I am all for change within the meteorological world. It’s something that a lot of meteorologists surprisingly fight against, but as with anything, people get set in their ways and refuse to try to do things better. Social media is one example. The weather world (at least NWS affiliates) was several years behind on that one. I have many ideas of how we could improve our field and get better at dispensing knowledge and informing the public; however, that isn’t what this piece is about.
My issue resides with the Storm Prediction Center (SPC), and the way it is organized. As a preface to all of this, this has not been the best year for the SPC. The SPC has had several blatant screw ups, which is very odd for them. Typically, the SPC is on their game the majority of the time, but this year, they haven’t been quite as sharp. They’ve made some questionable decisions over the past few months, and I do think it needs to be reviewed.
There are a few that come to mind. April 26th was a day with a significant amount of hype, that gradually became overdone as the meteorological conditions behind the system ended up being unfavorable for a day of the magnitude that was being advertised.
The SPC issued a Particularly Dangerous Situation (PDS) Tornado Watch for the Oklahoma and Texas region, and these are typically reserved for the rarest of days and the most critical of situations. However, this was not warranted based upon short-term model guidance, and real time meteorological analysis. It absolutely wasn’t. Models forecasted convection to quickly coalesce, and this occurred.
Now, I will say, there were several tornadoes confirmed in eastern Oklahoma, but those were from a squall line, which is a completely different storm mode than was anticipated to produce tornadoes that day.
Then the next day, the SPC waited about an hour to issue a tornado watch for our region locally when multiple supercells with reported wall clouds and a couple tornadoes formed. They waited far too long, and that was just unacceptable. In addition, a strong squall line formed to our southwest and moved through the region, bringing severe warnings and wind damage reports. THEN, on May 10th, the SPC waited over 2 hours to issue a tornado watch within a region across western KY that had supercells produce long tracked tornadoes across the region. This region was within an environment that was highly sheared and very unstable.
This is not meant to be a criticism piece. I love the SPC and often defend them, and will do so as long as I can. Working at the SPC is my dream job. However, I do believe these points I bring up are important to note in light of the idea I am presenting.
So, what is my point with this? I don’t like to criticize, but it is necessary here. I believe that in light of their recent struggles, and other issues, the SPC should become regionalized. I firmly believe in this idea for three reasons.
This will draw the best meteorologists from the regions into the SPC office
Forecasts will absolutely be better
NWS/SPC office communication will improve, and this will improve information dispersion to the public
This is an idea that I feel like would firmly revolutionize the way that severe weather information is dispersed, communicated and taken.
First of all, the SPC should regionalize because this will draw the best severe weather meteorologists from individual NWS offices to the regional SPC office. Look, the SPC is the hub for severe weather forecasters. It is a place where research is done, and where great forecasters go to forecast strictly severe thunderstorms and their impacts. However, this is fairly limited to a small group of forecasters that are lucky enough to get into the SPC.
This is very limiting to the amount of talent that they can have in house, and the amount of voices they are willing to listen to. Regionalization will give opportunities to increase the talent pool for severe weather forecasting, and will give talented forecasters the opportunity to move to that sector of the field. Additionally, the idea of different voices and ideas being heard is a concept that will improve any organization.
This brings me to my next point. This move will make forecasts much, much better. Anytime there is an opportunity to open more positions to bring in more talented severe weather meteorologists, forecasts are bound to improve. This will bring about better verification scores, better public trust, etc. Additionally, this would bring in meteorologists who know the region better. Having just one office in Norman, OK to forecast for the entire country is fairly limiting meteorologically. The mets there just aren’t as in tune with climatology and trends that occur in different regions of the US.
This naturally leaves the SPC at a disadvantage to local NWS offices. However, if the SPC was to regionalize, and draw good severe weather forecasters from NWS offices in the region that the SPC office was centered in, this would improve forecasts dramatically. The potential to improve forecast through regionally drawing meteorologists and their knowledge of that region in is sky high.
Lastly, this would improve the communications with NWS offices and the SPC. According to their website, the SPC has 16 meteorologists on staff right now. There are 121 NWS offices throughout the country. That means that communication is strongly limited by the very small ratio of mets at the SPC to NWS meteorologists trying to communicate with them. Additionally, if this was regionalized, the meteorologists that went to the regional SPC offices would have ties directly back to the offices they came from.
I’m not trying to say that the current SPC meteorologists don’t have that; however, it is tougher to communicate with an office that you’ve never had experience dealing with before. With regional SPC offices, this wouldn’t be as difficult, as neighboring NWS offices communicate everyday on simple forecasts. The efficiency in terms of communicating, issuing watches and dispensing critical information to the public would be incredible. It is just a matter of taking these ideas and turning them into a reality.
There are some issues facing this. There is the hiring and budget issue; the issue of placing these offices and appointing positions and holding regional offices accountable. The Norman office wouldn’t go away, and would likely take on a role of the “Big Dog” in this scenario. They could issue convective outlooks for the country, with collaboration with the leaders of the regional offices having to agree.
However, they would have to delegate mesoscale discussions and watch issuances to the regional offices, as their knowledge, expertise and connections to the offices in that region will allow for this information to be dispensed quicker. I know that there would be budgetary issues, but there is plenty of money in the government that is illogically placed. This is a scenario that would help plenty of people, and allow for the saving of lives along the way.
This is a win-win for NOAA and the NWS, as they could easily just place the offices in an existing NWS office or place it at a lucky University. Ultimately, though, it is up to politicians to place the money into this, and allow for this to happen. Will this happen? Probably not. However, I think the idea of regionalizing SPC offices is one that makes plenty of sense, and would improve communication and forecasts across the board.