The Times West Virginian

November 5, 2013

GST wins $10.5M for weather forecasting

Funding will be used to expand National Mesonet Program

By Jessica Borders
Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — Global Science & Technology Inc. and its partners are helping the National Weather Service get a better picture for weather prediction.

GST recently learned that it had won an approximately $10.5 million contract from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Weather Service to expand the National Mesonet Program. This one-year task order is within the Scientific and Technical Support Services Next Generation Indefinite Delivery/Indefinite Quantity, or Sci-Tech NG IDIQ, contract.

“We are pleased to continue to serve our nation with such an important mission as the National Mesonet Program,” GST President Chieh-san Cheng said in a press release. “Clearly, there is a national priority to obtain weather observation data at the local level. Ultimately, we believe better weather and forecast data can help save lives, protect property and reduce economic impacts.”

Paul Heppner, program manager and meteorologist for GST, explained that this work began in different pieces several years ago. The goal was to improve the accuracy of weather forecasts and get data to the government.

GST established the Mobile Platform Environmental Data, or MoPED, observation network, he said. These mobile platforms do a remarkable amount of sampling and provide information to the National Weather Service. Weather instruments are put onto a truck or bus, and observations are taken as the vehicle travels.

At the same time, GST’s partners focused on fixed automated weather stations across the country to gather data for the National Weather Service, Heppner said. These nonfederal, surface-based observation networks are called mesonets.

He said these two pieces — the mobile and fixed sites — came together into one cohesive program, the National Mesonet Program, in February 2012. The complete program will be coming into its third year of operation with the new contract.

“All these different weather stations that are out there are providing information that the weather service would otherwise never have data from,” Heppner said. “It fills in the gaps.”

These stations are of great benefit to forecasters who are looking at weather activity, he said.

The program involves a diverse group of partners, both private companies and universities, that are called the National Mesonet Program Alliance and deliver these services to NOAA as a whole. GST is the prime contractor, Heppner said.

“We’re very proud to be able to continue on with the National Weather Service to help them fulfill their mission, and we recognize the importance of the work we do,” he said.

Heppner said GST takes this job seriously, and is focused on making sure data is delivered reliably and is of the highest quality.

In the upcoming year, the alliance will be adding new observation networks in Pennsylvania and Washington state, he said. New partners will also join the network in order to add some new data.

For its predictive weather models, the National Weather Service wants to first get surface data from the fixed and mobile sites, but also wants to know what’s going on at the lowest part of the atmosphere. The team is focusing on vertical profilers, which are instruments that point upward into the atmosphere and provide information on the temperature, moisture and wind, Heppner said.

This additional data is needed so that models can show the intensity of storms coming through as well as the environments that make the storms, he said. When more information is known about the air mass that is going to make the storm, experts can better determine if the weather event will be severe or not.

Heppner said the partners do a lot of collaboration on performance monitoring. Also, because not all weather stations have the same instruments, they are trying to standardize the way the data is communicated to the National Weather Service.

GST does much of the work for this program at its Fairmont office, where the majority of the engineering team is based. The company’s headquarters in Greenbelt, Md., is also active in the project. Because the GST team and its partners are all over the country, technology like Skype and Google is often used to hold meetings and discussions, he said.

“I couldn’t be happier,” Heppner said of the program. “It’s a great group of partners. This group is probably one of the most pleasant groups I’ve worked with. They just get it.”

Email Jessica Borders at jborders@timeswv.com or follow her on Twitter @JBordersTWV.