How the Weather Service

Gets the Word Out

The National Weather Service (NWS) is taking advantage of new technologies to improve weather services to the nation The NWS wants to ensure that users of its services understand how changes to operations will affect the way NWS communicates weather into products.

This report provides an overview of NWS dissemination Systems, followed by a description of each system as it will function in the modernized NWS. The mention of a specific company or commercial product does not constitute or imply endorsement.

NOAA Weather Wire Service (NWWS)

The NOAA Weather Wire Service is the primary telecommunications network for NWS forecasts, warnings and other products to the mass media (newspapers, radio stations, TV, etc.) and emergency management agencies.

The NWWS is a satellite communications system that transmits NWS products directly from NWS offices to external users.

The NWWS satellite communications system is operated by GTE Corp., under contract to the NWS. The system uses satellite transmitting (i.e. "uplink") equipment at more than 58 major NWS forecast offices throughout the continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico.

Each uplink site transmits NWS generated weather information products to GTE's master facility in Mountain View, CA, which are then re-broadcast via satellite to more than 1,500 users. Users then have access to this broadcast data stream of NWS products.

More than 6,400 individual products per day are transmitted. To use the system, users must obtain the equipment needed to receive the data broadcast from the system contractor.

The NWS expects that modernizing operations will be matched with a significant growth in the total number of weather products available to subscribers. As part of the transition to modernized operations, the NWS is investigating the feasibility of using the NWWS to transmit forecasts and warnings in graphical form to users for direct display on computer terminals.

Wire Service Subscription Information

GTE Federal Systems Division
15000 Conference Center Drive
Chantilly, VA 22021-3808
800/633-2340

NOAA Weather Radio (NWR)

NOAA Weather Radio provides voice broadcasts 6f weather information. NWS field offices generate this data and send it directly to the public via a nationwide network of VHF-FM radio transmitter sites. The radio system broadcasts weather data from more than 390 transmitter sites across the nation, as well as Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guam and American Samoa.

More than 73 percent of the population currently can receive broadcasts. The current network expansion program will increase this coverage to more than 95 percent. In many cases, cable TV weather channels rebroadcast this information as audio. In addition, the broadcast is often rebroadcast on AM radio channels by local Traveler Information Services.

The NWR product line includes a comprehensive set of weather and hydrologic products of public interest. These products are recorded as audio messages at a program console. The console then controls the broadcast sequencing of the messages and transmits the audio to the transmitter site.

In the modernized NWS, weather radio will remain a vital, direct communications link to the public. NWS expects no change in the location of the existing transmitters; however, we plan to install many new transmitters as a result of network expansion. NWS may change the specific office that generates weather radio messages for a transmitter site as modernized Weather Forecast Offices (WFOs) open, but this change should be transparent to users.

NWS plans to replace existing radio programming consoles. We will use digital-to-voice technology to automate the recording of the products, reducing the need for manual involvement.

Messages will flow directly from local NWS computers into the weather radio console, where they will be converted automatically to audio and sent to transmitter sites for broadcast to the public.

NWS expects automation to improve the timeliness of weather warnings and other critical messages. For additional information on the present and future NWR operations phase, contact your local NWS office.

Radar Data Dissemination

External users of radar data can receive products from doppler weather surveillance radars (WSR-88D) through the Next Generation Weather Radar NEXRAD) Information Dissemination Service (NIDS). Four commercial companies or NIDS providers are operating under agreements with the NWS to provide this service.

NWS requires NIDS providers to access all commissioned WSR-88Ds and make products available to users desiring these products. There is a fee for this service. Since the providers offer a wide range of service options, users are urged to contact the companies listed below to find the service that best meets their needs.

NEXRAD Information Dissemination Service

Alden Electronics, Inc.
40 Washington Street
Westborough, MA 01581-0500
508/366-8851

Kavouras Incorporated
1400 Rupp Drive
Burnsville, MN 55337
612/726-9515

UNISYS Weather Information Services
P.O. Box 1226
Kennett Square, PA 19348-1226
610/444-2400

WSI Corporation
4 Federal Street
Billerica, MA 01821-5000
508/670-5000

NOAA Family Of Services (FOS)

Since 1983, NWS has provided external user access to weather information through a collection of data services called the Family Of Services (FOS). FOS is accessible via dedicated telecommunications access lines in the Washington, DC, area. All FOS data services are driven by the NWS Telecommunications Gateway computer system at NWS headquarters in Silver Spring, MD.

Users may obtain the individual services from NWS for a one-time connection charge and an annual user fee. Several private companies subscribe to the FOS and then resell the data as received and/or provide value-added information services for their customers. The FOS includes the following services:

· Public Product Service (PPS): Carries all public warnings and watches, and various hydrologic, agricultural, and miscellaneous forecasts and products

· Domestic Data Service (DDS): Carries basic observations and various aviation, marine, and miscellaneous products

· International Data Service (1DS): Carries worldwide surface and upper-air observations and other miscellaneous products

· High Resolution Data Service (HRS): Carries global model-derived forecasts and analyses, most of which are in the gridded binary (GRIB) format. Subscribers connect directly to a port in the NWS telecommunications Gateway computer facility.

· AFOS Graphics Service (AGS): Carries centrally-produced weather products (charts) in the vector graphic format used in the NWS AFOS system

· Digital Facsimile Service (DIFAX): Carries weather analysis and prognosis products related primarily to aviation.

The NWS plans no major changes for the FOS as a result of modernization, but as the program progresses, data currently transmitted on FOS circuits may also become available in real-time via a communications satellite broadcast. This satellite broadcast, known as NOAAPORT, will be a one-way broad-cast of a comprehensive range of environmental data and information in real time to both NOAA users and external users throughout the United States.

Family of Services Information

Family of Services Program Manager
National Weather Service
Telecommunications & Dissemination
Branch, WIOSOIS
1325 East West Highway
Silver Spring, MD 20910
301/713-1741

Climate Data

The National Center For Environmental Prediction (NCEP) of the NWS provides, for a fee, dial-in access to a wide range of climate data. This system is known as the Climate Analysis Center Dial-Up Service (CACDUS). Further information can be obtained from:

Climate Analysis Center Dial-Up Service

Climate Analysis Center
National Meteorological Center
5200 Auth Road
Camp Springs, MD 20746
301/763-4670

Weather By Telephone

In early 1990, the NWS maintained about 300 recorded telephone announcement Systems at field sites nationwide. Depending on the location, these recordings provide weather services such as public forecasts, marine forecasts, tropical weather, current conditions and an extended forecast. More than 100 of these systems have ring-through devices that allow direct contact by users with NWS personnel to obtain more information.

Since the mid-1980s, the NWS has been phasing out its own local forecast recording service whenever the private sector could offer equal or better service. NWS will continue to contract out its recording service as it identifies qualifies vendors. We will continue to use telephone recordings as an important method of communication with users.

NOAA Weather Radio (NWR) broadcasts are available on a commercial "900" telephone service (900/884-6622), operated by a private company, Weather Radio Network Corporation (WRN Corp.). Numerous locations are available, as well as the hurricane hotline.

Satellite Data

In the mid-1970s, shortly aster the first GOES meteorological satellite was launched, the National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service CNESDIS) established the GOES-TAP data service. NESDIS enables government and external users to receive high quality meteorological satellite imagery from the GOES and polar satellites on a near real-time basis.

There are several access points from which users can receive data: The GOES Central Data Distribution Facility in the Washington, DC, area and the five Satellite Field Distribution Facilities in Kansas City, MO; Monterey, CA; Miami, FL; Anchorage, AK; and Honolulu, HI.

Users must sign an agreement with the Government and pay a one-time charge and an annual fee. This type of connection affords users some control over the satellite images (sectors) they receive. Another access alternative is to connect to an existing NWS dedicated GOES-TAP circuit at the closest access point. This method, termed WSFO-TAP, requires a written agreement with the NWS. The Government does not charge for this service.

WSFO-TAP customers do not have the capability to select sectors and will receive only the data the NWS office selects. Private vendors also can furnish GOES imagery. Prospective users should contact vendors directly for information. As modernization continues, NWS will replace the GOES-TAP system with the NOAAPORT system.

GOES-TAP Information Sources

GOES-FAX Specialist
Domestic Telecommunications
Section, W1050152
National Weather Service
1325 East West Highway
Silver Spring, MD 20910
Telephone 301/713-0425

GOES-TAP Specialist
Satellite Services Division
NESDIS
5200 Auth Road
Camp Springs, MD 20746
Telephone: 301/763-8051

The Internet

Many of the forecasts, warnings, advisories, observations, and other text products made by the National Weather Service are available for free on the internet. Most of the Weather Forecast Offices maintain web pages. Each office usually offers their forecasts through links on the internet. Links to the NWS regions and to the local offices can be obtained through the NWS headquarters web page at http://www.nws.noaa.gov.

This is considered to be an unofficial distribution source because the timeliness of the products cannot be guaranteed. Links are often to third party sites such as universities. Computer and networks occasionally fail and when that happens data becomes inaccessible.