The National Weather Service is moving from an era that has "primarily observed weather to a program that will predict the weather" - and in a more accurate and timely way, a NWS official said.

"We are using a lot more science in what we are doing. In the past, technology has allowed forecasters to detect the weather. New radar systems and other equipment will give us additional information that will allow us to predict the weather before it actually occurs," Bob Landis, deputy administrator for operations at the NWS in Washington, said.Landis, who has been with the Weather Service or its parent organization, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, for about 27 years, was in Salt Lake City to present awards to western region headquarters personnel for their efforts in an extensive modernization program now under way.

The federal official also conferred with William J. Alder, meteorologist in charge of the Salt Lake office of the Weather Service, and David G. Brandon, hydrologist in charge of the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center, and their staffs at the Salt Lake International Airport.

In mid-October the Weather Service broke ground for a new $1.4 million facility at 2242 W. North Temple. That facility and new equipment in Salt Lake City and at Promontory Point in Box Elder County and near Cedar City will enable the Weather Service to enter a new era of weather and river forecasting.

The new equipment includes Doppler weather surveillance radar towers at Promontory Point, located at the north end of the Great Salt Lake, and on Blowhard Mountain, east of Cedar City, and radar display screens at the new Salt Lake Weather Service office. The cost of the new building and new equipment in Utah will total approximately $15 million, Landis said.

Nationwide, the cost of the modernization effort will total $4.2 billion, with $2 billion of that amount earmarked for a new geostationary satellite system, which produces cloud pictures seen on TV station weather programs.

Landis says weather forecasts will be much more accurate and timely in Utah and other parts of the country once all the equipment is installed and operational. No equipment has yet been installed in Utah. All the equipment will be installed and operational by early 1996, Alder told the Deseret News.

Landis said the new equipment will enable meteorologists, for example, to not only predict the weather for a section of the state but to narrow information down to a specific city or even parts of a city.

The Doppler radar system (like that to be installed on Promontory and near Cedar City) will enable forecasters to warn the public of severe thunderstorms and tornadoes.

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"The Doppler system allows us to look into a thunderstorm that is forming and see the actual dynamics, such as wind structure within the clouds, whether a tornado will form and how intense it will be. It also will supply information on the amount of rain and the strength of winds," Landis said.

One real plus of the new equipment for weather and river forecasters is that they will be able to see information on basically one screen rather than having to track data on various pieces of computerized equipment.

Landis said the Utah ski industry should benefit greatly from forecasts generated from the new equipment. Agricultural and forest-related industries and officials who manage water resources also will reap benefits, he said.

"We'll be able to give water resource managers much better indication in the future of how much precipitation will be available and how much water should be stored. That will be a big advantage of the new systems over present equipment," Landis added.

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