Saturday, June 11, 2016

Do We Need Local National Weather Service Offices If We Have Weather Apps, Accuweather, and the Weather Channel?

Let me start with the answer:  definitively yes.

Every few years, some U.S. Congressman or Senator tests the waters of privatizing major functions of the National Weather Service.   About a decade ago, it was Senator Rick Santorum, who in a 2005 bill, proposed that the National Weather Service be prohibited from providing "a product or service that is or could be provided by the private sector."  Which meant that the distribution of all weather forecasts and warnings would then move to private sectors entities. His proposal was definitively defeated.

Rick Santorum wanted to move most National Weather Service functions 
to the private sector.

And now a U.S. Congressman from Oklahoma, Rep. Jim Bridenstine, is trying to follow in Santorum's footsteps, through sections of his new legislation, the National Space Renaissance Act.   For example, this legislation says:

"Before commencing the development of any program, the (NOAA) Administrator shall certify to Congress that no commercial capability or service, with or without reasonable modifications, can meet the requirements for which such program is being developed."

And in a  congressional hearing on the National Weather Service's relationship with the private sector, Congressman Bridenstine made it clear that he is pushing for the National Weather Service to collect data and run models, leaving all other functions to the private sector.

Both Senator Santorum and Congressman Bridenstine have targeted the existence of the roughly 120 National Weather Service forecast offices around the nation (see map).  These offices are staffed 24/7 with highly experienced forecasters and staff, whose primary job is to provide local forecasts and warnings, but who also play important roles in coordinating with local governments, emergency managers, and the general population.

So why is it extremely important to maintain these local NWS offices?  Let me provide a few examples:

1.  They are staffed with experienced meteorologists who have deep knowledge of their local meteorology.  It is not unusual for NWS forecasters to remain at offices for decades and thus build up experience of both typical and unusual weather events, with the latter being particularly valuable.  This is very different from private sector firms such as Accuweather, with forecast offices in two locations (State College, PA and Wichita, KS) and staffed by younger, less experienced forecasters than is true for the National Weather Service.

2.  National Weather Service forecasters and staff interact with local governments and emergency managers, both interpreting forecasts and helping these key users of weather information to be prepared for severe weather.
24-h a day, National Weather Service Forecasters Are Watching the Weather

3.  Local NWS offices have staff to maintain and upgrade key observational assets, such as observations at major airports, community observer programs, and local weather radars and upper air observations.   They also help calibrate observations for cooperative marine observers.

4.  Local NWS offices provide ONE DEFINITIVE voice for severe weather warnings.   This is a critical function.   Confused or varying messaging for severe weather would confuse the public and reduce effective response.    And one wonders whether the private sector would want to take on the legal responsibilities for such warnings.

An issue of more sensitivity is that the level of responsibility and scientific rigor varies among private sector firms,  with issues of marketing and profit coming into play.  For example, Accuweather is now offering detailed daily forecasts out to 90 days, a product that is completely out of line with the science and technology of weather prediction.

The bottom line is clear:  local National Weather Service forecasts offices should be maintained and attempts to privatize their functions should be rejected.

Special Treat

        As I have noted before, the Puget Sound region is fortunate to have a poet laureate of weather cams in our midst, Greg Johnson of Skunk Bay Weather.   Check out his wonderful video of Friday's sky and be prepared to be deeply moved.  Found here.


   My graduate student, Connor McNicholas has developed a wonderful weather app that collects pressures on Android smartphones and gives you all kinds of valuable weather information.  We believe we can revolutionize weather prediction using dense collections of pressures from smartphones.  We need folks to try this app (and it already has been evaluated by dozens of folks) to ensure it works well.  If you are willing to help, you can get more information and download it here:


Cascadia Girl said...

What is your call to action? What can people do? How can you help make it easier for folks to speak up?

Kyrsa & Dave said...

Tried to download the app, not compatible with my version of android (6.0.1)

Kenna Wickman said...

Yes lets privatize all Government Functions such as the Transportation Office. And then we can rely on the Private Sector to watch over everything and keep us safe, for instance relying upon Union Pacific to make sure there aren't any broken bolts on the rail lines that they run their 120 car oil trains on frequently. Yes that worked out very well for Mosier Oregon. I am sure that the Private Weather Companies will warn New Orleans about the next Katrina. For a price of course but that is the cost of doing business. Can't afford it? You are on your own. Why stop with the Weather Service or the Post Office? Why don't we privatize the Bonneville Power Administration. Get the expensive running of those big dams off the Backs of the People. And charge even more for the soon to be private electricity. National Parks? Too expensive to run when Trump Inc. can run them at a profit like they did with the Casinos inAtlantic City and Reno. Exxon would be hired to run the EPA and this would cut the costs of expensive Environmental Impact Statements down to zero almost. We could save so much money.

But don't worry about privatizing Congress. Most of the Senators and Representatives are already bought and paid for by the Corporations.

Brian Blackmore said...

First they came for the liquor, and I did not speak out, because I do not drink liquor.

Then they came for our militia, and I did not speak out, because I wasn't in the militia.

Then they came for the the prisons, and I did not speak out, because I was not a prisoner.

Then they came for the space program, and I did not speak out, because I was not an astronaut.

Then they came for our police force, and I did not speak out, because the police had made one or two mistakes.

Then they came for our scientists, and I did not speak out, because I had a bad science teacher this one time.

Now I live in a $5k/mo cell covered with advertisements. I cannot go to work because there's a drunken armed mob outside. I put a call in to the local law provider; I got a 501 database down error, then a 404 not found error; they say they're working on it. I checked the weather for tomorrow, but Space Adventures Inc. had a problem with a few of the CEOs, and now none of the satellite uplinks are enabled, so the "Pacific Up High Television Zinger" (it used to be called GOES West) isn't "zinging" right now. let's you see 'yesterday', but requires a two year subscription to see the 'now' and 'future' images from the "Happy Bouncy Water Detector" (it used to be called Doppler); they also recently posted an article about how their "water bounce detector network was misbouncing because they had pushed out prototype code that used underwater bouncing for a submarine game, but no one on their staff could figure out the formula to handle real world weather, and it had been overwritten when they pushed the code". I tried to use the MySunshine crowd-sourcing weather app to let them know it was dumping buckets outside my box, but they told me that was impossible because it was bright and sunny outside.

I've tried to tell people at work that they should understand the problem, hypothesize, and run studies and test scenarios; instead, they tell me "that's not agile", and claim that they will fix it in production after they've beaten the competition to market. Of course, I work for the Long Range branch of Big Boomers Limited... so tomorrow might be a really bright day after all.

Matter said...

Every private sector weather product I have seen have an east coast slant. If they are as east-coastcentric as the Weather Channel, we'll be screwed out here in the west. You can have a million people without power in the Puget Sound region and it doesn't warrant mention on TWC. The NWS is the only unbiased national product I have found that provides the depth of having so many offices located across our land and why it's the product I look at first. No banner ads or pop-ups, no having to wait for video to download... Peoples of the West Coast should be wary of any misguided attempt to hobble the NWS.

John Marshall said...

Agreed that the commercial weather services largely ignore or trivialize PNW weather, as does the News media for events in the PNW in general. Few people know how many of the things they depend upon have originated here. How many innovative free-thinkers we have up here.

I say, let them ignore us. We should go ahead with the Cascadia independence plan and have OR, WA, coastal northern CA and BC secede and do our own thing. Our culture is different than anywhere else.

The red states and conservative provinces would love to get all that blue off the map, not that we have enough population to be a big factor in elections anyway.

I would love to be part of the experiment. But alas... only a fantasy. We're shackled to the Eastern boat anchor, both Canadian and US, like it or not. Just hope the climate change refugees don't swamp us out later in the century and turn us into Florida (culturally). That would be ugly.

In the meantime, keep our local weather offices. Whether part of the US, Canadian or Cascadian government, we need them.

bphill said...

The app looks great. Alas, my phone does not have a barometer. Or as I was told - "You're phone does not have a barometer." Maybe you can have them fix up there grammar. (Yes, I did that on purpose.)

nutso fasst said...

A relatively-underfunded NOAA department that continues to reject politicization and Brindenstine wants it eliminated? Is he really ignorant of the fact that big commercial weather forecast companies ARE politicized, and not in his favor? Stupid, stupid, stupid politician.

I'm a fiscal conservative and I think Brindenstine is an ignoramus. Please, contact your congresspeople and tell them to reject this nefarious nonsense. Contact Brindenstine and tell him to resign. He is clearly unqualified for his position.

Unknown said...

Rick Santorum's call to neuter the NWS just might have been motivated by his fealty to AccuWeather, which is based in his state and was a financial supporter to his campaigns. What's Brindenstine's motive: libertarian purity or donor pressure?

G+IsDead said...

What we need is anti trust lawsuits be used to ensure competition. No system is good by itself unless competition forces innovation or people will just go by habit/instinct when there is no need to innovate since your the only player in town why bother? Nobody will notice either way.