April 11, 2021

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Weather News & Forecast

National Weather Service Weather Radar Disaster

3 min read


There are few more important weather data sets collected by the National Weather Service than weather radar.

  • It shows where it is raining/snowing and how those areas are moving.
  • It tells us about severe weather, such as intense, rotating thunderstorms.
  • It even tells us about bird migration and how the winds are moving.

Critical, important information that saves lives and greatly improves weather prediction.  And information that allows us to stay dry and enjoy outdoor activities.

To give us this boon, the National Weather Service spent over 3.1 BILLION dollars to install 122 Doppler weather radars across the country (see below for the network).  They have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to maintain this complex system.

To view the weather radar data, one previously had a variety of options.  You could go to the National Weather Service web site, where there was a serviceable but degraded resolution interface (see below), visit university of private sector websites,  or you could purchase/acquire a radar app for your smartphone, which (to be honest) is what most professional meteorologists do.

But now the problem.

The clunky, but workable, old National Weather Service radar displays depended on Adobe Flash to work and Flash would no longer be supported after 2020.   So they came up with a replacement.  

And the replacement is a disaster–essentially non-functional.   It either fails to bring up the radar imagery or does it so slowly to be useless.   You can find it here: https://radar.weather.gov/#/  

Try loading it and animating an image (the key function that everyone needs).   You will immediately see the problem.

Software engineering has never been a strong suit of the National Weather Service and they have had problems on their online weather web sites for year and software issues have plagued their numerical weather prediction efforts for decades.   Even today, local National Weather Service offices lack sufficient communication bandwidth to secure all the high-resolution weather products they could use profitably.

Recently, the National Weather Service, crippled by lack of an ability to get data out to the national community, has started to restrict access to their servers, a move that could undermine the use of its model data by the private sector (including major weather companies like IBM/WeatherChannel, Accuweather, and others).

A key issue is that the National Weather Service insists on using early century data distribution technology, using their own servers for national distribution of large data sets.  

The solution to the National Weather Service data problem is obvious, particularly to the technologically inclined among this blog’s readers:  make use of cloud distribution of the weather radar and other large data sets.

It turns out that the National Weather Service is ALREADY moving the FULL weather radar data set in REAL TIME to Amazon Cloud Services.   The  radar data is already there (see below, NEXRAD is the radar data).

So instead of distributing radar data through their own servers, the National Weather Service should have their radar web site hosted in the “cloud”, where the data is already resident.  

A modern approach that would afford essentially instantaneous access to the vast NWS radar data set.  The same is true of the other important data sets created by the National Weather Service (such as forecast model and weather satellite information).

So for those of you looking for weather radar data, what can you do?

For me, a good weather radar app is the key and the one I used is Radarscope (see below).   Inexpensive and very easy to use, and available for both Android and iPhone.  Plus you get access to the most high-resolution data.

The deeper question, of course, is how National Weather Service management missed such an obvious failure mode and why the National Weather Service software engineering and modeling has been allowed to fall well behind the state-of-the-art.  

Perhaps it is time for a private sector Weather-X.  But that should be a subject of another blog.

_________________

I will do a new weather podcast tomorrow!  The New Year forecast, plus I will explain, why there are wind gusts.



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