FSL in Review


Administration and Research

Forecast Research



Systems Development





Acronyms and Terms

Contact The Editor

Wilfred von Dauster

and Research


The Forecast Systems Laboratory is one of 12 research laboratories under the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR) of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), within the Department of Commerce. Established in October 1988, FSL conducts atmospheric and oceanic research and develops new technologies and scientific advancements for transfer to the operational elements of NOAA and other domestic and foreign organizations. Over the last decade, FSL has become a leader in technology transfer and research fundamental to NOAA's mission of improving weather prediction. In particular, the mission of FSL is to improve the transfer of technological developments in atmospheric and oceanic research to the nation's operational atmospheric and oceanic services by conducting a program to integrate, evaluate, and apply developments to information and forecast systems. The essential functions of the laboratory include:

  • Exploratory System Development Specify the requirements for NOAA's operational services in cooperation with operations specialists. Develop concepts and systems and validate the specifications necessary for integration of those systems into atmospheric and oceanic information systems for improving research, operations, and information management.
  • Research Applications Utilize research advances in the understanding of atmospheric and oceanic processes to develop improved data analyses, information management techniques, and forecast systems and methods, such as interpretive algorithms, conceptual and numerical models, climatological methods and statistical techniques, and analysis and assimilation of extensive four-dimensional geophysical datasets in operational forecast models to optimally employ the data sources under development within NOAA.
  • System Validation Use real-time and archived data to test and evaluate new diagnostic and forecast techniques and to determine the strengths and weaknesses in the research and techniques.
  • Technology Transfer Facilitate the transfer of new techniques and systems to operational use, working directly with the users.


The Office of the Director manages FSL, in addition to some special research programs conducted within the laboratory. Also under the Office of the Director is the Office of Administration and Research, which provides management support, administrative support led by an Administrative Officer, IT support, contract administration, and visitor and information services. Seven divisions carry out the research and development activities, as follows.

  • The Forecast Research Division is home to most of the research in FSL on short-range forecasting and small-scale weather phenomena. High-resolution numerical models are developed to support the NWS and the aviation community with accurate short-range forecasts based on the latest observations. The Rapid Update Cycle (RUC) is the only operational system within the NWS that provides updated national-scale numerical analyses and forecasts more often than every 6 hours. The portable Local Analysis and Prediction System (LAPS) can integrate data from virtually every meteorological observation system into a very high-resolution gridded framework centered on any operational forecast office's domain of responsibility, and provides real-time, three-dimensional, local-scale analyses. The well-posed fourth order accurate limited area model can be used on any scale of motion anywhere on the globe. FRD is also involved, along with other agencies, with the development of the Weather Research and Forecast (WRF) model, a next-generation mesoscale forecast model and assimilation system that will advance both the understanding and prediction of important mesoscale weather. Another interesting research project within FRD is the Global Air-ocean IN-situ System (GAINS), a program to develop a network of 400 high-tech balloons evenly distributed over the globe for collecting observations in data-sparse regions.

  • The Facility Division manages the computers, communications and data networks, and associated peripherals needed to support research and systems development in the laboratory and elsewhere. The FSL Computer Facility comprises 60 computers, ranging from workstations and servers to a supercomputer, and a wide variety of meteorological data- ingest interfaces, storage devices, local- and wide-area networks, and communications links to external networks and display devices. Technical support is also provided to other federal agencies and laboratories in meteorological data acquisition, processing, storage, telecommunications, and networking.

  • The Demonstration Division evaluates promising atmospheric observing technologies and determines their value in the operational domain. It manages, operates, and maintains the NOAA Profiler Network, which provides data not available elsewhere, and reliable hourly observations of winds from the surface to the lower stratosphere. The Radio Acoustic Sounding System (RASS) technique has been demonstrated and proved beneficial for remote sensing of temperatures at profiler sites. A more recent project, the GPS Integrated Precipitable Water Vapor Demonstration Network, has shown that the addition of ground-based GPS water vapor observations to a numerical weather prediction model improves forecast accuracy, especially under conditions of active weather.

  • The Systems Development Division works closely with other FSL groups in providing technical expertise on functional specifications for new workstation and interactive display systems. Object-oriented technology is utilized to design and develop systems such as the Local Data Acquisition and Dissemination (LDAD) system, which provides NWS forecasters access to detailed local mesoscale observations that enhance federal observing systems. State and local emergency preparedness agencies benefit from LDAD's gridded weather data, severe weather warnings and advisories, point observations, and radar precipitation data. Other systems include the Quality Control and Monitoring System (QCMS), which provides users and suppliers of hydrometeorological observations with readily available quality control statistics, and two surface assimilation systems (MSAS and RSAS), which provide direct measurements of surface conditions and give crucial indicators of potential for severe weather.

  • The Aviation Division promotes safer skies through improved aviation weather products. In collaboration with the NWS, Federal Aviation Administration, and Departments of Defense and Transportation, it provides improved weather forecasting and visualization capability to civilian and military forecasters, pilots, air traffic controllers, and airline dispatchers. Through research and development of high-performance computing, it also ensures continued improvement of high- resolution numerical weather analysis and prediction systems.

  • The Modernization Division specifies requirements for advanced meteorological workstations, product and technique development, and new forecast preparation concepts and techniques. It manages the development and fielding of advanced prototype meteorological systems into operational NWS forecast offices, and performs objective evaluations of these operational systems. The NWS selected the WFO-Advanced workstation developed at FSL as the AWIPS prototype, which is deployed in over 100 modernized NWS forecast offices. The division also provides management and direction for research in the latest scientific and technical advances, with special emphasis on their potential application to operational meteorology.

  • The International Division oversees internal development of systems intended primarily for global or international application. It is involved in several international cooperative technology transfer agreements, such as implementation of a totally updated forecast center at the Central Weather Bureau of Taiwan. The division also supports the successful GLOBE (Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment) program, an international environmental research program that links the efforts of students, teachers, and scientists. More than 8,000 students worldwide monitor many environmental parameters which are regularly posted on the Internet, providing a unique global database of atmospheric, soil, biologic, and hydrologic measurements available to researchers for a multitude of experiments.


FSL is staffed by a combination of civil service employees, Joint Institute staff, commercial affiliates, and visiting scientists. The Joint Institutes are the Cooperative Institute for Research in the Atmosphere (CIRA), Fort Collins, Colorado, and the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES), Boulder, Colorado. During the past year, FSL was supported by three commercial service affiliates: Systems Research Group, Inc., Colorado Springs, Colorado; System Technology Associates, Inc., Colorado Springs, Colorado; and Systems Research Group, Inc., Denver, Colorado. As of February 2000, FSL staff totaled 238 in the following categories: 91 civil service (including three NWS employees), 71 Joint Institutes (59 from CIRA and 12 from CIRES), 52 commercial affiliates, and 24 visiting scientists and guest workers.

FSL Staff

FSL Employment Categories - Total Employees: 238 as of February 2000


Funding for FSL is received from a variety of sources. In Fiscal Year 1999, FSL received a total of $28.6M from the following sources: $8.1M OAR base funds, $15.5M other NOAA funds, $4.2M U.S. Government outside NOAA, and $.8M Non-Federal. The main components of "other NOAA funds" included $6.3M National Weather Service, $4.4M toward the purchase of a High-Performance Computer System and for research utilizing this system, and $3.1M for support of the Mount Washington Observatory project. Other U.S. Government sources of funding included the Federal Aviation Administration from the Department of Transportation, both the Air Force and the Army from the Department of Defense and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Funding was also received from the Taiwan Central Weather Bureau and Hughes Information Technology Corporation.

FSL Funding

FSL Funding Sources - Total: $28.6 M FY 1999


An important aspect of the Visitor and Information Services program is arranging tours or visits and scheduling appropriate FSL staff to match special interests of the visitors. These services are provided for schools, government officials, the private sector and general public, and for foreign countries. Last year this office accommodated at least 732 visitors, not including visits arranged directly with FSL staff. Usually the "educators and students" category constitute the largest number of visitors, but last year the "general public" category led with 261 visitors; trailing slightly was "government visitors" at 249. There were 113 educators and their students, 49 foreign visitors, 60 visitors from the private sector, and 49 foreign visitors, including representatives from China, Australia, Taiwan, Canada, United Kingdom, Hungary, and Korea. (The number of visitors last year decreased substantially from the years before as a result of disruption to normal operations during the relocation of FSL.)

FSL Visitors

FSL Recorded Visitors - Total: 732 FY 1999

FSL Staff