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Computerworld Smithsonian AwardJune 10, 1999 — A high-tech, interactive weather computer and communications system, that is the key supporting element of NOAA's National Weather Service, took top honors June 7 in the Computerworld Smithsonian Awards program's Environment, Energy and Agriculture category. The award program honors organizations using technology in an innovative way to benefit society.

"With deployment of 152 systems wrapping up today, weather prediction has improved, and is helping to save lives, protect property and promote commerce," said Commerce Secretary William M. Daley, who oversees the National Weather Service and its parent agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "Over the next few years, weather, water and climate prediction accuracy is expected to increase significantly because of the weather service's modernized systems, resulting in over $7 billion each year in economic benefits."

The system, known as AWIPS, is the key integrating element in the modernization of the National Weather Service. It provides significant improvements in weather- and flood-related services to protect life and property. AWIPS gives local weather forecasters access to satellite imagery, Doppler radar data, automated weather observations and computer-generated numerical forecasts, all in one workstation. This helps to improve the accuracy and lead time of weather predictions, especially for severe weather, and also helps to enable a reduction in overall staffing at the weather service.

Mary Glackin, director of the AWIPS Program Office, accepted a symbolic golden egg encased in a crystal, on behalf of NOAA and NWS employees during a gala awards banquet held at the historic National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. AWIPS was the only federal award winner, with most of the other nine categories won by private companies.

"By helping our forecasters issue weather warnings and forecasts farther in advance and with a high degree of accuracy, AWIPS provides more time for the public, government agencies and private businesses to react," said National Weather Service Director Jack Kelly.

AWIPS was a critical element in the success of the warning operations at the Norman, Okla., Weather Forecast Office during the widespread tornado outbreak on May 3. The capabilities of AWIPS for rapidly processing and communicating tornado warnings were critical to alerting people in advance of the widespread storms.

All AWIPS sites are interconnected through a high-speed, dedicated intranet to facilitate data exchange. The system consists of commercial off-the-shelf hardware and software, and government-developed weather applications software. Developers are building AWIPS in incremental stages to incorporate continuous user feedback into ongoing development efforts. Further system enhancements due by September 2001 will provide improved support for many NWS functions associated with making and communicating forecasts and warnings, acquiring data and verifying the accuracy of forecasts. AWIPS is being developed and deployed by the National Weather Service, NOAA's Forecast Systems Laboratory in Boulder, Colo., and Litton PRC of McLean, Va.

In the AWIPS era, anyone who has the correct satellite receiving equipment will have access to satellite rebroadcasts of most of the data and graphics products that weather service forecasters access through AWIPS. "We are giving government agencies, universities, private research organizations and business interests access to most of the National Weather Service's data and products through a communications pipeline known as NOAAPort," said Glackin.

A case study of the Advanced Weather Interactive Processing System is now part of the permanent research collection on information technology at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. The AWIPS program was nominated for the Computerworld Smithsonian Award by Robert Finnocchio Jr., member of the Computerworld Smithsonian Chairmen's Committee that nominates all Computerworld award contenders, and president and chief executive officer of Informix Software, a subcontractor for the AWIPS program.

More information about AWIPS is available on the Internet at: