An inside look at the operations at the National Weather Service in Blacksburg

Published: May. 10, 2023 at 5:40 PM EDT
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BLUEFIELD, W.Va. (WVVA) - Meteorologist Collin Rogers and Jeffrey Hoole graduated from Virginia Tech so they’re no strangers to Blacksburg.

On Wednesday, they returned to their college town, this time to tour the National Weather Service Office.

The facility is located off Forecast Drive. Inside, they learned about the instrumentation and software used to create area forecasts. But first, they looked at the outdoor tools used to record climate data.

Nick Fillo, senior service hydrologist at NWS Blacksburg says, “Today we covered a little bit about the what the cooperative weather observer program is for the national weather service, which helps us keep track of the climate for the United States, and then we went over to the upper air shelter and took a look at the weather balloon.”

These weather balloons are launched twice a day from certain NWS offices across the country.

Attached to them is a box called a radiosonde. It collects data while traveling up into the atmosphere. Inside are instruments that measure temperature, humidity, wind speed, and wind direction, which are all very helpful for forecasters. After this lesson, they sat down to learn about AWIPS, their software used to create the forecasts.

AWIPS stands for Advanced Warning Interactive Processing System

The software uses a combination of automation and human input to make it easier for forecasters to create products for an extremely wide area including south central and southwest Virginia, parts of North Carolina and southwest West Virginia.

It starts with a blend of model data, which is then tweaked to best fit each area based on observed trends. AWIPS then produces a text forecast from the data. The forecasters can then distribute it, eliminating a lengthy step in the process.

Dennis Sleighter, a meteorologist at NWS Blacksburg, says, “The less time you spend typing, the more you can actually look at the models.”

This process is also used to track thunderstorms and issue warnings.

The National Weather Service in Blacksburg covers eight total counties in our WVVA weather forecasting area.

While the National Weather Service in Charleston covers the other six.