Saturday, November 05, 2016

NWS Restructuring - Bit Of Background

It seems to me that a bit of background is needed before discussing the statements and comments already posted.

Back in the 1980s the NWS basically had state forecast offices (Arizona had Phoenix, for example) and these offices did the bulk of weather forecasting and warnings for the state. However, local "Service Offices" (WSOs) would provide area-specific fine tuning. It is a bit hard to find the history of the restructuring that occurred back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but here is what I can recall.

Dick Hallgren and Doug Sargeant were in charge and fighting Congressional efforts to cut the NWS budget. These two were masters at playing political games and by the time all the dust had settled there were 122 NWS Forecast Offices. The NWS was then more widely supported by their increased numbers of local Congress-people and heading quickly into its multibillion dollar "Modernization."

There were now three FOs in Arizona and the map above shows their current County Warning Areas (CWAs). The restructuring did, in some places, ignore state borders - so forecasters in Phoenix need to be experts re local weather in Coyote Wells, California, as well as the Superstition Mountains - which is quite some spatial span. The Tucson WSO became an NWSFO. I think, but am not certain, that the Winslow WSO and upper-air site became the Camp Belmont NWSFO (Flagstaff) and new upper-air site. I also think that a Yuma WSO was eliminated and the Marines took over the upper-air responsibilities out there. 

However, the main issue as time has gone by is that the NWS high-tech modernization occurring in concert with a dramatic expansion  of the number of FOs and forecasters do not parse well. Increased technology usually leads to reductions wrt to people doing the work.
In the earlier posts much emphasis is placed on the grid-point forecasting efforts of the local NWSFOs. Digging out the details of the grid forecasts is a difficult challenge. I think that current grid lengths are around, or less, than 2 km - but I ran out of patience before I could find a hard answer. Many weather parameters are forecast hour-by-hour out to 7 days - basically impossible except in the most stagnant and mundane of weather situations. Each local office has to update these forecasts every six hours or so.

The NWS National and Regional Headquarters brought this top-down, high time and space resolution gridded forecast effort into play, even though it could not be defended scientifically. However, it did allow the generation of "seamless" and colorful graphical forecasts covering the entire coming week.

Shown below are two examples of digital forecast products. Just below is an hour-by-hour forecast for the center of the Barry M. Goldwater Range (DoD bombing practice area), if anyone has an interest in things out there. At the bottom is a graphic showing a digital forecast of wind speeds over southeastern Arizona valid in about a week.

That's a bit of background regarding the earlier posts.

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