Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

In 2018, Congress passed the National Integrated Drought Information System Reauthorization Act. This law added language to the Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act (WRFIA) that was passed in 2017 and called for the creation of an Earth Prediction Innovation Center (EPIC) to “advanc[e] weather modeling skill, reclaiming and maintaining international leadership in the area of numerical weather prediction, and improv[e] the transition of research into operations.”

Yes. EPIC’s five-year Strategic Plan has been cleared by Congress and is available here.

The Unified Forecast System (UFS) website defines the UFS as “a community-based, coupled, comprehensive Earth modeling system. It is designed to provide numerical guidance for applications in the forecast suite of NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP). The UFS applications span local to global domains and predictive time scales from hours to greater than one year. The UFS is also intended to be an exploratory model that can include research elements that are not part of production suite applications.”

For more information visit this link.

Current UFS applications and the types of guidance they are expected to provide are listed below:

  • Medium-Range Weather: Predicts atmospheric behavior out to approximately two weeks
  • Subseasonal-to-Seasonal (S2S): Predicts atmospheric and ocean behavior from approximately two weeks to one year
  • Hurricane: Predicts hurricane track, intensity, and related effects out to approximately one week
  • Short-Range Weather/Convection Allowing: Predicts atmospheric behavior from minutes out to several days
  • Space Weather: Predicts upper atmosphere geophysical activity and solar behavior out to approximately one month
  • Coastal: Predicts storm surge and other coastal phenomena out to approximately one week
  • Air Quality: Predicts aerosol and atmospheric composition out to several days

For more information, visit the UFS Apps page on the UFS community portal.

EPIC will initially focus on making model code for the Short and Medium Range Weather forecast applications available to the public. Once the Unified Forecast System (UFS) is fully integrated into NOAA’s operational infrastructure systems, community members will be able to use EPIC to improve NOAA’s other modeling initiatives, such as climate and ocean models.

By adopting a community modeling paradigm and making NOAA’s model code available to the public, external world-class scientists and researchers have the opportunity to collaborate on new model improvements that can eventually be integrated into the operational model. Instead of keeping research and development inside of NOAA, the entire weather enterprise (i.e. government, industry, and academia) will be able to work with NOAA to improve our modeling system, thereby accelerating advancements to NOAA’s mission of protecting life and property.

According to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), cloud computing is the provision of “ubiquitous, convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications, and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction.” A cloud computing platform, such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Cloud Platform (GCP), or Microsoft Azure, offers on-demand user access to common computing resources where usage is based on a “pay as you go” model. 

Cloud-computing solutions are called provider-agnostic when they can run with minimal difference on any provider’s system. For federal purposes, cloud-agnostic solutions are those that can be developed and deployed by anyone, whether a Federal Agency or a third party. 

EPIC will utilize innovative strategies and methods, including cloud-based computing capabilities, to host and manage all or part of the Unified Forecast System (UFS). 

For more on the definition of cloud computing, please see NIST’s special publication on the topic. For more information on the federal government’s approach to cloud computing, see the publication “From Cloud First to Cloud Smart”, Section I: Cloud at a Glance from the U.S. Chief Information Officers Council.

High Performance Computing, or HPC, refers to the use of supercomputers to solve complex computational problems that cannot be solved on traditional computing resources, such as laptops or desktops. HPC initiatives provide necessary computational and network resources required to advance environmental modeling capabilities across NOAA. HPC initiatives provide the infrastructure needed to: 

  • Improve short-term warning and weather forecast systems and models, 
  • Enable scientists to attack long-lead time problems associated with the physical processes that govern the behavior of the atmosphere and ocean, 
  • Maintain NOAA’s leadership position in understanding climate with applications towards critical issues such as hurricanes, drought, and sea-level rise, and 
  • Accelerate modeling and simulation activities and provide relevant decision support information on a timely basis for programs.

For more information, visit this link.

NOAA Administrative Order 216-105B, “Policy on Research and Development Transitions,” defines the relevant terms. Research refers to work undertaken in order to acquire new knowledge, whether for experimental purposes or for some specific application. Development is systematic work that draws on prior research and practical experience to produce additional knowledge, products, or processes or to improve existing products or processes. A research and development transition therefore refers to “the transfer of a research and development output to a capability ready for an operation, application, commercial product or service, or other use.”

For more information, view the administrative order here.

The UFS Research to Operations (R2O) Project is a project composed of a series of initiatives that seek to accelerate the transition of innovative research to operational models. The UFS R2O Project provides pathways for community research to contribute to the operational forecast models (research to operations, or R2O). It falls within the larger research to operations to research (R2O2R) umbrella, which ensures that feedback from operational models (including forecast goals and development needs) can inform future research (operations to research, or O2R). This bidirectional pipeline depends on communities of researchers and users in both the public and private sectors. The goals of the R2O Project include improved community engagement and participation, as well as acceleration of the use of essential research successes to improve forecast skill.

Modeling systems for Numerical Weather Prediction (NWP), the full-earth system components within the Unified Forecast System (UFS), and the operational applications derived from them are becoming ever more complex. A key part of EPIC will be to bring modern software engineering practices to bear on the model development process. EPIC will employ professional software engineers to work directly with scientists in an integrated cross-disciplinary environment, to ensure that the UFS code is easily maintainable, extensible, and performance-optimized. In particular, this process will ensure that all code modules include tests and that the code can be reused across components of the system wherever possible.

Git and GitHub are version control tools that allow users to keep track of changes to their code. To update or improve an application, programmers must make changes to an application’s source code. Computer coding can be an error-prone process, and a programmer may want to return to a previous version of their code if the changes they made were unsuccessful. To keep track of changes and updates in files, programmers use Git, a version control system. Think of Git as a computer code equivalent of the Track Changes feature in Microsoft Word. Git allows programmers to see new changes in the text of files, see who made the changes, leave comments in a document, and view old versions of a file.

GitHub is a web-based service for Git. Think of GitHub as the Suggesting feature in GoogleDocs. It is similar to Word’s Track Changes but allows collaboration and version tracking between multiple geographically dispersed parties via the Web. In a sense, GitHub is also social media for programmers, since it allows programmers to connect with other software developers working on the same files in order to troubleshoot problems and share files online. 

For more information, view the EPIC Vision Paper Section 2.1 “Open, managed, authoritative repositories.” For more information on Git and GitHub, visit this link.

Software Infrastructure 

Software infrastructure consists of the foundational code and processes upon which applications are built and managed. The UFS infrastructure includes all code and processes involved in weather predictions from start to finish, from data assimilation to verification of results to product delivery. EPIC is working to improve the UFS software infrastructure in a number of ways. It is funding projects that improve component coupling to ensure that the UFS is a world-class, fully-coupled system. It is also working to improve end-to-end workflow and code accessibility in the UFS by supporting open, managed, authoritative repositories and facilitating the transfer of the UFS to a cloud development environment with access to high-performance computing services. 

For more information, see the EPIC Vision Paper or visit the Key Governance Documents page. 

User Support Services 

User Support Services (USS) provides technical support and training to UFS users in order to nurture a collaborative, community-based network of users and developers. 

User support services include: 

  • easy access to a code repository maintained under version control software 
  • thorough documentation 
  • tutorials and workshops  

For more on User Support Services, visit this link.

Raytheon Intelligence and Space (RI&S) has been chosen to design and develop the Earth Prediction Innovation Center (EPIC), an extramural center that will unite academia, industry and government to help create the most user-friendly and user-accessible comprehensive Earth modeling system. RI&S, a division of Raytheon Company, brings to EPIC proven expertise in scientific leadership, software engineering, software infrastructure, and delivery of support services to government, academia, and industry researchers who will collaborate within the EPIC framework. 

Read more about the EPIC Contract here.

“Agile” describes any process that adheres to most of the values and principles encapsulated within the Manifesto for Agile Software Development. In agile development, feedback is continuously gathered from users and stakeholders to ensure that the end product corresponds to their needs. Value is delivered incrementally over the course of the project, rather than in one major final release. Other hallmarks of agile include practices such as adaptive planning, early delivery, continual improvement, and flexible responses to changes in requirements, capacity, and understanding of the problems to be solved. Agile teams are typically cross-functional, collaborative teams that include both developers and stakeholders.

The Scaled Agile Framework, or “SAFe,” is a management framework used to implement agile development practices at a large scale. Agile is simple to implement on a single team, but when scaling agile across multiple teams, the need for alignment, planning, and communication across teams requires additional coordination. SAFe provides the framework for this coordination so that agile can be implemented across hundreds or thousands of people. SAFe builds on agile’s foundations to give organizations a “proven system and structured guidance for addressing these challenges at scale.” The resulting work structure has shown “double-digit improvements in time-to-market, productivity, quality, and employee engagement.

To learn more, visit the SAFe website.

The Continuous Delivery Pipeline in the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) includes four elements: Continuous Exploration (CE), Continuous Integration (CI), Continuous Deployment (CD), and Release on Demand (RoD). For EPIC, the CDP will accelerate the flow of community innovations towards advancing NOAA’s operational forecast systems, products, and services.

The Continuous Exploration (CE) step is a process that drives innovation. Through market research and continuous communication with customers and stakeholders, the organization generates sets of features (contained in a program backlog) targeting solutions that address customer needs. 

The Continuous Integration (CI) step focuses on designing the features identified as priorities in the feature backlog. The features are researched, developed, integrated into the larger system, and thoroughly tested and validated. 

The Continuous Deployment (CD) step makes solutions available in production to business clients. The solutions are verified and monitored to ensure that they are functioning properly. Then, the business determines when to release them to its customers. 

Release-on-Demand (RoD) refers to the business client’s option to release solutions to customers when market timing is right—either incrementally or all at once—and to control the amount of risk associated with each release. 

To learn more, visit SAFe’s explanation of the continuous delivery pipeline.

EPIC is taking a multi-pronged approach toward facilitating scientific innovation. It is improving access to and usability of the UFS by shifting to an open, collaborative cloud development environment and by developing user support tools that will enable participation of experts from throughout the Weather Enterprise. As part of this endeavor, EPIC will guide usage and management of cloud development environments and provide a code repository, observational data, and other tools required for a fully-coupled, end-to-end Earth modeling system. EPIC is also investing in promising projects at varying levels of maturity along the research to operations to research (R2O2R) spectrum. These projects cover a range of topics, from data assimilation and infrastructure coupling to improvements in the underlying physics schemes used in models. 

For more insight into EPIC’s support for innovative science, visit the Projects page.