Weather Service Modernization:

Risks Remain That Full Systems Potential Will Not be Achieved

T-AIMD-97-85: Published: Apr 24, 1997. Publicly Released: Apr 24, 1997.

Additional Materials:


Jack L. Brock, Jr
(202) 512-4841


Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800

GAO discussed the National Weather Service's (NWS) systems modernization program.

GAO noted that: (1) to reach the goal of better forecasting and earlier warnings with a smaller, downsized operation, the Weather Service has been acquiring new observing systems, including radars, satellites, and ground-based sensors, as well as powerful forecaster workstations; (2) the Advanced Weather Interactive Processing System (AWIPS) integrates, for the first time, satellite, radar, and other data to support weather forecaster decision-making and communications, and it is the linchpin of the NWS modernization; (3) operating under a $550-million funding cap, the system is expected to be fully deployed in 1999; (4) AWIPS development systems have been delivered to 16 locations nationwide, which represents the first two of six modules, or "builds"; (5) AWIPS is planned for a total of 152 locations once fully deployed; (6) the Next Generation Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite is a program to acquire, launch, and control five satellites for identifying and tracking severe weather events, such as hurricanes; (7) the first satellite was launched in 1994, and the second in 1995; (8) three more satellites are planned for launch between now and 2002; (9) the Next Generation Weather Radar (NEXRAD) is a program to acquire 163 Doppler radars; (10) scheduled for completion this year, 121 of the planned 123 NWS NEXRAD radars have been delivered to operational locations; (11) the Automated Surface Observing System (ASOS) is a program to automate and enhance methods for collecting, processing, and displaying surface weather conditions, such as temperature and precipitation, and to replace human weather observers; (12) scheduled for completion in fiscal year 1998, the ASOS system has been installed at 265 of the 314 planned NWS operational locations; (13) the Weather Service has generated better data, particularly with the new radars and satellites, and greatly improved forecasts and warnings; (14) notwithstanding such successes, however, each of the four programs has experienced cost increases and schedule delays; and (15) some of these delays can be attributed to changes in requirements; others were caused by program management and development problems.

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