NWS' Hawkins forecasts better service

NWS' Hawkins forecasts better service

NWS' Jamison Hawkins says he wants to infuse science and technological advances to improve delivery of services.

Service Division director wants to get most out of new weather prediction hardware and software

By Frank Tiboni

GCN Staff

As a result of a $4.5 billion, decade-long upgrade of the National Weather Service's information technology, Jamison S. Hawkins expects that he and his staff will be able to deliver better forecasts and earlier warnings.

'We won't rest on our laurels,' said the new director of the Service Division in NWS' Office of Meteorology. 'We want to become more responsive to the public.'

Hawkins has spent his 21-year government career working on weather-related technology. Primarily, he has developed weather, ocean and solar requirements analyses for satellite systems. But he also helped develop systems that process satellite images for the weather service's $550 million Advanced Weather Interactive Processing System (AWIPS).

Now Hawkins will take on the challenge of using some of the tools he helped develop. He is refining a strategy that will let the agency get the most benefit from its new weather forecasting hardware and software. Hawkins will follow a five-year strategy laid out by the weather service, Vision 2005: National Weather Service Strategic Plan for Weather, Water and Climate Services 2000 to 2005.

'We want to aggressively and continually infuse science and technological advances to improve products and delivery of services that best meet and anticipate customer needs,' Hawkins said.

At the Service Division, he manages the primary short-term weather forecast and warning products. He also handles all weather information provided to the public and news media, as well as to the aviation, marine and fire emergency communities.

'Now that we have reached the pinnacle in our modernization of the weather service, improving operations and services will be of increasing importance,' said NWS director John J. Kelly, who promoted Hawkins to the Service Division post late last month. 'I am confident that Jamie will be a strong leader in the agency's drive to improve products and services in the new century.'

Hawkins began his career with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NWS' parent agency, as a satellite meteorologist in the National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service.

In 1989, Hawkins helped develop the real-time satellite image distribution service for NOAA CoastWatch. The program relays imagery from environmental satellites and provides high-resolution, near-real-time digital images to the public.

Hawkins received the NOAA Administrator's Award in 1992 for leading the development of an innovative system that captures images from geostationary orbiting environmental satellites in real time for distribution to 121 field offices using AWIPS.

AWIPS, which weather service offices run on Hewlett-Packard 9000 Series servers, lets forecasters display and analyze satellite imagery, radar data, automated weather observations and computer-generated numerical forecasts, all at a single terminal. Previously, forecasters used multiple terminals to develop forecasts and storm warnings.

Hawkins helped replace the agency's IBM 4381 mainframes, which previously had processing power of 2.5 million instructions per second, with a system that boosted the rate to 66 MIPS.

That processing gain let the weather service improve its ability to quickly calculate and issue early storm warnings, Hawkins said. Last year the service gave an average 11-minute advance warning for tornadoes, compared with three minutes 20 years ago. Flash-flood warnings, which were issued an average 7.7 minutes in advance in 1987, were issued an average 50.6 minutes in advance last year.

NWS wants to use its new IT tools to increase the lead time for tornado warnings to 15 minutes and flash flood warnings to 65 minutes by 2005, Hawkins said.

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