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Introducing AWIPS
AWIPS display at the Louisville NWS office

Introducing AWIPS

By Chris Geelhart (chris.geelhart@noaa.gov)

National Weather Service field offices entered the computer age in the late 1970's and early 1980's, as the Automation of Field Operations and Services (AFOS) was introduced. A very ambitious computer network for its time, AFOS was plagued with issues almost from the start, and plans were already underway in the early 1980's to replace it with a new system. 

Around the same time, a general overhaul of the NWS field office system as a whole was being planned. The two-tier structure of the NWS (forecast offices and local warning offices) was due to be replaced with a consolidated office network with roughly the same duties at each office. One of the cornerstones of this modernization was a new computer network to better handle the increase in satellite, radar, and weather model data. This new network was known as the Advanced Weather Information Processing System, or AWIPS. 

In 1983, the functional requirements for the AWIPS system were developed, and testing of the system began at the NWS forecast offices in Denver, CO and Norman, OK. Experience at these sites helped refine the requirements for the system. Unlike the AFOS network, where telephone circuits were used to transmit and receive data, the AWIPS would use a satellite broadcast network for incoming data reception.

The contract for AWIPS development was awarded to Planning and Research Corporation in December 1992. Implementation would involve incremental "builds" of the system, where deployment would be followed by field testing, before moving onto the next build. Workstations consisted of separate monitors to display text products and graphics. On-site training would be conducted at each NWS office, to introduce the system. A Network Control Facility near NWS headquarters would monitor system performance for each site, and perform remote diagnostics and troubleshooting. 

As with the original AFOS network, the program had issues with delays (indeed, the original network was named "AWIPS-90" to reflect the year of implementation). The initial installation of the system began in the fall of 1996, at 12 locations.  With the modernized field network being implemented at the same time, there would need to be a concurrent operation of the old and new systems in the new offices, until AWIPS was certified as being functionally sufficient to replace AFOS. Commissioning of AWIPS began in 2000. 

Planning for the second generation of AWIPS began shortly after the commissioning was completed. The AWIPS-II system would be more adaptable, supportable, and easier to maintain. Field testing of this system began in 2011, with general deployment completed by 2015.