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Meteorology en masse


National Weather Center to unite OU students, NOAA staff

 

by Bob Henson

John Snow

John Snow at the NWC during construction this spring. (Photo by Bob Henson.)

The hundreds of meteorological specialists clustered in Norman, Oklahoma, now have a building worthy of the state's renowned reputation for spectacular weather. Situated on the south end of the University of Oklahoma campus, the National Weather Center (NWC) will house students and faculty from OU's newly renamed College of Atmospheric and Geographic Sciences (A&GS), as well as staff from several branches of NOAA previously located on the other end of town. The NWC's grand opening is set for 29 September.

The NWC will be one of the largest concentrations of atmospheric students, teachers, and scientists in the world: around 600 by this autumn, with room for up to 100 more. NOAA's Storm Prediction Center, which issues the nation's tornado watches and other severe weather outlooks, will set up shop in the new building this autumn. SPC will join several other OU and NOAA groups now in the new building, including the National Severe Storms Laboratory and the Norman forecast office of the National Weather Service (NWS). Following an early July move, faculty and students are settling in with the new semester.

The $67 million NWC building was funded equally by federal and state allocations, according to A&GS dean John Snow. "I have to give most of the credit to OU president David Boren for bringing us together under one roof," says Snow. Another early champion of the NWC concept was Ronald McPherson, the former director of NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Prediction. "Ron wanted the SPC and supporting agencies to be an easy walk from our meteorology program to foster interaction," says Snow. "Now they're a two-minute walk away."

Over the last 15 years, NOAA has moved a number of NWS offices around the country from airports to college campuses. The shift to collocated offices is meant to help forecasters benefit from proximity to researchers and grad students, and vice versa. The NWC takes this philosophy a step further: it's the first time that an NWS office and a major NOAA research center will be in the same building as a meteorology department.

"We look forward to not only a faster transition of science and technology to operations but also a better final product, since it will be easier for everyone to contribute from inception to finish," says David Andra, science and operations officer for the Norman NWS forecast office.

The six-story NWC building includes more than 240,000 square feet of office and lab space. Two auditoriums on the lowest level, sitting partially below grade, will serve double duty as meeting spaces and tornado shelters. A Doppler ceilometer, which measures cloud heights, will join other instruments on the roof.
Across the parking lot from the

NWC is Weathernews, one of the world's largest weather consulting firms. The Tokyo-based company moved a group of around 90 forecasters and other staff from California to Norman in 2004. Also nearby is OU's Stephenson Research and Technology Center, which houses supercomputers.

"I think you're hard pressed to find another place like this in the United States," says Snow. He points to Météo-France's Météopole in Toulouse as perhaps the closest analogue for putting weather research, education, and operations under one roof. "From the point of view of R&D, technology transfer, and operations, it's a one-stop shop. If you're a student, you get to learn and study with world-class theoreticians, developers, and practitioners. Our goal is to expose students to all these functions."

 

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