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Peachtree City, Georgia
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Weather. Everybody talks about it ...especially the meteorologists who work at the Peachtree City office of the National Weather Service. They not only talk about it, they're paid to talk about it.

From a small brick building near the Peachtree City airport the meteorologists of National Weather Service are charged with accurately tracking storms throughout almost all of North Georgia, except for the extreme eastern side of the state. Its not only these dedicated professionals who help predict the weather, but hundreds of trained volunteer weather observers throughout the region who report such mundane information as total rainfall in the past 24 hours.

Our tour began with a discussion of the importance of weather radio. Georgia, over the last 50 years, has been repeatedly raked by violent weather and a simple, relatively inexpensive device like a weather radio can save lives, and not just according to the meteorologists. While increased accuracy in weather forecasting has cut the number of lives lost during tornadoes that occur during the daytime and evening hours by 45%, nighttime losses have not seen that much of a drop because people don't know of the danger. Weather radio is a 24-hour weather cast by the National Weather Service. When a situation develops in your local area that warrants concern, the radio turns on and begins playing the designated station, informing you of the developing problem.

A single, large room is Weather Central, where the men and women of this agency work 24 hours a day, 365 (or 6) days per year. Multiple computers at every desk perform the tasks of presenting the meteorologists with the information they need to decide what your weather will be -- how cold it will get, how much rain, will violent weather occur.

History of the National Weather Service
Founded in 1870, the National Weather Service (it was called the Weather Bureau at the time)began because Armed Services commanders wanted accurate weather reports for the United States, something they lacked during the War Between the States. At first, members of the Army Signal Corps telegraphed their observations to Washington, where a national forecast was prepared. It continued under the military until 1890.

On May 30, 1889, an earthen dam broke near Johnstown, Pennsylvania, killing more than 2,200 people. As a result of this tragedy, the Weather Bureau was moved to the Department of Agriculture and the forecasts were made not only for the military, but for the general population as well. In 1891 the Bureau got its first non-military leader.

By 1903 the Weather Bureau had made a significant impact on American life. A major turning point came when they correctly predicted the 1900 Galveston Hurricane four days in advance. By 1902 The Marconi Company (now RCA) began to broadcast the Weather Bureau predictions to ships at sea. In 1903 the Wright Brothers checked with the Weather Bureau before making their historic flight.

In the 1930's and 1940's the science of meteorology underwent major changes in the way weather was predicted. Meteorologists began to look at "air masses," based on the theories of Norwegian meteorologist Dr. Helmut Landsberg. In 1942 the U. S. Navy gave the Service surplus aircraft radars to use in predicting weather. In 1959 the first "weather satellite" was launched. This crude experimental orbiter proved that satellites would be an invaluable aid to weather predictions.

1965 brought political change to the Weather Bureau when the government moved th Bureau administration to what is now known as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. In 1970 the Weather Bureau became the National Weather Service.

History of the National Weather Service in North Georgia
From its humble beginnings in the old Kimball Opera House in 1878, which was serving as the state capitol at the time, the local Weather Bureau grew, just as the national bureau did. The Weather Bureau moved to the U. S. Customs House on the corner of Marietta and Forsyth St. in 1883. Then, after a fairly rapid series of moves (and a change in management from the U. S. Army to the Commerce Department) it ended up in the Prudential building on the corner of Walton and Broad St.

In 1928, while the main office stayed in Atlanta, the Weather Bureau established a branch at the Atlanta Airport, so that it could give up to the minute information to airplane pilots who were using Candler Field. Quickly realizing that the airport was a smart place for the Weather Bureau to be, they moved the main office there, yet still retained the Atlanta office as a branch until 1954.

For four decades the airport office grew, and in 1994 the National Weather Service decided a move to a new building was in order. They chose Peachtree City for a number of reasons. While the site is centrally located within its 96 county prediction area, a new building offered them the chance to add features to take advantage of the rapidly changing technology being introduced into the field. Two years after moving to the facility the Service decided to close down the Atlanta Airport office.

Predicting Weather in North Georgia
In the central room the meteorologists study predictive modeling on current weather patterns on both macro- and micro-levels. For example, wide-area modeling uses data from other Weather Service offices to create general forecasts for the counties in the Peachtree City office. Then comes the harder part - breaking the data and forecasts into both regional and local forecasts.

North Georgia, not surprisingly is one of the hardest areas in which to predict the weather, thanks in part to the Blue Ridge Mountains. A stubborn "wedge" of air can build along the front slope of the mountains that can extend to the Alabama border. Sometimes, rain coming east from Alabama appears to stop at the Georgia border because it rises over this drier "wedge" and the rain or snow evaporates as it falls through the wedge.

Local forecasts are derived from the regional forecast model. Then advanced meteorological technology is used to better define the local forecasts. The meteorologists of the Peachtree City National Weather Service office combine information from a wide range of sources including weather radar, doppler radar, pulse (or pulse-Doppler) radar, NEXRAD (next generation radar), precipitation reports, satellite imagery, and derivative information such as drop-size and distribution analysis based on reflectivity information from the radars. It is this drop-size and distribution analysis that gives radar displays the green-yellow-red colors used on television and the internet.

So much information is available to the meteorologists that they depend on computers to crunch the numbers using some 300 different models for the Georgia area. First the computer strips out the anomalous propagation - tall buildings, mountains, migratory birds are the most common issues in this section of the country - then they use huge amounts of information to determine probable scenarios for local weather. Once a number of scenarios are selected the meteorologists work really begins. They come up with a consensus forecast based on their years of experience forecasting local weather. Existing local forecasts are updated and sent to media outlets - everybody from The Weather Channel to national and local news. Sometimes a meteorologist, like WSB's Kirk Mellish will use this forecast and combine it with his own local knowledge to refine the prediction even further.

As we toured the desks of the forecasters, each cubicle had multiple computers and other devices. The open format of the large central room encourages predictors to interact with each other, a fundamental part of the continuing forecasts. One station was notably different than the others. Maps were not the typical weather maps and the machinery did not at first appear to be tied to a computer. This is where specialized National Weather Service meteorologists work to predict floods and flood levels and gather important weather-related data from a network of citizens. These men and women monitor weather in their own backyard. Most simply look at their rain gauge and call in the 24-hour precipitation total. Others transmit many kinds of information through dial-up connections or via a web site. The speaker talked about the important role these people play in the day-to-day operations of National Weather Service Advanced Hydrologic Prediction Service and the Southeast River Forecast Center, located here in the Peachtree City National Weather Service building.

One problem for the meteorologists at the Peachtree City office is the large number of counties within the coverage area. At 96, the center has more counties than any other in the country. Since weather bulletins are issued based on county, when stormy weather approaches it is much more difficult to maintain and control the issuance of these bulletins. Computers help out with this problem. A computer predicts the path a storm will take, then the meteorologist uses this path to determine the probable path of a storm. Its simply too many calculations for a present-day computer to do in the time allowed. Once a probable path and local warnings have been determined, a computer issues the watch or warning, assigning it an ending time and determining the wording. Of course, in special circumstances information can be added by the meteorologist.

Around the central room administrative offices line the walls. The group was brought into a meeting room for a question and answer period with 3 meteorologists. The first question revolved around base reflectivity and its use in prediction (it is an important tool). The second question was much more specific - The 1936 Gainesville Tornado. The person told the story of a witness who reported a tornado split in two, went around the church and continued as a single storm on its path of destruction. When a meteorologist asked who the observer was the reply was, "The local archbishop." This question piqued the curiosity of meteorologists - within seconds one was off looking for the tornado book listing all known tornados while the others elicited more information about the sighting. Carefully they explained that the bishop would not be considered a trained observer. Once they reviewed the tornado book they explained that the system had probably spawned a second tornado and the bishop did not understand what he was seeing.

Two hours later we left the National Weather Service office with quite a bit more weather knowledge.

Tour Schedule

Groups, families and individuals are welcome to call the Peachtree Office of the National Weather Service to schedule a tour. During times of inclement weather the tours are canceled as the meteorologist's work takes precedence. To schedule a tour, contact the Administrative Assistant at (770) 486-1133 Ext. 221. She will call you back with a confirmed tour date and time. Adult to child ratios are strictly enforced. Tours last about 1 hour.

Tour the National Weather Service Peachtree City office

Peachtree City National Weather Service


Take I-85 South from Atlanta to Exit 61, Fairburn/Peachtree City. At the end of the ramp turn left at traffic light on State Road 74 South. Cross over I-85 and continue on SR74 for 13.1 miles to TDK Boulevard on the right (Its known as The Crossings on the left.) At the intersection make a right turn onto TDK Blvd. Travel .4 miles, crossing railroad tracks before reaching Dividend Drive. Turn left turn at and continue Dividend Drive to Falcon Drive. There is something of a traffic circle in the center of the road. The correct approach is to do a 3/4 circle around to the NWS driveway, although most people simply go to the left and the circle. Dividend Drive is referred to locally as Dividend Road by some people.

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