A Brief History of the Weather Prediction Center International Desks


During the 1988-1989 La Niña episode northeastern Argentina, southern Brazil, and Uruguay suffered a severe drought. The meteorological services of the region were receiving an increasing number of requests for forecasts of when rain could be expected. Responding to those requests the meteorological services of the region (Uruguay being first) formally asked for assistance from the National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP), then known as the National Meteorological Center, for long-range guidance on the prospects of rain. In response, Dr. Ronald McPherson, NCEP Director, asked Harlan Saylor, a retired National Weather Service (NWS) executive with extensive forecasting experience, and NCEP climate expert Dr. Vernon Kousky to meet daily to assess the NCEP Medium-Range Forecast model (MRF) guidance and prepare discussions and outlooks out to five days in advance. Mary Kayano, a visiting scientist from Brazil, also participated in the preparation of the initial discussions and outlooks. Eventually these discussions were distributed via the Global Telecommunications System (GTS) and expanded to include a monthly status report on El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO).

The formal request for assistance was also transmitted to the NWS International Activities Office (IA). This initiated a series of meetings between IA and NCEP representatives, which led to the establishment of the South American Desk at the NCEP Weather Prediction Center (WPC) in Camp Springs, Maryland. The purpose of this Desk was to prepare regular discussions of the MRF guidance and to provide training for forecasters from South America. At first is was viewed as a temporary Desk, which would be phased out once forecasters from the various countries had been trained, but the favorable results and comments from the original cadre of meteorologists led to the permanent establishment of the South American Desk. The mission was expanded to include the Caribbean Basin countries and Mexico with the establishment of the Tropical Desk in 1992.

The WPC International Desk Inauguration Ceremony was celebrated on World Meteorological Day on March 23, 1993 and called "The Dedication of the International Desks" at the NOAA Science Center. The ceremony was led by Department of Commerce Deputy Under Secretary Diana Josephson and NOAA Assistant Administrator for Weather Services Joe Friday.

In 1997 the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia sent a formal request through the US State Department to the NWS requesting a team of subject experts be sent to do an assessment of their Meteorological and Environmental Protection Agency (MEPA). The team did a thorough evaluation of their communications, operational procedures, and meteorological operations. As part of the final evaluation, a recommendation was made to establish a Saudi Arabian desk to build on the success of the other desks at NCEP. The desk was subsequently established in 1998 and remained operational for training through 2002.

WPC International Desks Mission

The mission of the WPC International Desks is to provide visiting scientists meteorological training with an emphasis on the operational use and application of numerical model products. During the training, the visiting fellows are exposed to a broad spectrum of meteorological products and analysis and forecasting techniques. In the early days of the International Desks the home meteorological services had very limited access to some of the numerical data of other countries. Advances in satellite communications, however, have now brought them full access to most of these products. The World Area Forecast System (WAFS), sponsored by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), is one of the telecommunications systems providing this access, bringing the data directly to all users.

Thus, at the International Desks we are developing a cadre of meteorologists who are familiar with the latest weather products. In this process we are making sure they know how to use and apply these products to their local and general areas of interest.

Benefits to the Global Community

The benefits of having a cadre of well trained meteorologists are innumerable. For example, the U.S. consumes a lot of produce from these regions, which directly depend on accurate forecasting for successful crops. These forecasters are also a key element in providing personnel and material protection, as they gain better understanding of the dynamical processes. They also contribute to the safety and protection of U.S. interests abroad. Hundreds of flights, local and international carriers, originate daily in the Caribbean Basin and South America. The safety of U.S. citizens depends on proper support, as provided by the International Desks and returning fellows.

Furthermore, NCEP benefits from the participation of these Fellows. Our global models are constantly revised, with each of the changes requiring a thorough evaluation. A change or modification in the model that reaps some benefits over a particular region, could result in less than favorable benefits over other regions on the globe. Although computers can do an objective analysis, they cannot do a subjective analysis. The visiting Fellows bring knowledge and expertise from their region which we use to evaluate the models, thus allowing us to identify and correct substantial problems with the models.

Feedback from the participating countries has been immensely positive and the demand for training and interaction with the International Desks has shown no abatement. There is no doubt the Fellows benefit as individuals, as do their home organizations.

WPC International Desk Instructors

South American Desk Instructors: Mr. Jose Garcia, Mr. Harlan Saylor, Mr. John Toohey-Morales, and Dr. Vernon Kousky were the first to build the South American Desk. They developed the Desk and gained financial support from NWS Headquarters management and the US State Department.

South American and Tropical Desk Instructors: Mr. Joe Ships and Mr. John Tomko. Although the Tropical Desk officially started operations in March 1993, the first fellows arrived in November 1992.

May 1993 to present
Mr. Mike Davison serves as the International Desks Coordinator. He is tasked to improve the application and use of numerical weather prediction resources across WMO regions III and IV.

WPC International Desk Milestones

November 1, 1988
First South American Fellow: Mr. Prakki Satyamurty (Brazil), 11/01/88 - 04/01/89

November 9, 1992
First Tropical Desk Fellow: Mr. Pedro E. Reyes Zavala (Honduras), 11/09/92 - 02/28/93

March 23, 1993
The WPC International Desk Inauguration Ceremony was celebrated on the World Meteorological Day on March 23, 1993, and called "The Dedication of the International Desks" at the NOAA Science Center, Camp Springs, Maryland.

March 1993
The International Desks received the first version of the N-AWIPS software and UNIX workstations. They became the test bed of what later became the operational software for data display and product generation at all NCEP centers.

August 1993
Mr. Mike Davison attended the WMO RA III conference in Asuncion, Paraguay. He gave a presentation in Spanish on the capabilities of the desks and how it can assist domestic weather services. Since that presentation there has been a strong demand for training slots at the South American Desk, with a waiting list of 12 months.

February 1994
Mr. Davison attended the RA III/RA IV Training Workshop in San Jose, Costa Rica. He gave presentations on tropical weather forecasting and reliability of NWP guidance. After the conference, the waiting list at the Tropical Desk increased to 24 months.

WPC International Desks supported the development efforts of the World Area Forecast System, with the Desk Coordinator attending conferences and seminars. He promoted alternate means of communications and data accessibility, with the PCGRIDDS software becoming the system of choice for data ingest and forecasting across the region.

Sep 1997
Mr. Davison visited the Meteorological and Environmental Protection Agency of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, as part of a panel of experts that visited the forecast center. One of the recommendations from this panel was to create a Saudi Desk in the WPC.

Feb 1998
Mr. Wilson Munch from Uruguay became the 100th fellow to train at the International Desks.

Mar 1998
The International Desks operations expanded to include the Saudi Arabian Desk. The position of Director of the International Desks was created and Mr. Davison selected as the leader.

July 1998
First Saudi meteorologists arrived.

"Technological Revolution" makes computers accessible and affordable to all. The regional meteorological services take advantage of this to modernize their offices. Internet provides ready access to model output, which allows transition from purely subjective weather forecasting to objective forecasts.

April 2000
Dr. Mohan Karyampudi appointed as the Saudi Desk Coordinator.

Oct 2000
Mr. Davison leads a WMO/ICAO Training Workshop in Mexico City, Mexico. He noticed a remarkable improvement in capabilities and understanding of meteorological dynamics among participants.

June 2005
International Desk inaugurates visiting instructor program with Kathy-Ann Caesar, professor of synoptic meteorology at the Caribbean Institute of Meteorology and Hydrology.

January 2006
Tropical Desk visiting scientists begin preparing QPFs out three days.

April 2009
International Desk begins preparing QPFs for Puerto Rico on an experimental basis. South American Desk visiting scientists begin preparing forecast charts out to six days.

March 2010
Jeff Wilson, Director of the WMO's Education and Training Department and Ms. Alegre, Administrative Assistant, Education and Training Office at the WMO, visited NCEP to learn more about the WPC and CPC International Desks.