U.S. Unveils a Gleaming New Weather and Climate Center

All together now. NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco (left), Senator Barbara Mikulski (center) and Commerce Acting Secretary Rebecca Blank (right) prepare to cut the ribbon at the new Center for Weather

D. Malakoff/Science

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) officially opened its newest outpost today, a gleaming, $76.5 million research and operations center on the outskirts of Washington, D.C. The new Center for Weather and Climate Prediction in College Park, Maryland, will house more than 800 NOAA scientists, forecasters, and data wranglers in a state-of-the-art building designed to foster collaboration.

The center will also help create "one of the greatest concentrations of earth scientists in the world," said meteorologist Louis Uccellini, director of NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Prediction, at a ribbon-cutting ceremony. That's because it sits just a short walk from the University of Maryland's earth science classrooms, and a short drive from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

More than 13 years in the making, the center is designed to be the U.S. government's nerve center for a range of activities, including predicting hurricane tracks and forecasting ocean currents. It is equipped to collect vast streams of data from satellites, buoys, and other platforms; crunch it in computer models; and then distribute the results to users that include the U.S. military and The Weather Channel. Another dedicated fan: Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), who played a major role in the 13-year effort to fund and build the center. In the event of a weather disaster, she joked, "I have my protein bars, but most of all I have my NOAA weather channel."

NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco said the center is a welcome replacement for an aging building in Camp Springs, Maryland, that made collaboration between scientists and forecasters difficult. Now, she said, "researchers will sit side-by-side with forecasters" and be more able to share information and insights.

The center, which sits in a research park developed by the University of Maryland, will also oversee a partnership with the school that will pair undergraduates studying atmospheric and oceanic science with federal researchers, and enable the students to become government-certified meteorologists and oceanographers. NOAA will also host a visiting scientist program open to foreign researchers.

The first occupants of the building, which features a soaring atrium, an energy-efficient design, and a "green roof" covered with plants, arrived in August. But today's ceremony marked its official opening.