Collaboration between NOAA’s National Severe Storms Laboratory, NOAA’s National Weather Service Forecast Office in Norman, and the WSR-88D Radar Operations Center dates back to the 1980s. The partnership played a central role in data collection and forecasting for multiple field programs in the late ’80s and early ’90s. The well-established culture of cooperation has allowed scientists and forecasters to work together, developing new applications from operational data sets and transferring new technologies from research into forecast operations.
After the Storm Prediction Center moved its operations to the NSSL facility in 1997, the mutual interests of forecasters from the SPC, researchers from NSSL, and collocated joint research partners from the Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies (CIMMS) inspired the formation of the current NOAA Hazardous Weather Testbed. Through the years, HWT activities have ranged from daily map discussions involving imminent severe weather to loosely-related research projects involving 2–3 collaborators to periodic intensive collaborations.
During the last decade, the experimental forecasting branch of the HWT (SPC-NSSL) has played a fundamental leadership role in introducing and implementing Convection-Allowing Models in NWS operations. In a series of collaborative efforts with NCEP/EMC, ESRL/GSD, CAPS, NCAR, and others, these models were first used in HWT experimental forecasting and evaluation exercises in 2004. This inspired forecaster involvement and the development of innovative high-resolution diagnostic tools (storm-attribute diagnostics), introduction of experimental, then operational real-time high-resolution forecast systems at EMC and GSD, and eventually the development of convection-allowing ensemble systems, which are now being optimized for NWS operations.
1984–1985: The Preliminary Regional Experiment for Storm-Central (PRE-STORM) takes place. This exchange of ideas, support of field operations, and real-time data collection is paramount to the success of future collaborative programs.
1987: The Doppler and lightning exercise (DOPLIGHT) conducts real-time operational testing and evaluation of Doppler radar. The fundamental success of this effort contributes to the nationwide implementation of the Next Generation Weather Radar (NEXRAD) Weather Surveillance Radar - 1988 Doppler (WSR-88D) radar network.
1988–1989: Mesoscale Applications Project (MAP) and STORMTIPE introduce forecasters to high-resolution mesoscale and storm-scale prediction models.
Early ’90s: Inspired by these early successes, NOAA creates a collaborative research and forecast facility in Norman, adjacent to the operational forecast floor in the Norman NWSFO. The facility is supported and staffed by NSSL, the Norman NWSFO and the WSR-88D Radar Operations Center.
1994–1995: SPC provides forecast support for the Verification of the Origins of Rotation in Tornadoes Experiment. The forecasters are able to explore new data analysis software, use experimental numerical model output in the forecast process, and discuss the daily operational forecasts with leading scientists in an informal setting. This is the first experience of its kind for most SPC forecasters.
1997: Desire for more participation in the scientific process helped spur the Storm Prediction Center’s move from Kansas City, MO to the National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL) facility in Norman, OK. NSSL facilities are modified to accommodate the SPC relocation, and now include an operational forecasting testbed area that mirrored SPC operations with forecasting equipment, data feed and physical environment. There is enough workspace for up to five meteorologists during operations or 15-20 people in map discussions and/or briefings.
2000: NSSL, CIMMS and SPC organizers develop a program inspired by the mutual scientific and strategic interests of participants. Each part of the program had a local “sponsor,” a scientist or forecaster who develops or promotes one of the tools and helps design evaluation procedures used during the program. Forecasters and numerical modelers are rewarded by the interaction; participating forecasters improve their skill at interpreting model output, and modelers develop new insights into the ways models are being used at the SPC.
2001: Organizers plan more focused activities and make experimental forecast products a part of daily activities. These products are a main attraction for operational forecasters and help produce tangible benefits for the SPC in their quest to optimize the lead-time for severe weather watches.
2003: Researchers begin to test “storm-scale models,” with high resolution depictions of storms. Forecasters call this a “turning point in the use of model output.”
2004-2005: SPC and NSSL explore using Convection-Allowing Models (CAMs) and achieve positive results. CAMs display thunderstorms at a smaller scale than most forecast models and provide extraordinarily accurate forecasts, at times up to 36 hours in advance. Developers from NOAA’s Environmental Modeling Center and the National Center for Atmospheric Research are invited to work with SPC forecasters and NSSL scientists to evaluate CAMs in simulated forecasting exercises. The results motivate NSSL scientists to seek opportunities to move their research into operations.
2006: The National Weather Center is built and the Hazardous Weather Testbed facility is created, situated between the operations areas of SPC and the OUN Weather Forecast Office.
2007: During spring 2007, an initial test begins in the Experimental Warning Program (EWP) to create experimental “threat area” severe weather warnings. EWP participants view and evaluate products generated by local dual-polarimetric WSR-88D radar in preparation for nationwide deployment in 2010-2011. EWP participants collect and evaluate numerous data sets from the National Weather Radar Testbed phased array radar. The Center for Analysis and Prediction of Storms combines multiple real-time Convection-Allowing Models (CAMs) for the first time in the 2007 Spring Forecasting Experiment.
2008: EWP researchers continue to evaluate phased array radar. They also continue to study high temporal gridded Probabilistic Hazard Information as a possible future for severe weather warning products.
2009: The GOES-R Proving Ground involves the operational forecast community in the assessment and development of techniques for the next generation GOES satellites (GOES-R).
2010: The MRMS system is officially recognized as a NWS Line Office Transition Project, and efforts beging to install the first MRMS operational system at NCEP. Experimental real-time CAMs continue to run at NOAA laboratories. NOAA National Centers for Environmental Prediction concludes that CAMs are potentially "transformational" and goes on to establish their own testbeds partially modeled after the HWT.
2011: SPC develops the Storm-Scale Ensemble of Opportunity (SSEO), made up of all available real-time CAMs.
2012: The use of AWIPS2 in the HWT is a success. “Tales of the Testbed” weekly webinars reach a large national audience in the NWS, and increase the visibility of the warning research-to-operations (R2O) efforts. NWS CWSU (Center Weather Service Units—NWS units located inside FAA traffic control centers) participants use EWP experimental products to determine how they can further mitigate hazardous weather impacts to aviation and support the safe and effective flow of air traffic.
2014: The HWT-hydro experiment evaluates and improves experimental products used by NOAA's National Weather Service to issue flash flood watches and warnings.
2015: This year marks the inaugural HWT Experiment with Emergency Managers. The EMs provide feedback on their interpretation of experimental probabilistic forecasts generated in the HWT from the PHI experiment and the Experimental Forecast Program (EFP).
2016: The Community Leveraged Unified Ensemble (CLUE) has been designed for the 2016 NOAA Hazardous Weather Testbed Spring Forecasting Experiment. In this system, all participants use the same model specifications and combine their results into one large "super-ensemble" that will determine ideal CAM configurations. This represents an unprecedented effort to include several academic and government research institutions in NOAA’s environmental modeling efforts.