Testing technology to improve forecasting ease

Katie Vigil recently invited forecasters with color vision deficiencies to the NWS Operations Proving Ground to evaluate new weather satellite imagery products.

Colored satellite images are often used by meteorologists to identify important weather features, but what happens when a forecaster has trouble seeing those colors? Several products allow forecasters to change color contrast and visibility, but one research scientist set out to see how well those tools work.

Katie Vigil, Research Scientist with the Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies at the NOAA National Weather Service Training Center in Kansas City, Missouri, set out to discover the best products for forecasters with color vision deficiencies.

Vigil, who holds a doctorate, works in the NWS Operations Proving Ground where she plans technical evaluations of new products before they are released into National Weather Service operations. She recently invited forecasters with color vision deficiencies to the OPG to evaluate new weather satellite imagery products.

One in 12 men and one in 200 women with European ancestry has color vision deficiency.

“Color vision deficiencies don’t keep forecasters from doing their job,” Vigil said. “They have learned to adjust color tables in the NWS software, which improves contrast and visibility of certain colors. What we are trying to do is identify which Red-Green-Blue satellite composites pose the biggest problems, and determine whether there are technological or procedural aids that might help mitigate their difficulty in using these products.”

In the OPG, the forecasters tested Enchroma glasses, the mobile application Color Blind Pal, and settings already available in NWS software. Each forecaster used the technology to view different colored weather satellite imagery. Some of the forecasters found the Enchroma glasses useful while all the forecasters found the application useful.

Utilizing the mobile application Color Blind Pal.

To use the Color Blind Pal application, the user puts their phone or tablet over the image they wish to view. They then choose a color they would like to highlight. The application will highlight items of the chosen color and make everything else gray. The application also includes other color enhancing features that were useful to the forecasters in the evaluation.

Vigil will submit a report of her findings to NWS leadership. She will also present this research at the American Meteorological Society Annual Meeting in Austin, Texas, in January.

“The forecasters we had visit the OPG to try these different technologies are amazing at their jobs and they know the science extremely well,” Vigil said. “This research would not be possible without their support.”