NO! No One Is Trying to Take Away Government Lightning Data

Here we go again. 
The phantom issue of "privatizing" meteorological data. 

Yesterday, a hearing was held in the House of Representatives on a number of meteorological topics. "Privatizing" weather data came up, but I'm not sure why. No one is, or to my knowledge ever has, proposed the government's meteorological data be taken out of the public domain.

The discussion about the (non-) issue of privatizing meteorological data transitioned into a conversation on Twitter this afternoon that has gotten a number of people confused. I'm going to try to fix the confusion, especially since this may make the news.
  • Our federal government creates lightning data through its "total lightning mapper" on the new generation of GOES weather satellites. An example, from a few minutes ago, is below.
The colored dots are the lightning. If you want to see it for yourself, go here, then click on the globe, then click "GOES Derived," then click on "GOES 16 GLM Flashes." This data is extremely useful.
  • Some users, like electric companies, need extremely precise lightning data. For that, there are several private sector lightning networks. One of them is run by Vaisala, Inc., and is known as the "National Lightning Detection Network." One of their ~140 U.S. sensors is below. 
That data entirely belongs to them as they spent the tens of millions to set up, maintain and operate the network. Think of it as AT&T setting up and maintaining the original long-distance telephone network. They built it, they own it.

Yesterday, the U.S. House of Representatives had a hearing primarily pertaining to extreme weather. You can read an account from one of the witnesses here. Even though I have watched the video, and I still don't understand how this occurred, one of the Representatives, Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton, seems to be under the impression some evil, but unnamed, force is trying to make federal lightning data and other data meteorological data "private." This is not true. Even if someone wanted to take it private, that would require Congress to change the law. All federally created meteorological data is in the public domain and is not eligible to be copyrighted or patented. 

Things went from bad to worse this afternoon during a Twitter exchange involving the Congresswoman during which a young Connecticut weathercaster wrote:
Evidently, Tim doesn't understand the concept of private property. He believes that since the NWS pays Vaisala for the NLDN data for its internal use (only), the rest of us should be able to see it without paying. He also evidently believes that because the NWS uses its satellites to distribute Vaisala data to its offices, everyone should be able to have it. By that logic,
  • Top secret government spy satellite data should be available to everyone because it is on a "taxpayer-funded satellite." 
  • Everyone should be able to make free phone calls on AT&T's (or any other) phone network because the government uses the AT&T network for some of its calls. 
  • There should be no such thing as private property. Tim desires something someone else owns and --  presto! -- it should be his. I fear there are other's his age that believe they are entitled to the fruits of someone else's labor and investments. 
The poor Congresswoman is likely now completely confused because, like too many in the District of Columbia, she believes the U.S. government pays for all meteorological data. That is hardly the case!

So, I am putting this out there in case someone does an internet search of this topic or if all of this makes the news which, unfortunately, it likely will. 


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