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NOAA's National Weather Service
The Foundation of America's Weather Services
The National Weather Service (NWS) is the U.S. federal agency charged with providing weather, water, and climate warnings and forecasts. Over the last several years, our collective focus has been on delivering necessary products and services while completing the myriad of activities associated with the NWS modernization and restructuring. Our new observing systems (space, radar, and ground); modern information technology assets; and training programs have combined to improve the quality of our products. By working with key partners, especially the emergency management community, we strive to ensure our products and services are responsive to the needs of the American public.
- To be America's "no surprise" weather service.
- A world-class team of professionals who:
- Produce and deliver quality forecasts you can trust when you need them most
- Use cutting edge techniques
- Provide services in a cost-effective manner
- Strive to eliminate weather-related fatalities and improve the economic value of weather information
The National Weather Service (NWS) provides weather, hydrologic, and climate forecasts and warnings for the United States, its territories, adjacent waters, and ocean areas for the protection of life and property and the enhancement of the national economy. NWS data and products form a national information data base and infrastructure which can be used by other governmental agencies, the private sector, the public, and the global community.
Who We Are and What We Do
Every day America needs the National Weather Service (NWS). The NWS is the sole United States official voice for issuing warnings during life-threatening weather situations. The NWS provides weather, water, and climate forecasts and warnings for the United States, its territories, adjacent waters and ocean areas, to protect life and property and enhance the national economy. Television weathercasters and private meteorology companies prepare their forecasts using NWS information. The NWS has about 4,700 employees in 121 weather forecast offices, 13 river forecast centers, 9 national centers and other support offices around country; with an annual operating budget of approximately $700 million in 2001.
The Department of Commerce (DOC) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) provide the NWS with the policy direction and resources to accomplish its mission. NOAA envisions a world in which societal and economic decisions are coupled strongly with a comprehensive understanding of the environment. The NWS vision of improved weather services is in concert with NOAA's goals of advancing short term warnings and forecast services, implementing seasonal to interannual climate forecasts, and assessing and predicting decadal to centennial climate change.
The NWS has a national infrastructure to gather and process data worldwide from the land, sea and air. This includes data from familiar technologies such as weather radars, satellites operated by NOAA's National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NESDIS) and also less-familiar technologies such as data buoys for marine observations and surface observing systems. The highly trained and skilled NWS workforce uses sophisticated computer models, and high-speed communications systems to generate and distribute the information. NWS staff also use trained community volunteers to enhance weather service operations. Cooperative observers collect weather data that becomes part of the nation's climate records. Storm spotters provide the NWS with visual confirmation of severe weather events.
Partners, Customers and Benefits
NOAA's NWS serves the American public, through partnerships with other Government agencies, academia, nonprofit organizations, and the private sector. These extensive and varied partnerships form a unique weather and climate provider system supporting all our citizens and institutions, as well as meeting U.S. international obligations. Achieving a high level of customer satisfaction among a diverse user base is a challenge.
Weather services cost each American about $4 a year--the same price as a hamburger and fries. This investment allows the NWS to issue more than 734,000 forecasts (fire weather, public, aviation, marine), 850,000 river and flood forecasts, and between 45,000 and 50,000 potentially life-saving severe weather warnings annually. NWS data and services are a public good, paid for by the taxpayer and needed to protect life and property, which is an inherently governmental function with direct benefit to the national economy. Airlines, for example, rely on short-term forecasts to best position their aircraft and adjust flight routes. Long-term climate forecasts help city managers better manage the purchase of resources such as salt and sand for roads and sidewalks. River forecasts help communities protect their property by preparing for floods. Weather, climate and flood conditions affect the entire economy in direct and indirect ways. Better weather, water and climate forecasts and information bring new economic opportunities to almost every sector of the economy. NWS data and information are used by the private sector to provide value added forecasts and information to customers in a growing industry with over $400 million in revenue.
Starting as part of the Army Signal Corps in 1870, the NWS has a 130-year legacy of service to America. Decade by decade, the NWS has marshalled scientific and technological advances of the time to improve weather services. The NWS is governed by the Organic Act of 1890 (15USC Chapter 9), which provides the original language authorizing the NWS to provide services. Additional legislation, such as 49 USC 44720, stipulates provision of meteorological services for the safe and efficient movement of aircraft in air commerce; and Public Laws 100-695 and 102-567 address specific issues relating to the NWS Modernization and Restructuring.
Historically, America's interests in maritime commerce, agriculture, and aviation led the NWS to major advances in the type and quality of services. At the close of the 20th century, the NWS completed an unprecedented modernization and associated restructuring that has transformed the entire agency.
This over $4.5 billion modernization spanned a decade. Doppler radars were installed across the Nation as part of a tri-agency effort between DOC, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Transportation. NOAA developed new satellites with advanced observation capabilities. The NWS office structure reorganized from over 300 field offices to 121weather offices, 13 river forecast centers, and nine national centers. New high speed supercomputers improve weather, water and climate forecasts. Field offices are equipped with powerful computer workstations for the first time enabling forecasters to view all weather, radar, satellite, and computer information at one workstation. The workforce has undergone extensive training to understand all the new information now available and to learn how to use the new technology. The modernization created an advanced weather forecast and warning system. Accomplishing this task required a complete change in the NWS scientific, technological, and human resource base without interrupting or degrading day-to-day service to America.
The benefits of the modernization and associated restructuring are dramatic, and have set the standard for weather agencies worldwide. The NWS is making great strides to improve weather forecasts and warnings. Over the last five years, the weather service has doubled the warning lead-time for tornadoes to approximately 11 minutes, compared with virtually no warning twenty years ago, when tornado warnings were issued only after a tornado was spotted. This extra time saves lives. Warnings for flash floods have also improved from eight minutes in 1987, to about 50 today. Today's three-to-four day forecast is as accurate as the two day forecast 15 years ago. Products issued around the clock by NWS staff affect the lives of every American. Ongoing research and development efforts by universities and NOAA laboratories yield breakthroughs in all areas of weather, water and climate forecasting. Important advances in the science of meteorology and hydrology, coupled with major new technological capabilities for observing and analyzing the atmosphere, will allow the National Weather Service to continue providing unprecedented weather services to the Nation.
Goals and Challenges
The National Weather Service's highest priority is to translate customer and partner needs into products and services that are trusted when needed most. NWS will meet these needs with a seamless suite of weather, water, and climate products of increasingly higher resolution and accuracy. The American people will continue to demand accurate and timely forecasts and warnings. The NWS will manage these high expectations by achieving the following goals:
Current challenges include: