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Fall 2001

With two new sponsors, COMET turns northward

by Bob Henson

Tim Spangler. (Photo by Carlye Calvin.)

UCAR's Cooperative Program for Operational Meteorology, Education and Training (COMET) is branching into high-latitude territory. The new emphasis on weather north of 50°N is on behalf of COMET's latest sponsors, the Meteorological Service of Canada and the U.S. National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS).

The new sponsors join others that COMET has served from its beginning. At a recent meeting of the program's executive board, stakeholders "reaffirmed the COMET charter and their commitment to the program," according to director Timothy Spangler. Along with the newcomers, COMET's key sponsors include the National Weather Service (which supports about two-thirds of the COMET budget), the U.S. Air Force and Navy, and the National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NESDIS).

International projects aren't new for COMET, but the polar angle is. Now in its 11th year, the program began as an effort to bring U.S. meteorologists in the civilian and military weather services up to speed on the latest research findings and forecast techniques. As the NWS gradually completed its long-term modernization, COMET began to expand its clientele. Meteorologists from Africa, Australia, and Central America have taken part in on- site training at COMET's Boulder classroom. Topic-specific COMET modules have been distributed on LaserDisc and CD-ROM to weather services in at least 30 nations.

Meteorologist training in the Canadian government was dropped in the mid-1990s as part of widespread budget cuts. COMET is now picking up the ball—but only part of it. The old Canadian program included both basic training and continuing education, but COMET specializes only in the latter. As Spangler puts it, "We don't train anybody to be a forecaster—we train forecasters to be better."

The Canadian project will include Boulder-based courses and on- line modules geared toward high-latitude phenomena such as polar lows, as well as fire weather and marine meteorology. A Canadian meteorologist will be chosen to spend most of the next year with COMET staff in Boulder, helping to craft the training tools. The NWS's Alaska Region, which stands to benefit from the high- latitude materials, is sharing some of the production cost.

Since the usefulness of geostationary satellites declines rapidly at latitudes above 60° north and south, NPOESS data are especially important toward the poles. In the mid-1990s, civilian and military polar orbiters were merged to create NPOESS, and new satellites satisfying both sectors' requirements are scheduled to be launched around 2006. COMET is developing a series of modules that orient forecasters to the products available from the polar orbiters.

Several NPOESS modules are already available to the university community through COMET's wildly sucessfully MetEd site (see link below). Over 40 modules are now on line, including several Webcasts, which are video presentations using Flash software. MetEd has provided over 300,000 user-hours of training in 2001 thus far, according to Spangler. "I'm really pleased at how this site is supporting the community. The amount of information on it has grown tremendously in the last two years."

While most Web sites focus on mere hits rather than extended use, the MetEd site gets tens of thousands of users each month who stay for an average of 45 minutes each. "I've talked to other people running Web sites who would do anything to have these numbers," says Spangler. With the advent of residential high-speed Internet service, he notes, "a lot of government forecasters are coming into our site from home, because they have more time and better bandwidth [than at work]."

Some university professors are placing COMET products front and center as they develop courses. Frederick Carr (University of Oklahoma) incorporated both CD-ROM and Web-based materials on numerical weather prediction (NWP) in a weather-forecasting course he launched last spring. The NWP content, which covered observations, analysis, intelligent use of model guidance, and the like, represented over 50 percent of the course, says Carr.

As it builds bridges to the north, COMET is turning its gaze to the south as well. The program is collaborating with Unidata (like COMET, part of the UCAR Office of Programs) on a proposed network, MeteoForum, that would link the regional training centers sponsored by the World Meteorological Organization in Argentina, Barbados, Brazil, Costa Rica, and Venezuela. The result would be free access to a wealth of data, training materials, and analysis software, much of it furnished by COMET and Unidata, along with better coordination among the WMO centers and national meteorological services. With support from internal UCAR development funds, a planning meeting is on tap for this winter.

On the Web:
COMET home page
COMET MetEd site

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Edited by Bob Henson, bhenson@ucar.edu
Prepared for the Web by Jacque Marshall
Last revised: Tue Oct 23 11:26:05 MDT 2001