COMMUNITY WEATHER INVOLVEMENT PROGRAM (CWIP): A LINK BETWEEN THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE AND THE COMMUNITY

 

Dan Riddle, Dave Schmidt, Drew Albert, John Gordon, and Bill Davis
National Weather Service Office
Springfield, Missouri
 
 

I.

INTRODUCTION

Several initiatives were developed at NWSO Springfield, Missouri (SGF) to enhance our hazardous and severe weather programs and to optimize data from the WSR-88D and other remote equipment sites. The most cost effective way was to expand our real-time ground truth network by supplementing the already established data source networks with people and businesses from the community who are interested in weather.

II.

EXPANDING TRADITIONAL WEATHER RESOURCES

Traditional National Weather Service (NWS) data source networks include Cooperative Observers, organized amateur radio and SKYWARN networks, county sheriffs, and local police and fire departments. However, those networks did not fully cover the entire county warning and forecast area (CWFA) and did not adequately provide much needed storm severity information while it was in progress. The traditional network also lacked spatial resolution with many rural sections of the CWFA not being represented by some form of weather collection source.

Our first step was to identify the information we needed and what areas of the CWFA we needed to concentrate on the most. This first step led to the development of an Algorithm Ground Truth Acquisition Program (AGTAP) similar to the one already established by WSO Concordia, Kansas and NWSO Wichita, Kansas (Kirkwood et al, 1996).

Initially, the best way to increase our contacts was to obtain names, locations, and phone numbers of rural businesses, such as gas stations, truck stops, campgrounds, insurance companies, agriculture farm Co-ops, and orchards. Many calls were made to these businesses, and they were asked if they would allow our office to call them to get information on flooding, damaging winds, hail, snow and ice accumulation, etc. near their area. These became our AGTAP business contacts and their phone numbers were added to our county contact phone directory.

These additional contacts did assist us in verifying many warnings at the conclusion of an event but did not provide the real-time information the forecaster needed while a storm was in progress and being tracked by WSR-88D. We needed people in the community who would call us with specific information concerning a storm's progress.

To meet the goal of increasing our observer database, an office team was formed consisting of two forecasters, two interns, and the Meteorologist in Charge. The team's mission was to develop a dense network of volunteer observers who will provide daily or real-time reports of rainfall, snow amounts, freezing rain, flooding, storm damage reports, dense fog, and high and low temperatures. As a result, the Community Weather Involvement Program (CWIP) was born.

III.

SETTING UP CWIP

The team's first task was to recruit the best and most reliable supplemental observers. After extensive brainstorming, each team member was given the task of coming up with a list of 10 sources that would make ideal CWIP observers. A meeting was held and a list of primary contacts was narrowed to eight, two for each team member. The following primary contacts were selected:

  1. Golf Courses,
  2. Schools (mostly limited to high schools),
  3. County Agriculture Stabilization and Conservation Service (ASCS) offices,
  4. Airports,
  5. State and County Department of Transportation maintenance facilities,
  6. Newspapers,
  7. Municipal Water Treatment Plants,
  8. Electric Cooperatives.

To obtain phone numbers and mailing addresses, each team member researched a number of sources, including phone books, yellow pages, and the Select Phone CD-ROM. From these sources, the team came up with more than 500 contacts.

Simultaneously, the team created a volunteer questionnaire (Attachment 1). We not only sought standard information, but other critical information that would help our public forecast services.

The team wanted to ascertain knowledge pertaining to topography, terrain, and NWR coverage around the volunteer's locale.

Next, several staff members pitched in to help mail the 500+ envelopes containing a cover letter (Attachment 2) and questionnaire to the potential contacts. The WCM and staff also sent questionnaires to County Emergency Management Directors and handed them out to people attending spotter talks. In addition, a CWIP promo was played on NOAA Weather Radio (NWR) , three days a week for about two months. To get the most responses, we programmed the promo to play each cycle, 24-hours a day, talking about what we were looking for and giving an address for which the listener could send for more information. Most of the responses came from NWR listeners, Emergency Managers, and from spotters and HAM operators attending spotter talks. Unfortunately, not many people we contacted via the mass mailing responded. During the spring, the team decided to step up the recruitment process by developing more NWR promo's and by faxing press releases to several local newspapers in data sparse areas. CWIP was also advertised on the NWSO SGF Internet home page.

Once the questionnaires were returned, the team screened the applicants to ensure they would be high quality CWIP candidates. The team thoroughly checked for location, interest, and weather equipment. The individual data extracted from the questionnaires were then data based into a Paradox database (see Section IV). Individuals that suited our needs, but who lived in remote locations and lacked weather equipment, were mailed a plastic rain gauge. By late April, the total number of CWIP observers was more than 300.

The CWIP network was organized according to the county of residence. Each observer was given a CWIP ID, which was composed of a three-letter county code followed by a three-digit number suffix. For example, OZA400 means Ozark County CWIP number 400. Each county map was divided into four quadrants and the three digit number was assigned based on the quadrant of the county which they lived. The 100 suffix is northwest, 200 suffix is northeast, 300 suffix is southwest, and the 400 suffix is southeast. This method was the same one used by WSO Concordia, Kansas and NWSO Wichita, Kansas (Kirkwood et al, 1996) to database their AGTAP spotter network. See below.

 

100s
200s

 

300s

 

400s

The staff purchased and laminated detailed county maps from the State of Missouri and Kansas Departments of Transportation for the 37 counties in our CWFA (34 in Missouri and 3 in Kansas). Once the volunteers were data based, the CWIP team plotted more than 300 contacts on the laminated county maps, using green dots for those observers with rain gauges and red dots for those without rain gauges. These maps were consolidated into a large binder, which is kept in the operations area for use during adverse weather situations. In addition, the CWIP locations were plotted on the radar under the military operations map. This was done for two reasons. The first was to obtain exact latitude and longitude to use as SHEF code ID's. The second was to compare CWIP rainfall amounts to WSR-88D rainfall estimates. This is extremely useful in quality control of CWIP data, as discussed in section VI.

The final stage was to organize two large mailings containing CWIP ID's, a cover letter, a toll-free phone number to call in their observations, one observer log sheet, and an observer instructional information. This last item was created by the DAPM to serve as an aid to our new observers and is included as Attachment 3. It covered, among other things, the ideal location to place a rain gauge and thermometer, and how to correctly measure snow depth.

IV.

ORGANIZING THE CWIP DATABASE

A list of CWIP observers by county was placed in the big binder containing the laminated maps and in two additional phone books for use by the staff in making verification calls during hazardous and severe weather. But with such a large number of CWIP observers, the team soon learned we needed a way to keep track of who got mailed what and to come up with an easy way to database and update each person's ID number, address, phone number, and times to call.

The CWIP database fields were initially derived from the various questions given on the CWIP questionnaire. The software used for the CWIP database was Paradox 5.0. The database resides on the office's local area network (LAN). The database has been very successful in keeping the program organized and it has kept paperwork to a minimum. After an observer is assigned an identification number, they are immediately entered into the database.

Initially, operational aspects of the database consisted of weather equipment inventory by observer, what times the observer could be contacted, and whether or not the observer could receive and monitor our NOAA Weather Radio broadcasts. Later, as the team set up the hydrologic and plotting program applications, SHEF code ID's based on the observers latitude and longitude were added.

To handle the large number of calls coming into the office each morning, a CWIP Information Management PC Program was developed at the office that allows you to enter and store the data by clicking on that observer's county. This program then automatically formats and sends out a Public Information Statement (PNS) that summarizes daily data. This program also encodes temperature and precipitation data into SHEF code format for use at the River Forecast Centers (RFC's). Another program, called PC-Plot, developed at NWSO Pleasant Hill, Missouri, enables our office to plot and print out CWIP data.

V.

USES OF CWIP DATA

A.

Severe Weather

One of the most important goals of the CWIP program is to obtain real time severe weather reports during a severe weather event. The development of the CWIP volunteer observer network has greatly increased the density of weather observers, especially in rural areas. Because most of the CWIP observers already have an interest in the weather, many are willing to be contacted at any time, including the middle of the night when it is especially hard to obtain real time reports. This greatly increases nighttime storm information and verification.

The CWIP and AGTAP program accounted for 24.1 percent of all severe convective weather reports since March 1997 (CWIP accounted for 11.0 percent and AGTAP 13.1 percent). Nearly 10 percent of our verified warnings were verified with CWIP reports. Since many (about 60 percent) of our CWIP observers were recruited at severe weather spotter classes, their reports are considered accurate.

B.

Winter Weather

Since the CWIP program began in earnest during the spring of 1997, we have yet to tap into the winter weather potential of the CWIP program. Our volunteer observers were mailed information on how to correctly take snow measurements and the conditions for which they are to report snowfall to our office. The added benefit of CWIP reports will be in deciphering where the transition from snow to ice to rain is occurring, thereby relieving our duty personnel from the manpower-intensive task of making phone calls to determine and maintain the progress of the storm. This will help our forecasts immensely since our CWA often gets mixed precipitation during the winter season.

C.

Hydrology

NWSO Springfield has 17 river forecast points across our CWA, divided between four different River Forecast Centers (RFC's). CWIP data is converted to SHEF code and ID's are then assigned for each point. This data is sent to the RFC via the RR2 AFOS product. This is of great benefit because many of the CWIP reports are from previously data-sparse areas. Real time CWIP rainfall reports are also used to verify or adjust estimated radar rainfall amounts. This information is also integrated into our flash flood warning program. A number of observers live near rivers and creeks and will report areas of flooding, including flooding of low water crossings which are very common in our CWA.

D.

Routine Daily Uses of CWIP Reports

CWIP reports are being integrated into our office's daily routine public products, such as the Area Weather Summary (AWS) and the Public Information Statement (PNS).

The Area Weather Summary is issued three times daily and highlights temperature and rainfall reports from around the CWA. The high density of CWIP reports allows the forecaster to use this data to accurately depict past weather patterns and variations across the CWFA.

The Public Information Statement is generated daily listing the morning CWIP reports. CWIP observers are encouraged to call in their previous day's high, this morning's low, and 24-hour precipitation between 7 and 9 a.m. each day. The office averages between 30 and 35 such reports each morning, with roughly double this during widespread rainfall events. Additional weather information such as dense fog or high winds is also added to this report.

One of the main office goals for uses of the CWIP data is to more tightly integrate the data into the temperature and precipitation verification program. CWIP data combined with data from ASOS and NWS Cooperative Observer sites, will allow our office to greatly improve our forecast services to the public.

VI.

QUALITY CONTROL OF THE CWIP DATA

To ensure a successful program, incoming data must be continually monitored. Quality control (QC) of the CWIP data is not a quick and easy task. If a program is to be successful, QC is of the utmost importance and is a continuous process. Three areas of CWIP reports are quality controlled: temperature, precipitation, and the number of reports called in.

A.

Temperature

Incoming temperature data for each day is checked before entered into our CWIP database. The data is checked with surrounding airport observations, and any "sore thumb" readings are usually flagged and discounted if there is not enough sound evidence to support it. A 5- to 7-degree threshold is generally allowed for high and low temperatures when compared against ASOS or an official observation station. This large threshold is needed because of the varying topography within the NWSO Springfield CWA. If a reported temperature is flagged for an error, the error is noted and a courtesy call is made to see why the report may be in error and to see what can be done to alleviate the problem.

B.

Precipitation

A 24-hour rainfall (7 a.m. - 7 a.m.) is also reported each morning from the CWIP observers that have rain gauges. In addition, if an observer receives more than 1 inch of rain, they can call in that report anytime. Quality control of the precipitation reports involves comparing the data against the Storm Total Precipitation (STP), Three Hourly Precipitation (THP), and One Hour Precipitation (OHP) products derived from the WSR-88D. If a substantial amount of rain fell within our CWA, usually an inch or more, a STP product is printed out by the radar operator. NWS Cooperative Observers in close proximity to the CWIP observers are another good source in verifying amounts.

C.

Number of Reports Called In

At the end of each month, a tally is taken of all the reports. The tally aids the team in keeping track of the most reliable volunteer observers, which is used when it comes time to highlight our most dedicated observers. In our publication "The Ozark Weather Observer" a section is devoted to CWIP which highlights the CWIP program and observers who have displayed outstanding reliability. An award to the best observer of the quarter may be a new rain gauge, a max/min thermometer, or a weather calendar. We hope this sense of pride and accomplishment, along with the recognition through the newsletter, will keep volunteer observers interested and motivated in the CWIP program.

VII.

CONCLUSION

As with any new program, there were a few challenges along the way. The following were some of the lessons learned in developing our CWIP program.

  1. Recruit your contacts from spotter meetings, NWR promo's, and newspapers. Don't waste your time sending hundred of letters out to business sources.
  2. Ensure you do not assign one person to set up the program. It takes many hours of brainstorming, organizing, and legwork to get a solid base of supplemental observers. In addition, it helps to have a pool of fresh thoughts and ideas from other team members.
  3. Be very careful of whom you recruit. There are overzealous weather volunteers in the CWA who may exaggerate reports. On the other hand, you don't want to spend a lot of effort recruiting people who will never report again.
  4. Be sure to plot out the location of a potential observer. You don't need several people within 5 miles of one another. From the observer questionnaire, ascertain who has the best equipment, lives near a flood-prone area or river, listens to NWR, and will be available at most hours of the day.

In forecasting, the most critical ingredient may be obtaining enough data about what is occurring in the forecast area. A team was established at NWSO Springfield, Missouri to develop a way to solve this problem. What developed was the CWIP program, a way to link the NWS to the community we serve. The forecaster gains more knowledge about the CWFA and the observer is able to use his or her love of weather to benefit the community in which they live.

 VIII.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

The authors wish to thank NWSO Springfield SOO Dave Gaede, DAPM Wally Moore, WCM Steve Runnels, and MIC Bill Davis for their review of this paper. Also, thanks to Mike Looney at CRH for his suggestions on how to improve this paper. In addition, thanks goes out to the entire Springfield staff who provided comments and suggestions on how to improve the CWIP program as it was being developed.

IX.

REFERENCES

Kirkwood, Paul, Reno, D., and Ritter, L.,1996: Establishing an AGTAP Spotter Network. Central Region Technical Attachment. DOC, NOAA, NWS, Central Region Scientific Services Division, Kansas City, MO, 7 pp.

 


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