The Times West Virginian

March 29, 2013

High-tech role Fairmont has in weather prediction is great for region

Times West Virginian

— The weather is pretty much all anyone talks about these days.

March is supposed to come in like a lion and out like a lamb. For 2013, it’s a cold, damp, snowy lamb. But in just a few days, we’re on to April showers and then May flowers.

What we all should be talking about, when it comes to the weather at least, is the high-technological marvel that exists right here in Fairmont, W.Va., when it comes to weather prediction and its potential for growth. Who needs Punxsutawney Phil, who is currently wanted in at least one state for fraudulent weather prediction? We’ve got the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and its National Weather Service right in our back yard.

And through new technology, right here in Fairmont, severe weather information will be put into the hands of meteorologists and the public more quickly. On Tuesday afternoon, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., came together with officials from NOAA and the National Weather Service to announce an expansion and plans to establish new operations in Fairmont to manage the next-generation weather satellites.

It’s the satellites that make it possible for the agency to make forecasts several days in advance. The global observer system will be greatly enhanced by the work that is currently going on with NOAA’s Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) and Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite – R Series (GOES-R). The Robert H. Mollohan Research Center in Fairmont will become the backup hub for the data coming from both satellite systems.

“You have to get that data fast and you have to get it reliably,” said Dr. Louis Uccellini, director of the National Weather Service. “It has to work every time.”

NOAA is upgrading its research computers, and the location in Fairmont will see the addition of three high-performance supercomputers, which will run numeric models in order to develop weather forecasts. Also, three new weather antennas will be constructed near the Research Center in Fairmont to communicate with NOAA’s geostationary weather satellites.

“This data is shared by all and used by all,” Rockefeller said. “This is deemed to be an excellent technologically-based center for advanced research and analysis, and that makes me happy.

“Now we’re going to have more accurate tools to be able to make this analysis,” he said. “It’s very good news for West Virginia. It’s very good news for this facility and for the whole northern West Virginia.”

We all know just how important weather forecasting is — and not of the groundhog variety. West Virginia was greatly impacted by historic weather events over the past year, including the severe flooding on Feb. 29, the derecho in June and Hurricane Sandy in October.

Fast and accurate information sent out to residents through alerts and weather forecasts simply saves lives. That’s the most important part of this expansion.

That it’s happening right here in Fairmont means more direct and indirect employment, the expansion of our fast-growing high-technology sector and a bigger reputation for being the kind of community that is capable of handling projects of this caliber.

Our forecast is for more and more growth in this area. And that is a great thing.