78th Annual AMS Meeting
Recent Developments in Data Analysis Quality Control and Data Browsing at the National Weather Service Office of Hydrology
Geoffrey M. Bonnin
Robert L. Motl
Office of Hydrology
NOAA/National Weather Service
1325 East-West Highway
Silver Spring, Maryland 20910
Data, and the quality of the data, are critical to the hydrologic mission of National Weather Service (NWS). The
operational component of the mission is performed at 13 River Forecast Centers (RFC) and approximately 120 Weather
Forecast Offices (WFO) at strategic locations across the United States. The NWS Office of Hydrology supports the
operational mission by developing, implementing, and maintaining hydrologic models and systems in cooperation with
the field offices. The forecast models used by the field offices are developed and calibrated for specific rivers and
streams based on historical events. They are conditioned and constrained operationally using current observations and,
in the case of operational ensemble forecasts, with historical data as well. Inaccurate, inconsistent, incomplete or
insufficient data can cause significant problems in the forecast process and for the forecasters who operate it.
The Office of Hydrology has recently developed several new approaches for data analysis of both operational and
historical data, as well as for archiving and retrieving historical data. The data analysis approaches, are targeted at
helping users to reduce uncertainties associated with the use of data, and they include; automated double-mass
analysis for inconsistency checks, wavelet transform for nonstationary time-series analysis, cluster analysis for the
study of regionalization, and robust outlier detection for spatial inconsistency checks. These approaches are being
integrated into our operational development and forecast processes.
Our traditional source of historical data has been the major U.S. collection and archiving agencies such as the
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Climatic Data Center (NCDC), the U.S. Geological
Survey (USGS), and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). The Office of Hydrology has recently begun
capturing and archiving operational data that has been lost in the past, and has also developed tools that provide new
ways to view and access historical data and inventories of historical data. World Wide Web (WWW) forms have been
developed as simplified interfaces to traditional data access utilities and a new interactive "browser" has been developed
that allows users to query and browse inventories of the historical data as well as view and retrieve the data itself. The
ability to query and view the data inventories greatly improves the user's effectiveness in selecting data for specific
2. DATA ANALYSIS
The Office of Hydrology has developed several data analysis tools for various applications. Our goal is to integrate
these analysis tools into the operational computing environment in order to achieve efficient data processing in support
of in-house research and field operations. Three of the analysis tools are introduced here.
2.1 Automated Double Mass Analysis (DMA) Tool
DMA is a technique commonly employed to detect changes in data-collection procedures or conditions at a given
location. The changes may result from changes in instrumentation, changes in observation procedures, or changes
in gage location or surrounding conditions. In DMA, a mass curve is a plot of the accumulation of the observed element
over time for one location (test station) versus the accumulation over time for a reference location (base station). The
mass curve is approximately a straight line if the variations at both test and base stations are quite consistent. Any
break point in the curve suggests a possible change at the test station in relation to the base station.
The automated DMA tool can detect multiple break points and generate modified data. Figure 1 shows the user
interface and the automated initial detection of break points. This GUI-based tool allows users to add or delete break
points interactively. Station history information from the data inventory showing when the station has been moved can
be integrated into the tool for supporting the user's decisions if a correction is necessary. The automated DMA tool
could cut the manual data processing time by 90%. The analysis of variance (Searcy and Hardison, 1960; Chang and
Lee, 1974) has been implemented to perform the automated detection. An improvement of break point detection using
other mathematical and statistical methods is under study.
Figure 1. Inconsistency Checks Using DMA Tool
2.2 Multiscale Time Series Analysis Tool
To study the multiscale and nonstationary characteristics of a time series, the continuous wavelet transform (CWT)
provides the capability to investigate temporal variation with different scales. The CWT is defined as the convolution
of a time series x(t) with a wavelet function (t) shifted in time by a translation parameter b and a dilation parameter
a (Morlet et al., 1982):
where * is the complex conjugate, and a (> 0) and b are real numbers. The scalogram is defined as |S(b,a)|2. The
Morlet wavelet with a constant c (c =5.3 used in this tool) is adopted here.
Figure 2 shows a scalogram of a monthly precipitation time series, where wavelet variance (WV) is defined as the
integration of the scalogram over time for given scales. Therefore, the wavelet variance is a function of time-scale that
represents the marginal density function of energy and shows the relative intensities of a time series at different time-
scales. The high magnitude in the scalogram indicates that the monthly precipitation is quasi-stationary at the annual
scale (Pan et. al., 1997).
2.3 Cluster Analysis Tool
The purpose of cluster analysis of hydrometeorologic stations, also called regionalization, is to decompose a large
and climatologically complex area into several smaller climatologically homogeneous regions for quality control and
modeling. In the study of regionalization, there are three primary issues: (1) input data, (2) analysis methods, and (3)
grouping approaches have critical impacts on the subregion features. For the data issue, one must consider the data
length (i.e., appropriate segmentation of the period of record), data time-scale (i.e., hourly, daily, monthly, etc. values),
and data transformation (i.e., conversion to another form, such as square-root, to better identify the variation among
individual values). The rotation of principal components (Richman, 1986) has been adopted for cluster analysis. The
grouping approach can be either "hard" region (i.e., non-overlapping between regions) or "soft" region (i.e., transition
zones could exist between regions).
A special feature of this tool is that users can use the scalogram generated from the multiscale time series analysis
tool as input. The regions determined in this way are sensitive to the time-scale (or duration) of the individual data
values (Pan et. al., 1997). This knowledge allows us to make regionalization choices that are appropriate to the scale
of hydrologic applications.
3. QUALITY CONTROL (QC)
The purpose of quality control is to prevent "bad" data from being used in various hydrologic processes (e.g.,
calibration, modeling, forecasting, etc.). For quality control of hydrometeorologic data one performs a variety of checks,
such as range checking, spatial inconsistency checking, temporal inconsistency checking, internal consistency
checking, and multi-sensor inconsistency checking (Krajewski, 1986).
Figure 2. Rainfall Analysis Using CWT
The Office of Hydrology has developed the GUI-based prototype of a real-time quality control system to support
field operations. The features of this system include real-time access to operational data as it is captured at the forecast
office, efficient and robust outlier detection, reanalysis, integration of a variety of information (e.g., WSR-88D, topo.,
etc.) for decision making, and multiple temporal scale data handling. Real-time access and processing are important
because they support the forecaster's need to make decisions in short time frames (one minute or less) as the data is
arriving. In this paper, we briefly review the strategy and methods used for spatial inconsistency checks.
To satisfy the operational requirements, we have implemented a simple and robust algorithm to perform efficient
and effective detection of suspect data, and then we use an estimation method to reanalyze these suspect data.
Finally, users can perform multi-sensor data comparison, if possible, to validate these outliers. We can define climate
regions for the implementation of spatial inconsistency checks that support efficient real-time quality control. Fovell
et. al. (1993) have defined large climate zones of the conterminous United States using monthly precipitation and
temperature. The cluster analysis tool mentioned earlier can be applied for regionalization using different temporal
scale data as input.
The steps of robust outlier detection are:
Step 1. Determine the median and mean absolute deviation (MAD) of N stations in each climate region:
Step 2. Determine Index1 or Index2 for each station i:
where Qk is the kth percentile (i.e., Q50 is the median). Data are temporarily treated as suspect if either Index1 or
Index2 are greater than predefined thresholds (=2 for both of them). Madsen (1992) has implemented a similar approach for
daily precipitation quality control.
In the reanalysis, an estimation method is used to estimate these suspected data. In this prototype the inverse
distance weighting method used in the NWS River Forecast System (NWSRFS) is selected due to its simplicity. Other
estimation methods (e.g., Miller et al., 1992) will be integrated into this system to compare their performance. Figure
3 shows the user interface and results of QC. Currently two RFCs are working closely with the Office of Hydrology to
test this real-time QC system. The system will also provide several other functions, such as detection of malfunctioning
raingages, interactive modification of "bad" data, etc.
Figure 3. Real Time Quality Control System for Outlier Detection
4. HISTORICAL ARCHIVES
The Office of Hydrology maintains archives of historical data for use in development and improvement of hydrologic
forecasting techniques, and for use in calibrating forecasting techniques to specific basins. The tasks of technique
development and calibration are done by both the operational field offices (RFCs) and at the Hydrologic Research
4.1 How is the Data Used?
The processes of technique development and model calibration both involve using sets of historical physical
elements such as rain, snow, temperature, river stage, river flow, etc. as inputs to systems that allow computed outputs
to be compared with observed values. Over the years, the Office of Hydrology has developed systems used for
technique development and model calibration. These systems have well-defined interfaces for data input and as a
result, the systems that produce data sets from the historical archives are specifically tailored to produce them in these
formats. The systems are therefore designed for efficient use for the particular purposes of the NWS hydrology
program. Such specificity brings with it both advantages and disadvantages. The advantages lie in the increased
effectiveness of users because of the reduction of effort associated with data handling. The disadvantages lie in the
need for development and maintenance of custom software. OH is taking steps to reduce the need for such custom
software by storing data in more generic data formats and by exploring ways to reduce the cost of preparing data
inventories through cooperation with the data suppliers.
4.2 What Do We Archive
The Office of Hydrology traditionally has used data provided by NCDC (primarily precipitation and other
atmospheric elements), USGS (primarily stream flow and stage), and NRCS (primarily snow fall information from their
SNOTEL network). These data are archived to fulfill requirements for understanding the nation's natural resources.
In some cases the records go back through the nineteenth century. However, there is a significant body of data
collected operationally that does not make it into such readily accessible archives. For example, there are many
precipitation gages used operationally whose data is not retained as part of any national program. Furthermore, there
is a proportion of data collected for understanding the climatic record that is archived but is not gathered sufficiently
rapidly to be used operationally. It has been demonstrated (Johnson et. al., 1997; Finnerty et. al., 1997) that the
historical and operational data sets are sufficiently different, that calibrations based on historical data produce different
results when driven with operational data.
Beginning in 1993, the Office of Hydrology began archiving the data used operationally. Specifically, we began
archiving all of the point observations passing through the operational databases of the RFCs as well as retaining their
radar precipitation products (WSR-88D Precipitation Processing Subsystem Stage I, II, and III products). Selected
subsets of this data are being made more publicly available by the NOAA Joint Office for Science Support using funding
from climate research programs such as GCIP (see http://www.ogp.noaa.gov/gcip/#da). It is the intent of the Office
of Hydrology to logically merge these data with the historical data from the national archiving agencies, thereby
improving the information available for calibration and technique development activities.
4.3 Data Inventories
In terms of sheer volume, there is a vast amount of data available in the historical data archives that hydrologists
must search through to select data that are appropriate to a particular development activity. In most cases, the data
record is not continuous; there are gaps in the record; stations are established, moved, and discontinued; and
instruments change as well as do collection times and observers. To improve the effectiveness of the data selection
task, the Office of Hydrology has developed a series of inventories for its data sources. The inventories contain such
information as data completeness, period of record, and station moves in addition to identity, location, and observed
parameters. The maintenance of such compact inventory information allows users to make effective queries without
having to search the actual data (in the same manner as one uses a library catalog when searching for information in
a library of books). The queries are predictable based on the types of tasks users perform and we have designed and
implemented a reduced information layer that satisfies the majority of the data mining queries.
4.4 Web Forms
Office of Hydrology historical data formerly resided on batch mainframe computer systems but have been moved
to UNIX-based workstations. The original inventory query utilities required punch card input and they produced line-
printer output. Users ran a succession of these queries, examining the character-based, tabular results for each run.
To provide a transition from the old batch environment to the new interactive environment while new interactive tools
were under development, we ported the mainframe utilities to the workstation environment and built WWW forms
(Figure 4) as a front end that automatically build the card image input streams. Access to the WWW forms is restricted
to specific Internet domains. In other words, we are running an Extranet. We are taking this approach because our
mission is focused on specific users and we must be careful with our resources and maintain that focus.
Figure 4. WWW Forms Interface
4.5 Historical Data Browser
The Historical Data Browser is a new tool that the Office of Hydrology has developed and fielded. It allows users
to perform queries against the data inventories, review the results both in geographic and graphical displays, display
and plot the actual data, and when satisfied, produce data sets formatted appropriately for subsequent use.
In response to a particular query (Figure 5), the Historical Data Browser will display all stations satisfying the
specified conditions and display them on a map background as shown in Figure 6.
Figure 5. Historical Data Browser Query Entry
Figure 6. Geographic Display of Stations Statisfying Selection Criteria
The user can select stations from the geographic display and show information about the station as well as display
the data, if desired, as shown in Figure 7.
Figure 7. Station Information Display and Data Plot from Historical Data Browser
The Office of Hydrology maintains the raw historical data centrally, and the Historical Data Browser and the
inventory files are distributed to the field offices. This distribution mechanism allows each office to perform inventory
queries rapidly at the local site and then retrieve the data from the central repository without the need for replicating the
data itself. The Historical Data Browser itself deals with the physical location of the data and makes its location
transparent to the user.
The NWS Office of Hydrology is introducing a range of new technologies to the problems of operational and
historical data analysis, quality control and data management. These new technologies take account of the work flow
in the forecast offices and are based in a variety of disciplines from statistics to data management. They show promise
in improving the quality and timeliness of hydrologic forecasts as well as making more effective use of the skills of
Chang, M., and R. Lee, 1974: Objective double-mass analysis, Water Resources Research, 10.,1123-1126.
Finnerty, B., and D. Johnson, 1997: Comparison of National Weather Service Mean Areal Precipitation Estimates
Derived from NEXRAD Radar vs. Raingage Networks, Proceedings of Theme A, International Association of
Hydraulic Research (IAHR) XVII Congress, San Francisco, Ca. August 10-15, 601-606.
Fovell, R. G., and M. C. Fovell, 1993: Climate zones of the conterminous United States defined using cluster analysis,
J. Climatol. 6, 2103-2135.
Johnson, D., M. Smith, B. Finnerty, and V. Koren, 1997: Comparing Mean Areal Precipitation Estimates from
NEXRAD and Raingage Networks, submitted to the Journal of Hydrologic Engineering (in review).
Krajewski, W. F., 1986: Quality control of hydrometeorological data, Second Int. Conf. On Interactive Information and
Processing Systems for Meteorology, Oceanography, and Hydrology, Florida, 112-117.
Madsen, H., 1992: Semi-automatic quality control daily precipitation measurements, the 5th Int. Meeting on Stat.
Climatology, Canada, 375-377.
Miller, P., and S. Benjamin, 1992: A system for the hourly assimilation of surface observations in mountainous and
flat terrain, Monthly Weather Review, 120, 2342-2359.
Morlet, J., G. Arens, I. Fourgeau, and D. Giard, 1982: Wave propagation and sampling theory, Geophysics, 47, 203-
Pan, J. J., S. T. Li, and S. Cong, 1997: Multiscale study of the spatial variability in the cluster analysis of rainfall
stations, submitted to the Int. of J. Climatol. (in review).
Richman, M. B., 1986: Rotation of principal components, J. Climatol., 6., 293-335.
Searcy, J. K., and C. H. Hardison, 1960: Double-mass curves, U.S. Geol. Surv. Water Supply Pap., 1541-B, 27-66.
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