WSFO CHEYENNE NOW/ZFP FORMAT TEST
JULY 29, 1997-JANUARY 31, 1998

 

 

Joseph B. Sullivan
Weather Service Forecast Office
Cheyenne, Wyoming

 

I.

OVERVIEW

This is the final report covering the sixth-month test of the combined Short Term/Zone Forecast Product in the WSFO Cheyenne CWA. In this test, the narrative Short Term Forecast (AFOS ID NOW) was included as the first period (or sub-period) of the Zone Forecast Product (ZFP) for each forecast zone in the Cheyenne CWA. While proving the adage that you "can't please all of the people all of the time," the results of the test were very encouraging, showing that, to a majority of external customer survey respondents, the new format was much more useful than the old format. Additional information on the motivation for this test, as well as details of the formatting, may be found in the original project proposal, included in Appendix A of this report. This project had dual purpose in that it was conducted to test not only the forecast format, but the effectiveness of Total Quality Management (TQM -a.k.a. Customer Driven Quality, or CDQ) practices in the Cheyenne NWS Office. For that reason, this report will be separated into two Sections, CDQ Procedures, and Forecast Format Findings.

II.

CDQ PROCEDURES

The NOW/ZFP Forecast Format Test was conducted as an official extension of the TQM Proof-of-Concept project at WSFO Cheyenne. One of the early actions in this project was the "renaming" of TQM to Customer Driven Quality (CDQ), which will hence be used throughout the remainder of this report when referring to these management practices. While several smaller in-house tasks were completed as part of the CDQ Proof-of-Concept, this project was the largest endeavor undertaken. This was also the only time CDQ principles were tested with external customers. In this report, every effort will be made to identify both the successes and the shortcomings associated with the CDQ process.

A. The Team

Original members of the team assembled for this project include the following:

Joe Sullivan - Warning Coordination Meteorologist
Paul Lauze - Lead Forecaster
Don Moore - Full Performance Forecaster
John Kyle - Hydrometeorological Technician

Team member selections were based upon:

1. Willingness to participate
2. NWS experience with the NOW and ZFP programs and
3. Individual and team skills.

Because of specific technical needs encountered in the execution of this test, two additional staff members were recruited into service at various times during the project. These staff members served primarily on a "contract" basis, providing their valuable technical expertise, while the original team members continued to function as the core of the team. Never-the-less, this project could not have seen its way to fruition without the assistance of these two individuals, listed below.

 Chuck Baker Full Performance Forecaster (computer program development to automate the construction of the NOW by extraction of the first period of the ZFP).
 Tom Dietrich Service Hydrologist (computer database management of survey information).

Assistance was also provided by Rod Swerman, Full Performance Forecaster at NWSO LaCrosse, Wisconsin (modifications to the PC-Flex program he authored) and by Valerie Scheele, Administrative Assistant at WSFO Cheyenne (for assistance in survey mailings).

B. Customer Identification

Since the heart of CDQ practice is the measurement of quality as determined by the customer, the first step in the CDQ process is to identify the customer. For this test, the team identified two primary groups of customers:

1. Internal Customers (the WSFO staff)
2. External Customers (all external users of our forecast products).

External Customers were further broken down into the following sub-categories:

a. General public
b. Media
c. Emergency managers
d. Weather-conscious businesses (such as auto dealers, building contractors, and concrete companies).

Because of its superior means of disseminating NWS products, The Weather Channel (TWC) was identified as both a customer AND a partner in this test. For this reason, extensive research was done to determine the impact to TWC displays of NWS products involved in the test. Exhaustive efforts to eliminate any negative impacts proved to delay the onset of the active part of the test for several months, but also aided in its success. Had it not been for this initial background work, the test format would have been completely different, with the elimination of first-period information from the ZFP (to be included exclusively in the NOW). This approach, which was the original intent of this office, was subsequently tested by another Central Region WSFO, and met with much different results: customers complained in such number to TWC that they petitioned NWS Headquarters to halt the test. Clearly, this statement alone testifies to the fact that the CDQ principles of researching customer needs, and modifying our practices and proposed changes to satisfy those needs, really do result in improved services.

C. Customer Surveys

Once the final format of the NOW and ZFP products was established (based upon internal and external customer needs), surveys were distributed to both internal and external customers to obtain a baseline rating of both the current and proposed forecast formats. Follow-up surveys were distributed eight weeks later to measure any changes in opinion based upon their observance of the new format over that time span, as well as to obtain basic demographic data. A third survey was distributed near the end of the test phase to solicit ideas for improvement, and to further determine the importance of various forecast elements. Copies of the three external surveys are included in Appendix B.

Because of the small number of internal customers and the consensus opinion that the new format and procedures were an improvement over the old methodology, a formal second survey was not distributed within the WSFO. Therefore, internal survey results are not included in this report. Results of the external customer surveys are included in part II, "Forecast Format Findings."

D.. CDQ Success Stories

The survey results described in the "Forecast Format Findings" section of this report provide the best example of the success of the CDQ process. However, the background work with TWC described above also serves as an example of CDQ at its best. Without the extensive efforts to understand the capabilities of this significant customer/partner, the positive results described later in this report would not have materialized

E.. CDQ Difficulties

Several hurdles were encountered en route from the inception of this project to its current state. The one aspect most of these difficulties had in common was the delay of the project's time line. However, it should be noted that despite these hurdles, the ultimate success of this project serves as justification for the CDQ principle of utilizing synergistic teams and customer input to raise the level of quality of NWS products and services.

One significant problem encountered in the early stages of this project was its scope. Because of their concerns with the NOW program, and their own efforts to streamline it, NWSO Grand Junction (Colorado) was incorporated into the test in its early stages. It was determined that the project would benefit from adding a spin-up NWSO because of the varied level of staffing and expertise relative to the WSFO. With the addition of another office to the equation, the need for coordination slowed the project's progress, as did the technicalities of product issuance from an NWSO serving under a non-participating WSFO (Denver). When it became obvious that some of the technical hurdles could not be overcome in a timely basis, Grand Junction was removed from the test, and progress resumed at a faster pace.

The previously mentioned TWC format negotiation was an example of both a CDQ difficulty and its success. While it did delay the onset of the formal test, the work paid dividends in the final outcome of the test.

Not surprisingly, shift-work proved to be a significant problem to overcome in this project. Because of the varying schedules of the team members, it was difficult to identify more than one or two days in a given month that coincided with everyone being in the building at the same time. And when meetings were scheduled, we were dependent upon benign weather to gather the team together, since the members were usually on an operational shift rather than an administrative one. Because of these difficulties, only a few of the full team meetings were held, the rest of the intra-team communication was usually via e-mail or one-on-one as team members schedules permitted. This proved to reduce the synergistic interaction of the team and delay completion of several action items. The fact that many of the action items were completed by team members while on a shift also added delays, duties such as logging survey responses, which might have been completed in a few hours of dedicated attention were instead completed in several days of sporadic activity.

Several CDQ hurdles were encountered in the external survey process. Having little experience in conducting surveys with the general public, it would be fair to say that our procedures and polling tools would not compare well with professional survey groups. Never-the-less, we learned as we went along, and attempted to make up for any early shortcomings in subsequent activities.

Our first hurdle was in the selection of survey participants. Having identified those groups that we believed to be our main customers, we attempted to query a subset of each group, selecting a sampling of emergency manager, media representatives, contractors, etc. This selection was done by simply pulling names from existing NWS mailing lists or from the yellow pages of area phone books. For the general public, it was decided the most efficient way to obtain names of people willing to participate was by placing a headline on the ZFP for several days approximately one month before the test was to begin. The headline requested that anyone interested in participating in the test call our toll-free phone number and provide their name and address. This provided any customer reading the text of our products an opportunity to volunteer. However, this method generally excluded those who listened to our forecast, either via NWR, ring-through telephone, or local commercial radio, unless they happened to listen carefully and were ready to copy the phone number. Perhaps because of this, the number of survey participants who listed The Weather Channel as their primary source of the weather information may have been skewed upward. This methodology also lends itself more to the recruitment of the "vocal volunteer" than would be obtained by a truly random sampling of the general population.

After the survey participants were identified, they were provided with information about the test format in their first survey mailing (this introductory information sheet is included with all other external surveys and informational mailings in Appendix B). With the return of these first surveys, it quickly became apparent that a communication and information gap existed with the general populace, many of the respondents' comments suggested that they thought they were corresponding with The Weather Channel, since requests to "change the music" and "stop standing in front of Wyoming" were common! To combat this confusion, another information sheet (explaining the various sources of weather information) was developed and included in the second survey mailing.

The survey questions also posed a problem. What had seemed straight-forward to the team members, as we composed the questions, proved to be confusing to some survey recipients resulting in "improper" responses, i.e., responses outside of the expected (and intended) range. On an internal note, inconsistent question/answer formats from survey to survey resulted in database comparison difficulties for team members.

Finally, survey respondent demographics were not thoroughly obtained. This was due in part to our intent to keep the surveys anonymous, so that recipients would feel free to provide negative as well as positive comments. It was originally believed that the address of the participants would be adequate information, however, it became apparent with the logging of the first survey results that additional demographic data was necessary to obtain meaningful results. Demographic information was thus requested in the second survey, but even this information proved to be too little. In retrospect, the one demographic field that we did not obtain (which we felt was pertinent) was the age of the survey participant. This information, we feel, would help identify whether or not the survey participants represented a true cross-section of the population of our CWA. It should be noted however, that the geographical breakdown of survey participants did match very well with the general population distribution. This is illustrated in part II.

F. Technical Difficulties

Three "technical difficulties" arose during the course of this test. Each was eventually overcome, in varying degrees of effectiveness.

The first was the problem of automating the creation of the Short Term Forecast (NOW), since one of the major goals of the project was to reduce the workload of the WSFO staff in the issuance of routine and updated forecasts. This problem was efficiently eliminated by a program written by Chuck Baker, which extracts the ".SHORT TERM..." section of each zone grouping in the Cheyenne ZFP and compiles them into a single product to be disseminated under the NOW PIL. Strategic placement of the "&&" TWC shutoff code in the NOW prevents it from being displayed on the "Local Forecast" screen shown "on the 8's" by TWC.

The second technical problem encountered was the product length limitations of TWC displays. Due to coding that could not be modified for our test, TWC can only display three screens of text for the ZFP. This is equal to eight AFOS lines of text (approximately 560 characters). Because of this restriction, WSFO CYS forecasters were instructed to limit their forecast length for the first three periods to eight lines (including any headlines). However, because of the added detail and prose structure of the ".SHORT TERM..." period of the ZFP, this 8-line limit was often violated, leaving TWC viewers without third period (and occasionally some second period) forecast information. This problem was noticed by many external survey respondents, and continues to be the primary obstacle for WSFO forecasters to overcome. At present, a Windows®-based ZFP Construction program is being developed to assist the forecaster in identifying text that is over the TWC limit of 560 characters. This program will visually highlight any text beyond the limit, allowing the forecaster to easily see during the forecast composition any information that will fail to be displayed on TWC.

The third problem of technical origin was in the management of the survey database. After an initial 10-week delay in receiving the program selected for use (Paradox®), the data analysis was further delayed by the lack of expertise by team members in using the software. Because the program version was so new, training tapes and books were not available. Therefore, progress in creating the database was hindered. As the test period came to a close, an alternate plan for database manipulation was put into place: Tom Dietrich, the Cheyenne Service Hydrologist (and a proficient R-Base® user), was tasked with this part of the project. He generously contributed his time and expertise in creating the graphs and charts included in part II of this report.

G. CDQ Summary

It is the belief of the NOW/ZFP team members mentioned above that this project is proof that CDQ principles can work in a WSFO environment, though not without certain difficulties. The most pronounced of these were the time limitations inflicted by rotating shift-work, and the relative inexperience of the staff in polling/surveying techniques.

Despite the difficulties encountered, the team was able to effectively document a marked improvement in the quality of products and services rendered by the WSFO staff, as measured by the opinions of the external customer survey respondents. To enhance the effectiveness of any future CDQ efforts at this office, it is suggested that one or more staff members obtain training in polling/surveying techniques, as well as in the use of Paradox® or some other database software.

III.

FORECAST FORMAT FINDINGS

The operational objective of this project was twofold:

 A. Lessen the workload of the WSFO staff in preparing short term forecast products for the Cheyenne CWA

 B.

 

Develop an improved format for delivering "first period" (0 - 12 hours) forecast information to our external customers. The new format tested was designed to provide detailed information during in the 0-6 hour time frame, and eliminate the redundancy and/or conflicting forecast information inherent in having two products valid for the same time frame.

Both objectives were met, though minor difficulties stemming from space limitations on The Weather Channel (TWC) displays continue. These limitations prevent the display of any forecast information in the Zone Forecast Product (ZFP) beyond 560 characters. Since most NWS products consist of lines of 70 characters in length, that equals a limit of eight lines of text to cover the first three periods of the forecast. When more than eight lines are included in the ZFP, TWC displays of the local forecast are truncated at the 8-line limit.

This limitation on occasion resulted in loss of second- or third-period forecast information being displayed on local TWC screens, a concern of our external customers. Internally, the 8-line limitation proved to be a burden at times to WSFO Cheyenne forecasters. The limitation often hindered the ability to describe complex forecast weather conditions in as much detail as desired (for those who adhere to the 8-line limit), or nullified the efforts expended in forecasting later periods (for those who neglect the limit). While most forecasters are cognizant of the 8-line constraint, each has "violated" it on occasion, usually during non-routine updates, which tend to result in longer "Short Term" forecasts because of changing or complex weather.

Despite the 8-line TWC display problem, the results of this format test, as seen in the graphs to follow, must be considered a resounding success. Rather than describing the results in detail, this report will follow the principle that a picture is worth a thousand words. The project's success will therefore be illustrated via charts and graphs of external survey data obtained throughout the course of the test. Brief comments below referencing the images will serve to accentuate the results displayed.

Figure 1. Forecast Formats - Baseline Opinions.

A quick glance at the "baseline" chart reveals that the survey recipients "mildly liked" the original forecast format of the Short Term Forecast and Zone Forecast Product as illustrated in the project description accompanying the first survey. However, few people "strongly liked" the existing format. In contrast, nearly one-half of the respondents "strongly liked" the new format as described, with another 30 percent reporting they "mildly liked" it.

Figure 2. Opinion of New Forecast Format - after viewing for several weeks.

This graph illustrates that the trends of the baseline survey results changed little after the survey respondents had viewed the new format for several weeks. There was a minimal decrease in the number of "strongly like" responses, with a corresponding increase in the "mildly like" category. A similar fall/rise couplet is evidenced in the "mildly dislike" and "indifferent" responses, respectively. This supports the projection that the new format was preferred over the old format.

Figure 3. Forecast content, a time frame of 0 - 12 hours.

This graph measures the survey respondents' opinions of the content of the 0-12 hour forecast in the new format. It is obvious from this graph that the overwhelming opinion is that the forecast content had improved.

Figure 4. New Format vs. Old Format - is it more useful?

In addition to asking whether or not the forecast content had improved, we asked whether the new format resulted in a more useful product for the survey recipient. The pie chart leaves little doubt to this question.

Figure 5. New vs. Old Formats - usefulness rated on a 1-10 scale.

While the previous chart answers the yes/no question of whether the new format is more useful than the old format, this graph quantifies the degree of usefulness of each format. While the old format had a modal response of 5, the mode of the responses for the new format was 8. The chart also indicates a wider variation of responses for the old format, while the majority of the opinions concerning the new format were relatively close, and skewed toward the higher end of the scale. This connotes that the new format enjoys a much broader base of support than the old format.

Figure 6. A 0-12 hour forecast content - accuracy and detail of new format vs. old format.

The previous graphs were used to determine if the new format is more useful than the old format. This chart explains why. As is indicated by the graph, improved accuracy and detail of the forecast are the primary reasons. Of these two elements, detail saw the greater improvement, implying that even those respondents who did not feel that the forecasts were more accurate were still benefitted from the higher detail.

Figure 7. Forecast Data Missing - due to The Weather Channel text limits.

This chart represents the biggest hurdle to overcome in the continuation of the combined NOW/ZFP forecast format. More than half of the survey respondents reported that they had noticed missing third period (or second and third period) forecast information due to the length of the SHORT TERM and LATER periods of the forecast. As mentioned in part I of this report, this problem is being addressed within NWSFO Cheyenne, with the goal that efficient use of words in the early forecast periods will eliminate this problem. Another possible solution may come with the advent of the next generation of TWC "Star" display systems. If TWC's newer equipment does not perpetuate this text-length limitation, this problem will eventually fade away as the newer display systems migrate to local cable markets.

Figure 8. Early Morning Forecast Periods - level of importance.

This image provides information about the time periods that survey respondents considered most important when obtaining an early morning forecast. Recipients were asked to rank the importance of each period on a 1-4 scale. Importance labels were then assigned to each number to aid in this display. In general, this data identifies the first period (0-12 hours) as having a greater degree of importance than either the second or third 12-hour periods.

Figure 9. Late Evening Forecast Periods - level of importance.

Similar to the previous chart, this graph illustrates the levels of importance assigned by survey respondents to the "overnight" forecast in comparison with the forecasts for "tomorrow morning" and "tomorrow afternoon." The results here differ from those obtained in the previous chart in that the 0-6 hour period (overnight) was of least concern, while in the afternoon forecast, the same time frame was considered the most important. These two charts indicate that most respondents placed a greater degree of importance on the time frame in which they are most active, either in outdoor recreation or in transit to or from work or school.

Figure 10. Importance of Forecasts for Various Time Frames - Summer.

Figure 11. Importance of Forecasts for Various Time Frames - Winter.

These two images attempt to identify the importance of the forecasts for the identified time frames regardless of the time the forecast is seen or heard. This was intended to represent the updated forecast that is issued as conditions are warrant. Regardless of the season, the 0-6 hour time frame was given the highest degree of importance, with 6-12 hours and 12-24 hours assigned decreasing levels.

Figure 12. Forecast Element Importance - movement and amount of precipitation.

Figure 13. Forecast Element Importance - timing and location of precipitation.

Figure 14. Forecast Element Importance - wind direction and speed (winds under 10 mph).

Figure 15. Forecast Element Importance - wind direction and speed (winds under 15 mph).

Figure 16. Forecast Element Importance - timing of wind shifts.

The figures referenced above are relatively self-explanatory. We inquired about the importance of these elements in an attempt to identify which could be omitted from Short Term Forecast periods to shorten the length of the forecast and eliminate the problem of information missing from second and/or third period forecasts on The Weather Channel. The most obvious information displayed here is the importance of all forecast elements associated with precipitation, and the relatively low level of importance associated with winds.

Figure 17. Late Evening Forecast - preferred timing of routine updates.

The "routine" update of the Short Term Forecast is scheduled for 11:00 p.m. at WSFO Cheyenne. However, many forecasters often update the product prior to 10:00 p.m. for obvious reasons associated with television newscasts. The question of preference of routine issuance time was asked to justify changing the designated routine time to 9 p.m.

Figure 18. Short Term Forecast - issue as two products or only in the ZFP?

With the Short Term Forecast data being included in the Zone Forecast Product, the Cheyenne staff felt it redundant to issue this information as its own separate product. When given the option for this information to be issued in just the ZFP or as a ZFP and NOW, the majority of survey respondents elected to have the information issued solely in the ZFP. However, the number of people preferring to see the forecast issued in two products was significant, and higher than expected.

Figure 19. Demographics - location of survey recipients - rural vs. in town.

This chart is self explanatory. While it does not precisely reflect the overall population trend of the Cheyenne County Warning Area (the actual breakdown is approximately 70 percent in-town, 30 percent rural), it probably does represent a likely breakdown of those people that read our forecast products, since most obtain it via the "Local Weather" segments of The Weather Channel, which are not generally available to most rural viewers of TWC, since they receive their broadcasts by satellite with no intervening cable system inserting local NWS data.

Figure 20. Location of Survey Recipients.

Figure 21. Cheyenne County Warning Area (CWA) Population.

These images show that the geographical breakdown of the survey respondents by county matched very closely with the general population distribution of the Cheyenne CWA. The only discrepancy identified is that the Nebraska Panhandle counties were slightly over-represented in the survey sampling, while the Wyoming counties were slightly under-represented. This might be attributed to the perceived general tendency for Nebraskans to be more interested in or concerned with weather on a daily basis than Wyoming citizens.

Figure 22. TWC Display System's, geographical a breakdown of the Star 3 and Star 4, display systems used by local cable distributors.

Figure 23. TWC Display Systems - percent of survey recipients served by each system.

Figure 24. TWC Display Systems - percent of Cheyenne CWA served by each system.

These images reveal the distribution of cable systems utilizing the various TWC "Star" display systems within the Cheyenne CWA, and both the percent of survey recipients and total population served by each system. The Star 4's display both the local NOW and ZFP, while the older Star 3's only show the ZFP's for a given zone forecast area. The similarity of the pie charts in Figures 23 and 24 indicate that the distribution of Star systems serving the survey recipients matched very closely with the overall Star system distribution of the Cheyenne CWA.

Figure 25. Number of People in Survey Household.

Figure 26. Number of School-aged Children in Survey Household

Figure 27. Demographics - do you check the forecast in the morning?

The demographic information illustrated in the figures is used to determine whether the sampling was representative of the population in the Cheyenne CWA. While we did not explicitly ask for the ages of the participants, it can be surmised from Figures 25 and 26 that the majority were probably either older (with grown children) or relatively young (single or married without children), since nearly 60 percent of the survey households consisted of two residents or less. Figure 25 indicates that the survey respondents check the local forecast at least daily, indicating that they have a relatively high level of interest in our products.

Figure 28. Zone Forecast - number of times used per week by survey participant

Figure 29. Short Term Forecast - the number of times used by survey participant per week.

Figure 30. Forecast Sources - frequency of participant in receiving forecasts from various sources

Last but not least, Figures 28, 29 and 30 are included to illustrate the motivation for this project. From Figure 30 it can be seen that The Weather Channel is the number one means by which survey recipients receive the forecasts issued by the Cheyenne WSFO. One of the stated goals of the project proposal was to eliminate the occurrence of redundant or conflicting forecast information displayed on TWC Star 4 displays, resulting from the NOW and ZFP covering the same forecast area and time frame. Based upon the results of this six-month test, it can be said with confidence that this goal was achieved. At the same time, as indicated by Figures 28 and 29, more people were exposed to the higher detail level and prose style of the Short Term Forecast, since they were now able to observe it in the ZFP, which receives wider distribution and use than the NOW, primarily because it is not available on TWC Star 3 displays.

IV.

CONCLUSION

Considering the results detailed in this report, the Cheyenne CDQ team tasked with developing and testing an alternative format for delivering Short Term Forecast information to the media, emergency managers, and general public feel that this test has been a success. CDQ principles emphasizing synergy and task-sharing were proven to be successful, despite the many obstacles associated with shift work and operational duties inherent to the WSFO environment. Customers of the Cheyenne WSFO were provided an improved product that better met their needs, and the Cheyenne forecasters were freed from the time-consuming task of writing two separate forecast products covering the same time period for the each forecast zone. This truly is an example of Customer Driven Quality at its best.

 


 

 APPENDIX A

Short Term/Zone Forecast Proposal
A Test of the Customer Driven Quality Concept

 

OVERVIEW: The forecast staff at the National Weather Service Offices in Cheyenne, WY, utilizing Customer Driven Quality (CDQ) concepts, proposes to implement a temporary change to the format of the Zone Forecast Products (ZFP) and Short Term Forecasts (NOW) issued from that office. The test will run for a six-month period, allowing for evaluation of the proposed procedural and format changes during both convective and winter weather scenarios.

Using internal CDQ teams, the Cheyenne office will determine effective internal procedures to provide quality short term forecast products to external customers while at the same time reducing forecaster workload. An external CDQ team will inform customers of the test prior to its inception, and survey them for opinions/suggestions at the test's midpoint and completion.

It is important to note that this proposal will not affect those public Wyoming Zone Forecasts outside of the Cheyenne County Warning Area (CWA). Those forecasts will continue to be written throughout this evaluation period as they have been in the past.

STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM: The Short Term Forecast, a.k.a. the NOWcast or Area Weather Update, has undergone numerous modifications, each improving the product as we learned more about its potential. However, one thing has remained unchanged since its inception, its period of validity coincides with another forecast covering the same area--the Zone Forecast.

During the most active weather situations, the inherent time-delay in updating two separate products can result in a brief period of conflicting valid forecasts. More often however, the two products results in a degree of redundancy in the forecast, both to external customers and to NWS forecasters charged with issuing the products.

In the event a zone forecast needs updating, the NOW for the same area often requires similar updating. This can lead to a doubling of the workload in operations, directing attention away from other vital operational activities. The forecast office is a busy work environment, and efficiencies must be applied at every opportunity to accommodate the growing need for more accurate and timely forecasts. Technology can help minimize the adverse impacts of updating two products with overlapping periods, and will be used in this test to do just that.

A second problem arises from the lack of availability of the NOW product to cable subscribers. While viewers in large cable markets generally have been exposed to the NOW for several years, older cable systems still in place in rural areas do not display the NOW. Because of this, many potential customers have never had access to this product. This test will eliminate this problem by providing NOW information in the ZFP, which is available to subscribers on even the smallest cable affiliates providing access to The Weather Channel (TWC).

PROPOSAL: On July 15, 1997, it is proposed that the format of the ZFPs and NOWs covering the CYS forecast and warning area be altered. The first period of the ZFP would consist of a short term forecast, written in the NOW format (i.e., highly detailed with complete sentences) which would also be disseminated under the NOW PIL as a separate, but identical product. A PC-AFOS program will be utilized to strip the first period from the ZFP upon receipt, combining it with the appropriate NOW coding, and disseminate it free of forecaster intervention.

By strategically placing the "&&" "shutoff code ahead of the text in the NOW, this product would be prevented from displaying on local TWC displays, eliminating the redundancy of the NOW with the identically-worded first period of the ZFP.

Because the short term forecast information is included in the ZFP, it will be available to both cable viewers that had previously had access to the NOW and those that had not. This will, in effect, expose the NOW to thousands of viewers that may not have even been aware of its existence previously, due to the limitations of their rural cable providers.

Depending upon the time of day, the ZFP may also contain a "second half of the first period" forecast, written in standard ZFP style (i.e., incomplete sentences, less detail), which would include afternoon highs, overnight lows, etc. This information would not be included in the text retransmitted under the NOW PIL, thus preserving the 0-6 hour valid period of the NOW.

This project would be evaluated for six months, ending January 15, 1998. Among other things, the evaluation would emphasize customer input as a vital part of this effort. After the forecasters and external customers are again surveyed for additional comments following completion of the test, a final report with recommendations would be submitted to CRH-MSD on or before February 28, 1998.

The format changes to the ZFP product consist of the following:

1. increased length of first period text to a limit of eight lines (current NOW limit)
2.
inclusion of a headline for significant weather, expanding upon the current practice of limiting headlines to watches, warnings, and advisories.

This proposal would result in one product, the ZFP, providing all forecast information for a given area, out to two days, while continuing the availability of the Short Term Forecast (0-6 hours) as a separately available entity for those customers that do not require information beyond this time frame. The level of detail in the product would adhere to the "inverted pyramid" philosophy, with the early period (0-6 hours) being highly detailed, and the forecast becoming increasingly more general during later periods.

JUSTIFICATION: The NOW was developed in the 1980's. At that time, ZFP areas were much larger, necessitating that the forecast be written with relatively little detail. The NOW was designed to be the product that supplied the higher detail forecast information that the NWS was capable of providing for the short term, due to improvements in satellite, radar, and surface observation coverage. In the past few years, however, most NWS Forecast offices have transitioned to Flexzones. With Flexzones, forecast areas are much smaller, allowing the forecaster to provide higher detail in the ZFP than could be included under the previous zone configurations.

While the NOW has gained in acceptance among NWS customers over the past few years, it still does not enjoy the widespread availability and recognition of the ZFP. This project would serve to expand the availability of the product, increasing its use. At the same time, it elevates the importance of the NOW with the forecasters that prepare the product, who have in the past often looked upon it as a burdensome product, due to its relative lack of availability in comparison with the ZFP and the fact that, when a forecast went awry, two products needed updating--the NOW and ZFP.

By eliminating the duplication of effort to write two products covering the same time period, this proposal lessens the typing workload of the forecaster, allowing him/her to spend more time formulating a better forecast. Another benefit of this project includes the elimination of the need for customers to consult two products for the most complete and detailed forecast of the entire first period.

There are two recognized potential problems that the test period will evaluate:

 1.

The risk that some forecasters may return to the past structure and level of information of the "old" ZFP, thereby weakening the integrity of the NOWcast program. Every effort will be made to ensure that this does not happen.
 2.

Because NOW information will be disseminated within the ZFP, there will necessarily be an increase in the number of ZFP updates issued. External customers will be notified of this and be educated in the rationale for its occurrence.

Samples of the ZFP and NOW formats, as well as a time line of project milestones can be found on the attached pages.

 


 

 APPENDIX A

Proposed NOW and ZFP Formats

 

4 am ZFP issuance:
.SHORT TERM...
{short term forecast text}
LATER TODAY...{afternoon fcst text, including daytime high}
.TONIGHT...{FCST}
.THURSDAY...{FCST}

Late morning ZFP update (after 10 am):
.SHORT TERM...{short term forecast text, including daytime high}
.TONIGHT...{FCST}
.THURSDAY...{FCST}

4 pm ZFP issuance:
.SHORT TERM...
{short term forecast text}
LATER TONIGHT...{overnight fcst text, including morning low}
.THURSDAY...{FCST}
.THURSDAY NIGHT...{FCST}
.FRIDAY...{FCST}

Late evening ZFP update (after 9 pm):
.SHORT TERM...{short term forecast text, including morning low}
.THURSDAY...{FCST}
.THURSDAY NIGHT...{FCST}
.FRIDAY...{FCST}

4 am NOW issuance (computer-controlled dissemination):
.NOW...
{short term forecast text taken from .NOW of ZFP}

Late morning NOW update (after 10 am):
.NOW...
{short term forecast text, including daytime high, taken from .NOW of ZFP

4 pm NOW issuance:
.NOW...
{short term forecast text, taken from .NOW of ZFP}

Late evening NOW update (after 9 pm):
.NOW...
{short term forecast text, including morning low, taken from .NOW of ZFP}

 


 

 APPENDIX A

NOW/ZFP Project Milestones

 

Forecast Format Test

National Weather Service, Cheyenne

 April 30, 1997 Authority of CYS CDQ council to proceed
 May 13, 1997 Notification by CYS MIC to local NWSEO representative of project
 May 20, 1997 Response of CYS NWSEO representative received
 June 1, 1997 PNS issued to notify external customers of changes to take place on July 15, 1997
(based on approval of NWSEO representative)
 May 15, 1997-
July 15, 1997
 *  Development of PC software to extract NOW information from ZFP
   *  Modification of existing PC-Flex software to allow 8 lines of text in first period
(current program limit is 4)
 *  Notify external customers in test area of proposed change and survey for input (continuation of previous activity)
 *  Forecasters test software
 July 15, 1997    Project begins
 Oct 1-30, 1997  *  Forecasters surveyed for input, suggested improvements or changes
   *  External customers surveyed for input, suggested improvements or changes
 Jan 15, 1998 Test period ends
 Jan 15, 1998-
Feb 15, 1998
*  Forecasters surveyed for input, suggested improvements or changes
   *  External customers surveyed for input, suggested improvements or changes
 Feb 28, 1998     Final report presented

 


 

 APPENDIX B

Forecast Format Test
National Weather Service, Cheyenne

 

Effective July 29 1997...the National Weather Service Forecast Office in Cheyenne, Wyoming will begin a six-month test of enhancing the Zone Forecast Product for our County Warning Area (CWA). This test will consist of inserting the Short Term Forecast into the first period of the Wyoming and Nebraska Panhandle Zone Forecast Product.

Following are examples of the current product format and the new format that will be used during the test (as seen on the "Local Forecast" display on The Weather Channel). Note that these forecasts are also available via other sources (Associated Press, NWS Cheyenne Internet Homepage, etc.), with slight variations from the examples below. Please read through these samples and answer the questions in the accompanying survey.

CURRENT FORMAT:

Short Term Forecast (early morning issuance): (not currently available in all areas--depends on cable provider)

AFTER CLEAR SKIES EARLY THIS MORNING, A FEW FAIR WEATHER CLOUDS WILL DEVELOP OVER THE AREA BY MIDDAY. TEMPERATURES WILL WARM INTO THE LOWER 70S BY NOON AS A SOUTH BREEZE BLOWS AT 10 TO 15 MPH.

Zone Forecast Product (early morning issuance): (displayed on all local cable systems TWC displays)

TODAY...MOSTLY SUNNY. HIGHS IN THE UPPER 70S. SOUTH TO SOUTHWEST WINDS 10 TO 20 MPH.

TONIGHT...PARTLY CLOUDY. LOWS 50 TO 55. SOUTHWEST WINDS DIMINISHING DURING THE EVENING.

THURSDAY...PARTLY CLOUDY WITH A 30 PERCENT CHANCE OF AFTERNOON THUNDERSTORMS. HIGHS 80 TO 85. SOUTH WINDS 15 TO 25 MPH.

NEW FORMAT:

Zone Forecast Product (early morning issuance): (available to all cable viewers of TWC)

SHORT TERM...SKIES WILL BE MOSTLY SUNNY THROUGH THE MORNING AS TEMPERATURES WARM INTO THE LOWER 70S BY NOON. SOUTHWEST WINDS WILL INCREASE TO 10 TO 20 MPH BY LATE MORNING.

LATER TODAY...MOSTLY SUNNY. HIGHS IN THE UPPER 70S.

TONIGHT...PARTLY CLOUDY. LOWS 50 TO 55. SOUTHWEST WINDS DIMINISHING DURING THE EVENING.

THURSDAY...PARTLY CLOUDY WITH A 30 PERCENT CHANCE OF AFTERNOON THUNDERSTORMS. HIGHS 80 TO 85. SOUTH WINDS 15 TO 25 MPH.

CURRENT FORMAT:

Short Term Forecast (late afternoon issuance): (not currently available in all areas--depends on cable provider)

...HEAVY RAIN WILL OCCUR THIS EVENING...
THUNDERSTORMS WILL MOVE SLOWLY ACROSS THE AREA THIS EVENING. A FEW STORMS WILL PRODUCE UP TO 2.5 INCHES OF RAIN IN ADDITION TO SOME SMALL HAIL. THESE STRONGER STORMS WILL GENERALLY REMAIN NORTH OF HIGHWAY 26 AS THEY MOVE EAST AROUND 10 MPH. THE REST OF THE AREA WILL GENERALLY RECEIVE ABOUT A HALF INCH OF RAIN. ALL OF THE STORMS WILL DIMINISH BY 10 PM.

Zone Forecast Product (late afternoon issuance): (displayed on all local cable systems TWC displays)

TONIGHT...A 50 PERCENT CHANCE OF THUNDERSTORMS WITH HEAVY RAIN. OTHERWISE MOSTLY CLOUDY. LOWS AROUND 60. SOUTHEAST WINDS 10 TO 15 MPH.

FRIDAY...PARTLY SUNNY WITH A 30 PERCENT CHANCE OF AFTERNOON THUNDERSTORMS. HIGHS IN THE LOWER 80S. SOUTHEAST WINDS 10 TO 20 MPH.

FRIDAY NIGHT...A 30 PERCENT CHANCE OF EVENING THUNDERSTORMS... OTHERWISE PARTLY CLOUDY. LOWS 55 TO 60.

NEW FORMAT:

Zone Forecast Product (late afternoon issuance): (available to all cable viewers of TWC)

...HEAVY RAIN WILL OCCUR THIS EVENING...
SHORT TERM...THUNDERSTORMS WILL MOVE SLOWLY ACROSS THE AREA THIS EVENING. A FEW STORMS WILL PRODUCE UP TO 2.5 INCHES OF RAIN IN ADDITION TO SOME SMALL HAIL. THESE STRONGER STORMS WILL GENERALLY REMAIN NORTH OF HIGHWAY 26 AS THEY MOVE EAST AROUND 10 MPH. THE REST OF THE AREA WILL GENERALLY RECEIVE ABOUT A HALF INCH OF RAIN. ALL OF THE STORMS WILL DIMINISH BY 10 PM.

LATER TONIGHT...CLEARING. LOWS NEAR 60. SOUTHEAST WINDS 10 TO 15 MPH.

FRIDAY... PARTLY SUNNY, 30 PERCENT CHANCE OF THUNDERSTORMS. HIGHS IN THE LOWER 80S.

NOTE: Due to the extended length of the Short Term part of the forecast in active weather, part or all of later forecast periods (Friday and Friday Night in this example) might not display on The Weather Channel.

 


 

 APPENDIX B

National Weather Service, Cheyenne
Local Forecast Survey

 

1) How many times per week do you currently use the Short Term Forecast described on the accompanying information sheet?

 

0_____ 1-7_____ 8-14_____ 15-21____ More than 21_____

 

 

2) How many times per week do you currently use the Zone Forecast Product described on the accompanying information sheet?

 

0_____ 1-7_____ 8-14_____ 15-21____ More than 21_____

 

 

3) Rate your opinion of the CURRENT and NEW forecast formats as described on the accompanying information sheet:

 

 

 CURRENT FORMAT

 

 NEW FORMAT
 _____Strongly Dislike   _____Strongly Dislike
 _____Mildly dislike   _____Mildly dislike
 _____Indifferent   _____Indifferent
 _____Mildly Like   _____Mildly Like
 _____Strongly Like   _____Strongly Like

 

Comments:___________________________________________________________________________________

____________________________________________________________________________________________

____________________________________________________________________________________________

4) How often do you obtain your local forecast from the following sources:

 

 

1= Frequently 2= Occasionally 3= Seldom 4= Never
_____ Local Radio _____ NOAA Weather Radio
_____ Local TV weather person _____ Newspaper
_____ The Weather Channel Local Forecast _____NWS Cheyenne Internet website
 
(http://www.crh.noaa.gov/cys)

 

5) Rate the importance of the forecast for the following time frames, regardless of the time of day you hear/see the forecast: (1 being the most important and 3 being the least):

 

 

Summer season

 

Winter season
_____0 to 6 hours out _____0 to 6 hours out
_____6 to 12 hours out _____6 to 12 hours out
_____12 to 24 hours out _____12 to 24 hours out

 

6) Rate the importance of the forecast for the following times of the day, regardless of the time of day you hear/see the forecast: (1 being most important and 4 being the least).

 

 

Summer season

 

Winter season
_____midnight to 6 am _____midnight to 6 am
_____6 am to noon _____6 am to noon
_____noon to 6 pm _____noon to 6 pm
_____6 pm to midnight _____6 pm to midnight

 

7) If you obtained the forecast before going to bed at night, which time frame would be most important to you? Rate the following time periods (1 being most important and 3 being the least):

_____overnight _____tomorrow morning _____tomorrow afternoon

8) If you obtained the forecast after waking up in the morning, which time frame would be most important to you? Rate the following time periods (1 being most important and 4 being least):

_____rest of the morning _____afternoon _____evening _____overnight

Please include any additional comments or suggestions that you may have:

 


 

 APPENDIX B

 

Dear NWS Survey Participant,

Thank you for your participation in the National Weather Service's efforts to improve the format of the forecasts that we provide to your area. It has been two months since we began the test of our Zone Forecast Product format, and we would like to gauge your opinion of the new format. Please take a few moments to complete the enclosed survey for this purpose.

During our first survey, it became apparent that some confusion existed concerning the operations of the National Weather Service (NWS) and other private weather information sources. Hopefully the following discussion will clear up any questions you might have about the NWS and its relationship with The Weather Channel, DayWeather, Mountain States Weather, AccuWeather®, and local TV weather sources.

National Weather Service

The National Weather Service is a federal agency of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), in the U.S. Department of Commerce. There are approximately 120 NWS "field offices" throughout the United States. The office in Cheyenne has forecast responsibility for all of Wyoming and much of the Nebraska Panhandle. For severe summer weather, the Cheyenne Office's area of responsibility consists of southeast Wyoming and the western 2/3 of the Nebraska Panhandle. Other NWS offices are also assigned a geographic area of responsibility, termed the County Warning Area (CWA). The Cheyenne NWS staff consists of 14 Meteorologists, 4 Hydro-Meteorological Technicians (HMT's), one Hydrologist, and a supporting staff. The office is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Typically there are three people working in the forecast operations area at all times.

Information from the Cheyenne office of the NWS can be obtained on NOAA weather radio at 162.475 MHZ in southeast Wyoming, and at 162.550 MHZ in the Nebraska Panhandle. The Cheyenne NWS also has an Internet web site located at: http://www.crh.noaa.gov/cys

Other offices with forecast and warning responsibility in and near the Cheyenne area of responsibility include:

 

 Riverton, WY  Rapid City, SD  North Platte, NE  Denver, CO
 Grand Junction, CO Salt Lake City, UT  Pocatello, ID  Billings, MT

 

The Cheyenne NWS office, like the other 120 offices, provides weather forecasts and observations to a number of private companies, the media, and the public. Many of these companies employ their own meteorologists that develop their own forecasts. Some of these companies also pass on NWS information directly (e.g., Winter Storm Warnings, Flash Flood Watches, etc.). Some of the more visible private firms in this area are:

The Weather Channel

Based in Atlanta, Georgia, The Weather Channel (TWC) is one of the principal relayers of NWS products. In fact, satellite and radar images displayed on TWC come from the NWS. Some graphics displayed by TWC are created by their staff of meteorologists, and presented by their on-air forecasters. TWC thus incorporates both NWS and private sector products to provide worldwide, as well as a local perspective of weather. In southeast Wyoming and the Nebraska Panhandle, local forecasts originate from the NWS in Cheyenne, and are displayed over TWC as text products during their periodic breaks for local weather. TWC also displays more time-critical statements and warnings originating from the Cheyenne NWS as either full-screen text or "crawls" across the bottom of the TV screen on an as-needed basis. The important thing to remember, however, is that the Cheyenne NWS office has no control over TWC presentations short of the Local Forecast, Warning, and Statement displays. You can reach TWC on the Internet at: http://www.weather.com.

DayWeather, Inc.

DayWeather, Inc. (formerly known as AgriWeather) is a private forecast firm based in Cheyenne, founded by Don Day. In addition to providing weather forecasts to area radio stations, DayWeather provides specialized forecasts to private companies requiring detailed information for their operations. Their Internet address is: http://www.dayweather.com

Mountain States Weather

Mountain States Weather is a private forecast firm based in Fort Collins, CO, founded by Jim Wirshborn. Like DayWeather, Mountain States Weather provides services to area radio stations and private companies.

AccuWeather®

AccuWeather® is a large private company based in State College, Pennsylvania. In addition to providing weather forecasts to radio and TV stations nationwide, AccuWeather® provides weather data and other information for bulletin boards and on-line services. Included are local and worldwide color weather maps and forecasts, lottery results, soap opera summaries, horoscopes, sports, news and much more. Their Internet site is:  http://www.accuweather.com/web/index.htm

Local TV stations

Most large market TV stations employ their own weather casters. Some of these people have degrees in Meteorology, others are broadcasters by trade. Many small market TV stations share weather casters with "sister stations" in other cities to reduce costs.

As with TWC, the NWS in Cheyenne has no control over any forecasts or services provided by DayWeather, Mountain States Weather, AccuWeather®, or local TV stations.


 

 APPENDIX B

National Weather Service, Cheyenne
Local Forecast Survey

 

1) Rate your opinion of the CURRENT (test) forecast format as viewed since July 29, 1997 (and described in the information sheet accompanying your first survey): (circle one)

 

 Strongly Dislike  Mildly Dislike Indifferent Mildly Like  Strongly Like

 

Comments: _____________________________________________________________________________________

_____________________________________________________________________________________________

2) If you view your local forecast on "The Weather Channel," have you observed any missing forecast data? Yes / No

3) Concerning the first 12 hours of the forecast, how would you rate the content of the forecast in its present form? (circle one)

 

Much Worse Worse Same Better Much Better

 

4) Is the current format more useful than the old format? Yes / No

5) Rate the usefulness of the current and old formats on a scale from 0 to 10, 0 being the lowest and 10 being the highest.

_____Current format _____Old format

6) Have you noticed if the first 12 hours of the forecast have been more: Yes / No Please explain:

 Accurate  ____  ____  ____________________________________
 Specific  ____  ____  ____________________________________
 Detailed  ____  ____  ____________________________________

7) Please complete the following information:

Where you live: (circle one) rural In-town
Number in household: _____
Number of children in household attending school: _____
Mileage driven each day (one way) to work: _____
Mileage (one way) to school: _____
Do you check the forecast each morning before work/school? Yes / No

National Weather Service, Cheyenne
Forecast Format Test

Thank you for your participation in our forecast format test. Enclosed is the final survey in this effort to improve the forecast you receive from the National Weather Service. Please complete and return it in the enclosed pre-posted envelope as soon as possible.

The test period officially ends January 31, 1998, but because of a positive response to the new format, we have been given approval to continue to issue our forecasts in this format indefinitely, with the intent to further improve the product based on customer input such as yours. If, after the current test period officially ends, you would like to receive future surveys concerning forecasts and other NWS statements or warnings, be sure to indicate this in the space provided on the enclosed survey.

Following is a brief compilation of initial results obtained from the previous two surveys:

1) Opinion (on a 1-5 scale) of new forecast format: 4.06
(a numerical value was assigned to each of the following 5 reply choices)

1. strongly dislike
2. dislike
3. indifferent
4. mildly like
(4.06)
5. strongly like

2) Percent of respondents reporting they noticed "missing forecast data" (usually 24-36 hour information that is truncated when the "Short Term" text is too lengthy): 51.5%

3) Rating of the CONTENT of the 0-12 hour forecast in the new format vs. the old format: 3.81 (a numerical value was assigned to each of the following 5 reply choices)

1. much worse
2. worse
3. same
(3.81)
4. better
5. much better

Percent of respondents stating the current format was MORE USEFUL than the old format: 76.2%

Numerical rating of the USEFULNESS of the current format vs. the old format (on a scale of 0-10, 10 being the most useful):

current format average: 7.64
old format average: 5.87
net change: +1.77 (+17.7%)

Percent of respondents stating the 0-12 hour forecast under the current format is:

more accurate: 60.9%
more specific: 78.4%
more detailed: 77.6%

 


 

 APPENDIX B

National Weather Service, Cheyenne
Local Forecast Survey #3

 

1) In an effort to prevent forecast information for the 24-36 hour time period from being omitted on local displays of The Weather Channel, some information in the "Short Term" (0-6 hours) and "Later" (0-12 hours) periods may need to be omitted. To assist us in determining which forecast elements might be omitted, please rate the importance of each of the following on a scale of 1-10 (10 being the highest)

_____ Timing of precipitation start/stop
_____ Location of precipitation
_____ Movement of precipitation areas
_____ Amount of precipitation expected

_____ Wind direction if under 15 mph
_____ Wind speed, if under 15 mph
_____ Wind direction, if under 10 mph
_____ Timing of wind shifts
_____ Wind speed, if under 10 mph

_____ Timing of expected high temperature
_____ Timing of expected low temperature

Temperature expected at each of the following times:
_____6 am
_____Noon
_____3 pm
_____6 pm
_____10 pm
_____other times (please list)

2) At which time in the evening would you prefer to see a routine update of the overnight forecast: (select one) Note: forecasts are updated non-routinely at any time as conditions warrant.

_____ 9 pm _____ Other (please indicate time): _________
_____ 11 pm

3) The NWS currently issues the "Short Term" (0-6 hours) forecast in both the "Zone Forecast" viewed on The Weather Channel (and available through many other sources), and as a separate product, the "Short Term Forecast", available via various wire services and the Internet. Do you feel there is a need to issue identical forecasts as two separate products, or should the information be issued only in the Zone Forecast? (Circle your choice) :

Issue two separate products / Issue only in Zone Forecast

4) Would you like to receive future surveys to aid in the improvement of other National Weather Service forecasts, warnings, or statements? Yes / No

5) Would you like to receive a copy of the final report based on the information obtained from these surveys? Yes / No

 

Please note: the address label at top will only be used for demographic analysis of survey responses

 


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