Navy Sails Web for Weather Forecasts

The World Wide Web has freed the Naval Pacific Meteorology and Ocean-ography Center from the text-based weather forecasts it has pumped out to the Pacific Fleet since its formation in 1941. By using Web tools the center has transformed itself into the "CNN of Weather" for the fleet according to Lt. Cmdr. John Kusters the technology services officer for the Pearl Harbor Hawaii-based center.

The transformation of the center into a Web-centric organ-ization highlights the ability of the core technologies of the Pacific Fleet's IT-21 project - the Web and e-mail with large-scale graphics attachments - to dramatically alter the fleet's routine processes. "The browser has become the front-end tool for everything we provide " said Lt. Will Poindexter the center's technology operations support officer.

The center not only delivers weather images to mariners operating in "typhoon alley" between Guam and Japan it also lets users choose the images they need.

"We decided to let users build their own Web pages " Poin-dexter said clicking on the center's home page on the Web (www.npomc.navy.mil). A few mouse clicks on the home page allow users to pop up a Web form familiar to anyone who has tapped into Excite or any other "push technology" site. The user picks the products he wants - selecting for example views from specific weather satellites - adds any other links desired clicks on "done" and from then on has a personalized weather page.

Behind this seemingly simple exercise stands a lot of work to link databases to the Web said Poindexter who wrote a Web front end for the databases using Microsoft Corp.'s FrontPage and Interdev software. Classified users can tap into even richer databases available through a specialized viewer also on-line.

The center has also paid close attention to Web page organization keeping in mind the needs of its users especially those afloat who have narrow-bandwidth pipes. Because satellite imagery comes packed in multi-megabyte JPEG files the center has started to put up "thumbnails of the imagery...so the users can look at it before they do a download " Poindexter said.

The center has also devised a way for afloat users to "loop" satellite weather images - easy to do in a local TV station but harder on a ship in the middle of the Pacific Poindexter said. Faced with a transit of the typhoon zone the USS Constellation aircraft carrier's weather department wanted the ability to animate the images of a nearby storm. Poindexter obtained commercial software capable of doing the job sent it to the carrier and then ensured the vessel received a steady flow of storm images to feed into the animated loop.

Kusters said Web technology has revolutionized the ability of the weather center "to provide perishable data to users when they want it."

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