FSL in Review 2000 - 2001

Cover/Title Page

Organizational Chart

Message from
the Director

Office of Administration
and Research

Forecast Research

Facility Division

Demonstration Division

Systems Development

Aviation Division

Modernization Division

International Division


Acronyms and Terms


Contact the Editor
Nita Fullerton

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Will von Dauster
John Osborn

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Modernization Division

Carl S. Bullock, Acting Chief
(Supervisory Meteorologist)


Web Homepage: http://www-md.fsl.noaa.gov/

Carl S. Bullock, Meteorologist, Chief, Risk Reduction Branch, 303-497-7247
Jun-Seok Chung, Visiting Scientist, 303-497-5265
G. Joanne Edwards, Programmer, 303-497-6903
Tracy Hansen, Programmer, 303-497-6569
David Howard, Quality Assurance Specialist, 303-938-2088
Dr. Lynn E. Johnson, Hydrologist/Research Scientist, 303-497-6984
Thomas B. Kent, Programmer, 303-497-7004
Patrice Kucera, Meteorologist, 303-497-6618
Thomas J. LeFebvre, Meteorologist, 303-938-2086
Byung-Hwan Lim, Visiting Scientist, 303-497-5265
Mark A. Mathewson, Meteorologist/Chief, Enhanced Forecast Tools Branch, 303-938-2061
Deborah A. Miller, Systems Analyst III, 303-938-2068
Scott D. O'Donnell, Programmer/Hydrologist, 303-497-6562
Dale R. Perry, Meteorologist/Programmer, 303-497-6050
Robert F. Prentice, Systems Engineer/Leader, Advanced Development Group, 303-938-2071
William F. Roberts, Meteorologist, 303-497-6104
Mike Romberg, Programmer, 303-938-2084
MarySue Schultz, Systems Analyst, 303-497-6499
Vada Shea, Senior Engineer, 303-497-7251
Eric R. Thaler, Meteorologist/Denver WSFO Representative, 303-494-3210
Michael Vrencur, Systems Administrator, 303-497-7526
Carol A. Werner, Secretary Office Automation, 303-497-6157
Randall J.Wood, Systems Administrator, 303-497-3981

(The above roster, current when document is published, includes
government, cooperative agreement, and commercial affiliate staff.)

NOAA Forecast Systems Laboratory Mail Code: FS6
David Skaggs Research Center
325 Broadway
Boulder, Colorado 80305-3328


The Modernization Division produces functional designs or working prototypes of techniques, workstations, and systems that may be implemented into National Weather Service (NWS), or other agency, operations up to a decade later. The process includes selecting, tailoring, and implementing advanced techniques and devices produced by the research and development community, industry, or elsewhere. Developments are state of the art and continually evolve commensurate with new technological advances (Figure 53).

MD - D3D Showing MM5 Hot Start

Figure 53. D3D graphic showing MM5 Hot Start model output valid 0100 UTC 08 Feb 2001 over the Midwest United States. The white isosurfaces represent cloud moisture, the colored ribbons represent wind trajectories released over Arizona. They show the model predicted air flow over Colorado and are colored according to the pressure field. Surface winds and temperature are displayed on the topography.

The modernization of NWS operations involves the development of a new radar system, an automated surface observing system, a new series of Geostationary satellites and products, and a communications and forecaster workstation system, the Advanced Weather Interactive Processing System (AWIPS). FSL has been participating for years in risk reduction activities to help the NWS meet its goals in the development and deployment of AWIPS. FSL has been testing a series of forecaster workstations at the Denver and Norman Weather Service Forecast Offices (WSFOs).

The Modernization Division comprises three branches:

  • Risk Reduction Branch (Denver and Norman WSFO support and evaluation)
  • Enhanced Forecaster Tools Branch (AWIPS Forecast Preparation System)
  • Advanced Development Branch (AWIPS system evaluation and enhancement).

Risk Reduction Branch
Carl S. Bullock, Chief


Work in the Risk Reduction Branch is directed toward helping the National Weather Service (NWS) prepare for operations in the AWIPS era. The two focus areas are operation and evaluation of risk reduction activities and continued support for the Advanced Weather Interactive Processing System (AWIPS), now operational at all NWS Weather Forecast Offices (WFOs) and River Forecast Centers (RFCs). An AWIPS D2D workstation screen example is shown in Figure 54.

MD - D2D N.A. Multipaned Screen

Figure 54. A multipaned D2D screen showing (large pane) North American scale 500-mb upper-air station plots (including aircraft data) of water vapor imagery at 1200 UTC 21 July 2000, (top left) North American scale roamed eastward-MRF model 500-mb heights and vorticity, valid at 0000 UTC 22 July 2000, (pane 2) regional scale radar reflectivity data at 2145 UTC 21 July 2000, (pane 3) regional scale (zoomed) RUC model surface temperature and winds at 0300 UTC 17 July 2000, (pane 4, bottom) WFO-scale four-panel radar reflectivity data at four different elevations (0.5 o, 1.5 o, 2.3 o, and 3.6 o) with warning boxes.


A major milestone was achieved during Fiscal Year 2000 when NWS commissioned the AWIPS system nationwide and decommissioned the AFOS (Automation of Field Operations and Services) system. The main prerequisites to commissioning AWIPS were that it be capable of supporting all necessary forecast operations and that it have a highly reliable communications infrastucture in place. As the Modernization Division directed and guided the last phase of development of the WFO-Advanced system, many issues surfaced as the commissioning date drew near. For example, there were sporadic delays in receiving the severe weather watches issued by the Storm Prediction Center. This problem was tracked down and rectified by creating a separate communications pathway so that the time-critical messages could still be sent on the AWIPS wide-area network even when the Telecommunications Gateway system was down. Alerts from the WSR-88D radar were sometimes inadvertently turned off, and a procedure was developed to avoid this problem and forwarded to all WFOs. These examples are typical of the last minute issues that were resolved by FSL so that commissioning could proceed on schedule.

The first in a series of software deliveries for AWIPS build 5 was completed. This version provides unique localizations to meet the needs of the NWS National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP), which deal with a much larger area of responsibility and issue an entirely different set of products than is required at the local weather offices. Since their forecast responsibility is not confined to the county warning area that is typical of WFOs, a variety of adaptations were required. The scales that cover the National Centers forecast areas are at least an order of magnitude larger, so an appropriate set of scales was defined for each center. Their data needs are also much broader; for example, satellite imagery from both GOES-E and -W is needed to cover their forecast area, and additional satellite data from Meteosat and GMS are also required. Since radar data from all of the radar sites are needed by several National Centers, the data acquisition was expanded to accommodate these requirements. A generic radar selection capability was added to enable display of radar data from any of the sites to alleviate the necessity of a specific localization for each site. In addition, the National Centers can display a national mosaic of radar data currently provided by private companies.

In build 5.0, the infrastructure for point data plots (both surface and upper-air data) was revamped. The new approach is very generic and will allow new datasets and corresponding stations plots to be added with ease. Local sites will also have control over how station information is plotted on the display. The new format supports cursor interrogation of plots, allowing users to view the entire message for any station by putting the cursor over the station of interest.

The capabilities of the text database were expanded in build 5.0. Up until now the text system was based on the old AFOS product inventory listing. While most forecasters were familiar with this system, it did not meet the needs of sites outside the continental United States. An additional reference was added to text products based on their World Meteorological Organization (WMO) product identification. This allows international products to be stored and retrieved without the need for an AFOS identification. A variety of new queries were implemented to support text retrieval via WMO identification and to support partial identification queries.

As part of FSL's mission to investigate promising new technologies, the Modernization Division, in collaboration with the System Development Division, adapted the WFO-Advanced workstation to the Linux operating system. The Linux port allows this advanced meteorological workstation to run on common personal computers. With the continuing rapid advances of personal computer performance, these systems now outperform the original Hewlett Packard workstations chosen for AWIPS. An early prototype of this system was demonstrated at the annual AMS meeting. By the end of the fiscal year, an operational prototype was running at the Boulder forecast office. A prototype of a flash flood monitoring tool was implemented on AWIPS in time for the summer convective season. This application will alert forecasters when rainfall over a small drainage basin reaches predetermined thresholds that could cause flash flooding.

Development work for the next in the series of build 5 software was completed. FSL's contribution added new capabilities, such as expanding the acquisition of gridded information beyond its traditional use for numerical weather prediction models. The variety of observational and manually prepared data now sent on the AWIPS satellite broadcast network as gridded files include national radar mosaics, forecaster-generated quantitative precipitation forecasts, and daily snow cover, to name a few. All of these are sent as gridded binary files, one of several standard formats used by AWIPS. The locally generated radar mosaic was modified in this build to improve performance, and the National Centers and RFCs also have the capability to define regional radar mosaics. Additional progress was made in completely emulating the WSR-88D capabilities. Only a few minor issues remain before the WSR-88D Principal User Processor (PUP) systems can be decommissioned. An improved algorithm to display radar data without any distortion was implemented. A new display capability fits the data displayed to the screen, obviating the need for custom scales to better display particular datasets; a scale is created that matches the data at the time of display. FSL also added an important enhancement that improves the flexibility of cross section and time-height section generation. Users can have points and baselines fixed at their original location, or use the current location when displaying these products from a procedure.


During Fiscal Year 2001, the Modernization Division will contribute to the ongoing evolution of AWIPS. Two builds are planned, 5.1.2 and 5.2.1. Additional datasets will be added to AWIPS that will require new ingest and display capabilities. The hourly soundings produced from the native model grids are the most notable datasets. These are high temporal and spatial resolution forecasts of wind, temperature, and moisture in the atmosphere, which are very useful in providing details for the forecaster at specific locations such as airports. More satellite data will be added, including satellite sounding profiles and cloud drift winds. The new builds will also emphasize improvement in the ability to perform local customizations and add new datasets to AWIPS. Some datasets unique to offices outside the continental United States will also be added. An enhanced version, known as AMBER (Areal Mean Basin Estimated Rainfall), of the flash flood monitoring tool will be added to AWIPS in build 5.1.2.

Enhanced Forecaster Tools Branch
Mark A. Mathewson, Chief


The focus of the Enhanced Forecaster Tools Branch is the Interactive Forecast Preparation System (IFPS). In consultation with a working group of NWS weather forecasters, the branch designs, builds, and enhances the graphical forecast support system for AWIPS. A basic NWS concept driving the design of the IFPS is that forecasters will be able to maintain a graphical database of forecast weather elements. A goal of the IFPS designers is to minimize forecast preparation time and to maximize forecasters' ability to interact with the data, thus allowing more time to focus on the art and science of forecasting. Starting with the current forecast database and/or gridded fields initialized from numerical models or central guidance, and using a set of highly interactive and configurable tools, forecasters will visualize and modify surface sensible weather elements. Product generation utilities will then format the digital forecast data into a wide variety of graphical, gridded, and text-based products with little additional effort from forecasters.


Interactive Forecast Preparation System

The branch concentrated on four development tasks of the advanced IFPS:

  • Improving the Graphical Forecast Editor (GFE)
  • Developing GFE products
  • Developing other GFESuite capabilities
  • Supporting the Rapid Prototype Project (RPP)

Improving the Graphical Forecast Editor – The GFE provides tools for the forecaster to view and edit grid fields that capture the essential information needed to generate a variety of forecast products. Productive interactions between field forecasters and developers prompted numerous enhancements of the GFE graphical user interface, GFE scripting capability, and other capabilities. Smart tools were enhanced throughout the year. The smart tool technique permits forecasters to adjust algorithms and write their own editing tools. Three versions of the GFE were delivered to the NWS for inclusion in AWIPS.

Developing GFE Products – The GFE system comprises the GFE and other programs to generate products. Product generators have been written to provide netCDF output and PNG graphical imagery. The output capability is highly tailorable through the use of Python configuration files. Infrastructure has been developed to allow field sites to create tabular and narrative-format text products. All of the products are derived directly from the gridded database.

Developing other GFESuite Capabilities – The GFESuite of software is maturing with the introduction of additional capabilities. Intersite coordination of grids was developed to permit the exchange of forecast grids among sites during the creation of the forecast (see examples in Figures 55a, b, c, d). Forecasters can now determine if their forecast deviates from their neighbor's in a significant way. Smart initialization is another new capability developed this past year. Smart initialization is a very flexible, field tailorable system that is used to derive first-guess forecast grids directly from the models.

MD - GFE Intersite Composite Display

MD - GFE Intersite Coordination Display - Boulder

MD - GFE Intersite Coordination Display - Cheyenne

MD - GFE Intersite Coordination Display - Pueblo

Figure 55. a) top. Graphical Forecast Editor (GFE) intersite composite display of original grids from Boulder, CO, Cheyenne, WY, and Pueblo, CO, and resulting mosaicking available to the forecaster for comparison. b) second from top. GFE intersite coordination display from Boulder, CO GFE original grid. c) second from bottom. GFE intersite coordination display from Cheyenne, WY GFE original grid. d) bottom. GFE intersite coordination display from Pueblo, CO GFE original grid.

Supporting the Rapid Prototype Project (RPP) – The RPP was created to accelerate the GFE development process and to deliver a workable version to NWS field offices in the shortest amount of time. The 16 field RPP sites work closely with FSL developers to enhance the IFP software so that it better facilitates the operational forecast process.

Many suggestions for improvements in the GFE come from the RPP sites, and are implemented and tested a year before the same improvements appear in the AWIPS IFPS. Seven software releases, consisting of over 300 enhancements and 100 bug fixes, were issued to the RPP sites this year. FSL hosted two GFE workshops last year which provided advanced training for Smart Tools and the GFE, as well as a Web forum for feedback to improve the GFE and RPP processes.


The major tasks during the next year include:

  • Continue to support the RPP process at NWS forecast offices by meeting with forecasters, listening to their comments and improvement suggestions, and integrating feedback into the IFPS development process. Some of these tasks include further development of intersite coordination, improved performance of smart tools and other field-tailorable algorithms, and introduction of a point- and grid-based daily forecast critique.

  • Continue to support IFPS in AWIPS by responding to user feedback. FSL will support the field implementation of AWIPS 5.2.1 and 5.2.2.

  • Continue to improve GFE toward future goals related to initial operating capabilities for IFPS.

Advanced Development Branch
Carl S. Bullock, Acting Chief


The Advanced Development Branch endeavors to keep the National Weather Service (NWS) abreast of advanced technology, particularly with regard to how it can be effectively utilized in forecasting systems related to the operational AWIPS.


Advanced Development Branch resources were devoted to following through with development and customer liaison support to the Emergency Management Decision Support (EMDS) project, and providing toolsmith support to the AWIPS development environment. Resources have been spread across several tasks this past year, supporting areas where the group's technical expertise could be effectively utilized for AWIPS, as follows:

  • Release of an EMDS prototype for AWIPS evaluation and use at NWS rapid prototype sites.

  • Release of IFP-related Graphical Forecaster Editor and Graphical Forecast Viewer software for AWIPS and NWS Rapid Prototype sites.

  • Implementation of localdev and nwscm scripts to support a production-oriented AWIPS development environment at FSL.

  • Technical support required to keep FSL development in step with an evolving AWIPS configuration management system.

  • Definition of a new configuration management process for AWIPS that will improve efficiency and reliability.

This past year was a critical time for the EMDS project, and the branch helped to bring the EMDS system into full stability and acceptance by the NWS and emergency response organizations. Support was provided to the Interactive Forecast Preparation (IFP) project as funding for EMDS support diminished. The IFP project benefited from some of the technology developed for EMDS; that is, branch support evolved from Java-related technology to C++ and Python technology, on which the bulk of FSL's IFP work is based. EMDS supports dissemination of weather data to emergency managers in the locality of each supporting NWS field office. This prototype system utilizes technology based on the Java programming language and Internet technology to provide highly interactive control of weather data display, and the integration of weather data with local information available to emergency managers. It further offers a highly customizable architecture, enabling systems to be easily adapted to local needs. (Both the EMDS and the IFP projects are described in more detail elsewhere in this report.)

It was apparent at the beginning of last fiscal year that the effectiveness of the AWIPS configuration management system was lacking. The AWIPS contractor, PRC, held a workshop to present some high-level ideas that might make the configuration management system more efficient and reliable. The Advanced Development group started with these ideas and refined them by conducting a walkthrough process wherein the AWIPS configuration management process and the capabilities of the PVCS configuration management tool were examined in detail. This walkthrough took the general ideas presented at the workshop and added sufficient detail to describe a workable implementation. Many new ideas were developed and added to the described process in an effort to eliminate known problems and inefficiencies found in past versions of the AWIPS configuration management system. This resulted in a document that was presented to AWIPS management, which, in turn, led to the establishment of a transition team to develop a plan for transitioning from the current AWIPS configuration management system to one embodying many of the ideas in the walkthrough. The transition team refined the process described in the walkthrough document to the point of near implementation. The team had to deal with many of the process details with the NWS and PRC to ensure that development, configuration management, and NWS management issues were all addressed. There remains but one issue (resolution of build process alternatives) to be settled before the details of transition planning can proceed. The new process, when implemented, will support a much more productive relationship between development sites, and will ensure the smooth flow of modified software through a reliable sequence of controlled steps from development into production.


The Advanced Development group will continue to assist the NWS in the transition to a more effective form of software management. The transition to a new software management process (embodying aspects of both configuration management and development processes) is expected to be completed sometime in the coming year. Analysis of long range needs of the NWS and other agencies with regard to the effective use of weather and forecasting data indicates that a stronger emphasis on dissemination is expected in the future. Strategic planning within FSL is trending toward more generalization of dissemination systems, such that they are of interest and utility to a wider audience. It is hoped that a relationship with the Environmental Protection Agency can be established, in which technology developed for EMDS can be generalized for environmental use.

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