NORMAN, OK (April 22, 2022) – About two dozen National Weather Service forecasters from across the country stepped into the weather event simulator this week as a flagship workshop returned to in-person instruction at the National Weather Center for the first time in two years. The weeklong workshop is the culmination of the Radar & Applications Course (RAC), an approximately 100-hour long, blended learning class. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Warning Decision Training Division hosts the RAC workshop with significant planning and participation by researchers from the University of Oklahoma Cooperative Institute for Severe and High-Impact Weather Research and Operations (CIWRO).

The five-day event provides early-career forecasters with an opportunity to experience the real-life pressures of issuing convective and flash flood warnings in a controlled simulation, using second-by-second data recorded from past storms. Throughout the week, each forecaster works with multiple instructors who track daily progress and provide detailed feedback that forecasters take back to their home NWS Forecast Offices. The workshop can also serve as a refresher for forecasters who may benefit from additional hands-on training.

“This is the only facility on the planet that offers this level of training,” CIWRO Senior Research Associate Dale Morris said. “We want people here to feel free to make mistakes because they can learn from those. Other labs can’t replicate the group structure and interactions we have here.”

RAC occurs four to six times a year, but the last time students and instructors had met in person was February 2020. The workshop has been virtual the last two years because of the pandemic.

Morris said the virtual format required that the size and duration of the workshop be truncated. Communication was also a challenge because the virtual space limited the number of voices that could ask questions as forecasters worked through the series of fast-paced decisions required to issue warnings. Morris is proud of the work achieved in the virtual workshop but is pleased to see forecasters in person again.

“The instruction that happens here is very important,” Morris said, “but a big part of this is for these forecasters to be able to network with their peers. That did not happen as well virtually.” When the students are at the National Weather Center, they stay at the same hotel and eat at the same restaurants, spending more time together and learning from each other.