National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce

October 2019

The October issue of BAMS - The Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society - features an article authored by Louis Uccellini and John Ten Hoeve of the National Weather Service about how the agency is evolving to meet America’s growing and changing needs for weather information and forecasts.

Evolving the National Weather Service to Build a Weather-Ready Nation; Connecting Observations, Forecasts, and Warnings to Decision-Makers through Impact-Based Decision Support Services delves into the rapidly shifting weather forecast and support demands of the nation, and how transformational change is positioning the National Weather Service for success in this new environment.

The U.S. experiences 26,000 severe storms, 1,300 tornadoes, 12 Atlantic basin tropical storms, 5,000 floods, 69,000 fires, and dozens of heavy snowstorms and blizzards in an average year.

As described in the article, America experiences some of the world’s most extreme and diverse weather. Four out of five Americans live in counties that have received weather-related disaster declarations. To achieve the vision of a Weather-Ready Nation and to meet the NWS mission of saving lives and property and enhancing the national economy, the agency must improve the accuracy and timeliness of forecasts and warnings, and must directly connect these forecasts and warnings to critical life- and property-saving decisions through the provision of impact-based decision support services (IDSS).  This focus helps officials at federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial levels of government make faster and more pertinent decisions to protect life and property.  These organizational shifts are aligned with direction provided by the 2017 Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act. 

Internal recognition of the need for change within the National Weather Service was born out of a particularly destructive tornado season in 2011, followed by a series of external and self reviews which culminated in a full operations and workforce analysis concluding in 2016. Common themes reverberating through each of these reviews was that exceptional forecasts alone were not enough to save lives, and the task of creating resilient communities takes more than government effort alone.

The article discusses the critical importance of strong partnerships between NWS and core partners such as emergency managers, and with the U.S. Weather Industry, academia, and other U.S. organizations and businesses that are collaborating as ambassadors to protect life and property from extreme weather, water, and climate events. According to the article, these partnerships improve public safety and economic resilience of the nation, while also stimulating economic growth throughout the rapidly changing weather enterprise. The article also provides supporting evidence of the positive outcomes of agency’s impact-based decision support services along with lessons learned for the future. 

IDSS helps the National Weather Service achieve its mission by connecting the agency’s science, technology, forecasts and warnings to the desired social outcomes of reducing extreme weather impacts on people and the economy.

In addition to strengthening external partnerships, the article outlines evolution that is happening within the National Weather Service to improve efficiency and adaptability to the growing and changing needs of customers and partners. A major focus is a shift from the traditional forecast process to one that is more collaborative and team-based across the agency. This new paradigm -- known as the collaborative forecast process -- serves to break down barriers across NWS offices to force the sharing of information and skill for greater efficiency and accuracy.

The National Weather Service has launched a number of change initiatives over the past decade, requiring a major culture shift that has been embraced by its workforce -- a cadre of the most dedicated public servants in the country. Both internal and external pressures forced these changes to position the agency for continued relevance and success into the future. The metrics of success have changed from purely the accuracy of a forecast to how well the agency collaborates internally and externally, and how well forecasters prepare decision-makers and the public to understand and act on the impacts a given weather system may bring.

The BAMS article dives deeply into these topics and more, laying out the rationale and process that led to today’s change initiatives at the National Weather Service; and actions that are positioning the agency for success as it continues building a Weather-Ready Nation into the future.


Uccellini, L., Ten Hoeve, J. (2019). Evolving the National Weather Service to Build a Weather-Ready Nation; Connecting Observations, Forecasts, and Warnings to Decision-Makers through Impact-Based Decision Support Services. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, (100), 10. 1924-1942.