COMET's international reach

Modules, courses help train scientists around the world

Foreign visitors are hardly a rarity at NCAR and UOP, but it’s not every day that a meeting draws 27 participants from 24 countries. COMET’s international hydrometeorological analysis and forecasting course, held June 9–27, brought scientists from every region covered by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) to Boulder to learn more about the weather and hydrology behind floods and other water-related hazards.

COMETEvaluating regional river models in this summer’s COMET international hydrometeorology course are Jean Claude Ntonga (Cameroon), Otilia Baciu (Romania), Marius-Victor Birsan (Romania), Snezhanka Balabanova (Bulgaria), and Mira Kobold (Slovenia). The course’s 27 students came from all six regions of the World Meteorological Organization: Africa, Asia, Europe, North America/ Caribbean, South America, and Southwest Pacific.

“This class was a major collaborative effort between the WMO, NOAA, and UCAR,” says coordinator Matt Kelsch. Although most of the attendees had leading roles in the hydrological services of their respective countries, some had never traveled overseas before.

This summer’s course is one example of how COMET’s international activities are taking on a higher profile. Throughout its 18-year history, COMET’s main mission has been to train operational forecasters through residence courses and distance learning materials (modules offered online and on DVD). Its early efforts were aimed largely at U.S. forecasters, but with the success of its materials, other countries are now calling on COMET to adapt modules and courses for their own needs or to generate new products from scratch.

Few if any nations are positioned to develop a group quite like COMET, whose staff of 37 includes instructional designers, graphic artists, software developers, staff scientists (primarily meteorologists), and an audiovisual engineer.

“Our number of international projects has doubled in the last three or four years,” says Pat Parrish. Originally an instructional designer, Pat was recently named COMET’s international projects manager, a new position signaling increased demand. “Part of my role is business development—taking leads and turning them into more substantial projects,” says Pat. For example, Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology has provided a small base contribution to COMET for years. This year they signed a larger contract for a module on fog prediction in the Melbourne region, with a focus on aviation.

For many years, COMET director Tim Spangler was the program’s main link to international activities. “This work’s been very interesting and very rewarding, but it does require patience,” says Tim. He has long served on WMO committees and other bodies aimed at strengthening meteorology education and training around the world, gradually laying the groundwork for COMET’s current status as a global go-to center for high-quality modules and courses.

Translations are making COMET’s storehouse of online training modules accessible to a much wider audience through the MetEd website ( Primarily thanks to David Russi, the program’s full-time translator, COMET now has more than 50 modules available in Spanish. In addition, 15 modules are now in French, and plans are in the works to translate additional modules into Russian and Portuguese. In all, MetEd now has more than 13,000 international users from more than 200 countries—almost every nation on Earth.

Pat ParrishPat Parrish

Much of the support for these translations, and for this summer’s international hydrology course, has come from the NWS Office of International Activities, a long-time sponsor. The office is working with COMET to offer international guides for tsunami and flash flood warning systems. Another major sponsor is EUMETSAT, the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites. COMET has already produced two modules for EUMETSAT, with others now in the pipeline.

Despite its global reach, COMET’s strongest foreign ties are with a next-door neighbor. The Meteorological Service of Canada (MSC) has been a major supporter of COMET throughout this decade, funding a number of residence courses and modules that cover North America as a whole and Canada in particular. MSC lost most of its own education and training group to a nationwide restructuring and budget cut in the 1990s.

This year’s rash of tropical activity across the Bahamas and Caribbean—including Hurricane Ike’s destructive pass across the low-lying Turks and Caicos islands—points to the need for accessible training and education on hurricane safety. COMET’s award-winning “Hurricane Strike!” module, designed for a broad audience of students and nontechnical users, was a big hit, says Tim, “but it’s for people who can flee inland. The reality is that many people live on islands.” With this in mind, COMET is in the final stages of securing funding for a new module tentatively named “Island Strike!”

COMET’s international bridge building could have some unexpected benefits beyond scientific training. One of this summer’s hydrometeorology students wrote, “I learned a couple of new things, met many interesting people, and repaired my opinion of Americans. . . In general you are optimistic, communicative, helpful, and easy people.”