National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce
Date Posted: May 14, 2013


When two explosions tore through the crowd at the Boston Marathon on April 15, killing three people and wounding more than 260 others, the decision support services, or DSS, team from the National Weather Service Boston forecast office was on-hand to help emergency managers, federal law enforcement officials and first responders deal with the situation.

The team — led by Forecaster Rebecca Gould, has worked actively in recent years to help southern New England meet the goals of becoming a part of a Weather-Ready Nation. This includes the establishment of a dedicated DSS shift at the NWS Boston forecast office, as well as on-site support to emergency managers in their operations centers when requested.

NWS Boston General Forecaster Stephanie Dunten monitors weather conditions during the Boston Marathon.

The forecaster working the DSS shift determines the weather impact of the day and decides how to provide the best support to NWS partners. This may include notifying local emergency managers of upcoming hazardous weather, providing briefings or creating informational graphics for social media. The DSS forecaster is the main point of contact for NWS partners, which gives the operational forecasters at the office more time to concentrate on the forecast database. Each of the forecasters at the office rotates through this position, which benefits NWS partners by allowing them to become acquainted with more of the staff. When NWS Boston provides on-site support, the DSS forecaster and the deployed forecaster are in contact with one another to make sure a consistent message is communicated.

In the months leading up to April 15, Gould, along with NWS Boston Meteorologist-in-Charge Robert Thompson and Warning Coordination Meteorologist Glenn Field, worked with the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, or MEMA, to coordinate on-site DSS for the marathon. One of the DSS team members, Forecaster Stephanie Dunten, was to be embedded at the Multi-Agency Coordination Center, also known as MACC, at MEMA headquarters. While MEMA was the agency that requested NWS support, the Boston Athletic Association, who organizes the Boston Marathon, supported the idea, since weather was a major factor last year, when temperatures reached near record highs in the 80s.

Early in the morning on Monday, April 15, Dunten arrived at the MEMA “bunker” in Framingham, Massachusetts. After a quick call to the office to get the latest forecast, she analyzed current conditions and the near term forecast for the marathon route between Hopkinton and Boston. Before the first wave of runners set off the MACC director held a briefing to make sure everyone knew their roles and the command structure to follow if any issues arose. Dunten then held a weather briefing for MACC staff. The forecast called for near-perfect conditions. Dunten held another weather briefing just before the elite men and charity runners started, but there were no changes from the previous forecast.

At 2:50 p.m., the situation changed dramatically, as did the mood within the MACC, when reports of at least two explosions came in. After receiving confirmation of the explosions, Dunten immediately contacted the DSS forecaster at NWS Boston and requested a Hysplit air dispersion model run, in case the explosions contained toxins or hazardous chemicals that could become airborne. She also sent a spot forecast request for the finish line site. After receiving the information from NWS Boston, Dunten quickly briefed the operations officer at the MACC. Fortunately no hazardous chemicals were released.

After it became obvious that weather was not a major concern, Dunten volunteered to switch gears and help in any way she could. She was able to assist the MEMA public information officer by monitoring social media and MEMA’s webpage for any information that needed to be shared with those in the MACC. After several hours of monitoring and assisting at the MACC, it was determined that NWS Boston could best support the MACC, local first responders and law enforcement from the forecast office through the recovery and the events that unfolded during the following days.

NWS Boston was not only appropriately staffed, but also prepared, in case an emergency of this caliber occurred. The events that occurred at the finish line of the Boston Marathon showed how agencies at a variety of levels can work together in a time of crisis.

On-site decision support has taken on more of a role at NWS Boston over the past several years, largely due to the very successful support provided during the July 4, 2012, holiday festivities in Boston, when the office provided support to emergency managers for both the War of 1812 Bicentennial Commemoration and the annual Boston Pops concert and fireworks.