On March 6, 2012 several members of the Unidata Program Center staff traveled to the National Weather Service's Weather Forecast Office (WFO) in Boulder, Colorado for an update on AWIPS II system testing. Nezette Rydell, Meteorologist in Charge at the Denver/Boulder WFO, provided background information on the AWIPS II operational testing process and current status. Meteorologist David Barjenbruch provided a demonstration of how AWIPS II will be used in the WFO. The visit was a part of the UPC's ongoing involvement with the AWIPS II project and efforts to make the system available to the university community once it is operational.
Rydell began by pointing out that the Denver/Boulder WFO is in a unique position among the forecast offices because it is collocated with an office of the Global Systems Division (GSD) of NOAA's Earth System Research Laboratory. GSD staff have been at the forefront of development of technologies used in both AWIPS I and AWIPS II, and can provide valuable insights into the operation of both systems. Additionally, the Denver/Boulder WFO can take advantage of some of GSD's AWIPS II infrastructure, providing the opportunity to run the AWIPS II system side-by-side with the existing AWIPS I system, allowing direct comparison of software features and visualizations.
The Denver/Boulder WFO is the second forecast office to begin the transition from AWIPS I to AWIPS II. Earlier in the year, the Omaha WFO made the transition to AWIPS II over the course of a number of weeks. While the Omaha office still has the ability to switch between the two systems, only one system can be operational at a time. A third WFO, in Houston, Texas, is starting transition testing; other WFOs will make the transition to using AWIPS II over the next 12-18 months.
Rydell also stressed that the version of AWIPS II in use at the forecast office is still under development, with some functionality of NAWIPS still yet to be added by the National Centers for Environmental Prediction. Features providing functionality that replicates current tools such as NMAP2 and NSHARP are included in a separate AWIPS II perspective called the National Centers Perspective (NCP), which is being developed by NCEP. "Part of the effort is to bring features of the National Centers perspective into the WFO world," said Rydell.
Testing in the mountainous region covered by the Boulder office has revealed software issues — many related to topography-dependent analysis — that didn't come out in the Omaha testing. "Raytheon [the contractor doing the main AWIPS II development] has been very responsive when we bring up issues with the software," says Rydell. "There is a lot of stuff that will be great when all the issues are resolved." In the mean time, the Boulder office continues to use the AWIPS I system for operational forecasting.
Forecaster David Barjenbruch, working with side-by-side AWIPS I and AWIPS II displays, compared the features of the two systems favorably. "Speed, efficiency, and visualization quality are essential to us as working forecasters," he said. Despite some issues with screen resolution, differences in display features, and the fact that some local forecasting tools had not yet been implemented in the new system, Barjenbruch spoke favorably of the AWIPS II system. "The zoom and pan features are a very big improvement" in the forecasters' workflow, he said.