Sunday, November 13, 2016

Comments On NWS Restructuring - Part 2

The statements in previous post from NWS and NWSEO are like the opening moves in an extended game of chess. The transition to an all Republican Executive and Legislative government next year means that any detailed statements or plans about how NWS would try to reorganize likely are fairly far in the future. I would suggest that any proposals for change within NWS start with serious reductions at the bloated top – i.e.,  Headquarters and Regions – before any focus on the centers and field structure. As for the two statements:

It seems that the NWS is in a very difficult strategical situation. The number of forecast offices and full time permanent (FTP) staff is probably considerably too large and expensive. But changing the status quo of office functions and staffing may be impossible, given the Federal Bureaucracy and a Legislative branch of government that seems to love its local forecast offices.

The talking points in the vague Uccellini and Furgione briefing are mostly non-starters. The only realistic issue: reducing the time that local forecasters have to commit to producing/manipulating millions of grid point forecasts four times a day, so that they could focus on short term weather, warnings, and local interactions. This is ironic, since it was Headquarters and Regions who stuffed the absurd, seven-day, high resolution grid forecast process down the throats of the field forecasters.

The NWSEO knows that certain things like flexible staffing, mobile office assignments, and part-time hours are just not doable. These type actions would require changing the employment status of many FTP NWS employees. How could FTP forecasters become part timers, or forecasters sent elsewhere on expensive temporary duty (TDY) assignments?

The importance of local meteorological knowledge and awareness is actually key to both position statements, but it is also a double-edged sword. My experience is that some offices and some forecasters are very experienced and aware of local aspects of the weather across their CWAs. But many offices and forecasters these days seem unaware of much that happens out in their hinterlands. I have often referred to what comes out of these offices, and from some forecasters, as meteorological ventriloquism – putting words to the models and not much more. Any NWS field structure that would emphasize local CWA weather through 48-hours would be good, but it might also require a new NWS commitment to documenting and providing local education and training related to important small-scale weather events. Such a service would also require very much improved graphics, rather than the cartoon-like stuff that is often seen these days.
Excerpts from Earlier Comments:

Jack D

You know, this sounds almost like a return to the pre-modernization scheme of the mid 1990s when for instance, NWSFO Chicago issued the forecast for the entire 300 mile long state. I remember working in radio at the time, how little detail and care was put into the large “zones” 300 miles removed from Chicago while the Chicago zone was explicit in detail.

It would be even worse if they decided forecasts will be issued from CR/ER/WR/SR HQ.

Model flip-flopping especially with the GFS will not do public confidence in the NWS products any favors.

Mike L

It does make sense centralizing forecasting and changing staffing as conditions warrant. However, losing local expertise is an issue. Perhaps instead of a single central location (DC) there could be regional centers based on [regional weather and climate] - I could see forecast centers for the SW coast (SD, LA, SF), SW deserts (Tucson, Phoenix, Vegas El Paso), and SW mountains (ABQ, FLG, Elko, SLC, Grand Junction).

Jack H

My position after 48 year of operational private sector meteorology is that NWS is about to make a big mistake by reducing the role of their local meteorologists and I agree with the NWSEO position. The "heart-beat" of NWS is not the regional or national centers; the local NWS offices are the critical point of contact with the user community, especially during severe weather.

Re-focus the local offices to produce and provide all the 0-48hr forecasts for the area of their responsibility. These local mets have access to the same computer output resources a national office does plus the local forecast insight and local credibility to be successful.

Have flexible shift loading like the private sector has used for the past 50 years.

Let local offices relinquish their production of forecasts beyond 48hrs to either regional or national weather center(s) where computer-generated forecasts demonstrate comparable - superior accuracy to human forecasts.

One thing I do know is that in an emergency local contact, person-to-person with a trusted source makes for life-saving decisions being made before its too late.

David B

"...“If forecasters are locked in to producing grids, it takes away from them interacting with local officials making decisions on the ground,” Uccellini said..."

This hits on an issue I raised when the NWS first began producing grids. Creating the grids took so much time that there was little left over to actually analyze the current weather—and certainly not enough to evaluate the evolution of the weather. Allowing the grids to be created elsewhere—and locally modified, if necessary—always seemed more sensible.

But not staffing NWS offices 24/7/365 is folly. What if severe weather develops unexpectedly during a period when it is not staffed? And what if there is significant severe weather elsewhere so that staffing cannot be reprogrammed?

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