NOAA TAKES 100-YEAR RETROSPECTIVE ON WEATHER FORECASTING TECHNOLOGY WITH "A CENTURY OF WEATHER SERVICES" VIDEO MONTAGE
June 24, 1999 NOAA's National Weather Service has developed "A Century of Weather Services," a two-minute video montage that traces a few of the technological advances made this past century, which have improved the agency's ability to forecast weather, water and climatic events. Included in the video are "B-Roll" shots of historic and modern footage of severe weather situations, old newspaper headlines, forecast technology, including animation, and other video clips. The montage and this tip sheet can assist you when developing stories for the approaching millennium. (Media can order "A Century of Weather Services," by calling Video Transfer, 301-881-0270.) You must download a free copy of RealPlayer G2 in order to see the video.
Weathering The Century's
StormsAiming To Be The "No Surprise" Weather
During the past 100 years, the National Weather Service has taken meteorology from folklore to forecasting and, with the help of the broadcast media, which relay crucial weather information, helped narrow the gap between life and death with its use of breakthrough technology. With an eye toward the new millennium, and with the completion of an ambitious, 10-year modernization effort this month, the NWS is poised to meet new meteorological challenges that lie ahead in understanding weather, water and climate.
The past century has seen a climb in the NWS' average lead times for severe weather warnings, which have helped save lives and property. For example, the average lead time for tornado warnings in 1998 was 11 minutes, which is more than triple the three-minute average lead time 20 years earlier. For flash flood warnings, the average lead time in 1998 was 50.6 minutes, a huge jump from the 7.7 minute average in 1987. And today's three-to-four day forecast is as accurate as the two-day forecast was 15 years ago. The improvements largely can be credited to upgrades in weather satellites, the Doppler radar network and the implementation of the award-winning Advanced Weather Interactive Processing System (AWIPS), a hallmark of the NWS modernization. By 2005, the NWS plans a 15-minute average lead time for tornadoes and a 65-minute lead time for flash floods. (Contact: John Leslie, NWS Public Affairs, 301-713-0622; www.nws.noaa.gov)
Jerry Jarrell, director of NOAA's National Hurricane Center, points to the use of the Geostationary Orbital Environmental Satellites (GOES), advanced computer models, Doppler radar and the high-altitude Gulfstream-IV reconnaissance jet as major reasons for improved hurricane forecasting in recent years. Two years ago, the NWS added another forecasting tool called the Global Positioning System Dropwindsonde, a device released from a reconnaissance aircraft into the core of the hurricane, where it measures the wind, temperature and humidity.
"For the first time, we have an instrument that can survive the turbulence in the eye wall of a hurricane," Jarrell said. "This invention reminds us that the more we learn, the less we know."
The NHC's emphasis in the new millennium will be improving the accuracy of track forecasting and the destructive winds in a hurricane, especially as it crosses the coastline and moves inland. (B-Roll footage includes: satellite imagery and color animation of Hurricanes Mitch, Linda and Hugo; surging waters hitting a coastline. Contact: Frank Lepore, National Hurricane Center, 305-229-4404, www.nhc.noaa.gov)
From Telegraph To The InternetGetting
The Word Out
Today, National Weather Service employees use an array of advanced technology that help develop and issue weather forecasts and warningsfrom the high-speed supercomputer, which handles up to 16 billion calculations per second to help generate long-range forecasts; to the Communications Gateway, which issues and receives around 400,000 weather bulletins each day. The public can access up-to-the minute weather news from NOAA Weather Radio and the Emergency Managers Weather Information Network (EMWIN). The public can also access updated weather information from several of the NWS' 150 different Web sites. The average number of hits each day to the NWS' top three Web sites www.nws.noaa.gov; http://weather.noaa.gov; http://iwin.nws.noaa.gov/is 3.57 million. (B-Roll includes footage of meteorologists using NWR. Contact: John Leslie, NWS Public Affairs, 301-713-0622.)
NOAA Weather RadioDon't
Leave Home Without It
In the future, additional NWR transmitters will continue to expand the nationwide network coverage to more rural areas. The newest radios can be programmed for specific areas and can wake up sleeping residents as dangerous weather approaches. The NWR program also will use computers to broadcast warnings to the public even faster. (B-Roll includes: a forecaster updating NOAA Weather Radio; Barry Reichenbaugh, NWS Public Affairs, 301-713-0622, http://tgsv5.nws.noaa.gov/nwr)
Cooperative Weather Observer
Network and SkywarnVolunteers Making A Difference
Skywarn is a NWS program of trained volunteer severe weather spotters. Skywarn volunteers support their local community and government by providing the NWS with timely and accurate confirmation of severe weather events. Reports from the spotters inform communities how they should respond as when severe weather strikes.(Contact: John Leslie, NWS Public Affairs, 301- 713-0622; www.nws.noaa.gov/er/rah/frame/nws/cpm.html; www.nws.noaa.gov/er/rah/frame/nws/skywarn.html)
Taking The Pulse Of The Skies
The battery-powered radiosonde, about the size of a milk carton, relays the information it gathers to a sensitive ground receiver at a tracking station near the launch site. The balloon's movement also is tracked remotely, giving meteorologists insight on wind speed and direction. (B-Roll includes: Historic still shots of man holding a weather kite, a man in front of a weather plane, modern shots of weather balloon launches. Contact: John Leslie, NWS Public Affairs, 301-713- 0622)
Keeping Tabs On The Climate
NCEP forecasters continue to monitor the current La Niña episode, the climatic opposite of El Niño, which they expect to linger until the end of 1999. (Contact: Susan Harrison, NWS Public Affairs, 301-763-8000, ext. 7007; www.ncep.noaa.gov; www.elnino.noaa.gov)
Breakthroughs In Weather
The centerpiece of the modernization is the Advanced Weather Interactive Processing System, a high-speed computer system that allows forecasters to display and analyze satellite imagery, radar data, automated weather observations and computer-generated numerical forecasts, all in one workstation. This month, AWIPS was recognized by the Computerworld-Smithsonian Award Program for best technology in the area of energy, environment and agriculture.
Though the average lead time
was 11 minutes in 1998, the NWS gave Oklahomans and Kansans a
30-minute lead time before the May 3, 1999, tornado outbreak.
By 2005, the NWS hopes to give Americans an average warning lead
time of 15 minutes for tornadoes and 65 minutes for flash floods.
(Contact: John Leslie,
NWS Public Affairs, 301-713-0622; B-Roll includes: footage of
the old and new version of GOES
satellites, animation loop of GOES depicting U.S. coverage,
footage of storm activity on Doppler radar screens.)
On the mitigation side, the NWS works closely with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the American Red Cross and insurance companies to find ways to better prepare communities in advance of severe weather. The Emergency Managers Weather Information Network system helps FEMA and local emergency managers respond faster to severe weather events by giving them the latest weather warnings in real-time. (Contact: Barry Reichenbaugh, NWS Public Affairs, 301-713-0622.)
The Storm of the Next Century
Unlike the Knickerbocker storm, NWS meteorologists, using improved technology from weather satellites, sophisticated computer models, Doppler radar, and NOAA Weather Radio, helped lessen the death toll with advance warnings and continuous updates. In 1993, the NWS' ability to predict accurate snowfall amounts was 37 percent. In 1997, the accuracy improved to 45 percent. The NWS plans to reach a goal of 75 percent snowfall accuracy by 2005. (B-Roll includes: old footage of winter storm with man pushing old-make vehicle in snow, newspaper headline and article from "The Storm of the Century." Contact: Bob Chartuk, NWS Public Affairs, 516-244- 0166, or Susan Harrison, 301-763-8000, ext. 7007.)
Progress In Forecasting
By 2005, the NWS strives to give Americans a 15-minute average warning lead time for tornadoes, with continued use of AWIPS and other improvements in technology. NWS Director Jack Kelly cautions: "Warnings do no good, if they go unheeded. Citizens must be prepared to act once they get the message." (B-Roll footage includes footage of active tornadoes. Contact: Keli Tarp, NWS Public Affairs, 405-366-0451)
Watching The Waters
Floods kill an average of 130 people each year and cause more than $3.5 billion in damage. The NWS continues to prepare Americans with the release of its Flood Outlook. This outlook, issued each spring and factors the added impact of snowmelt, predicts the likely trouble spots around the nation where flooding may pose a danger. Into the next millennium, the NWS will use technologies such as, the Advance Hydrologic Prediction System, a high-tech computer system that allows meteorologists to prepare long-range river and flood forecasts. This system was just successfully demonstrated in Des Moines, Iowa. (B-Roll includes: rising flood waters, emergency personnel rescuing citizens and stacking sand bags. Contact: Pat Slattery, NWS Central Region Public Affairs, 816-426-7621, ext. 621, http://hsp.nws.noaa.gov/oh/hrl/general/ahps.htm)