Winds of Change

Weather Service plan shifts work to quieter offices to free up staffs where storms hit.

Not just for conventional meteorology anymore: That's the National Weather Service's outlook for itself in 2015. In the estimation of an employee team that developed a new operating concept late last year, the Weather Service will become "the organization that makes the difference when it matters most" to government decision-makers and people in harm's way.

NWS is reworking itself to play a bigger role in events not caused by weather, but for which weather information is critical to support response-such as natural disasters and terrorist attacks. The evolution from an inward-looking agency to one that sees itself as integral to a much larger enterprise will take almost a decade but promises some immediate benefits. "This is an idea to more effectively use the workforce," says NWS Director David L. Johnson.

There are identical weather offices in 122 locales across the country. They coordinate by telephone, e-mail and computer chats around-the-clock with 12 regional river forecast centers, nine national environmental prediction centers and 21 aviation weather service units, among others, to generate predictions in a range of formats. When severe weather hits, the local office works overtime to carry out its regular duties and the crisis response. If a storm knocks out one office, another one in the region takes over temporarily under a continuity of operations plan. That happened during Hurricane Katrina last year. Weather notices for the New Orleans area were issued from Mobile, Ala., for 22 days while the local office in suburban Slidell, La., was offline.

The system appears to work well; by all accounts, NWS performed superbly in Katrina and its aftermath. But according to the National Weather Service Corporate Board, which wrote the employee team's charter, the system is "fundamentally flawed" because it is not in step with the digital age, and increasing budgetary pressures exacerbate the problem.

Say a local office in the Midwest is in the path of tornado-spawning thunderstorms. "I would like to allow the entirety of that office to focus on the high-impact weather event that's approaching and shed some of the more routine workload to other offices that are less busy or not directly in the line of fire," says Johnson. The new design focuses resources on high-impact weather events and optimizes information technology to deliver routine services through deep collaboration. While it does not call for major structural changes, it will require a significant cultural shift from coordination to interdependence.

All NWS facilities will be organized into a dozen or more groups whose members generally share the same weather patterns, climatology and forecast responsibilities. Offices that can take advantage of nearby resources-university and government research centers, for example-to support others in the group could be eligible for additional people, equipment and funds. This "clustered peer" approach could make it possible for some local offices to operate less than 24/7 on occasion. The stated purpose is to allow time for training or to rest after a big event.

But the thought of letting any office close when it's not absolutely incapacitated makes the union representing 4,000 forecasters, technicians and support workers uneasy. "That would be the equivalent of them shutting down the fire station near your house to do training. You don't do that," says Dan Sobien, president of the National Weather Service Employees Organization. He helped to develop the interdependent working model and says it's a good plan except for that.

Implementation is in the early stages. NWS will conduct several years of prototyping and field-testing activities before it decides whether to adopt the operating concept. Changes in the wind at the Weather Service are part of the evolving mission of its parent agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "There's an opportunity for our weather forecast offices to better tell the whole NOAA story," says Johnson.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.