I’m sitting in the classroom of Professor Fortune at NIU in the eaely 1990s, as a new and exciting thing was about to happen. Level 3 radar data was going to be made available from the new WSR-88D’s which were going to be installed…and NIU was going to be the first entity to get the data….at a pretty steep price of nearly $10,000/year.
I remember downloading the software necessary to display it, and I botched the first command on the command line (to menus/GUI’s back then!). A second attempt nailed it…and up came an image of northern Illinois, southern Wisconsin and northwestern Indiana that showed light rain showers at high resolution across the northwest part of the state. Students quickly gathered around my workstation, and soon, as I was looping the images, students kept shaking their heads at this amazing new technology!
Unfortunately, for the data distribution arm of the National Weather Service, they’ve been stuck in the 1990s. Servers and other equipment that are used, without redundancy, have actually done amazingly well at ingesting and relaying data since the 1980s. But when they tried to send MRMS radar data through this past year, well…they’re still having some issues with it to this day arriving in a timely matter.
But now a major modernization of equipment is underway at the National Weather Service (NWS). First, this summer, the NOAA Weather Radio system, with replacement parts almost unobtainable, was replaced with a system from 2015. It used to take 20-30 seconds to encode a single warning, and then activate the tones to broadcast the alert out. Now it takes one second, or less…and the reliability of the system is higher. There are a few bugs, but those should be worked out soon. There are no bugs that I know of to delay a warning from going out.
Of course, the switch to dual-pole doppler radars is now behind us, and that has been a big deal! Tornado Vortex Signature (TVS) talk is being replaced with Tornado Debris Signature (TDS). This summer, it was fascinating…and horrifying…to watch a tornado in Minnesota roll across farmhouses. The debris signature ramped up each time one got hit. You couldn’t tell that without dual-pole radar!
And now, here comes a biggie. After being used with AFOS, AWIPS, and now AWIPS2, the National Weather Service Telecommunications Gateway (NWSTG) is going away on December 1, 2016, barring unforseen circumstances. When this happens, the system backbone that the NWS ingests and disseminates data to and from will be redundant for the first time: one backbone (primary) located in College Park, MD; the other (backup) in Boulder, CO. If one crashes and burns, the other takes over. And instead of 1990s networking that has been upgraded to try to keep up, this new network is much faster, with servers built over the last year or so. It used to be that data was prioritized to get everything through; level 3 radar always took a backseat to tornado warnings, for example. Not any more…when a product is issued, it gets to you immediately, no matter what it is.
I suspect that despite the redundancy, there will be glitches in the system, and a few outages for a while. I certainly hope that is not true, but we have seen a few glitches in the new system as it has been phased in with other feeds. No show-stoppers, but outages have occurred with MRMS and other feeds as the transition has rolled on. No need to worry; this is an entirely new system and things like this are to be expected.
When this is all done early next year with everything on the new system, it will be great. It will be able to handle GOES-R, aka GOES-16 data (the current system gets overwhelmed and it simply cannot handle the firehose of test GOES-R data that was thrown at it), along with new products coming in the future. The reliability will be much higher, and if outages occur, backup systems can kick on to keep the data flowing. And, the NWS will have much higher levels of bandwidth available to them, all the way down to the forecast offices. The amount they now have now is not good (DSL speeds at best for most offices).
So, I’m thankful that the NWS can do all these upgrades. And with the current speed of the processors and networks available, this will be a huge leap for them. And AllisonHouse has our backbone all ready for it: from redundant servers and feed locations and methods, along with a very high capacity network, we have you covered! Get in on one of our data plans and see how scorching fast our data comes in! Data that took seconds to traverse the fiber in the past will very soon take milliseconds. And for that, we salute the NWS on their upgrade. We can’t wait to see all of the new products we will be offering you in the future with as a result off these major upgrades!