NOAA 99-29
Contact: Barry Reichenbaugh


A high-tech, interactive weather computer and communications system, a key supporting element of the modernized National Weather Service, today received a laureate medal in the Computerworld Smithsonian Awards program, the Commerce Department announced.

The award program honors the use of information technology to create positive social and economic change. A case study of the Advanced Weather Interactive Processing System is now part of the permanent research collection on information technology at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.

"With about two-thirds of the systems already deployed, weather prediction has improved, and is helping to save lives, protect property and promote commerce," said Commerce Secretary William M. Daley, who oversees the National Weather Service and its parent agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "Over the next few years, weather prediction accuracy is expected to increase significantly because of the weather service's modernized systems, resulting in over $7 billion each year in economic benefits."

The system, known as AWIPS, is the key integrating element in the modernization of the National Weather Service. It provides significant improvements in weather- and flood-related services to protect life and property. AWIPS gives local weather forecasters access to satellite imagery, Doppler radar data, automated weather observations and computer-generated numerical forecasts, all in one workstation. This helps to improve the accuracy and lead time of weather predictions, especially for severe weather, and also helps to enable a reduction in overall staffing at the weather service.

Mary Glackin, director of the AWIPS Program Office of the National Weather Service, accepted the award at a ceremony at the Smithsonian Institution Castle in Washington, D.C. AWIPS is in contention for further honors in the award program's Environment, Energy and Agriculture category later this year.

"By helping our forecasters issue weather warnings and forecasts farther in advance and with a high degree of accuracy, AWIPS provides more time for the public, government agencies and private businesses to react," said National Weather Service Director Jack Kelly.

One example of how AWIPS already has made a difference occurred in July of 1998. National Weather Service forecasters in Salt Lake City used the advanced graphic display capabilities of AWIPS to visualize where heavy rains were falling in Zion National Park. A timely flash-flood warning resulted. Park rangers acted quickly to advise at least 40 hikers to avoid a narrow canyon. Several hikers who did not heed the warning barely escaped the resulting flood waters, and two other hikers were killed.

Developers are building AWIPS in incremental stages to incorporate continuous user feedback into ongoing development efforts. The weather service is on schedule to complete installation of the planned 152 AWIPS systems throughout the nation by the end of June. Further AWIPS enhancements due by September 2001 will provide improved support for many NWS functions associated with making and communicating forecasts and warnings, acquiring data and verifying the accuracy of forecasts.

AWIPS consists of commercial off-the-shelf hardware and software, and government- developed weather applications software. The site hardware includes: workstations that allow the forecaster to display and manipulate data; servers that store and process data; communications processors that acquire satellite and radar data; and a high- speed, local-area network that interconnects all the site equipment.

All AWIPS sites are interconnected through a high-speed, dedicated intranet to facilitate data exchange. The system also includes a subsystem, called "Local Data Acquisition and Dissemination," which allows local sensor data to be acquired and forecasts to be disseminated efficiently to the local community, including emergency managers. AWIPS is being developed and deployed by the National Weather Service, NOAA's Forecast Systems Laboratory in Boulder, Colo., and Litton PRC of McLean, Va.

In the AWIPS era, anyone who has the correct satellite receiving equipment will have access to satellite rebroadcasts of most of the data and graphics products that weather service forecasters access through AWIPS. "We are giving government agencies, universities, private research organizations and business interests access to most of the National Weather Service's data and products through a communications pipeline known as NOAAPort," said Glackin.

The AWIPS program was nominated for the Computerworld Smithsonian Award by Robert Finnocchio Jr., member of the Computerworld Smithsonian Chairmen's Committee that nominates all Computerworld award contenders, and president and chief executive officer of Informix Software, a subcontractor for the AWIPS program.

The AWIPS program previously earned a "Best of What's New" award from Popular Science magazine in 1997.

More information about AWIPS is available on the Internet at: