Weather information, specifically forecasts and warnings, has a great impact on the U.S. economy and is critical for the protection of life and property. The National Weather Service (NWS) serves as the nation’s authoritative source of such information, providing routine public, marine, and aviation forecasts, as well as advisories and warnings when conditions warrant. Under its operating model, the NWS provides these services as well as atmospheric and hydrological data free of charge to other agencies, the research community, the private sector, and the public. The NWS also provides seasonal climate forecasts, and its observations are an essential part of the forecast process as well as part of the long-term climate record. As the primary provider of weather data in the United States, it is crucial that NWS operations stay at the forefront of available technologies for observing, forecasting, and understanding the weather.
The 20th century saw an exponential growth in the technological capabilities of weather observations and forecasting. Because of the rapid rate of change, it was difficult for the NWS to keep pace and in the 1980s it became clear that to take advantage of new technologies in the most cost effective manner, and to provide better weather services to the nation, the NWS needed to change dramatically. The concept of a modernized and restructured weather service emerged.
Between 1989 and 2000, the nation invested approximately $4.5 billion to implement the Modernization and Associated Restructuring (MAR) of the NWS. New observational and computational systems were planned and deployed, and the NWS field office structure was redefined around new concepts for forecasting, and service delivery to capitalize on the investments in these new systems. The NWS workforce was restructured around these concepts and substantial investments in training and recruitment developed a more professional workforce with the skills necessary for the modernized NWS.
To modernize its operations, the NWS developed and implemented five major technologies:
• Automated Surface Observing System (ASOS): an automated electronic sensor instrument system to replace manual weather observations at all NWS (and many other) surface observing locations;
• Next Generation Weather Radar (NEXRAD): a network of advanced Doppler radars to measure motions of the atmosphere responsible for severe weather such as tornadoes, detect heavy rainfall and hail, and increase lead times for prediction of severe weather events and flash floods;
• Satellite Upgrades: a new series of geostationary meteorological satellites to provide higher spatial and temporal resolution imagery and data to aid shorter-range forecasts and warnings, and a new series of polar orbiting meteorological satellites to provide improved, all-weather, atmospheric data to assist in longer term forecasting;
• National Centers Advanced Computer Systems: a tenfold increase in computing power to support the National Centers. Along with numerical weather prediction model improvements, this improved national guidance for forecasts and warnings; and
• Advanced Weather Interactive Processing System (AWIPS): a workstation-centric, advanced computer
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Summary W eather information, specifically forecasts observing, forecasting, and service delivery to capitalize and warnings, has a great impact on the on the investments in these new systems. The NWS U.S. economy and is critical for the protec- workforce was restructured around these concepts and tion of life and property. The National Weather Service substantial investments in training and recruitment (NWS) serves as the nation’s authoritative source of developed a more professional workforce with the skills such information, providing routine public, marine, and necessary for the modernized NWS. aviation forecasts, as well as advisories and warnings To modernize its operations, the NWS developed when conditions warrant. Under its operating model, and implemented five major technologies: the NWS provides these services as well as atmospheric • Automated Surface Observing System (ASOS): and hydrological data free of charge to other agencies, the research community, the private sector, and the an automated electronic sensor instrument system to public. The NWS also provides seasonal climate fore- replace manual weather observations at all NWS (and casts, and its observations are an essential part of the many other) surface observing locations; • Next Generation Weather Radar (NEXRAD): forecast process as well as part of the long-term climate record. As the primary provider of weather data in the a network of advanced Doppler radars to measure United States, it is crucial that NWS operations stay motions of the atmosphere responsible for severe at the forefront of available technologies for observing, weather such as tornadoes, detect heavy rainfall and forecasting, and understanding the weather. hail, and increase lead times for prediction of severe The 20th century saw an exponential growth in the weather events and flash floods; • Satellite Upgrades: a new series of geostationary technological capabilities of weather observations and forecasting. Because of the rapid rate of change, it was meteorological satellites to provide higher spatial and difficult for the NWS to keep pace and in the 1980s it temporal resolution imagery and data to aid shorter- became clear that to take advantage of new technolo- range forecasts and warnings, and a new series of polar gies in the most cost effective manner, and to provide orbiting meteorological satellites to provide improved, better weather services to the nation, the NWS needed all-weather, atmospheric data to assist in longer term to change dramatically. The concept of a modernized forecasting; • National Centers Advanced Computer Sys- and restructured weather service emerged. tems: a tenfold increase in computing power to sup- Between 1989 and 2000, the nation invested approximately $4.5 billion to implement the Mod- port the National Centers. Along with numerical ernization and Associated Restructuring (MAR) of weather prediction model improvements, this improved the NWS. New observational and computational sys- national guidance for forecasts and warnings; and • Advanced Weather Interactive Processing Sys- tems were planned and deployed, and the NWS field tem (AWIPS): a workstation-centric, advanced com- office structure was redefined around new concepts for 1
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2 THE NWS MODERNIZATION AND RESTRUCTURING: A RETROSPECTIVE ASSESSMENT puter and communications system to help forecasters outreach and coordination with state and local govern- integrate, visualize, and analyze all sources of weather ment, emergency management, and communities. The data. The system allowed communication between each technological improvements provided forecasters with weather forecast office and distribution of centrally a wealth of new data and observations, allowing them collected data and centrally produced analysis and guid- to provide more accurate and timely forecast and warn- ance products, as well as satellite data and imagery. ing services to the nation. The stated objective of the MAR in the Strategic Plan prepared by the NWS was To take advantage of these modern technologies, the to modernize the NWS through the deployment of NWS restructured their field office organization. Prior proven observational, information processing and to the MAR, the NWS had a two-tiered office struc- communications technologies, and to establish an associated cost effective operational structure. The ture: 52 Weather Service Forecast Offices (WSFOs) modernization and associated restructuring of NWS had a core component of professional meteorologists shall assure that the major advances which have been and 204 Weather Service Offices (WSOs) were staffed made in our ability to observe and understand the at- with observers and meteorological technicians. This mosphere are applied to the practical problems of pro- structure was replaced with a single-tiered system of viding weather and hydrologic services to the Nation. 122 Weather Forecast Offices (WFOs). The intent It is clear that the NWS succeeded in the deployment was for WFO locations to be more evenly distributed of observational, information processing, and commu- across the nation, to provide more uniform provision nications technologies that have improved weather and of weather services and greater interaction with com- hydrologic services. The MAR significantly increased munities, specifically local media and emergency man- the amount of data and information available to field agement. The combination of modernized technology forecasters, the private sector, and the general public. and a reorganized operational structure contributed to The forecast and warning products produced by the improvements in forecasts on time scales of minutes to post-MAR NWS are greater in both quantity and qual- weeks, time scales that were the focus of the MAR. For ity. However, the cost-effectiveness of the operational example, the probabilities of detection and forecast lead structure is difficult to assess quantitatively, because times for both tornadoes and flash floods improved after o f the challenges involved in assessing the value the MAR. However, the false alarm ratios for tornadoes of decreased loss of life and property as a result of and flash floods have remained high. Hurricane track improved forecasts and warnings. forecasts improved after the MAR, whereas hurricane This summary presents the committee’s findings intensity forecasts still need improvement. and lessons about the MAR as a whole, as well as more No comprehensive assessment of the MAR plan detailed findings and lessons about six specific elements and its execution, or comparison of the promised of the MAR: (1) management and planning; (2) mod- benefits of the MAR to its actual impact, has been ernization of technology; (3) restructuring of forecast conducted. Therefore, Congress asked the National offices and staff; (4) national centers; (5) partnerships; Academy of Sciences to conduct an end-to-end assess- and (6) oversight and advisory groups. The evidence ment that addresses the past modernization as well and analysis supporting these findings and lessons are as lessons learned to support future improvements to contained in the main report. NWS capabilities. This report contains Phase I of the committee’s work, a retrospective assessment of the MAR with a focus on lessons learned from the effort FINDINGS AND LESSONS LEARNED to plan, deploy, and oversee the MAR. Phase II will apply the lessons learned from the MAR to develop The committee has two findings and one lesson actionable recommendations for the NWS on how best about the MAR as a whole: to plan, deploy, and oversee future improvements, and will be presented in a later report. • The National Weather Service (NWS) had O verall, the MAR led to a greater integration of been unable to keep up with the pace of technological science into weather service activities and improved advances and had nearly become obsolete by the 1980s.
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3 SUMMARY Therefore the NWS was not utilizing the full potential process needs to start at the beginning of the program, available to provide the best possible meteorological in the agency’s program office. services to the nation. The $4.5 billion national invest- Lesson 2: The budget, schedule, and technological issues ment in the Modernization and Associated Restructur- ing (MAR) was both needed and generally well spent. encountered during execution of the Modernization O verall, the MAR was successful in achieving major and Associated Restructuring of the National Weather improvements for the weather enterprise. Service (NWS) reflected traditional challenges of large • A framework was created and left in place fol- projects: inexperience of the government project-level lowing the Modernization and Associated Restructur- leadership, shifting budget constraints, ambitious tech- ing that allows and encourages the technology and to nology leaps, multiparty stakeholder pressures, cultural some extent the workforce composition and culture of inertia, contractor shortcomings, and oversight burdens. the National Weather Service to continue to evolve. Each represents important lessons for the NWS with regard to future projects of a similar nature: Lesson 1: If a science-based agency like the National Weather Service, which provides critical services to the - Expertise in system design, procurement, and nation, waits until it is close to becoming obsolete, it deployment is essential to successful implementation will require a complex and very expensive program to of any complex technical upgrade. modernize. - Dedicated leaders are crucial for resolving road- blocks and ensuring ultimate project success. - Clearly defined system-level requirements, and MANAGEMENT AND PLANNING competent management of those requirements, are essen- • During the Modernization and Associated tial to any contractual acquisition of a major system. Restructuring (MAR) period from 1989 to 2000, the - Statistical indicators of forecast and warning major components of the MAR were well planned and performance are a major element for gaining and main- completed largely in accordance to that plan. Estab- taining support for implementing new technologies. lished processes were extensive and generally followed. - It is necessary to establish comprehensive per- However, notable budget overruns and substantial formance metrics at the beginning of a process, evaluate schedule delays occurred for nearly all of the project them throughout the process, and reevaluate them after elements. This was due in large part to the MAR the process is complete. aggregating four major technology programs that had been separately initiated during the 1980s. Many of the MODERNIZATION OF TECHNOLOGY MAR’s cost and schedule issues were set in place by decisions that occurred during this pre-MAR period. • The various technological problems that were • Many of the institutional changes (management encountered included lack of preliminary analysis structure, culture, processes, partner relationships) and ensuing design problems, inadequate program i ntroduced to implement the Modernization and management, and poor contractor performance. These Associated Restructuring (MAR) have been retained problems were generally overcome and the major tech- by the National Weather Service (NWS). Most of nology system upgrades were successfully executed. these “institutional byproducts” have been as valuable • The Modernization and Associated Restructur- as the MAR improvements themselves and will help ing (MAR) provided for more uniform radar coverage the NWS to continue to modernize. However, from and surface observations across the United States. viewing more recent projects, implementation of a The Next Generation Weather Radar network and rigorous systems engineering process to facilitate more Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites effective management of the procurement and devel- dramatically improved the quantity and quality of data opment of large, complex systems appears not to have available to forecasters and enhanced the numerical been institutionalized within the National Oceanic and weather prediction capabilities of the National Weather Atmospheric Administration. The systems engineering Service (NWS). Replacing human observers with the
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4 THE NWS MODERNIZATION AND RESTRUCTURING: A RETROSPECTIVE ASSESSMENT Automated Surface Observing System introduced sig- • During the early stages of the Modernization nificant gains, despite possible adverse affects on the and Associated Restructuring, there was insufficient climate record and the loss of some important visual communication between National Weather Service elements of the observation. The Advanced Weather management at the national level and the field office Interactive Processing System (AWIPS) has been a managers and their staff, as well as the employee critical technological advancement that integrates the union. data and information provided by other MAR elements • National Weather Service staff was reduced, but and makes them easily accessible by forecasters. technical capabilities and career paths were substan- • The Probability of Detection for both tornadoes tially upgraded, leading to little or no cost savings from and flash floods improved over the course of the MAR the workforce reorganization. and after the MAR. Likewise the Lead Times of the • The staffing level that resulted from the Mod- warnings increased. However, the False Alarm Ratios ernization and Associated Restructuring allows for (FARs) were not reduced and remain high. at least two people on duty for all shifts, but timely planning and coordination by field office managers Lesson 3: The time scale for implementing major and supervisors are required to be able to increase the change in government systems is very long compared staffing level for times when severe weather threatens to the time scale for major technological change. The life and property. pace of technological progress complicates the planning, • The Science Operations Officer (SOO) position procurement, and deployment of large, complex systems. created as part of the Modernization and Associated While technology is changing so rapidly, in every aspect Restructuring, in principle, allows advancements in of the project where it is feasible, it is crucial to the science community to be more rapidly integrated into operations. Communication and dissemination of - establish clear metrics for evaluating improve- weather information at the local level has been much ment in forecasts and warnings at the beginning of a improved by the restructuring of the forecast offices and major technological upgrade; the creation of the Warning Coordination Meteorolo- - use rapid prototyping and system demonstrations. gist position. An example includes the Program for Regional Observ- Lesson 4: The Modernization and Associated Restruc- ing and Forecasting Service (PROFS) and their Denver AWIPS Risk Reduction and Requirements Evaluation turing (MAR) of the National Weather Service (NWS) (DAR3E) effort, which proved critical to the success of faced initial resistance from NWS employees and, to the Modernization and Associated Restructuring; some extent, the general public. This resistance could - evaluate such prototype systems under a variety of have been lessened by, very early in the planning stages, actual operational situations with multiple classes of users and stakeholders in order to refine the system design; - engaging those whose career and livelihood were - establish the capacity for continual upgrades of to be affected in planning the changes; and complex systems, particularly those involving digital - better engaging a diffuse public, and to some technology (e.g., high performance computing, and extent Congress, regarding the benefits of improved communications); and weather forecasts and warnings as opposed to the - continually assess and apply the lessons of past p erceived cost of losing a forecast office in their systems, whether successful or unsuccessful. community. The restructuring dictated a degree of standardiza- RESTRUCTURING OF FORECAST OFFICES tion between forecast offices, however it has become AND STAFF apparent that this needs to be effectively balanced with • The restructuring of offices and upgrading of the flexibility needed to allow for customization at indi- staff brought more evenly-distributed and uniform vidual offices to respond to local requirements. weather services to the nation. The MAR increased the overall education level
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5 SUMMARY of the workforce and set in place the need for routine and leverage its limited budget. Success of the MAR training to keep the staff on pace with technological depended in part on leadership, initiative, and funding and meteorological advancements in the community. by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Staff development through in-person, hands-on train- and National Weather Service units operating outside ing in a centralized classroom or laboratory of the type the MAR. Though issues remain, partnerships with that occurred during the MAR has great value. Where academia and government research institutions have relevant, online courses or self-directed study can be a increased research-to-operation capabilities, and the useful supplement, but can sacrifice quality of learn- MAR elevated the media and emergency management ing and the connections made with colleagues that are community from a customer to a partner. The relation- essential to the overall operations of the NWS. ship between the NWS and the private sector took longer to improve, but it has generally evolved into a more constructive and productive one. NATIONAL CENTERS Lesson 5: The execution of the Modernization and • The overarching Modernization and Associ- ated Restructuring goal to integrate science-based Associated Restructuring required working with many approaches to weather, climate, and hydrologic predic- partners, which provided cost-sharing and improved tion, and to rapidly assimilate evolving facets of infor- understanding of user needs. However, the relationships mation technology, led to the formation of the National with the partners were not always as well conceived or Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP), which managed as would have been desirable. This could have have become a key part of the National Weather been avoided by involving all known stakeholders (e.g., Service. other agencies, academia and the research community, • Numerical weather forecasts produced by the the private sector, media, and emergency management) NCEP and the associated guidance information and from the outset. The National Weather Service (NWS) products, improved steadily over the course of the operational staff is also a stakeholder, and need to be Modernization and Associated Restructuring. How- involved early in the design and procurement process ever, the performance of some NCEP models, particu- to ensure system functionality and practicality. Engage- larly the Global Forecast System (GFS), continues to ment with stakeholders from both inside and outside lag behind some other national centers, including the the NWS would help the NWS better understand user European Centre for Medium-range Weather Fore- needs and secure ‘buy-in’ to new initiatives. casts (ECMWF). OVERSIGHT AND ADVICE PARTNERSHIPS • Independent oversight and technical guidance • Partnerships between the National Weather helped draw attention to important issues and impedi- Service and other National Oceanic and Atmospheric ments that otherwise may have inhibited the success Administration line offices, other Federal Agencies, of the Modernization and Associated Restructuring state and local governments, academia, the research (MAR). This external oversight provided account - community, and to some extent the private sector ability of the technical, scheduling, and budget metrics through contractor relationships, while not perfect, during the MAR process. especially in the early years, were essential to success- • Expert advice and oversight from outside the ful execution of the Modernization and Associated National Weather Service (NWS), and the receptive- Restructuring. ness of NWS management to such advice, contributed • Improved relationships with other agencies to the success of the Modernization and Associated and external partners have proven to be one of the Restructuring. more important outcomes of the Modernization and Lesson 6: The Modernization and Associated Restruc- Associated Restructuring (MAR). These relationships increase the National Weather Service’s societal impact turing of the National Weather Service (NWS) showed
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6 THE NWS MODERNIZATION AND RESTRUCTURING: A RETROSPECTIVE ASSESSMENT that candid yet non-adversarial advice from outside degrade computation of long-period statistics, created experts and other interested parties was useful in the by changes in instrumentation and observing locations, design and deployment of a large complex system. are still a concern. However, the Modernization and Because NWS management was receptive to such over- Associated Restructuring continues to offer prospects sight and advice, the outside input was effective. for improvement of the overall national climate record over the long term. ADDITIONAL IMPACTS The MAR was a large, complex process that lasted • The Modernization and Associated Restructur- a decade, and cost approximately $4.5 billion. Despite ing (MAR) improved collaboration among hydrologic issues, some more significant than others, in the end and meteorological operations within the National the MAR was an unqualified success. New technolo- Weather Service, and allowed significant expansion of gies deployed during the MAR now provide forecasters hydrologic forecast products and services. However, the with more observations of higher quality. NWS forecast challenges facing the River Forecast Centers were mag- and warning products were dramatically improved, nified because the MAR did not adequately take into in both quality and quantity. NWS now has stronger account the unique requirements of hydrologic data relationships with many of its partners in the weather management, modeling, and partner collaborations. enterprise. Changes in the distribution of field offices • The Automated Surface Observing System have allowed stronger connections with local commu- (ASOS) was not implemented in such a way that the nities. Weather services have great value to the nation, c limate record was preserved. Discontinuities that and the MAR was well worth the investment.