DOD builds Web weather station
At the outset of the Bosnian mission in late 1995, Air Force commanders wanted to send
cargo planes from Germany into Bosnia.
They went to their computers and checked the latest weather forecasts, which covered a
40-kilometer zone. Though the data was up to 12 hours old and based on scanty local
observation, they decided to send the planes in. But the forecasts were insufficient, and
an unexpected fog forced their return.
Should those commanders want to send those same planes to Bosnia today, they would
access the Air Force's restricted World Wide Web site and get the latest weather
forecasts, created hourly from data that includes multiple local observation sources for
areas as small as 10 kilometers. And instead of interpreting two-dimensional isobars, they
would see a 3-D image of the fog creeping over Bosnian topography.
What's made the difference is data visualization by the Global Theater Weather Analysis
and Prediction System, a joint venture of the Air Force and the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration. GTWAPS uses AVS/Express data visualization software from
Advanced Visual Systems Inc. of Waltham, Mass. "The testing in Bosnia is ongoing, but
the feedback is that people in the field really like it," said Air Force Col. Dan
McMorrow, the associate NOAA deputy on the project.
The Bosnian prototype profits from cooperation and product development from government,
educational and private groups as disparate as the Navy, Pennsylvania State University and
But melding the different operations, the hardware, the software and different ways of
working was no snap. In fact, McMorrow acknowledged with a laugh, "There are days
when we wonder why we ever got into this. We're like the conductors of an orchestra, where
everybody has a different idea of how [the music] should be played."
GTWAPS does just that, integrating data from the Air Force Global Weather Center
(AFGWC) at Offutt Air Force Base in Omaha, Neb., with weather data analyses developed at
NOAA's Forecast System Laboratory (FSL) at the University of Colorado, Boulder.
Network Common Data Format (NetCDF) converters developed at FSL let the Air Force
systems easily port to other forecasting systems, explained Sher Wagoner, FSL project
At the Offutt AFGWC, an IBM Corp. RS/6000 serves as an interim processor to collect
surface and upper-air observations from sources that include World Meteorological
Organization weather balloons over Bosnia, Italy and Serbia as well as European sector
topographical data from the Naval Operational Global Analysis and Prediction System
"The weather data is integrated with high-resolution terrain maps from the Defense
Mapping Agency," McMorrow said. "It's a good fusion demonstration of
independently developed capabilities from private labs, federal agencies, from the
military, from the National Weather Service, FSL and Defense Department customers."
The Local Analysis and Prediction System on the RS/6000 runs forecast analyses. It then
converts the binary output from a Gridded Binary Data, or GRIB, format to NetCDF for the
Weather Forecast Office-Advanced workstation database and display at Offutt. For the
WFO-Advanced workstation, the AFGWC is using a Hewlett-Packard HP 755.
NetCDF, a self-describing data format
for arrayed data, was developed by the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research
(UCAR), also at the University of Colorado in Boulder. Together with contributions from
other NetCDF users, the NetCDF libraries, interface and format support the
creation, access and sharing of scientific data.
LAPS assimilates all atmospheric sensor data available over a localized domain that is
needed for the weather prediction model. For the Bosnia project, the Air Force and NOAA
used the Mesoscale Model 90, MM90.
Binary output grids from LAPS analyses go, with binary NOGAPS data, to AFGWC's IBM
RS/6000 SP parallel processor. The processor runs the MM90 model, generating weather
forecast fields such as temperature, winds, precipitation and pressure. It then converts
MM90 output grids to NetCDF format and sends them, with NetCDF LAPS grids, to AFGWC's
The Offutt HP 755 is an operational prototype for NOAA's Advanced Weather Interactive
Processing System that integrates data from weather observations systems with computer
models. The workstation, designed and developed at FSL, has a buffered 24-bit graphics
card, 256M RAM and runs HP-UX Version 10.10.
The Offutt workstation has 2- and 3-dimensional modes. NOAA developed D2D, or Display 2
Dimensional, software at FSL using C++ and standard X-11. D3D, or Display 3 Dimensional,
is based on software developed at FSL using AVS/Express V2.
The HP 755 displays output from a predictive model that AFGWC runs every three hours,
Wagoner said. The LAPS analysis continually updates itself, every hour or so.
Operational forecasters use D2D and D3D to create weather visualizations. The 3-D
visualizations also depict atmospheric analysis, model output and radar summaries.
The WFO-Advanced workstation converts the Bosnia images-which cover a 1,000-kilometer
by 1,000-kilometer box up to 50,000 feet over Dubrovnik-to .gif files. AFGWC then posts
them to its restricted Web page. Commanders of U.S. troops in Bosnia use a password and
Web browser to access the images from notebooks and PCs deployed in the field.
One problem: inadequate user computers in the field. "They're using PCs or Suns or
laptops," Wagoner said. "The computers we use to generate these images have 250M
of memory and six or seven gigs of disk storage."