Troubled weather-forecasting system gets go ahead

Late last month Commerce Department Secretary William Daley gave the go-ahead for full deployment of a system designed to improve weather warnings and short-term forecasts.

The National Weather Service's Advanced Weather Interactive Processing System will integrate radar, satellite and sensor data on one workstation, eliminating today's cumbersome system that requires forecasters to use several different systems to view the same information.

By June 1999, a total of 155 AWIPS units will be deployed nationwide. Currently, 21 systems are in use in the field. Daley also said the system will be deployed under the $550 million spending cap placed on the program by Congress about two years ago. AWIPS was estimated to cost about $226 million in 1992 when PRC, now Litton/PRC Inc., was awarded the contract.

AWIPS is the cornerstone of the NWS' $4.5 billion modernization effort, which includes advanced Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites and Next Generation Weather Radar systems. The General Accounting Office and Commerce's inspector general have criticized AWIPS for being behind schedule and over budget.

However, this latest decision proves the program is delivering the promised benefits to NWS, said Doug McVicar, general manager of PRC's Weather Systems Division. "The advanced capabilities of AWIPS have been proven in the field," McVicar said, adding that with the next software upgrade, called Build 4, AWIPS will offer better communications capabilities. The systems being deployed in June 1999 "will [include] Build 4," McVicar said. "This will allow [the National Weather Service] to replace its current nationwide communications system, which is not Year 2000-compliant."

In addition, Build 4 will automate the process of collecting local weather data, which should dramatically reduce the amount of manpower the agency now requires to collect this information, McVicar said.

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