Manager forecasts AWIPS success

Mary Glackin modernization systems manager at the National Weather Service remembers heading home as a child from the New Jersey shore with her family caught in the middle of a hurricane that had hit without much warning. That event appears to have been a defining moment for a woman whose career has been dedicated to predicting the erratic and sometimes dangerous patterns of weather.

"I remember being impressed by the power of weather and how it affects so many people " Glackin said.Now Glackin manages the systems that make up NWS's modernization effort an estimated $4.5 billion project to improve weather forecasting capabilities. The cornerstone of this effort is the Advanced Weather Interactive Processing System a program Glackin has worked on intermittently for the last 10 years.

"I like the mission of the Weather Service " Glackin said. "It's a nice clear mission of protection of life and property. The AWIPS program is directly related to that. It will make such an improvement on warnings and short-term forecasts in particular. It complements other things I've done and been interested in."

AWIPS will bring together all of the data sets that have been part of NWS's modernization. AWIPS workstations will be able to pull together satellite data radar data numerical weather data guidance data and sensor data to create a picture of what's going on in the environment.

With AWIPS forecasters will be able to release a warning in a matter of seconds. "And by combining some of these data sets like radar and satellite together our experience has shown that it has let us pick up precursors to severe weather earlier " Glackin said. "So things like our watches of impending severe weather should improve as well."

By the end of this month Commerce Secretary Mickey Kantor is expected to make a final decision on nationwide deployment of the system. Glackin said future challenges will be to deploy systems concurrently install new software that will be released incrementally and maintain existing systems.

Before she assumed her current position three years ago Glackin was chief of the Services Development Branch at NWS. There she was responsible for improving operations through the use of new systems and scientific models. She also worked as both a meteorologist and computer specialist in different positions in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Glackin said she spends much of her personal time encouraging students particularly girls (including her two daughters) to get involved in science. Her own background is in computer science and meteorology.

"It's easy to go into a classroom and get kids worked up about weather " she said. "Meteorology is a great application of computer science and it always has been. That's what I always tell kids. If you're interested in weather no matter what learn about computers."

Women in science is another favorite topic. "When I went into sciences I remember my very first [college] physics class in 1972 " Glackin said. "There were 200 to 300 people in the lecture hall and only five were women. That was pretty intimidating. My whole career I've definitely been in the minority.

"But I see a lot of talented women in key positions in the government these days which is really refreshing. I think that begins to change the culture of an agency to make it a more attractive place that's better able to attract diversity in the work force."

Glackin's concern for weather science and the expanding role of women came together through a diversity workshop she co-chaired. Among other recommendations the group suggested developing science-education programs - specifically weather science - in grade school through college. In that spirit NWS sponsored a program this summer that included many women and minorities.

"I've always been a working mother and that's challenging " Glackin asserted. "I'm encouraged that there are so many two-career families out there. Things will change."

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