WRAL WeatherCenter Blog

Since we live in a high tech society the equipment that is being used to detect the weather is tremendous. As we all know though, sometimes computers have a mind of their own and do what they like. What happens if the machines break down. Is there a back-up plan?

Posted July 28, 2007

MIKE MOSS SAYS:     Katrina,     I'm not sure if you mean on a local scale here at the station or on a broader scale, but in either event, the answer is that there are certainly back-up plans and redundancies meant to keep weather information flowing to forecasters, and to keep forecasts, watches and warnings flowing from forecasters to the public and to government officials. A few examples, far from comprehensive:

Here in the WeatherCenter, we have two nearly identical computers ingesting observations, satellite and radar data and model forecast information, and making that info available to two almost identical on-air graphics display systems. If one suffers a failure, we have the other as a backup and can go on the air with very little interruption. Should both of these systems fail at once, our VIPIR system that we use principally for radar can also be configured to show satellite information, computer model output, current observations and forecast graphics. In effect, we could do an entire broadcast with it if our "normal" mode of displaying those elements was missing.

In terms of covering severe weather weather and surveilling the atmosphere for intense thunderstorms and potentially flooding rains, the National Weather Service uses a national network of Doppler radars that are sited in such a way that if any one is out of service, there are usually at least two others that provide backup coverage to the same region. Because of distance, they are not as ideal as having the more local radar in service, but still provides usable data. Likewise, each National Weather Service office has agreements with at least one (and sometimes more) neighboring office to take over issuing routine forecasts as well as severe weather warnings in case one of the offices is incapacitated by a power or communications failure, or by a natural or man-made disaster. These agreements are exercised on a regular basis, and one will occasionally see a Raleigh area forecast discussion, for example, that is tagged "issued by WSFO Blacksburg, VA."

At an even higher level, NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP), which has a series of sub-centers that issue nationwide forecasts and operates the sophisticated suite of computer models and associated products that most weather forecasts are based upon, as well as specialized units such as the Aviation Weather Center, the National Hurricane Center and the Storm Prediction Center, has back-up agreements with a variety of other centers or other separate government agencies. A few examples here include the Central Pacific Hurricane Center in Honolulu as backup to the NHC in Miami (and vice versa), the Air Force Weather Agency's global operations center as a backup to the NWS Aviation Weather Center and to the Storm Prediction Center (so, if SPC is out of service, national severe thunderstorm and tornado watches would be issued by the Air Force), and the Navy's Fleet Numerical Meteorology and Oceanograhy Center (FNMOC) in Monterey CA as backup producer, in combination with AFWA, of the computer model forecasts that most further forecasts are based upon, in the event the NCEP central office computing facility was out of service.

So, while there's no guarantee that a series of unfortunate system failures couldn't degrade the services available to some extent, quite a few plans have been made and actions taken to minimize the disruption until full operations could be restored.


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