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Date:  Aug. 2, 2012




National Weather Service Should Continue Evolving To Increase Agility and Effectiveness in the Face of Scientific Advances


WASHINGTON — After successfully completing a multibillion-dollar modernization program, the National Weather Service (NWS) should continue to evolve as it faces new challenges, says a new report from the National Research Council. 


Completed in 2000, the NWS modernization upgraded weather observing and forecast systems and reorganized the agency's field office structure.  Nevertheless, accelerating improvements in technology and scientific fields require continued modernization, said the committee that wrote the report.  NWS faces challenges such as keeping pace with advances in science and technology; meeting expanding user needs; and partnering with other weather-, water-, and climate-related institutions.  To overcome these challenges, NWS needs to evolve and change how it operates by prioritizing core capabilities, evaluating its structure, and broadening collaboration and cooperation with other institutions.  Embracing such changes could allow NWS to keep up with technological advances and provide quality services to the nation.


NWS's challenges are exacerbated by uncertain and constrained budget resources and increasingly high operational performance standards, the committee said.  To meet these obstacles, NWS should prioritize the capabilities that only it can provide -- such as collecting and integrating observations, using numerical weather prediction, issuing watches and warnings, and incorporating its research results into operations.


The committee found that NWS's current structure primarily reflects the state of technology and the weather, water, and climate services in the 1990s.  Because much has changed since the modernization program began in the 1990s, the agency should evaluate its function and structure and seek areas for improvement, including an examination of individual field offices, regional and national headquarters, and the national centers and weather-related parts of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 


The private sector and other organizations generate and deliver a wide variety of information that complements what is available from the NWS.  The committee concluded that the NWS's capacity to serve the public would be broadened by increasing its collaboration and cooperation with other public and private weather, water, and climate organizations.  Strengthening its engineering and procurement processes for major systems -- including ground-based sensor, gauge, and radar networks; satellites and ground processing; and major communications and processing systems -- would also amplify NWS's capabilities, the committee said.


The study was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Commerce.  The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council make up the National Academies.  They are independent, nonprofit institutions that provide science, technology, and health policy advice under an 1863 congressional charter.  Panel members, who serve pro bono as volunteers, are chosen by the Academies for each study based on their expertise and experience and must satisfy the Academies' conflict-of-interest standards.  The resulting consensus reports undergo external peer review before completion.  For more information, visit  A committee roster follows.




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Pre-publication copies of are available from the National Academies Press; tel. 202-334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242 or on the Internet at  Reporters may obtain a copy from the Office of News and Public Information (contacts listed above).

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Division on Earth and Life Studies

Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate


Committee on the Assessment of the National Weather Service's Modernization Program

John A. Armstrong1 (chair)
Vice President for Science and Technology
IBM (retired)
Amherst, Mass.

James D. Doyle
Mesoscale Modeling Section
Naval Research Laboratory
Monterey, Calif.

Pamela Emch
Senior Staff Engineer and Scientist
Northrup Grumman Aerospace Systems
Redondo Beach, Calif.

William B. Gail 
Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer
Global Weather Corp.
Boulder, Colo.

David J. Gochis
Research Scientist-II
National Center for Atmospheric Research
Boulder, Colo.  

Eve Gruntfest

Professor Emeritus of Geography and Environmental Studies

University of Colorado

Colorado Springs

Holly Hartmann
Arid Lands Information Center
University of Arizona

Kevin A. Kloesel 
Associate Dean of Public Service and Outreach
College of Atmospheric and Geographic Sciences
University of Oklahoma



John Madden
Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management
Fort Richardson


Gordon A. McBean 
Chair for Policy
Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction, and
Departments of Geography and Political Science
University of Western Ontario


David J. McLaughlin
Interim Dean
College of Engineering
University of Massachusetts

Adrian Raftery2
Blumstein-Jordan Professor of Statistics and Sociology
University of Washington


James Rasmussen
Environmental Research Laboratories
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (retired)
Frederick, Md.


John Toohey-Morales
Chief Meteorologist
WTVJ NBC-6, and
Founder and President
ClimaData Corp.

Paul L. Smith Jr.
Professor Emeritus
Institute of Atmospheric Sciences
South Dakota School of Mines and Technology
Rapid City





Maggie Walser

Study Director



1    Member, National Academy of Engineering

2    Member, National Academy of Sciences