3.1 Value of originating center
In BUFR language, every «originating center» (in practice every NMS and some international bodies, e.g. ECMWF, are originating centers) has the right to define its own local set of descriptors. A given number identifies such an originating center. OPERA is not recognized as such a center, and so has not his assigned number.
This is a problem if OPERA needs to define radar specific descriptors. It is not possible to ask each OPERA member to add the OPERA descriptors to their local tables, as this leads to conflicts. For instance descriptor 3 21 192 is in OPERA a 4 bit reflectivity image, and in France it is used for calibration results.
The solution devised so far by OPERA was to piggyback on the missing value for the originating center field in the message. This value is 255 or 65535 depending on the BUFR edition used (see 3.3). Since summer 2008, WMO has allocated 247 as the official «originating center» for OPERA. It is not decided currently how OPERA members will handle the transition.
A number of facts emerge, like Hawking radiation, that i'm not sure the BUFR community fully appreciates. One is that the WMO tables that are used by various BUFR writing software packages have changed from version to version. I first noticed this 2 years ago, but aliens abducted me and removed my memory of it. So I kept looking for the correct, backwards compatible version. (no, not mel-bufr, no, not eumetsat, no, not ncep. hmmm)
The second fact is that centers routinely override standard WMO entries, even though these are marked "reserved". My guess is that this is done mostly when adding provisional entries, but in some cases it looks like a flagrant trespassing onto the WMO "keep off the lawn" lawn.
The consequences of that are that if you look at a BUFR message in the wild (that is, you dont know anything more about it except whats coded into the message itself), then you never know for sure what table was used, even when all the entries are in the WMO part of the table.
Given that theres lots of possibly incompatible versions of WMO tables being used in different software stacks, what did the data producer actually use? One is reduced to finding the actual person in charge and asking them. That doesnt scale, and sometimes they don't know. But of more concern is that in 10 or 50 years, those people will be gone, and the actual knowledge will be lost. So good luck, future data miners, reliably reading archived BUFR data.
Jeff Ator at NCEP has correctly pointed out that one solution is to include the BUFR tables in the archive file that stores the BUFR data messages. One can encode BUFR tables as a BUFR message, by using a particular section of the, you guessed it, standard WMO BUFR tables. So as long as those encodings are done correctly, and when they change are correctly versioned, and all the software uses a correctly transcribed machine-readable copy, and no one overrides with a local table of how to encode BUFR tables, then our future data miners should have a good shot at correctly reading the data.
So that's best practice, fellow data buriers, i mean archivers. Do it, or risk the scorn of your grandchildren.