AWS Government, Education, & Nonprofits Blog

NOAA Keeps Citizens Informed of Eclipses and Hurricanes with Amazon CloudFront

2017 was marked with major atmospheric events from the historic solar eclipse to Hurricanes Irma, Maria, Harvey. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is called upon during these times to keep citizens informed of the changing environment. NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in climate, weather, oceans, and coasts, to share that knowledge and information with others, and to conserve and manage coastal and marine ecosystems and resources

NOAA’s reach goes from the surface of the sun to the depths of the ocean floor. In order to provide citizens, planners, emergency managers, and other decision makers with reliable information they need when they need it, the agency has to be always on.

Three days in advance of the Solar Eclipse in August, NOAA predicted that their website would be a popular site, with hundreds of thousands of people checking how rapidly the temperature changes during an eclipse. With a large swath of the U.S. interested in how that would drive temperature and weather events, traffic was going to spike and data was going to soar.

With the clock ticking, they couldn’t build out the on-premises infrastructure to support this type of event in such a short period of time. NOAA had always wanted to try Amazon CloudFront, a global content delivery network (CDN) service that securely delivers data, videos, applications, and APIs to viewers with low latency and high transfer speeds. The pending eclipse gave them the opportunity and momentum to push forward.

“It was an out of the ordinary request and I needed fast action. AWS was ready and committed and I received the support I needed to get everything in place quickly,” said Cameron Shelton, Director of Service Delivery, NOAA.

Amazon CloudFront was then in place in time for the unprecedented back-to-back hurricanes that hit Texas, Puerto Rico, and Florida. Taking the lessons learned from the eclipse and an “experiment and build” mentality, they put Amazon Cloudfront on Hurricanes.gov, NOAA’s website to track storms. Hurricanes.gov saw four times the peak traffic any of their webpages had ever seen with over one billion requests on a single day. More people were visiting the site and staying on the site longer to get real-time updates on when and where the storms might hit. This site is critical, so first responders and residents can prepare for the devastation of the hurricane and find the best evacuation routes, if required.

“Amazon CloudFront is a powerful tool. We were able to serve up our pages much faster to our users and we had peace of mind, all at a low cost. It is in our toolbox now. We plan to use it this spring for the Storm Prediction Center,” said Shelton.