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Meteorologists testing the Advanced Weather Interactive Processing System, version 2 (AWIPS2), at the NWS Weather Forecast Office in Omaha Nebraska experienced potentially life threatening technical issues and missed critical information as they disseminated warnings. The problems highlight catastrophic infrastructure issues within the NWS as the agency tries to manage multiple technical problems with their already delayed AWIPS2 roll out.
Meanwhile, the NWS plans on removing the Information Technology Officers from all weather forecast offices nationwide as part of the Presidents FY13 budget request, the very same people the agency would count on to fix these technical problems.
The National Weather Service houses an AWIPS at each of the 122 weather forecast offices across the country. AWIPS is the cornerstone for all of the forecasting and warning programs. The agency is in the process of upgrading to a faster, more efficient system, AWIPS 2, but is experiencing technical problems as the implementation takes place.
Currently, the weather forecast office in Omaha, Nebraska is the only office to fully implement AWIPS2; Boulder, Colorado and Houston, Texas are in the process of implementing the system. In Omaha, the forecasters did not even know they were in a Tornado Watch as the typical alerting systems and notifications failed to operate correctly. Additionally, products that warn citizens of potential dangers also alerted areas that were not of concern. Finally, forecasters were not able to see portions of neighboring radars that might have had a better coverage of the storm.
“The National Weather Service is making rash decisions that could have catastrophic consequences,” said Dan Sobien, president of the National Weather Service Employees Organization. “It makes no sense to implement AWIPS2 before the program is ready and then fire all the IT guys who are responsible for fixing the problems.”
AWIPS2 is scheduled to be implemented in the Oklahoma City area (Norman, OK) in about two weeks and unlike Omaha, Norman will not have a backup AWIPS1 system. “They clearly have not worked all of the bugs out of the system, and now they are going to place this machine in the heart of Tornado Alley, right at the beginning of the tornado season, they are going to kill somebody,” Sobien stated.