Private weather forecasting is a $7 billion industry (and growing), according to a 2017 National Weather Service study. It’s also increasingly testing the federal government’s hold on weather data and warnings.
Last time I checked, this is America, land of the free (although in Washington many would prefer it be otherwise). It isn't the NWS's job to have a "hold" on weather data and warnings. Let the person who can build a better meteorological mousetrap do so.
Until recently, AccuWeather, Earth Networks, the Weather Co. and other private weather providers relied on the fire hose of data from NOAA’s National Weather Service and satellite arm, as well as NASA and other agencies. Now companies are producing their own data and using analytics in business-savvy ways, tailoring their forecasts to specific real-world problems.
I can't speak for the others but WeatherData, Inc. (the company I founded in 1981) and AccuWeather (which was founded in 1967 and from which I retired in 2018) always "tailored forecasts to specific real-world problems." I have been granted more than 30 patents. The vast majority were weather-related innovations. As an example of cooperation, AccuWeather licensed two of my patents to the NWS -- at no charge -- so it could do its job of serving the public. The article is paints a too pessimistic picture in this regard.
The oddest line in the story:
For now, NOAA is the only authorized issuer of severe weather watches and warnings in the country, and it still is widely viewed as the leader in accurate weather forecasts and lifesaving warnings.
There is no "authorization"or licensing as to who can issue storm warnings. The NWS must do it as part of its mission but anyone else can, too (see photo above). I don't know how things are "viewed" in the District of Columbia, but at WeatherData, Inc. and at AccuWeather Enterprise Solutions, statistics showed our client-specific storm warnings were much more accurate than the National Weather Service's.
I agree 100% with this:
“I don’t want to get into a world, frankly, where if you have more resources, you can get a better forecast,” [Scott] Rayder said. “There’s got to be a minimum level of warning and forecasts to protect life and property.”
“Governments are still going to be focused on protecting lives and property,” said ClimaCell’s Goffer. “A future where it costs you money to get a hurricane alert is a bad future, and we shouldn’t be aiming for that.”
This is a non-issue. No one, and I mean no one, is proposing the National Weather Service not issue storm warnings. Many of us, for years, have been urging improvements to NWS warnings to little avail. It seems the bureaucracy and inertia are strong forces in D.C.
Very few people get their forecasts and warnings directly from the NWS. They get them from apps (like AccuWeather's) or television meteorologists, for example.
My position is that the government should issue free storm warnings that improve as rapidly as the science will allow. But, if a commercial company can do better, great. Don't you like having a choice of physicians and home security companies? Why should there be a single source for storm warnings?
The article, while admirable in many aspects, is a bit of a lost opportunity. The author let his politics and personal point of view about global warming get in the way of what could have been an outstanding opportunity to explain important issues. Here are my final thoughts:
- NOAA desperately needs to stop worrying about partnering with private sector companies. If a solid company can provide raw data that will improve their forecasts and will allow the forecasts resulting, in part, from that data, to be provided to the public at no charge -- do it!
- NOAA needs to focus its storm warnings on saving lives for the public-at-large.
- The NWS's culture of trying to be all things to all people is killing it. That paralysis is why tornado and flash flood warnings will look like they did in the 1960's (no kidding).
The U.S. storm warning warning system is a Nobel Prize-worthy endeavor but it needs updating. I hope that will occur soon.