I had been confused about the structure of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for quite some time so I decided to research it and write a blog about it for everybody’s benefit.
Here is a summary organizational chart I created to help visualize NOAA’s structure and then I summarize what each aviation-related division’s mission is below.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
NOAA is an Operating Unit of the U.S. Department of Commerce along with several other agencies, such as the Economics and Statistics Administration or the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for example (http://www.commerce.gov/sites/default/files/documents/migrated/Department%20Organization%20Chart.pdf). NOAA has seven divisions:
- Ocean Service
- National Weather Service (NWS)
- Satellites and Information
- Office of Marine and Aviation Operations
- Office of Program Planning and Integration
As pilots, some of us obtain aviation weather services directly from the National Weather Service (NWS) while others get it through flight planning tools, such as AOPA’s FlyQ.
NOAA’s National Weather Service (NWS)
The NWS’ mission is to provide weather, water, and climate data, forecasts and warnings for the protection of life and property and enhancement of the national economy.
NWS is divided into three areas: 1) Leadership and headquarter staff in Silver Spring, Maryland, 2) six regional offices, and 3) nine national centers.
NWS Regional Offices
The AOPA Central Southwest Region (NM, TX, LA, OK, AR, KS, MO, NE, and IA) aligns with NWS’ Central (IA, KS, MO, NE among others) and Southern (AR, LA, NM, OK, TX among others) Regions.
The NWS Central Region office is located in Kansas City, MO. For more information, visit http://www.crh.noaa.gov/crh/. The NWS Southern Region office is located in Fort Worth, TX. This region is the most weather-active region in the nation and its nearly 1,000 employees are dedicated to the effective 24/7 delivery of weather, water and climatological forecasts, services and warnings. For more information, visit http://www.srh.noaa.gov/.
In addition, there are Center Weather Service Units (CWSUs) which were formed as a direct response to the Southern Airways flight 242 crash. The aircraft crashed near Atlanta, Georgia in 1978 due to a thunderstorm. Since that crash, 84 National Weather Service meteorologists directly support the aviation customer by providing detailed weather information 16 hours a day, 7 days a week from 21 Air Route Traffic Control Centers (ARTCCs) (http://www.faa.gov/about/office_org/headquarters_offices/ato/artcc/) in several large metropolitan areas, such as Albuquerque (http://www.srh.noaa.gov/zab/), Fort Worth (http://www.srh.noaa.gov/zfw/), Houston (http://www.srh.noaa.gov/zhu/), and Kansas City (http://www.crh.noaa.gov/crh/cwsu/index.php?site=zkc) in the AOPA Central Southwest Region. CWSU meteorologists perform several functions, but none more important than the face-to-face on the spot briefings to air traffic controllers. These face-to-face briefings let the meteorologist convey a variety of weather information to air traffic controllers using science, past experiences and local knowledge. This is vital in helping FAA personnel safely and efficiently route traffic. Other functions of CWSU meteorologist’s include producing and disseminating Center Weather Advisories (CWAs) and Meteorological Impact Statements (MISs). For more information about CWSUs, visit http://www.nws.noaa.gov/aviation/pages/CWSU/CWSU.php.
NWS National Centers
One of the nine NWS National Centers is the Aviation Weather Center (AWC), which delivers consistent, timely and accurate aviation weather information. The AWC is housed in the Kansas City, MO Central Region office. As a pilot, this might be the site you are most familiar with when it comes to aviation weather and the National Weather Service: http://www.aviationweather.gov/. It provides written and visual information regarding weather observations (METARs, radar, satellite, etc.), advisories (SIGMETs, AIRMETs, etc.), and forecasts (TAFs, convection, turbulence, icing, winds and temperatures aloft, etc).
For more general information about NWS, visit: http://www.weather.gov/organization.
NOAA’s Office of Marine and Aviation Operations (OMAO)
NOAA ships and aircraft play a critical role in the collection of oceanographic, atmospheric, hydrographic, and fisheries data. The NOAA fleet is managed and operated by the Office of Marine and Aviation Operations (OMAO), an office composed of civilians and officers of the NOAA Commissioned Corps.
OMAO’s aircraft operate throughout the world providing a wide range of capabilities including hurricane reconnaissance and research, marine mammal and fisheries assessment, and coastal mapping. NOAA aircraft carry scientists and specialized instrument packages to conduct research for NOAA’s missions.
In addition to research and monitoring activities critical to NOAA’s mission, OMAO ships and aircraft provide immediate response capabilities for unpredictable events. For example, aerial images of disaster-torn areas—taken by NOAA aircraft—enabled residents and emergency workers to verify the condition of houses, bridges, and roads.
For more information about OMAO, visit: http://www.omao.noaa.gov/.
The following are a couple of summary pages about what I’ve been explaining from the National Weather Service’s Aviation Weather Services brochure.
BTW, since we are talking about services – Did you know that AWOS systems are limited to reporting cloud ceilings up to 12,000 feet?? Well, if you didn’t, now you do! =)