Commerce Department awards Gold Medal to weather event simulator concept and development team

The U.S. Department of Commerce has awarded its prestigious Gold Medal to the Weather Event Simulator (WES) Concept and Development Team for its pioneering work in creating nationwide simulation training capabilities for NOAA National Weather Service (NWS) forecasters. The team was made up of members from the NWS Weather Forecast Office (WFO) in Norman, Okla.; the Warning Decision Training Branch (WDTB), also located in Norman; and, the Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies (CIMMS), at the University of Oklahoma.

The team included Mike Foster, meteorologist in charge, WFO Norman; David Andra, science and operations officer, WFO Norman; WDTB Instruction Team Leader Elizabeth Quoetone and Instructional Resources Team Leader John Ferree. Other members included Senior CIMMS Research Associate Michael Magsig; CIMMS Senior Systems Analyst Kenyon Hoggard; and, former CIMMS Programmer/Analyst Xuning Tan. Tan is currently working as a Senior Scientific Programmer for the Office of Science and Technology’s Meteorological Development Laboratory (MDL).

Inspired by the utility of case studies used for training during a Warning Decision Making Workshop in 1999, the team conceived, designed and developed a prototype of what would become known as the Weather Event Simulator. The team demonstrated that weather data and WSR-88D radar and weather satellite images, archived from the Advanced Weather Interactive Processing System (AWIPS), could be displayed—in a way that simulated real time—for training purposes.

In the same way the aviation industry uses aircraft simulators, the WES program now allows forecasters to gain invaluable experience working major weather events, whether they have been on the job for two weeks or 20 years.

Recognizing the possibilities of this new training tool, Foster and Andra solicited initial funding from the National Weather Service Southern Region. The team then launched a campaign to develop and implement this technology at forecast offices nationwide.

While many individuals subsequently helped ensure the implementation of the WES program throughout the National Weather Service, the team members were honored for their exceptional vision, creative talents and blend of skills that led directly to the program’s development, acceptance and funding as a unique new operational training system.

The award was presented at a special ceremony in Washington, D.C. The Gold Medal is the Commerce Department’s highest honorary award, presented annually for distinguished performance in support of the department’s critical objectives.