Contact: Greg Romano
NOAA News Releases 2005
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NOAA’s National Weather Service today issued an assessment of its performance before and during the thunderstorm of March 6, 2004, which produced wind gusts of 40 to 55 mph in the Baltimore metropolitan area. A water taxi loaded with 25 people in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor capsized in the winds and five passengers lost their lives.

In its assessment, the National Weather Service determined services provided by the Baltimore-Washington Weather Forecast Office met established requirements; however, information could have been more timely. A Small Craft Advisory was in effect for Baltimore Harbor on the afternoon of March 6, and Short Term Forecasts and a Special Marine Warning were issued as forecasters became aware of high winds. However, the service assessment team determined forecasters were in a reactive mode when these forecasts and warning were issued, responding quickly to changes in the weather conditions they were not expecting. With better access to additional observational data and a more aggressive and efficient analysis of evolving weather conditions, it is likely forecasters would have increased their concern for thunderstorm development and associated high winds.

“Service assessments help the National Weather Service enhance its ongoing efforts to improve the quality and timeliness of our products and services,” said Brig. Gen. David L. Johnson, U.S. Air Force (Ret.), director of NOAA’s National Weather Service. “This assessment determined that with a Small Craft Advisory already in effect, expectations that conditions would not support strong thunderstorms, and no reports of high winds or wind damage from standard sources, forecaster performance met established requirements and procedures. However, there is room for improvement. We are determined to learn from this event.”

Among the key findings and recommendations:

  • Atmospheric conditions became more unstable than expected, supporting thunderstorm development. Recommendations: Conduct local training exercise/workshop based on the event and update mode of operations.
  • Forecasters relied mainly on traditional, mostly NWS, data available in its Advanced Weather Interactive Processing System (AWIPS) workstations. Data were available from other sources, but was not integrated into the workstation where forecasters could use it effectively. Recommendation: Optimize use of non-NWS data and integration into AWIPS.
  • Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Terminal Doppler Weather Radar (TDWR) data from nearby Baltimore Washington International Airport were useful, but were only available via the Internet and could not be integrated into the AWIPS workstation. Recommendation: Accelerate NWS/FAA TDWR integration project.
  • Forecasters lacked timely reports of high winds or damage and could not correlate radar-estimated winds with ground reports from the public and law enforcement. Recommendation: Improve local integration of ground reports.
  • Forecasters relied primarily on their own WSR-88D Doppler Weather Radar even though other radars were in better position to resolve the east-southeast moving storms. Recommendation: Conduct local training exercise/workshop on optimization of radar data.

“Several of these recommendations have already been implemented or are being implemented today,” said Dennis McCarthy, director of the National Weather Service Office of Climate, Weather and Water Services. “We have accelerated the integration of FAA Terminal Doppler Weather Radar data into Weather Forecast Office operations. The Baltimore-Washington Weather Forecast Office now has this capability, and we are accelerating deployment to several hurricane-prone sites this summer. In addition, the Baltimore-Washington Weather Forecast Office is conducting ongoing training exercises to better prepare for events like these, and these exercises will be conducted throughout the National Weather Service.”

NOAA’s National Weather Service is the primary source of weather data, forecasts and warnings for the United States and its territories. The National Weather Service operates the most advanced weather and flood warning and forecast system in the world, helping to protect lives and property and enhance the national economy.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, an agency of the U.S. Commerce Department, is dedicated to enhancing the nation’s economic security, improving public safety through prediction and research of weather and Climate-related events and providing environmental stewardship of coastal and marine resources. Through the emerging Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), NOAA is working with its federal partners and nearly 60 countries to develop a global Earth observation network that is as integrated as the planet it observes.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The lead agency on a separate accident investigation was the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). The National Weather Service and U.S. Coast Guard were partners with the NTSB in the formal accident investigation. The National Weather Service’s service assessment examined issues directly related to NWS services but did not determine probable cause of the accident or address issues related to the water taxi and operating procedures of mariners in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.

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Complete Service Assessment available at: