Date:  Oct. 12, 2011




National Weather Service's Modernization Successful in Improving Science, Forecasts


WASHINGTON — The National Weather Service's program that modernized and restructured operations between 1989 and 2000 led to greater integration of science into weather service activities and was a success despite schedule and budget overruns, says a new report from the National Research Council.


The modernization and associated restructuring of the National Weather Service developed five major technologies to modernize its operations, costing approximately $4.5 billion.  The committee that wrote the report said that this investment was both needed and generally well-spent.  The implemented technologies were:

Overall, the modernization significantly increased the amount of data and information available to field forecasters, academia, the private sector, and the general public.  It also improved outreach and coordination with state and local government, emergency management, and communities; provided for more uniform radar coverage and surface observations across the U.S.; and dramatically enhanced forecast and warning products.  However, certain aspects of weather forecasts and warning still need improvement, the committee said.  For instance, the probability of detection and forecast lead times for tornadoes and flash floods grew after the modernization, but the ratios for false alarms have remained high.  In addition, the performance of hurricane track forecasts have seen gains, whereas hurricane intensity forecasts have not.


The budget, schedule, and technological issues encountered during the modernization reflected traditional challenges of large projects, such as shifting budget constraints and ambitious technology leaps, the committee found.  For example, during the early stages, there was insufficient communication between the organization's management at the national level and the field office managers and their staff.  However, the framework left in place allows and encourages the technology and work-force composition to continue to evolve.


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 panel roster follows.




Jennifer Walsh, Media Relations Officer

Shaquanna Shields, Media Relations Assistant

Office of News and Public Information

202-334-2138; e-mail


Pre-publication copies of The National Weather Service Modernization and Associated Restructuring: A Retrospective Assessment 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).

#       #       #


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. Armstrong (chair)1
Vice President for Science and Technology
International Business Machines Corp. (retired)
Amherst, Mass.


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

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

William B. Gail  
Startup Business Group
Microsoft Corp.
Boulder, Colo.

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

Hoshin V. Gupta  
Professor of Systems Analysis and Hydrology and Water Resources
University of Arizona

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



Nicholas Lampson
Former U.S. Congressman
U.S. House of Representatives

Beaumont, Texas


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

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