator to "see" a storm's wind-carried rain that is moving away from or towards the radar. This unprecedented view of winds gives a direct and clear indication of wind rotation and hence tornadoes in their development stage.

Forecasters will gain a new perspective of dangerous storms by viewing them over their entire life cycle with NEXRAD radar units and the higher resolution sensors carried by the new GOES-NEXT satellites. Thus, they will be able to pinpoint the severe weather events more precisely from space, and they will have a better idea of what is going on inside them.

Before 1978, forecasters at National Weather Service field offices communicated with the National centers and each other only via slow-speed teletype and facsimile circuits. Gathered information was prepared in the

forecast offices on clear acetate charts which separately depicted the various components of weather such as barometric pressure, wind, and rainfall. These charts would be overlaid on a light table so the forecasters could visually assimilate the "big picture" upon which to base their forecasts.

Today, the forecasters rely on a computer-based system called Automation of Field Operations Services (AFOS) for communications and data display. AFOS utilizes high-speed computers, databases supported by mini-computers at each field office, and the manipulation of data displayed on screens. This system is outdated, however, and will be obsolete by 1990. It lacks the capability to integrate the large-scale guidance material, supplied by the National Centers, with radar and satellite imagery for the local forecaster's area of responsibility. This limitation of the AFOS system is becoming even more severe as the quantity and quality of the fine-scale data continue to increase and improved methods of processing, displaying and analyzing these data continue to emerge. According to Richard Hallgren, Director of the Weather Service, "a keystone of the modernization effort at the National Weather Service is the Advanced Weather Interactive Processing System for the 1990's, otherwise known as AWIPS-90, which will replace the AFOS system."

AWIPS will provide weather forecasters at field offices and the National Centers with the capability to access, overlay, and interactively process meteorological and hydrological guidance products and data, including Doppler radar and new satellite imagery.

Providing substantial support for the evolution of AWIPS was a NOAA research effort known as the Program for Regional Observing and Forecasting Services (PROFS) which began in 1980/81. The mission of PROFS is to improve operational weather services by testing and transferring advances in science and technology. PROFS, using the results of atmospheric and systems research, develops operationally-feasible forecast technology that incorporates observations, computer processing, and human interaction. PROFS integrates capabilities into specific systems, then tests and evaluates those systems in forecasting exercises. PROFS works closely with the three major operational weather services, NWS, FAA and the U.S. Air Force Air Weather Service. In 1986 PROFS initiated the Denver AWIPS Risk Reduction and Requirements Evaluation (DARRE) project; by designing, installing and operating an advanced interactive forecaster workstation at the Denver Weather Service Forecast Office (at Denver airport), PROFS is providing the National Weather Service with a test-bed for many of the functional capabilities planned for the AWIPS system.




Publication of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), NOAA Central Library.

Last Updated: June 8, 2006 9:24 AM

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