The magic behind meteorological maps

This software architecture helps build better weather forecasts

The Q4000 and the Discoverer Enterprise flare off gas at the site of drilling operations at the Deepwater Horizon response site in the Gulf of Mexico, July 8, 2010. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer Matthew Belson

The Q4000 and the Discoverer Enterprise flare off gas at drilling operations at the Deepwater Horizon response site in the Gulf of Mexico, July 8, 2010. Incident meteorologists used Raytheon technology to monitor the oil plume and weather during cleanup operations. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer Matthew Belson)


When NBC televised the country’s very first national news weather forecast in May, 1949, Chicago-based weatherman Clint Youle used a black marker to draw on plexiglass over a store-bought Rand McNally map of the U.S.

His next innovation was the use of red and green markers, but that had to wait for the mid-1950s and color TV.

Forecasting has come a long way since. Today, we get our weather information in high definition on screens that hang on the wall. But the technology behind those forecasts has come even further. 

Many weather forecasts are now powered by the Advanced Weather Interactive Processing System, or AWIPS, designed and developed in part by Raytheon. The system is used by forecasters at more than 150 National Weather Service offices. And underlying AWIPS is Raytheon's uFrame™, an architecture that makes it possible for forecasters to monitor, organize, visualize and distribute weather data from thousands of sensors and sources, view high-detail charts, graphs and maps and issue weather forecasts, watches and warnings.

The uFrame architecture even allows meteorologists with an AWIPS, thin-client laptop to travel to incidents like California forest fires or the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion, providing first responders with weather data like wind direction, temperatures, oil plumes and other intelligence they need to save lives and property.

Because of uFrame’s versatility, it will eventually be deployed to mobile devices and the cloud, which will allow even wider use of applications using uFrame.

“I think of uFrame as the engine of AWIPS,” said Shawn Miller, acting technical director for Raytheon Navigation, Weather and Services. “This engine can ingest weather data from any source we pump into it — satellites, radars, radiosondes, maritime buoys, aircraft, surface observations, forecast models, you name it. Then this same engine processes all of that information and displays it on a screen so it’s easy to understand.”

uFrame also powers Raytheon's NextGen Weather Processor, which will provide one consistent weather picture that will be used by the FAA air traffic control and airlines as they plan adverse weather alternatives. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration uses uFrame as the backbone for the U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System, which compiles and distributes data on our coastal waters, Great Lakes and oceans. And it will be the framework for NOAA's Tsunami Warning System.

Raytheon is also using uFrame outside of the weather arena. The prototype for the FORGE ground system, which will process satellite data from the U.S. Air Force's Space Based Infrared System, or SBIRS, as well as a host of other civil and environmental sources uses uFrame.

"There are so many uFrame use cases. It can be used in the intelligence world or any industry that deals with masses and masses of real-time information," said Matt Taylor, Raytheon Earth and Space Observing Solutions business development manager. "It allows you take a lot of disparate data streaming in from a variety of sensors, in different formats, and then very quickly, ingest it and turn it into actionable information."

The uFrame architecture allows Raytheon engineers to create "plug-ins” whenever a new sensor or data source comes online, and add it to existing applications. 

"For the most part, our frontline forecasters aren't going to be Ph.D.s steeped in academic research,” Taylor said. "They need a way to interact with information that is familiar to them, like how they might interact with their cellphone as they walk out the door. uFrame allows them that luxury."

Weather forecaster from 1936 points to weather map.
An early forecaster points to a weather map at the U.S. Weather Service in Washington, D.C., 1936. (Photo courtesy of Library of Congress/Harris & Ewing Collection)


Published On: 04/19/2018
Last Updated: 05/29/2018