Papers related to WFO-Advanced have been presented at AMS and other conferences.

WFO-Advanced Overview
ESRL Global Systems Division

September 2008

Table of Contents

1 Background
2 Goal
3 Components
4 Related Projects
5 Development Schedule
6 References

1. Background

1.1 National Weather Service Modernization

For several years, the National Weather Service (NWS) has been engaged in activities directed toward modernizing and restructuring its operations. The activities include as major components the development of a new radar system (NEXRAD/WSR-88D), a new automated surface observing system (ASOS), and a new communications and forecaster workstation system, the Advanced Weather Interactive Processing System (AWIPS).

In order to make more effective use of the talents of its staff of professional meteorologists, the NWS has reorganized its operations. Until the late 1990s, 52 Weather Service Forecast Offices (WSFOs) performed the bulk of the forecasting functions for (generally) statewide areas, and 180 Weather Service Offices (WSOs) and other small offices provided local adaptive forecasts. Both WSFOs and WSOs issued severe weather warnings, though many WSOs operated on a less-than-24-hour schedule and were backed up by their parent WSFO at night.

The restructured National Weather Service includes 122 Weather Forecast Offices (WFOs), roughly collocated with WSR-88Ds. AWIPS provides the communications and forecast support functions for these offices.


In the early 1980s, the NWS Office of Meteorology, along with representatives of NWS administrative, development, and field offices, plus what is now the ESRL Global Systems Division (GSD), prepared requirements for AWIPS. These formed the basis of the functional requirements included in the AWIPS System Requirements Specification (SRS) and the AWIPS Development Phase contract.

In preparation for the development and deployment of AWIPS, the NWS asked GSD's predecessor, the Forecast Systems Lab (FSL) to participate in several risk reduction activities. The primary activity was developing and testing a series of forecaster workstations at the Denver and Norman WSFOs. Systems known as DARE (Denver AWIPS Risk Reduction and Requirements Evaluation) in Denver and Pre-AWIPS in Norman were used by the WSFO staffs for several years ending in the late 1990s. These systems provided valuable insight into modernized operations; experience gained in Denver and Norman was used to refine AWIPS specifications.

The AWIPS Development Phase contract was awarded to Planning and Research Corporation (PRC) in December 1992. By early 1994, it had become apparent that PRC's progress was being hindered by the vast number of requirements in the AWIPS SRS. An independent review team recommended restructuring the AWIPS development process, giving the NWS more responsibility for application development and allowing PRC to concentrate on the basic workstation and communications systems. Goals of the restructuring included:

The Techniques Development Laboratory (TDL; now MDL) was given the responsibility of developing most of the meteorological applications for AWIPS. Joint PRC-NWS teams worked to define the basic user interface (menu system), database structure, data interfaces, etc. for AWIPS. PRC presented the high-level system architecture to the NWS in November 1994.

The NWS and PRC began to develop a series of incremental prototype AWIPS systems, beginning in mid-1995 with Pathfinder at a few future WFOs and collocated River Forecast Centers (RFCs). AWIPS Build 1 was installed at around 10 sites in late 1996, with upgrades to Build 2 and 2.1 by May 1997.

In August 1996, the NWS decided that WFO-Advanced would be the in-office component of AWIPS. FSL delivered a version of the software to NWS in March 1997 to support Build 3; a slightly revised version went officially to PRC on 30 May. This was deployed at some two dozen offices in the second half of 1997.

1.3 FX and FX-ALPHA

Throughout the 1980s, all FSL-built forecaster workstations, including the DARE/Pre-AWIPS systems, used VAX/VMS computers and Ramtek display hardware. Acknowledging the advent of the open-systems computing philosophy, FSL initiated in 1992 a new workstation development known as FX (for FSL X-based forecaster workstation). In 1993, the NWS requested that this effort be expanded and redirected to broaden and extend support for operations at Denver and Norman. This system was known as FX-ALPHA, for FSL X-based AWIPS-Like Prototype for Hydrometeorological Applications (Bullock and Grote, 1994). The primary objectives were to continue the AWIPS risk-reduction work that could no longer be supported by the current systems, and to develop, at FSL, expertise in the AWIPS environment. This latter emphasis allowed FSL to continue its role as a technology-transfer organization, at the same time providing an independent perspective on AWIPS issues.

2. Development Goal

The goal of the WFO-Advanced forecaster workstation development was to demonstrate a workstation that supports modernized NWS WFO operations. This included data ingest, management, and display; automated product generation; hydrometeorological applications; and product dissemination, together providing the opportunity to address the Congressionally-mandated staffing requirements for the modernized weather service. Such modernized WFO operations were demonstrated in 1995 using a WFO-Advanced system in two real-time forecast exercises (Roberts et al, 1996), followed by operational demonstration at the Denver WSFO.

3. Components

The WFO-Advanced system comprises the following components:

Figure 1 illustrates these WFO-Advanced components. Items within the dashed line have a "presence" on the display. General meteorological 3-d visualization has not been nationally deployed, but recent versions of AWIPS include a 3-d radar data viewer known as FSI, an MDL adaptation of NSSL's WDSSII.

3.1 Forecaster Workstation (D-2D)

The forecaster workstation is the central element of the WFO-Advanced system. The subsystem, known as D-2D for Display 2-Dimensional, is a continuation of the FX-ALPHA work.

Design considerations included

A key area of early investigation was the user interface - in particular, considering how menus and windows interact. For example, in a multiple-window system, is there one menu whose commands are directed to a selected window? a drag-and-drop system? one menu per window?

Prototype work in this area tested multi-window and single-window systems. Experience proved that a multi-pane, single-window system was easier for forecasters to use than one with multiple resizable windows. Most forecasters found that window management distracted them from their task.

Later investigation tested the concept of sharing a mouse between two displays or having one mouse per screen. Although forecasters preferred the flexibility afforded by the latter, HP could not promise hardware support for that approach and the NWS decided to go with the one-mouse setup. Hardware improvements led to the adoption of a three-screen operational system, with one graphics card driving two of the displays, with a second card for the third. The pointer moves freely across all three.

3.2 LAPS

The goal of GSD's Local Analysis and Prediction System (McGinley et al., 1992) is to provide real-time, three-dimensional, local-scale analyses and short-range forecasts for operational use. LAPS fuses meso-beta-scale (20 - 200 km) data from existing and future data platforms, including Doppler radar, wind profiler, surface sensors, satellite, and aircraft, producing high-resolution analyses and forecasts over a WFO's area of forecast responsibility. Running LAPS at operational weather facilities allows high-resolution data to be used locally without the need to transmit large volumes of data and model results.

LAPS is being developed by the Forecast Applications Branch within GSD. Their work addresses the needs of many government agencies in the areas of data analysis, data fusion, data assimilation, quality control, three-dimensional display and visualization, and numerical modeling.

LAPS work for WFO-Advanced covers three specific areas:

LAPS analysis code is part of the standard AWIPS complement (at CONUS sites). The forecast component was run at the Denver/Boulder WFO from mid-1997 through mid-2000, and is part of the more recent RSA work at GSD.


A CONUS-domain hourly surface analysis is part of the WFO-Advanced core software. The analysis is provided by the MAPS Surface Assimilation System, developed by the GSD Information Systems Branch.

Data used by MSAS are quality controlled by the Quality Control and Monitoring System. QCMS provides QC information and statistics to AWIPS users and data providers. Both static (single-station and -time) and dynamic checks are performed on both hourly and sub-hourly data.

3.4 IFP

The NWS, as part of its modernization and restructuring program, specified that WFOs will maintain a set of gridded digital forecasts from which routine forecast products for all services (public, marine, aviation, etc.) are generated. This approach, known as Interactive Forecast Preparation, was pioneered by TDL and FSL. The AWIPS operational system has been developed by GSD.

For decades, NWS forecasters generated weather forecasts using the same basic process. After reviewing numerical model output and regional observations, they spent roughly half of their shift composing forecasts in the form of text messages and disseminating them to various clients. IFPS not only relieves the forecasters of the burden of typing these text messages, but fundamentally changes the way forecasts are produced by shifting emphasis from text composition to interactive editing of gridded datasets.

GSD has developed a suite of graphical forecast editing tools, known as the Graphical Forecast Editor (GFE), with which the forecaster now prepares and manages these gridded forecast datasets (NOAA, 1993; Mathewson, 1996). For AWIPS, these editors have been tied together with database initialization techniques developed at MDL (using Model Output Statistics, or MOS) and GSD (RUC, NAM, LAPS – "smart initialization"), and text generators from GSD. All field offices now use GFE for graphical preparation of most routine forecasts with AWIPS.

3.5 3-d Display

GSD has been experimenting with three-dimensional visualization for several years. The primary focus has been work with the LAPS and RUC grids. Examples of GSD model visualization have appeared in several publications (e.g., the covers of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 75, no. 3, March 1994, and the Preprints, Tenth International Conference on Interactive Information and Processing Systems for Meteorology, Oceanography, and Hydrology, AMS, Nashville, Tennessee, January 1994).

Over the last couple of years of the 1990s, an AWIPS-like user interface was developed to provide intuitive access to 3-d displays in support of routine operations.

Other recent 3-d work at GSD includes a visualization and editing system for aviation impact variables (AIVs) such as turbulence and icing, and a display system for lightning data for the RSA program. Neither is yet part of the standard WFO-Advanced complement.

3.6 LDAD

Prototype AWIPS Local Data Acquisition and Dissemination functions were developed at GSD. This work encompasses acquisition of local datasets (for example, mesonets, highway department weather sensors, ALERT networks) for use by NWS forecasters, and dissemination of advanced meteorological information to local governments and other users.

The NOAA Emergency Management Weather Dissemination Project (Subramaniam and Jesuroga, 1995) conducted experiments in this area. Early work included acquisition of data from the Colorado Department of Transportation and the Denver Urban Drainage and Flood Control District, and interaction with the City of Boulder and Boulder County emergency management offices, where an experimental decision-support system was tested. In addition to general weather data, the latter included information about flash flood potential, conditions for wild fire initiation, severe convective and winter storms, and other weather-related information important in emergency management operations. More recently, work focused on a Rapid Prototyping Project for the Emergency Management Descision Support System (EMDS). Development in this area is currently suspended, and all LDAD-related maintenance is now the responsibility of the NWS.

It is hoped that future work will tie the official forecast database, as embodied in the IFP grids, to the dissemination system to provide improved forecast data to emergency operations staffs.

4. Related Historical Projects

Other government organizations were involved with projects similar to parts of WFO-Advanced. Notable efforts were at the Office of Hydrology, which worked on RFC-related systems, and the NWS Alaska Region, where forecaster-programmers developed a number of UNIX/X applications to support forecast operations.

4.1 Pathfinder

As noted earlier, the NWS and PRC tested an initial AWIPS prototype known as Pathfinder at two operational sites (Pittsburgh and Boston/Taunton) and NWS headquarters beginning in June 1995. Pathfinder demonstrated in an operational setting

and provided feedback on system design and operations and maintenance plans.

Components of Pathfinder were drawn from the NWS Office of Hydrology (OH) and ARONET (Alaska Region Operations Network). Data were limited to GOES imagery, local WSR-88D data, and Eta and Rapid Update Cycle grids. Applications included the NWS River Forecast System and WFO hydrology applications.


National Centers' requirements for forecaster workstations differ in many ways from those of WFOs. The AWIPS SRS includes specific requirements for National Center operations.

The National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP) has developed a distributed computing and communications system, N-AWIPS, to support National Centers forecast operations. This X-based system is being used at NCEP and some other NWS and academic sites. N-AWIPS provides access to operational and experimental numerical model graphics and grids, geostationary satellite data, surface and upper-air observations, and text products.

Perhaps the most significant feature of N-AWIPS is its GEMPAK-based (desJardins and Petersen, 1985) grid access module, which allows forecasters to perform virtually any mathematical operation on model grids.

4.3 ICWF

In the early 1970s, TDL began development of an automated computer worded forecast system (CWF). It initially produced city forecasts from MOS guidance. In the early 1980s, the program was expanded to include zone forecasts and terminal forecasts. The forecaster was presented with the end product, a text forecast, for editing.

The ICWF ("Interactive") program began in 1985 to develop a forecast support system for AFOS. It presented the forecaster with a zone-based basic weather matrix, which the forecaster could interactively view and modify before the text forecast was generated. This version of the ICWF was limited to the forecast projections available from MOS guidance. A demonstration of ICWF began at several WSFOs in 1986. WSFO Charleston actively used the ICWF until the introduction of AWIPS, with much of its operation built around the ICWF digital database.

In 1992, ICWF was made part of the Pre-AWIPS demonstration at WSFO Norman. Several enhancements and recommended modifications resulted from this experience. The final version of ICWF used a new set of weather elements to make it easier for a forecaster to depict the desired weather. A graphical editing system similar to the early GFE was implemented on HP equipement at Norman and Charleston to support generation of quantitative precipitation (QPF) grids for RFC use.

ICWF was installed at 21 NWS offices as part of AWIPS Build 2. The FSL-developed GFESuite mentioned above was merged with ICWF to form the IFPS component of AWIPS.

5. Development Schedule

Since WFO-Advanced was originally intended to demonstrate a number of AWIPS functions in advance of AWIPS development, it was necessary to prepare an initial release of the system quickly, to provide useful assistance to the NWS in creating AWIPS.

The early development schedule included five milestones:

Other milestones completed as part of supporting AWIPS development include:

6. References

Bullock, C. S., and U. H. Grote, 1994: FX-ALPHA: A new FSL workstation. Preprints, Tenth International Conference on Interactive Information and Processing Systems for Meteorology, Oceanography, and Hydrology, Nashville, Amer. Meteor. Soc., 354-357.

desJardins, M. L., and R. A. Petersen, 1985: GEMPAK: A meteorological system for research and education. Preprints, First International Conference on Interactive Information and Processing Systems for Meteorology, Oceanography, and Hydrology, Los Angeles, Amer. Meteor. Soc., 313-319.

Mathewson, M. A., 1996: Using the AWIPS Forecast Preparation System (AFPS). Preprints, Twelfth International Conference on Interactive Information and Processing Systems for Meteorology, Oceanography, and Hydrology, Atlanta, Amer. Meteor. Soc., 194-197.

McGinley, J. A., S. C. Albers, and P. A. Stamus, 1992: Local data assimilation and analysis for nowcasting. Adv. Space Res., 12, no. 7, 179-188.

NOAA, 1993: NOAA Special Report The AWIPS Forecast Preparation System, USGPO 89042, July 1993, 100 pp. NOAA/ERL/FSL, Boulder, CO, and NOAA/NWS/OSD/TDL, Silver Spring, MD.

Roberts, W. F., P. C. Kucera, C. M. Lusk, D. C. Walker, and L. E. Johnson, 1996: 1995 real-time forecast exercise for WFO-Advanced. Preprints, Twelfth International Conference on Interactive Information and Processing Systems for Meteorology, Oceanography, and Hydrology, Atlanta, Amer. Meteor. Soc., 198-201.

Subramaniam, C., and R. T. Jesuroga, 1995: The Dissemination Project: A decision support tool for emergency managers. Preprints, ANS Fifth Topical Meeting on Emergency Preparedness and Response, Savannah, GA.

For further information, contact

Joseph S. Wakefield
325 Broadway
Boulder, CO 80305-3328
303-497-7256 (fax)

Information on FSL and several of the projects mentioned in this overview is available at (the FSL home page).

Last updated 18 Sep 08