NSSL’s Forecast Research and Development Division earns Department of Commerce Gold Medal Award

The United States Department of Commerce announced on Tuesday that the Forecast Research and Development Division at NOAA’s National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL) is a recipient of its highest award, a Gold Medal. 

The award was given in recognition of scientific and engineering excellence in developing a revolutionary prediction tool known as the Warn-on-Forecast System (WoFS) that provides short-term probabilistic thunderstorm forecasts. WoFS was conceived and built at NSSL between 2009–2016. The Gold Medal award also names NOAA’s Global Systems Laboratory – Assimilation, Scientific Computing, and Evaluation Novel Division and National Weather Service Science and Operations Officers. These groups and NSSL have formed a collaborative team to run WoFS and study its impact on real-world forecast operations since 2017. The award also reflects contributions of scientists at the Cooperative Institute for Severe and High-Impact Weather Research and Operations (CIWRO) embedded within NSSL.

Warn-On-Forecast is a NOAA research project that aims to increase lead time for tornado, severe thunderstorm and flash flood warnings. WoFS makes probabilistic predictions of individual thunderstorms out to six hours in advance and improves those forecasts every 30 minutes by assimilating the latest radar and satellite data. This numerical guidance can give forecasters confidence to communicate warning information earlier, rather than waiting for severe weather to be detected.

Trends in yearly-averaged tornado warning lead time, which is currently around 13 minutes, reveal this “warn-on-detection” approach have reached a plateau. WoFS offers a way to provide more notice, and more time to take action, ultimately acting to reduce loss of life, injury, and damage to the economy.

The Gold Medal is the highest award of the United States Department of Commerce, presented by the Secretary of Commerce to federal employees for exceptional service for noteworthy or superlative contributions which have a direct and lasting impact.  

This marks the seventh DOC Gold Medal Award in NSSL’s history. Other winners can be found below:

2014 Gold Medal

Office of Science and Technology, Office of Operational Systems, Office of Climate, Water and Weather Services, and National Severe Storms Laboratory, “for developing and implementing Dual-Polarization technology on the Next Generation Weather Radar network to improve weather hazards warning services.”

2014 Gold Medal

Dave Jorgensen (NSSL), Erica D. Kuligowski (NIST), Franklin T. Lombardo (NIST), and Long Thanh Phan (NIST), “for conducting the Federal investigation of the 2011 Joplin Tornado. Their study of building performance, warnings, and human behavior resulted in 16 recommendations to save lives and reduce losses.”

2011 Gold Medal

NSSL/CIMMS Radar Research and Development Division, “for scientific and engineering excellence in adapting military phased array radar technology to improve U.S. weather radar capabilities.”

2004 Gold Medal

Vincent Wood and Jim Purpura (NWS), “for instituting a program of disseminating NWS hazardous weather warnings to the Oklahoma deaf and hard-of-hearing community through alphanumeric pagers.”

1995 Gold Medal

National Severe Storms Laboratory, “for achieving scientific and technical breakthroughs leading to the continuous improvements in the national network of Doppler radars (WSR-88D).”

1988 Gold Medal

Dave Rust and Vlad Mazur, “for research accomplishments in understanding atmospheric electrification and extraordinary contributions to the nation’s aviation and space programs.”

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