oversight

National Weather Service: Modernization Activities Affecting Northwestern Pennsylvania

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1997-09-26.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

                  United States General Accounting Office

GAO               Report to Congressional Requesters




September 1997
                  NATIONAL WEATHER
                  SERVICE
                  Modernization
                  Activities Affecting
                  Northwestern
                  Pennsylvania




GAO/AIMD-97-156
      United States
GAO   General Accounting Office
      Washington, D.C. 20548

      Accounting and Information
      Management Division

      B-276777

      September 26, 1997

      The Honorable F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr.
      Chairman, Committee on Science
      House of Representatives

      The Honorable Phil English
      House of Representatives

      As you know, the National Weather Service (NWS) has been modernizing its
      systems and work processes since the 1980s to enable it to provide better
      weather services to users. This effort is one of the larger systems
      modernization programs within the federal government, projected to cost
      about $4.5 billion. The modernization is vital to NWS streamlining and
      downsizing and includes cutting its number of field offices by over half.
      Before any weather service office is closed, the Secretary of Commerce
      must certify that the affected geographic areas will not experience a
      degradation of weather service.1

      In your March 5, 1997, letter, you expressed concerns about radar
      coverage and weather services provided to northwestern Pennsylvania, an
      area that had been served by the Erie weather service office (WSO). This
      office is slated for closure and has therefore been spun down operationally
      (i.e., it is no longer providing operational services to the public).2
      However, data from the Erie radar have been used by one of the three NWS
      offices now providing services to northwestern Pennsylvania. These
      offices are weather forecast offices (WFOs) in Pittsburgh and State College,
      Pennsylvania, and Cleveland, Ohio. NWS has not officially closed the Erie
      office, however, because of ongoing concerns regarding services to the
      Erie area. NWS officials said they will not close the office until they have
      addressed all concerns about possible degradation of service, including
      those regarding adequate radar coverage.

      As agreed with your offices, we examined how NWS had implemented
      modernization and restructuring activities in this area. Specifically, our
      objectives were to identify (1) why the Erie, Pennsylvania, WSO was spun
      down prior to the Department of Commerce’s October 1995 report on 32



      1
       This certification is required by the Weather Service Modernization Act, Public Law 102-567, Sec.
      706(b), 106 Stat. 4306 (1992).
      2
       Spin-down is a term used by NWS to describe the actions taken at a weather office slated for closure.
      It includes transferring weather service responsibilities to other offices and reducing staff.



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              areas of concern,3 (2) what types of services were provided to the counties
              served by the Erie office before and after office spin-down, as well as what
              public concerns have been raised, and how NWS responded to them,
              (3) what safety concerns have been raised relating to weather services at
              the Erie airport and to the timeliness of small-craft advisories for Lake
              Erie, including how NWS responded to public concerns about these issues,
              and (4) whether any reliable statistical or other evidence exists that
              addresses whether a degradation of service in the Erie area has occurred
              as a result of the modernization and office restructuring.


              To determine why the Erie WSO was spun down before completion of the
Scope and     Secretary of Commerce’s report on 32 areas of concern, we analyzed
Methodology   documents that described the spin-down and reviewed the Secretary’s
              report. We also discussed the timeline of these events with NWS officials.

              To determine what weather services were provided before and after the
              Erie office was spun down, we reviewed NWS site implementation plans for
              the Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Central Pennsylvania weather offices, and
              interviewed former employees of the Erie WSO and officials at each of the
              three WFOs. We also discussed the services provided and concerns raised
              about the quality and types of services with (1) members of Save Our
              Station, a group dedicated to saving the Erie WSO, (2) Erie television
              station meteorologists, (3) the National Air Traffic Controllers Association
              safety representative at Erie International Airport, (4) officials at Presque
              Isle State Park, Erie, (5) the officer in charge of the U.S. Coast Guard
              Station in Erie, and (6) emergency management officials and
              representatives of emergency volunteer organizations, such as Skywarn, in
              each of the nine counties that constituted the Erie WSO warning area.4 We
              reviewed NWS’ responses to concerns raised.

              We identified safety concerns raised regarding the weather services
              provided at the Erie airport and obtained NWS’ responses to these concerns
              through interviews with the National Air Traffic Controllers Association
              safety representative at Erie International Airport, the manager of the
              Aviation Weather Requirements Division, the Federal Aviation
              Administration (FAA), and NWS officials. To identify concerns raised about

              3
               This report was required by a joint agreement between the Department and concerned members of
              the Congress. It assessed the possibility of degradation of service in areas of concern identified by the
              public primarily because of planned office closures. Northwestern Pennsylvania was identified as an
              area of concern.
              4
               Counties in the Erie WSO warning area were Cameron, Crawford, Elk, Erie, Forest, McKean, Potter,
              Venango, and Warren.



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small-craft advisories on Lake Erie, we interviewed (1) officials at Presque
Isle State Park, (2) the officer in charge of the U.S. Coast Guard station in
Erie, (3) the commander of the Greater Erie Boating Association, and
(4) members of Save Our Station. We reviewed NWS documents relating to
aviation weather and the small-craft advisories on Lake Erie and obtained
NWS’ responses to safety concerns.


To determine if reliable statistical or other evidence existed that addressed
degradation of service, we reviewed NWS verification statistics for severe
weather events in the nine counties included in the Erie WSO county
warning area prior to and after spin-down of the Erie office. We discussed
the methodology and process used to develop these statistics, and their
reliability, with NWS officials. In addition, we discussed NWS verification
statistics and studies with a professor emeritus and an associate professor
of meteorology at Pennsylvania State University and also with the
chairperson of the Modernization Transition Committee. Further, we
reviewed available NWS lake-effect snow study reports.5 We interviewed
the NWS Eastern region team responsible for the lake-effect snow study
and the director of the Office of Meteorology at NWS headquarters. In
discussions with representatives of Save Our Station, county emergency
management directors, and volunteer organizations, we obtained specific
examples of weather events that these individuals believed demonstrated
evidence of degradation of service.

In addition, we reviewed the National Research Council (NRC) report on
NWS modernization and the Secretary’s report on 32 areas of concern, with
specific reference to radar coverage. To understand the ability of NWS’ new
radars and other data tools available to forecasters to provide adequate
coverage for severe weather event warnings and lake-effect snow, we
discussed this topic with NWS officials and the study director of NRC, the
chairperson of the Modernization Transition Committee, a member of the
Secretary’s report team who was the acknowledged expert on NWS radar,
the former chairperson of NRC’s Modernization Committee (who is also a
professor emeritus of meteorology), and an associate professor of
meteorology at Pennsylvania State University.

We performed our work at NWS headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland; at
the NWS Eastern region in Bohemia, New York; at the Cleveland,
Pittsburgh, and Central Pennsylvania WFOs; and at the Erie WSO. In
addition, we conducted telephone interviews with emergency

5
 Lake-effect snow is localized snow that occurs over and along the shoreline of lakes. It is caused by
the flow of relatively cold air over warm water, such as that occurring along the southern and eastern
shores of the Great Lakes during outbreaks of arctic cold air.



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                   management officials and emergency volunteers in the Erie WSO county
                   warning area.

                   We performed our work from April to August 1997, in accordance with
                   generally accepted government auditing standards. As agreed with your
                   offices, we did not assess the adequacy of the NWS responses to identified
                   concerns, and we did not assess the adequacy of reports discussed in this
                   report. The Secretary of Commerce provided written comments on a draft
                   of this report. These comments are discussed at the end of this report and
                   are reprinted in appendix II.


                   NWS started spinning down the Erie WSO by transferring warning
Results in Brief   responsibilities to the three assuming WFOs in August 1994 before the
                   Department of Commerce began its review of the 32 areas of concern in
                   June 1995. Concerns about the Erie office closure, however, were made
                   known as early as June 1994. NWS continued with its plans to spin down
                   the office because officials believed they would be providing the best
                   service to the area by relying on modernized radars in other offices.

                   The three WFOs that assumed responsibility for the counties formerly
                   served by the Erie WSO provide generally the same types of services that
                   the Erie office had provided, with the exception of the general public’s
                   local or toll-free telephone access to NWS personnel. These ongoing
                   services include issuing public forecasts, marine and aviation forecasts
                   and warnings, and severe weather warnings, and conducting warning
                   preparedness activities. The major concerns surrounding the transfer of
                   responsibilities relate to whether radar coverage over the counties
                   formerly served by Erie would be adequate, and whether forecasts and
                   warnings are at least equal in accuracy and timeliness to those previously
                   issued by Erie. NWS responses to such concerns include analyzing its
                   ability to detect severe weather phenomena over northwestern
                   Pennsylvania, as well as providing data on how well the assuming offices
                   are issuing forecasts and warnings.

                   A few concerns also have been raised regarding NWS’ service to the Erie
                   airport and the timeliness of small-craft advisories for Lake Erie. The most
                   commonly voiced concern regarded an automated surface observing
                   system (ASOS) and requirements for air traffic controllers to augment it




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             with human observations.6 While FAA accepted responsibility for the Erie
             system from NWS in October 1996, concerns about using air traffic
             controllers to augment ASOS are not limited to the Erie airport.
             Consequently, FAA has sponsored a study of the impact of its augmentation
             responsibilities at airports such as Erie and will be issuing a report in the
             fall of 1997.

             Several studies present evidence that a degradation in service has not
             occurred in northwestern Pennsylvania; however, the ability to detect and
             predict lake-effect snow remains a concern. Studies by NRC and the
             Department of Commerce show that the assuming WFOs have the ability to
             detect most weather phenomena in the areas formerly served by Erie as
             well as or better than that office. NWS is completing a lake-effect snow
             study to determine the effectiveness of the modernized weather system in
             detecting and predicting this phenomena in the Erie area. Preliminary
             conclusions indicate that service has not been degraded in detecting and
             forecasting lake-effect snow; however, the service being provided to Erie
             is not as good as the service provided to other lake communities whose
             service has improved as a result of the NWS modernization. The director of
             NWS’ Office of Meteorology told us that as a result, he will recommend a
             radar for the Erie area. However, NWS has not yet taken a position on the
             need for a radar, and the Secretary of Commerce is scheduled to make the
             final decision on any action to be taken in northwestern Pennsylvania.


             NWS began a nationwide modernization program in the 1980s to upgrade
Background   observing systems, such as satellites and radars, and design and develop
             advanced forecaster computer workstations. The goals of the
             modernization are to achieve more uniform weather services across the
             nation, improve forecasts, provide better detection and prediction of
             severe weather and flooding, permit more cost-effective operations
             through staff and office reductions, and achieve higher productivity. As
             part of its modernization program, NWS plans to shift its field office
             structure from 52 Weather Service Forecast Offices and 204 WSOs, to one
             with 119 WFOs.7




             6
              ASOS was implemented during modernization to replace human observation of many elements, such
             as wind speed and direction, and visibility. However, because the system cannot detect all elements
             that were historically reported through human observation, such as thunderstorms, tornadoes, and
             cloud layers above 12,000 feet, system augmentation is needed to report these elements.
             7
             This discussion of field offices does not include river forecast centers because the role of these offices
             was not changed by the modernization and restructuring.



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NWS  field offices provide basic weather services such as forecasts, severe
weather warnings, warning preparedness, and—where
applicable—aviation and marine forecasts. Warnings include
“short-fused”—events such as tornadoes, flash floods, and severe
storms—and “long-fused”—events such as gales and heavy snow. NWS
broadcasts forecasts and warnings over the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Weather Radio. NWS offices transmit
hourly weather updates and severe weather warnings as they are issued on
hundreds of NOAA Weather Radio stations around the country. Warning
preparedness includes coordinating with local emergency management,
law enforcement agencies, and the media on notification of and response
to severe weather events, and training volunteer weather observers to
collect and report data under a program commonly called Skywarn. NWS
relies heavily on supplemental data provided by Skywarn volunteers’
reports on severe weather events.

Under NWS’ restructuring plan, the Erie WSO is slated for closure and has
been spun down operationally. When fully functioning, this office’s
primary role was to provide severe weather warnings to nine counties in
northwestern Pennsylvania, operate an on-site radar, and take
surface-condition weather observations. Under the NWS field office
restructuring, responsibility for Erie’s nine counties is divided among
three WFOs: Erie and Crawford counties are served by the Cleveland WFO;
Venango and Forest counties are served by the Pittsburgh WFO; and
Cameron, Elk, McKean, Potter, and Warren counties are served by the
Central Pennsylvania WFO (located at State College, Pennsylvania).8
Figures 1 and 2 present maps of the premodernized and modernized office
structures for the northwestern Pennsylvania area.




8
 The Central Pennsylvania office is not fully staffed and, therefore, has not yet accepted its full
responsibilities for the five former Erie counties. Long-fused forecasting services for these counties
are still provided by the Pittsburgh office. NWS plans to fully staff this office in fiscal year 1998.



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Figure 1: Premodernized NWS Office Structure for Northwestern Pennsylvania




                                                               NEW YORK

                                      .WSO
                                    Erie

                                                      Warren     McKean          Potter

                                  Crawford

                                                      Forest
                                                                 Elk       Cameron
                                           Venango
                      OHIO



                                                        PENNSYLVANIA




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Figure 2: Modernized NWS Office Structure for Northwestern Pennsylvania




                                                                                NEW YORK

                                                           Erie
                                                                                        Potter
                                                                    Warren McKean
                                                         Crawford
                                                                       Forest         Cameron
                                                                                Elk
                                         Cleveland WFO       Venango




                                                                                         Central Pennsylvania WFO


                                                           Pittsburgh WFO
                                    OHIO                                                 PENNSYLVANIA




                                         Under the field office restructuring, the three offices assuming coverage
                                         responsibility for Erie’s nine counties have been in the process of
                                         installing new systems and equipment, such as new radars, and training
                                         staff in using the new technologies. In addition, each office taking on part
                                         of Erie’s former responsibilities communicated modernization and
                                         restructuring changes with the newly-assumed counties’ emergency
                                         response community, volunteer weather observers, the media, and the
                                         public. Once sufficient systems and staff were in place, the three
                                         WFOs—Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Central Pennsylvania—began assuming
                                         responsibility for their respective counties. Erie gradually phased out its




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routine radar operation; it was responsible for augmenting ASOS until
October 1996 when FAA took over responsibility for this function.

Two other NWS changes affected the Erie area, but were not part of the
spin-down or required for consideration in making an office closure
certification; these changes affected the number and type of forecasts
issued and the area covered by the forecasts. First, in both the
premodernized and modernized environments, the 2-day forecast is
broken into four 12-hour periods. However, with access to improved,
real-time data from new technology—primarily the new radars
implemented as part of the modernization—NWS in 1994 added a
short-term forecast, called the Nowcast, which is a 6-hour forecast.

The second change NWS implemented during modernization was a
reduction in the area covered by its zone forecast. Before modernization,
forecast zones (i.e., the areas for which a particular forecast was issued)
could include several counties as well as specific localized forecasts for
high-population areas. In October 1993, NWS reduced the size of its zones
to single counties to allow forecasters to take advantage of improved data
and make more specific forecasts and warnings. Because of this ability to
be more specific, most NWS areas discontinued the localized forecasts for
high-population areas.

The Weather Service Modernization Act9 requires that before any office
may be closed, the Secretary of Commerce must certify to the Congress
that closing the field office will not degrade service to the affected area.
This certification must include (1) a description of local weather
characteristics and weather-related concerns that affect the weather
services provided within the service area, (2) a detailed comparison of the
services provided within the service area and the services to be provided
after such action, (3) a description of recent or expected modernization of
NWS operations that will enhance services in the area, (4) identification of
areas within a state that will not receive coverage (at an elevation of
10,000 feet or below) by the modernized radar network, (5) evidence,
based upon a demonstration of modernized NWS operations, used to
conclude that services will not be degraded from such action, and (6) any




9
 Public Law 102-567, 106 Stat. 4303 (1992).



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                  report of the Modernization Transition Committee10 that evaluates the
                  proposed certification.

                  In response to concerns from members of the Congress, the Department of
                  Commerce agreed to take several steps to identify community concerns
                  regarding modernization changes, such as office closures, and study the
                  potential for degradation of service. First, the Department published a
                  notice in the Federal Register in November 1994, requesting comments on
                  service areas where it was believed that premodernized weather services
                  may be degraded with planned modernization changes. Next, the
                  Department contracted with NRC to conduct an independent scientific
                  assessment of proposed modernized radar coverage and consolidation of
                  field offices in terms of the no degradation of service requirement. In
                  addition, NRC established criteria for identifying service areas where the
                  elimination of older radars could degrade services. Finally, the Secretary
                  of Commerce applied the NRC criteria to identified areas of concern to
                  determine whether a degradation of service is likely to occur. The
                  resulting report, Secretary’s Report to Congress on Adequacy of NEXRAD
                  Coverage and Degradation of Weather Services Under National Weather
                  Service Modernization for 32 Areas of Concern, was issued in
                  October 1995.


                  NWS started spinning down the Erie WSO by transferring warning
Erie Spin-Down    responsibilities to the three assuming WFOs in August 1994 before the
Began Prior to    Department of Commerce began its review of areas of concern. However,
Initiation of     Erie community members raised questions in June 1994, several months
                  before Erie was identified as one of the areas of concern through the
Commerce Review   Federal Register process. NWS continued with its plans to spin down the
                  office because officials believed they would be providing the best service
                  to the area by relying on modernized radars in other offices. Erie
                  continued surface observations and radar operations until October 1996
                  and March 1997, respectively.

                  The starting point for the Department of Commerce study of areas of
                  concern was the November 1994 Federal Register announcement soliciting
                  concerns about NWS modernization and restructuring plans. In




                  10
                   The Weather Service Modernization Act established this committee with representatives from NWS,
                  FAA, the Department of Defense, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, civil defense and
                  public safety organizations, news media, labor organizations, meteorological experts, and private
                  sector users of weather information.



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                      February 1995, Erie was identified as 1 of 32 areas of concern.11 The
                      Department of Commerce reviewed the 32 areas between June and
                      August 1995, and issued its report in October 1995. The report concluded
                      that with the exception of lake-effect snow, the assuming WFOs will be able
                      to detect severe weather phenomena over northwestern Pennsylvania. In
                      addition, the report recommended that NWS (1) compare the adequacy of
                      the assuming WFOs’ new radars and other data sources with Erie’s old
                      radar in identifying lake-effect snow over a 2-year period and (2) transmit
                      data from Erie’s radar to nearby WFOs to support the lake-effect snow
                      study and facilitate the continued spin-down of the Erie office.


                      The three weather offices that assumed responsibility for the counties
Types of NWS          formerly served by the Erie WSO provide generally the same types of
Services Provided     services that the Erie office had provided, with the exception of the
Before and After      general public’s local or toll-free telephone access to NWS personnel. The
                      general public in the nine counties must now call long-distance to contact
Spin-Down Are         the Cleveland, Central Pennsylvania, and Pittsburgh WFOs.
Generally the Same,
                      Services for Erie and Crawford counties are now provided entirely by the
but Concerns Exist    Cleveland WFO. There are few changes to the services that were provided
Regarding NWS’        by the Erie WSO. The primary changes are the discontinuance of the
Ability to Serve      localized forecast for the city of Erie and the addition of the Nowcast. As
                      noted before, localized forecasts were discontinued because of changes in
Distant Areas         the size and detail of zone forecasts. Another significant change is the
                      transfer of ASOS augmentation to FAA. This relieves NWS of maintaining staff
                      on-site to take observations. Table 1 presents a detailed comparison of the
                      services provided to Erie and Crawford counties before and after
                      spin-down.




                      11
                       Residents of northwestern Pennsylvania raised concerns that the Erie closure could result in a
                      degradation of service. A list of all areas of concern was published in the Federal Register on
                      February 23, 1995.



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Table 1: Services Provided to Erie and Crawford Counties Before and After Spin-Down
Service                          Previously provided by        Now provided by                       Date of change
Short-fused warnings (including   Erie                               Cleveland                       8/94
warnings for adjacent coastal
waters)
Long-fused warnings               Pittsburgh                         Cleveland                       10/95
Forecasts                         Pittsburgh                         Cleveland (including individual 10/95
                                                                     county forecasts and Nowcasts)
                                  Erie modified Pittsburgh’s first   Local forecast discontinued     9/94
                                  period forecast (hours 0-12)
                                  and issued as a local forecast
                                  for the city of Erie
Open-lake waters and near-shore Cleveland                            Cleveland                       N/A
forecasts, warnings, and
advisories
Bay report (current wind and      Not an official NWS service        Cleveland                       N/A
wave conditions)                  before modernization
Aviation forecast for Erie        Pittsburgh                         Cleveland                       10/95
International Airport
Warning preparedness              Erie                               Cleveland                       8/94
Surface observations              Erie                               ASOS augmentation turned        10/96
                                                                     over to FAA
NOAA Weather Radio                Erie                               Cleveland                       8/94
Climatological services (daily    Erie                               Cleveland                       10/95
and monthly messages)

                                               The Pittsburgh WFO now provides all services to Venango and Forest
                                               counties with the exception of issuing NOAA weather radio reports and
                                               updates. Changes in services to these counties are minimal as Pittsburgh
                                               was already providing many services to these areas. The only significant
                                               change is the addition of the short-term forecast—the Nowcast—which
                                               was not provided in premodernization. Table 2 presents a detailed
                                               comparison of services provided before and after spin-down.




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Table 2: Services Provided to Venango and Forest Counties Before and After Spin-Down
Service                          Previously provided by       Now provided by                     Date of change
Short-fused warnings             Erie                             Pittsburgh                      8/94
Long-fused warnings              Pittsburgh                       Pittsburgh                      N/A
Forecasts                        Pittsburgh                       Pittsburgh (including individual N/A
                                                                  county forecasts and Nowcasts)
Warning preparedness             Erie                             Pittsburgh                      8/94
NOAA Weather Radio               Erie—however, existing           Cleveland (providing same       8/94
                                 transmitters did not serve all   coverage as Erie)
                                 areas in these counties
Climatological services (daily   Erie                             Pittsburgh                      10/95
and monthly messages)

                                              Services for Cameron, Elk, McKean, Potter, and Warren counties are now
                                              provided mostly by the Central Pennsylvania WFO. Since this office is not
                                              yet fully staffed, forecasting and long-fused warning services are still
                                              provided by Pittsburgh. Again, with the exception of the Nowcast, no
                                              major changes have occurred for these counties. Since many of these
                                              counties are mountainous, NOAA Weather Radio service does not reach all
                                              areas. NWS believes service will be improved when additional transmitters
                                              are installed in fiscal year 1998. The Central Pennsylvania and Pittsburgh
                                              WFOs will program these transmitters. Table 3 presents a detailed
                                              comparison of services provided before and after spin-down.




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Table 3: Services Provided to Cameron, Elk, McKean, Potter, and Warren Counties Before and After Spin-Down
Service                         Previously provided by         Now provided by               Date of change
Short-fused warnings             Erie                            Central Pennsylvania              8/94
Long-fused warnings              Pittsburgh                      Pittsburgh (will be provided by   N/A
                                                                 Central Pennsylvania once
                                                                 office is fully staffed)
Forecasts                        Pittsburgh                      Pittsburgh provides individual    N/A
                                                                 county forecasts; will be
                                                                 provided by Central
                                                                 Pennsylvania once office is fully
                                                                 staffed
                                                                 Central Pennsylvania provides     5/94
                                                                 Nowcasts
Warning preparedness             Erie                            Central Pennsylvania              8/94
NOAA Weather Radio               Erie, Pittsburgh, and             Central Pennsylvania and        8/94
                                 Williamsport WSO—however,         Cleveland (providing same
                                 existing transmitters did not     coverage as before)
                                 serve all areas in these counties
Climatological services (daily   Erie                            Central Pennsylvania              10/95
and monthly messages)



Concerns Raised About                         Many concerns have been raised about the specific services being
Services to Erie and                          provided by NWS as well as the quality of the service provided. Most
Crawford Counties and                         concerns had been brought to NWS’ attention and NWS provided responses
                                              to them. Other concerns brought to our attention either had not been
NWS Responses                                 reported to NWS or NWS had not officially responded. We discussed these
                                              concerns with NWS officials and received their responses. The most
                                              common concern—voiced by almost every individual we spoke with—was
                                              with the ability of distant radars to detect all types of weather phenomena.
                                              Table 4 presents concerns raised by users in Erie and Crawford counties
                                              and NWS’ responses.




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Table 4: Concerns Raised About Services to Erie and Crawford Counties and NWS Responses
Concern                                                       NWS response
Cleveland WFO too far away to be able to forecast weather and           Modernized radars are very effective even at long ranges for most
issue severe weather warnings accurately and timely.                    phenomena and provide improved service over older radars;
                                                                        verification statistics support this statement for northwestern
                                                                        Pennsylvania.
Gap in radar coverage will affect ability to detect lake-effect snow.   NRC and Commerce studies support this concern; NWS is
                                                                        completing a lake-effect snow study to determine NWS’ ability to
                                                                        detect this phenomenon over northwestern Pennsylvania.
Verification statistics for the Erie area show warnings were more       Statistics show the accuracy of warnings for the nine-county Erie
accurate when the Erie WSO was issuing warnings.                        area have improved overall.a
Cleveland staff are not familiar with terrain and weather               Terrain and weather are similar to that of northeastern Ohio, which
experienced in northwestern Pennsylvania.                               are familiar to staff; several staff members have visited the area.
Lake-effect snow study data collection was inconsistent—too few         Data collection did change during the 3-year study as NWS
data points and not always scientifically collected.                    attempted to enlist additional volunteers—the number of
                                                                        volunteers for Erie and Crawford counties changed each year
                                                                        during the 3-year study from 15, 13, to 22; volunteers were trained
                                                                        by NWS personnel in proper data collection procedures.
Erie WSO is providing no services, therefore the office should be       Erie WSO is not closed because operation of the Erie radar was
considered closed; however, NWS has not yet completed a “no             required for the lake-effect snow study; NWS is awaiting the
degradation of service” certification.                                  results of the study to determine if degradation exists and, if so,
                                                                        how to address the problem.
Public telephone service was discontinued in the Erie office in     The Erie office does not have modernized equipment and
spring 1996; the community must now call Cleveland for information. therefore cannot provide the best weather information to the
                                                                    public; NWS wants communities to begin relying on their new
                                                                    weather offices.
There is no public toll-free telephone number for Cleveland.            Cleveland offers toll-free telephone numbers to emergency
                                                                        management and Skywarn; it also offered free telephone access
                                                                        to the public until February 1997, when budget cuts dictated that
                                                                        this service be eliminated.
The public telephone number for Cleveland is not answered 24            The public number is available during regular business
hours a day.                                                            hours—8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; 24-hour service is available to
                                                                        emergency management, state, county, and municipal officials,
                                                                        and Skywarn volunteers.
There is no forecast for Presque Isle Bay; the near-shore forecast      Erie WSO never issued a separate Bay forecast; the near-shore
does not specifically address the Bay.                                  forecast includes the Bay, which generally experiences less
                                                                        severe conditions than other waters in the near-shore forecast.
Wind reports and near-shore forecasts are inadequate.                   Three additional wind sensors were installed along the shore to
                                                                        provide better information.
Sometimes there are missing wind sensor reports.                        The missing reports are usually from the two sensors that are read
                                                                        by state officials who may not take observations if their workload
                                                                        does not permit it; the one automated sensor will always provide
                                                                        data unless the equipment is inoperable.
Proposed marine prediction unit cut in Cleveland will adversely         No changes yet; if a change is made, however, Cleveland will still
affect Lake Erie service.                                               issue near-shore forecasts—the marine prediction unit is
                                                                        responsible for ice and wind reports used primarily by commercial
                                                                        carriers.
                                                                                                                                 (continued)




                                                Page 15                       GAO/AIMD-97-156 National Weather Service: NW Pennsylvania
                                               B-276777




Concern                                                                   NWS response
Fear of untimely service of NOAA Weather Radio.                           No problems reported; Cleveland focuses priority on quick
                                                                          service to northwestern Pennsylvania.
ASOS cannot adequately replace human observations of all critical         ASOS was not designed to completely replace human observers
weather conditions, such as tornadoes, blowing snow, and clouds           and requires augmentation for certain observations; this is being
above 12,000 feet.                                                        provided by FAA for the ASOS unit at the Erie International Airport.
Reliance on ASOS will interrupt the historical climate record             The Erie ASOS is augmented by FAA for critical weather
because it cannot report on all critical weather conditions.              observations with the exception of snow depth—this is provided
                                                                          by volunteer observers for northwestern Pennsylvania.
Outreach on modernization and restructuring issues was                    Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Central Pennsylvania, region headquarters,
insufficient.                                                             and Erie personnel communicated with users and the community
                                                                          in over 100 instances, such as notification letters, briefings, and
                                                                          Skywarn training sessions.
NOAA Weather Radio updates are issued later than when issued              Erie only had to issue updates for one station and therefore issued
by Erie.                                                                  updates just a few minutes after the hour; with new
                                                                          responsibilities, Cleveland has to issue updates for four stations
                                                                          and, as a result, Erie’s updates were issued later than normal; in
                                                                          response to concerns, Cleveland has begun issuing the Erie
                                                                          updates first.
Too few staff per shift will result in some areas getting degraded        Cleveland is following NWS policy on the number of staff; during
coverage if multiple severe events occur at the same time.                severe weather events staff will be supplemented with overtime
                                                                          employees, as needed.
Some severe weather events have been missed and some                      Weather prediction and severe weather warning are never 100
forecasts have been inaccurate.                                           percent accurate; some events inevitably are missed.

Specifically:
• A tornado in June 1994 was not detected on Cleveland’s radar            • Erie WSO still had authority for issuing warnings; Cleveland’s
and a warning was not issued until after touch-down.                      radar showed severe storm activity and staff were talking with Erie
                                                                          staff to determine whether a tornado was possible.
• A funnel cloud in May 1996 was not detected by ASOS.                    • Cleveland issued a tornado warning 2 hours prior to detection;
                                                                          the funnel cloud was detected by ASOS augmentation.
• Severe flooding in September 1996 was not predicted and                 • The flood was a once-in-a-100 years event. Intense rainfall was
Cleveland radar could not see the intense rainfall.                       generated by very low-topped clouds, which is an unusual cause
                                                                          for rainfall of this amount. Cleveland radar did not see this event
                                                                          because the weather pattern was so low and the Erie radar could
                                                                          not detect the intensity of the rainfall. However, after heavy rainfall
                                                                          started, Cleveland used rainfall and flood reports from volunteers
                                                                          to issue subsequent warnings.

                                               a
                                                See appendix I for NWS’ verification statistics for this area.




                                               Page 16                           GAO/AIMD-97-156 National Weather Service: NW Pennsylvania
                            B-276777




Concerns Raised About       The primary concern voiced from five of the seven counties now served by
Services to Cameron, Elk,   the Central Pennsylvania and Pittsburgh WFOs was the ability of distant
Forest, McKean, Potter,     radars to provide adequate coverage for severe weather phenomena in
                            order to issue accurate and timely forecasts and warnings. Some users in
Venango, and Warren         counties at the fringes of radar coverage questioned NWS’ ability to track
Counties and NWS            approaching severe weather outside the range of an office’s radar. NWS’
Responses                   responses to these concerns were to assure county officials and residents
                            that the new radars and other components of the modernization, such as
                            satellites and improved weather models, would enable NWS to provide
                            better service to their areas. Furthermore, WFOs can access radar data
                            from nearby WFOs. For example, if a severe storm was moving eastward
                            into northwestern Pennsylvania, Central Pennsylvania and Pittsburgh staff
                            would likely access data from Cleveland’s radar to help determine the path
                            and intensity of the event.

                            One individual expressed concern that during severe weather events, there
                            may not be sufficient staff to operate the amateur radio equipment, which
                            is used to communicate with Skywarn volunteers. According to NWS, there
                            are licensed amateur radio operators on staff. However, if licensed staff
                            are not available during severe events, NWS can call on volunteers to help
                            operate the equipment. These concerns seemed to have been allayed as
                            most officials told us that service provided by the new offices is at least
                            equal to the service provided before modernization.


                            A few concerns have been raised regarding weather services provided at
Concerns About              the Erie International Airport and the timeliness of small-craft advisories
Services at the Erie        for Lake Erie. The most commonly cited concern was with ASOS, which has
Airport and                 been the subject of much scrutiny since its nationwide deployment. We
                            reported on several ASOS issues in 1995,12 such as specific sensor problems
Timeliness of Lake          and the system’s difficulty reporting actual, prevailing conditions in
Erie Small-Craft            rapidly changing or patchy weather conditions. NWS has implemented
                            modifications to address sensor problems and, in some places, including
Advisories                  Erie, added sensors to better report representative observations. In
                            addition, since ASOS does not replace all human observations, human
                            observers must continue to take manual observations at airports such as
                            Erie to supplement the system (this process is called augmentation) and
                            correct the system when it is not accurately reporting current conditions.




                            12
                             Weather Forecasting: Unmet Needs and Unknown Costs Warrant Reassessment of Observing System
                            Plans (GAO/AIMD-95-81, April 21, 1995).



                            Page 17                       GAO/AIMD-97-156 National Weather Service: NW Pennsylvania
                                                B-276777




                                                Under an NWS/FAA interagency agreement, FAA accepted augmentation
                                                responsibility for the Erie ASOS in October 1996. At that point, NWS weather
                                                observers were discontinued at Erie and air traffic controllers became
                                                responsible for augmenting ASOS observations and correcting the system
                                                when it reported inaccurate conditions. Concerns surround the issue of
                                                whether this ASOS augmentation responsibility is too much for air traffic
                                                controllers. FAA recognizes these concerns and has sponsored an
                                                independent study of the impact of ASOS augmentation. According to the
                                                manager of FAA’s Aviation Weather Requirements Division, a report is
                                                expected in the fall of 1997. Table 5 presents specific safety concerns
                                                raised and NWS responses.


Table 5: Concerns Raised About Safety at Erie International Airport and Timeliness of Small-Craft Advisories,
and NWS Responses
Concern                                                          NWS response
FAA controllers must augment ASOS; this places too much work on FAA agreed to assume ASOS augmentation responsibilities; in
controllers at the risk of safety.                              response to concerns from controllers, FAA has sponsored a
                                                                study of the impact of ASOS augmentation.
ASOS is unrepresentative of prevailing conditions; this can have     A joint NWS/FAA/aviation industry study found that ASOS is
safety implications for aircraft approach and landing.               representative 98 percent of the time; an additional sensor was
                                                                     installed apart from the ASOS sensor group to identify when
                                                                     visibility conditions are different from the official ASOS observation
                                                                     (i.e., to identify when the official ASOS observation may be
                                                                     unrepresentative of prevailing conditions).
Terminal forecasts are no longer sent directly to the Erie airport   Cleveland is issuing terminal forecasts as required and
tower.                                                               disseminating them to FAA; the Erie WSO arrangement of sending
                                                                     forecasts directly to the airport tower was a favor.
Some severe weather on Presque Isle Bay and Lake Erie have           Weather prediction and severe weather warning are not 100
occurred without warnings.                                           percent accurate; some events inevitably are missed.

Specifically:
• A high school rowing team was practicing on Presque Isle Bay       • Cleveland office records show that NWS first issued a
when high winds capsized rowing shells; no severe weather            small-craft advisory the night before the incident and upgraded its
warnings were issued.                                                advisory to gale warnings at 3:48 a.m. on the day of the incident;
                                                                     such warnings and advisories are included in NOAA Weather
                                                                     Radio updates and sent to local TV and radio stations via regular
                                                                     NWS dissemination avenues.
• Several waterspouts have occurred without warning.                 • Waterspouts are not detectable with either the old or new radars
                                                                     although NWS will issue warnings when conditions look favorable
                                                                     for waterspout activity.




                                                Page 18                    GAO/AIMD-97-156 National Weather Service: NW Pennsylvania
                            B-276777




                            There are several sources of evidence that address whether a degradation
No Evidence of              of service has occurred in the Erie area. NWS’ statistical verification
Service Degradation,        program collects performance data on the issuance of forecasts and
but Detection of            warnings and provides information necessary to compare
                            “premodernized” and “modernized” performance. Overall, data for the
Lake-Effect Snow            former nine-county Erie WSO area show an improvement in service under
Remains a Concern           the three WFOs.

                            Studies by NRC and the Department of Commerce analyzed the ability of
                            the new radars and other components of the modernization to detect
                            certain weather phenomena and assessed the potential for degradation of
                            weather services in the Erie area. NRC concluded that the ability to detect
                            three severe weather phenomena, including lake-effect snow, was
                            questionable. The Department of Commerce’s study expanded on NRC’s
                            work and concluded that lake-effect snow was the only phenomena that
                            remained a concern. NWS is completing a 3-year study of its ability to
                            detect and predict lake-effect snow in the Great Lakes area, which
                            includes northwestern Pennsylvania.


Accuracy and Timeliness     Since the 1980s, NWS has assessed the accuracy and timeliness of its severe
of Warnings and Forecasts   weather warnings and public and aviation forecasts through a statistical
Show Overall                verification program. The verification process includes determining the
                            accuracy of the forecast elements of maximum and minimum temperature
Improvement                 and probability of precipitation. Several elements of the aviation forecasts
                            are likewise verified. Severe weather warnings are verified by determining
                            whether an event for which a warning was issued occurred. The elements
                            calculated for warning verification are probability of detection (i.e., NWS’
                            ability to detect weather events—the higher the probability, the better the
                            performance), false alarm rate, and lead time. If a warning was issued but
                            a severe weather event did not occur, a higher false alarm rate results. If a
                            severe weather event occurred without a warning, the probability of
                            detection goes down.

                            Warning and forecast verification statistics historically have been used to
                            help weather office managers determine trends in performance and
                            identify areas needing improvement. With modernization, the statistics are
                            included in the certification package as support either for or against a
                            determination of degradation of service. NWS officials stressed, however,
                            that verification statistics are not the most important component of the
                            no-degradation assessment. Rather, they said, they rely most heavily on




                            Page 19                  GAO/AIMD-97-156 National Weather Service: NW Pennsylvania
                         B-276777




                         feedback from users to determine satisfaction with the level of service
                         being provided and whether degradation has occurred.

                         The verification statistics for the nine former Erie office counties show an
                         overall improvement to the area in warning service. Appendix I presents
                         the warning verification data for the nine-county area. The statistics also
                         show slight improvement for public forecast service. The aviation forecast
                         verification statistics show a negligible decline from .33 to .32, on a scale
                         from 0 to 1 with 1 being the best performance.

                         NWS  officials cautioned that there are limitations to the verification
                         program and resulting data. For example, since the number and type of
                         weather events vary from year to year, it is impossible to directly compare
                         performance from one year to another. In addition, it is more difficult to
                         verify events in sparsely populated areas. Finally, NWS officials
                         acknowledged that severe weather warning verification procedures vary
                         across offices.


NRC Concluded That New   In August 1994, the Department of Commerce contracted with NRC to study
Radars May Miss Three    NWS’ modernized radar network coverage and identify any gaps that could

Key Weather Phenomena    result in a degradation of weather service. In addition, NRC was to develop
                         criteria for the Department to use in determining the potential for
                         degradation of service in those areas of concern identified through the
                         public comment process.

                         In June 1995, NRC issued its report, Toward a New National Weather
                         Service: Assessment of NEXRAD Coverage and Associated Weather Services.
                         Overall, NRC concluded that weather services on a national basis would be
                         improved substantially under the new radar network. For example,
                         compared with the old radar network, the modernized radar network will
                         cover a much broader area of the contiguous United States and provide
                         greater coverage for detecting specific severe weather phenomena, such
                         as supercells, mini-supercells, and macrobursts.13 NRC also noted that the
                         new radars are just one element in a composite weather system that
                         includes satellites, automated surface observing equipment, wind profilers,
                         improved numerical forecast models, and cooperative networks of human
                         observers and spotters.


                         13
                          A supercell may produce high winds, large hail, and long-lived tornadoes, and may last several hours.
                         A mini-supercell contains similar characteristics as a supercell but is significantly smaller. A
                         macroburst—which is caused by a strong downdraft—is an outburst of damaging winds on or near the
                         ground over an area greater than 2.5 miles.



                         Page 20                          GAO/AIMD-97-156 National Weather Service: NW Pennsylvania
B-276777




NRC cautioned, however, that at old radar sites where radar coverage is to
be provided by a new radar some distance away, there is the potential for
degradation in radar-detection coverage capability. In particular,
northwestern Pennsylvania was one such area with degraded radar
coverage for macrobursts, mini-supercells, and lake-effect snow. NRC
recommended NWS study the area to determine whether the degraded
radar coverage would result in a degradation of weather service. Figure 3
shows the approximate gap in radar coverage for lake-effect snow over
northwestern Pennsylvania.




Page 21                 GAO/AIMD-97-156 National Weather Service: NW Pennsylvania
                                         B-276777




Figure 3: Approximate Gap in Radar Coverage for Lake-Effect Snow




                                                                           Buffalo WFO
                                     Coverage Gap




                                                                                                       NEW YORK
                                                               Erie
                                                                         Warren               Potter
                              Cleveland WFO                 Crawford                McKean
                                                                         Forest           Cameron
                                                                                    Elk
                                                               Venango

                                                                                  Central Pennsylvania
                                                                                          WFO
                                                    Pittsburgh WFO



                       OHIO

                                                                                    PENNSYLVANIA




                                         Note: The shaded counties are those formerly served by the Erie WSO. The circles indicate radar
                                         coverage for lake-effect snow by the WFO indicated.

                                         Source: National Research Council, 1995.




                                         Page 22                         GAO/AIMD-97-156 National Weather Service: NW Pennsylvania
                              B-276777




The Department of             As agreed with concerned members of the Congress, the Department of
Commerce Concluded            Commerce used NRC’s criteria to evaluate the potential for degradation in
That New Radars May Miss      the 32 areas identified via the Federal Register process and assessed the
                              potential for degradation of service for the radar gaps identified in NRC’s
Lake-Effect Snow              report.14 The Secretary’s team conducted additional research into the
                              capabilities of the new radars and found that the effective range of
                              detection was greater than estimated by NRC. Specifically, the team
                              concluded that the new radars serving the former Erie WSO area would be
                              able to detect macrobursts and mini-supercells for northwestern
                              Pennsylvania. It was still clear, however, that the radars could not
                              adequately detect some lake-effect snow events in the Erie area.
                              Therefore, the Secretary’s team recommended that NWS compare the
                              adequacy of the assuming WFOs’ new radars and other data sources with
                              Erie’s old radar in identifying lake-effect snow over a 2-year period to
                              determine how well the composite weather system could help detect and
                              predict lake-effect snow over the area in question. In addition, the report
                              recommended that NWS keep the Erie radar (an older vintage) operational
                              until the results of the study were compiled, which was done.


Degradation of Lake-Effect    NWS  began a lake-effect snow study in November 1994, 1 year before the
Snow Detection Not            Secretary’s team recommended that a similar assessment be done. NWS
Evident, but Service Not as   initiated the study to improve its ability to detect and predict lake-effect
                              snow, as well as in response to concerns raised by congressional staff and
Good as Elsewhere Along       residents of northern Indiana and northwestern Pennsylvania; these areas
the Great Lakes               were scheduled to lose old radars and, instead, receive coverage from
                              more distant but modernized radars. The goal of the study was to find
                              ways of improving the warning and forecast services associated with
                              lake-effect snow events. In response to the Secretary’s team’s
                              recommendation, however, another goal was added to this study—to
                              determine whether lake-effect snow detection would be degraded over
                              northwestern Pennsylvania, if the Erie radar and office were shut down.

                              Data on lake-effect snow were collected over the three winter seasons
                              between 1994 and 1997. While the broad study area included all areas in
                              New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana that experience lake-effect
                              snow, a seven-county area was established surrounding Erie on which




                              14
                                The group that conducted this assessment, referred to as the “Secretary’s Team,” worked from June
                              through August 1995. The report was issued on October 12, 1995.



                              Page 23                         GAO/AIMD-97-156 National Weather Service: NW Pennsylvania
B-276777




more specific analysis would be performed.15 After each winter season, a
data report was issued by NWS.

These reports conclude that NWS has made significant progress in
improving its ability to detect and forecast lake-effect snow, however,
there are still questions about the level of this service being provided to
northwestern Pennsylvania. For example, NWS’ Eastern Region reported
that for about 35 percent of lake-effect snow events, the composite
weather system will be insufficient to compensate for the degradation in
radar coverage over northwestern Pennsylvania.16 In addition, this report
stated that NWS is not able to provide detailed, short-term forecasts
(Nowcasts) during lake-effect snow events like it can for other areas that
have better radar coverage. The Eastern Region’s report and the director
of NWS’ Office of Meteorology point out, however, that this problem does
not constitute a degradation of service because the probability of
detection for lake-effect snow in the seven-county study area has
improved since 1993.

Even though degradation has not occurred, according to the Eastern
Region report and the director, this level of service is still unacceptable
because lake-effect snow is the Erie area’s most severe weather condition
and the community does not receive the same level of service that other
lake communities receive. As a result, the Eastern Region report
recommended that a radar be installed to provide better coverage for this
severe weather phenomenon in northwestern Pennsylvania. The director
of the Office of Meteorology agrees with this recommendation, but points
out that since data from this new radar would be transmitted to existing
WFOs, an additional weather office is not needed in the Erie area.


NWS’ final report of the lake-effect snow study is expected this fall. Any
conclusions and recommendations from the lake-effect snow study will be
reviewed by the Secretary’s team, which will make recommendations to
the Secretary regarding specific actions to be taken. Once the results of
the lake-effect snow study are finalized and actions taken to address
degradation concerns, if any, NWS officials told us they will pursue closure
certification for the Erie office.



15
 These counties are Erie, Crawford, and Warren in Pennsylvania; Ashtabula and Trumbull in Ohio; and
Chautauqua and Cattaraugus in New York. This area is covered by radars in the Buffalo, Central
Pennsylvania, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh WFOs.
16
 A Review of the 1996-1997 Lake-Effect Snow Study in the Eastern Region of the National Weather
Service, July 1997.



Page 24                         GAO/AIMD-97-156 National Weather Service: NW Pennsylvania
                  B-276777




                  In commenting on a draft of this report, the Department of Commerce
Agency Comments   took no exceptions to the information presented and acknowledged that
                  we had conducted thorough work in researching the issues and preparing
                  the report. The Department reiterated that, after NOAA presents the
                  Secretary’s team with the results of the lake-effect snow study, it will
                  review and evaluate the findings, conclusions, and recommendations and
                  determine the need for a radar in northwestern Pennsylvania. The
                  Department’s written response is reprinted in appendix II.


                  As agreed with your offices, unless you publicly announce the contents of
                  this report earlier, we will not distribute it until 10 days from the date of
                  this letter. At that time we will send copies to the Ranking Minority
                  Member, House Committee on Science, and the Chairmen and Ranking
                  Minority Members of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and
                  Transportation; House and Senate Committees on Appropriations; House
                  Committee on Government Reform and Oversight; and Senate Committee
                  on Governmental Affairs; and to the Director, Office of Management and
                  Budget. We are also sending copies to Senators Arlen Specter and Rick
                  Santorum; Congressman John Peterson; the Secretary of Commerce; the
                  Administrator, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; and the
                  Acting Director of the National Weather Service. Copies will be made
                  available to others upon request.

                  Please contact me at (202) 512-6408 if you or your staffs have any
                  questions concerning this report. I can also be reached by e-mail at
                  willemssenj.aimd@gao.gov. Major contributors to this report are listed in
                  appendix III.




                  Joel C. Willemssen
                  Director, Information Resources Management




                  Page 25                  GAO/AIMD-97-156 National Weather Service: NW Pennsylvania
Contents



Letter                                                                                                1


Appendix I                                                                                           28

Warning Verification
Data for Erie’s
Nine-County Area
Appendix II                                                                                          29

Comments From the
Department of
Commerce
Appendix III                                                                                         30

Major Contributors to
This Report
Tables                  Table 1: Services Provided to Erie and Crawford Counties Before              12
                          and After Spin-Down
                        Table 2: Services Provided to Venango and Forest Counties                    13
                          Before and After Spin-Down
                        Table 3: Services Provided to Cameron, Elk, McKean, Potter, and              14
                          Warren Counties Before and After Spin-Down
                        Table 4: Concerns Raised About Services to Erie and Crawford                 15
                          Counties and NWS Responses
                        Table 5: Concerns Raised About Safety at Erie International                  18
                          Airport and Timeliness of Small-Craft Advisories,
                          and NWS Responses

Figures                 Figure 1: Premodernized NWS Office Structure for Northwestern                 7
                          Pennsylvania
                        Figure 2: Modernized NWS Office Structure for Northwestern                    8
                          Pennsylvania
                        Figure 3: Approximate Gap in Radar Coverage for Lake-Effect                  22
                          Snow




                        Page 26                GAO/AIMD-97-156 National Weather Service: NW Pennsylvania
Contents




Abbreviations

ASOS       Automated Surface Observing System
FAA        Federal Aviation Administration
NEXRAD     Next Generation Weather Radar
NOAA       National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
NRC        National Research Council
NWS        National Weather Service
WFO        weather forecast office
WSO        weather service office


Page 27               GAO/AIMD-97-156 National Weather Service: NW Pennsylvania
Appendix I

Warning Verification Data for Erie’s
Nine-County Area


                Tornadoes                                                      Premodernizeda           Modernizedb
                Number of events                                                                 4                     4
                                           c
                Probability of detection                                                      0.00                   0.75
                False alarm rated                                                             1.00                   0.85
                Lead-time (minutes)                                                           N/A                    14.3



                Severe local storms                                            Premodernizeda           Modernizedb
                Number of events                                                              379                    147
                                           c
                Probability of detection                                                      0.79                   0.86
                False alarm rated                                                             0.37                   0.48
                Lead-time (minutes)                                                           21.7                   23.5



                Flash floods                                                   Premodernizeda           Modernizedb
                Number of events                                                                72                    85
                                           c
                Probability of detection                                                      0.57                   0.81
                False alarm rated                                                             0.67                   0.46
                Lead-time (minutes)                                                           28.9                   45.5
                Note: NWS officials cautioned that there are limitations to the verification program and resulting
                data. For example, since the number and type of weather events vary from year to year, it is
                impossible to directly compare performance from one year to another. In addition, it is more
                difficult to verify events in sparsely populated areas. Finally, NWS officials acknowledged that
                severe weather warning verification procedures vary across offices.
                a
                The premodernized period is January 1, 1986, through July 31, 1994.
                b
                    The modernized period is August 1, 1994, through December 31, 1996.
                c
                 Probability of detection is measured on a scale of 0 to 1 with 0 representing no detection of
                severe weather events and 1 representing complete detection of all severe weather events.
                d
                 The false alarm rate is measured on a scale of 0 to 1 with 0 representing no false alarms issued
                and 1 representing all warnings issued being false alarms.

                Source: National Weather Service.




                Page 28                          GAO/AIMD-97-156 National Weather Service: NW Pennsylvania
Appendix II

Comments From the Department of
Commerce




              Page 29   GAO/AIMD-97-156 National Weather Service: NW Pennsylvania
Appendix III

Major Contributors to This Report


                       Keith A. Rhodes, Technical Director
Accounting and         Mark E. Heatwole, Assistant Director
Information            Patricia J. Macauley, Information Systems Analyst-in-Charge
Management Division,   J. Michael Resser, Business Process Analyst
                       Michael P. Fruitman, Communications Analyst
Washington, D.C.




(511422)               Page 30                GAO/AIMD-97-156 National Weather Service: NW Pennsylvania
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