FSL in Review 2002 - 2003

Cover/Title Page

Organizational Chart

Office of the Director

Office of Administration
and Research

Information and
Technology Services

Forecast Research

Demonstration Division

Systems Development

Aviation Division

Modernization Division

International Division


Acronyms and Terms

Figures Listing

Contact the Editor
Nita Fullerton

Web Design:
Will von Dauster
John Osborn

Best Viewed With
Internet Explorer

FIR 2002 - 2003 MD MastHead
Carl S. Bullock, Chief
(Supervisory Meteorologist)

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

C. Vada Dreisbach, Senior Engineer, 303-497-7251
G. Joanne Edwards, Programmer, 303-497-6903
M. Thomas Filiaggi, Meteorologist, 303-497-6578
Kevin Fuell, Guest Worker, 303-497-4382
Tracy L. Hansen, Programmer, 303-497-6569
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, 303-497-6582
Mark A. Mathewson, Meteorologist/Chief, Enhanced Forecast Tools Branch, 303-497-6713
Deborah Miller, Systems Analyst III, 303-497-6770
Brian Motta, Guest Worker, 303-497-6561
Scott D. O'Donnell, Programmer/Hydrologist, 303-497-4552
Dale R. Perry, Meteorologist/Programmer, 303-497-6050
William F. Roberts, Meteorologist, 303-497-6104
Michael Romberg, Programmer, 303-497-6544
MarySue Schultz, Systems Analyst, 303-497-6499
Michael Vrencur, Systems Administrator, 303-497-7526
Carol A. Werner, Secretary Office Automation, 303-497-6157

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

Address: 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, such as D2D (Display Two Dimensional) shown in Figure 71.

Figure 71 - D2D/RUC 2002

Figure 71. D2D screen showing meteorological
information from the RUC model in 2002.

The modernization of NWS operations involved 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.

The Modernization Division comprises three branches:

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 include operation and evaluation of risk reduction activities and the development of AWIPS. Since NWS announced in 1996 that the FSL-developed WFO-Advanced system would form the core of the AWIPS software to run at all Weather Forecast Offices (WFOs) and River Forecast Centers (RFCs), the development and evolution of AWIPS has been the primary activity.


AWIPS Software

The final development of Build 5.2.2 was completed, tested, and installed during 2002. This work concludes the mandate by Congress to complete the initial AWIPS system capabilities including interactive forecast preparation, severe weather reporting, service backup, and radar display functions that replace the WSR-88D Principal User Position (PUP) displays. The first operational build, OB1, was developed and tested as well.

New datasets were added in both of these builds. Aircraft reports can now be decoded and displayed; these messages report turbulence, icing, cloud layers, winds, temperature, and other parameters important to air navigation. In some cases, detailed temperature and humidity profiles are obtained from aircraft that are arriving or departing major airports. With FSL's implementation of a decoder for synoptic observations, many more reports of surface weather conditions are available, particularly from other countries. Atmospheric soundings retrieved by geostationary and polar orbiting satellites have been added as well. These provide much greater horizontal and temporal coverage than is obtained from radiosonde balloons. Numerical weather prediction grids for the Great Lakes, Atlantic, and Gulf Coast have been added in support of marine forecasting and navigation.

An important addition in Build 5.2.2 is the introduction of ensemble numerical weather prediction model grids. These data provide an objective method of dealing with the uncertainty inherent in weather prediction by generating multiple solutions based on different initial conditions. Algorithms to calculate the mean and standard deviations of these fields have been added to the volume browser menu, which is used to access gridded model data. To accommodate the volume of data anticipated with ensembles, a compression algorithm has been included for storing and retrieving these data.

New radar capabilities include detailed inventories, high-resolution storm relative velocity, and the rotational velocity (Vr) shear function that works in four-panel mode. Detailed inventories allow the user to differentiate between multiple request products such as cross sections or storm relative motions. The system will automatically load a loop of the particular cross section selected by the user. Now that high-resolution velocity data are available, a capability has been added to the AWIPS workstation to calculate storm relative velocity using user input for storm motion. This is an important tool for diagnosing severe weather. The Vr shear function is another tool used to diagnose severe convective storms. It can now function on four different radar tilts simultaneously so the user can measure how shear in a storm changes with height.

The volume browser has been enhanced with the addition of two new methods for displaying data. To view some high resolution vertical data, a new viewing option that plots a variable versus height was added. Users can now plot any variable (such as wind speed) versus height. The user can also zoom in on one axis to display the additional detail for high resolution data sets. Time-series plots were enhanced to allow multiple plots stacked vertically. This is a widely used method of displaying parameters in a display arrangement known as a meteogram. Typically this is done with METAR (meteorological aviation report) observations, but in AWIPS point forecast data from the various models can also be displayed in this manner.

During 2002, progress was made on the transition of AWIPS to the Linux operating system. The main task was to port certain decoders to Linux in an attempt to offload the HP data servers. The two decoders chosen represent the greatest volume of data sent over the Satellite Broadcast Network (SBN), the grib decoder, and the satellite decoder. These decoders will run on a new preprocessor Linux system where cpu and storage capabilities greatly exceed the existing HP servers. Another accomplishment involved porting of the Product Maker to the Linux workstation. This is a general purpose utility that allows the user to define computations to be performed on gridded or image data with the results displayed on AWIPS.

Collaboration with the Korean Meteorological Agency (KMA) continued. KMA has modified an AWIPS workstation to use the data generated by their ingest systems. These data include radar, surface and upper air observations, satellite imagery, and numerical weather prediction grids. The menu interface to use Korean characters was also modified. The Korean forecasters visiting FSL received two training sessions on how to use AWIPS in forecasting various weather phenomena.


Although the main development of AWIPS concluded with Build 5.2.2, there is a continuing stream of additions and enhancements that are needed by the operational forecasting community. AWIPS must respond to changes in the data that it ingests. For example, the WSR-88D radar is undergoing a series of upgrades and is able to produce more detailed products and new products. These developments will be coordinated with new AWIPS builds allowing forecasters to take advantage of new data as they become available. An example is the new radar scan strategies planned for implementation in 2003. The WSR-88D radar can now connect to AWIPS over a local area network. This will remove some of the current limitations and makes it possible to replace the existing dialup network, eliminating substantial telecommunications expense. NESDIS continues to generate new products from satellites. GOES high density winds and QuikScat wind retrievals will be added into AWIPS during the next year. The National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP) continues to produce more detailed numerical weather forecasts. The Eta model currently outputs information at 12-km resolution, which will require modifications in AWIPS to accommodate these more detailed fields.

During 2003, continued collaboration with the Korea Meteorological Administration and the Taiwan Central Weather Bureau will focus on nowcasting tools, particularly those that use radar data.

Return to Top of Modernization Division Section

Enhanced Forecaster Tools Branch
Mark A. Mathewson, Chief


The focus of the Enhanced Forecaster Tools Branch is the development of the Interactive Forecast Preparation System (IFPS). In consultation with a working group of National Weather Service (NWS) weather forecasters and partnership with the NWS Meteorological Development Laboratory, staff are designing and building the graphical forecast support system for AWIPS. A basic NWS concept driving the design of the IFPS is that NWS forecasts will no longer be text-based, but instead will be based on a suite of grid-based digital data. The forecaster will be responsible for the creation and maintenance of a digital database containing all forecast elements over a 7-day forecast period. IFPS permits forecasters to spend the bulk of their forecast shift focusing on meteorology rather than typing text products. At each office, a team of forecasters interact with the database by applying tools that manipulate the gridded data in meteorologically meaningful ways. Once the forecast is complete, this weather forecast information can be communicated in a variety of ways ranging from automatically formatted text products to simple images that represent a particular weather forecast element to a highly interactive user interface in which customers query the forecast database to get precise information.


The branch concentrated on four development tasks of the advanced IFPS: enhancing the capabilities of the Graphical Forecast Editor (GFE), developing field customizable text products, developing the Daily Forecast Critique (DFC), providing forecaster training, and providing IFPS field consultations and support.

Enhancing 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 Inter-Site Coordination (ISC) capabilities for coordinating forecasts between NWS offices, and scripting and other capabilities. Smart tools were written to aid the forecaster in comparing differences between their forecasts and their adjacent site's forecasts. The ISC facility (Figure 72) has been enhanced so that the forecaster can now use tools that take into account data from neighboring forecast offices. These tools enhance the forecaster's ability to maintain spatial consistency between adjacent offices. An enhanced Temporal Editor now displays the range of values, giving forecasters more information about how the values vary over any region they specify. The new interactive query interface provides a much more flexible way to define areas of interest based on forecast data values. This will help forecasters create forecasts that are better coordinated among physically related weather elements. Three versions of the GFE were delivered to the NWS for inclusion in the new AWIPS Rapid Alpha Process (RAP), IFPS10, 11, and 12. Seven major and five minor revisions of the Rapid Prototype Process (RPP) software were provided to RPP field sites for focused testing on particular areas of the GFESuite, such as text product formatting.

Figure 72 - Forecasters' Display

Figure 72. Forecasters utilize displays like this one to compare and reconcile
spatial differences between their forecast and those of adjacent sites.

Developing Field Customizable GFE Text Products – During 2002, the NWS asked the branch to develop a set of locally customizable text formatters of operational quality. The branch created the initial infrastructure and "first-look" versions of the 10 products required for the IFPS Initial Operating Capabilities. The products range from tabular summaries and coded tables to narratives, and cover the public, marine, and fire weather services in the NWS. Using the RPP software approach, the branch worked with 15 field offices and provided 7 software releases to these offices for the express purpose of arriving at an initial text formatting infrastructure, which was completed by spring 2003.

Developing the Daily Forecast Critique – Last summer, the EFT branch released the initial version of the Daily Forecast Critique (DFC, Figure 73), a data visualization package that, for the first time, allows forecasters to compare their digital forecasts to observations measured at the surface. DFC includes a data archiving facility that permits each site to archive surface observations as far back as several months, greatly extending the current AWIPS limitation of 36 hours. The system archives previous forecasts as well, both model-based and human generated, providing a rich data set with which forecasters can determine where their forecasts deviate from observed conditions. Forecasters view these point-based datasets with the DFC Viewer, which plots these data in time-series format. The flexible way in which the data can be plotted allow forecasters to investigate many attributes of forecasts such as direct comparison between various models, determining trends over subsequent model runs (dProg/dt), and examining error as a function of forecast lead time. Future work includes providing the capability to compare grids to grids rather than points, routinely generating statistics to determine model and official forecast bias, and tools to apply these statistics to the new forecast to remove these biases, thus improving the forecast.

Figure 73 - Daily Forecast Critique

Figure 73. A screen showing the Daily Forecast Critique,
which allows forecasters to compare their digital forecasts
to observations measured at the surface.

Providing Forecaster Training – The branch held three hands-on workshops and reached virtually every NWS office. Approximately 140 NWS forecasters and IFPS focal points attended the workshops. The intensive 3-day workshops covered advanced concepts of GFESuite (such as writing smart tools), creating smart initialization algorithms for model processing, and writing text formatters. The format of these workshop sessions ranged from lecture to interactive hands-on sessions, where forecasters performed exercises to familiarize themselves with technical aspects of GFESuite. Open discussion sessions provided a chance for forecasters to share ideas, suggest improvements, and discuss particular forecast problems. Forecaster feedback about these workshops was very favorable.

Providing IFPS Field Support – The NWS maintains three IFPS-related listservers for the field to discuss issues, find solutions, and interact with the developers. The branch makes good use of the listservers to the benefit of the forecasters and focal points by providing quick turnaround to questions, tips on better use of the software, and both field troubleshooting as well as focal point consultations. During 2002, every forecast office spun up GFE operations.


During 2003, NWS offices will complete the transition to GFE and IFPS operations. This is a major milestone that could only have been achieved through collaborative efforts between FSL and the NWS Meteorological Development Laboratory, and many person-years of development time. All of the support, enhancements, and training are in preparation for the IFPS Operational Readiness Demonstration, planned for June 2003, and the IFPS Initial Operating Capabilities (IOC), planned for September 2003.

Return to Top of Modernization Division Section

Advanced Development Branch
Carl S. Bullock, Acting Chief


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


Considerable effort was spent investigating alternative approaches to the Configuration Management system used in AWIPS. The current system has many drawbacks and is not well suited to a rapid development cycle. AWIPS program managers had expressed a desire to follow a much shorter development cycle, on the order of 2 months versus the current 6 month paradigm. In surveying the market for potential tools, Extraview and PerForce appeared to have the right combination of flexibility, support for multiple source trees, and other required features. We worked with these packages to put together a demonstration system for a new configuration management approach. Unfortunately there wasn't enough time to complete the demonstration.


Lack of funding necessitated reassignment of staff in this branch to other divisions within the laboratory for Fiscal Year 2003.

Return to Top of Modernization Division Section

FSL Staff FSL in Review (Other Years) FSL Forum Publications