Hazard Services – Improving Hazard Communication

Currently, National Weather Service (NWS) forecasters must use several different software applications to compose and provide warnings, watches and advisories and related information for hazardous weather.  Each tool also has different abilities to support the forecasters in their decision-making.  Since each tool is uniquely designed, forecasters must learn each one and be able to quickly switch between them multiple times while on duty.

Hazard Services–an AWIPS software application presently in development–is an integral part of the NWS’s Weather-Ready Nation vision.  Hazard Services represents a paradigm shift in how the NWS will communicate hazard information and aims to streamline NWS operations by integrating the functionality of the aforementioned tools into a single interface for providing timely, accurate and actionable hazard information.  Within this single interface, Hazard Services will analyze data from various inputs and assist the forecaster in diagnosing and communicating the hazard information.  In addition, Hazard Services will also shift the present focus on legacy text products to multiple pathways of communication such as social media, cell phones, graphics, text and XML.  Thus, Hazard Services will act as a conduit for transforming leading-edge science into timely, accurate and actionable information to the end user in ways that meet their needs.

Hazard Services is also designed to be highly configurable, flexible and extensible.  While work continues on the operational version for NWS local forecast offices, experimental efforts are underway to extend Hazard Services to regional and National offices such as River Forecast Centers and National Centers.  An added advantage of using the same application across various levels of the NWS is the opportunity to share forecast information for consistency and collaboration which will help facilitate a unified NWS message.

Thus far, most of the Hazard Services development and testing work has involved hydrologic hazards such as river floods and flash floods.  Hydrologic hazards were chosen for the initial work because local NWS offices presently use three different software applications to inform its partners and users about them—the most of any hazard.  All other weather-related hazards require only one or two of the three software applications.  In addition, hydrologic hazards have uniquely complicated considerations regarding watches, warnings, advisories and outlooks for them.  Once the complexities of the three different software applications—as well as the inherent complexities of hydrologic hazards can be successfully addressed—then the lessons learned can be used address the other weather-related hazards.

Jeff Zogg, Senior Service Hydrologist at NWS Des Moines has been involved in Hazard Services development and testing for a few years.  He also participates in the national Hazard Services Tiger and Test Teams.  These teams help guide software enhancements, fixes and tests.  Jeff has also participated in some of these tests.  During the tests Jeff was part of a group of approximately five people who used Hazard Services as they would during an actual hazardous weather event.  The tests lasted around two to three days and used weather and water data from actual past events.  Testers documented software performance and stability issues—as well as enhancement suggestions—and then submitted them to the Tiger Team for prioritization on the list of items for software developers to address.

To date, 16 formal tests have occurred.  Two additional tests are planned through mid-September.  Within the several months, a readiness review will be conducted to determine if the process can move to the next step which involves assessment tests at four or five different sites around the country.  There, Hazard Services will be put through additional rigorous but longer-term testing for a variety of different hazards.  Once Hazard Services passes another readiness review after that step, it will be tested at local NWS offices.  A final readiness review will then determine if and when Hazard Services will be ready to become operational and thus replace the existing software applications.  Although the exact timetable of these steps is unknown, it is hoped to be completed within the next few years.

Blog post by Jeff Zogg, Senior Service Hydrologist, NWS Des Moines