Whether Weather Forecasting Can Be Improved By Privatization

2016-06-10T07:47:53+00:00 June 10, 2016|
Storm over the Atlantic Ocean.(Credit: Milan Boers, CC BY 2.0)

(Click to enlarge) Storm over the Atlantic Ocean.(Credit: Milan Boers, CC BY 2.0)

Since the 1950s, an estimated one to two million American lives have been saved by improving weather forecasting. However, extreme weather -hurricanes, tornados, floods, droughts, and heatwaves- still threaten countless lives and livelihoods each year in the U.S. and abroad.

Contributions to successful weather forecasting come from members of the private sector, academia, and government agencies, especially the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, Subcommittee on Environment held a hearing to assess products and technologies in the private weather sector and public-private partnerships for weather forecasting.

Witnesses Mr. Barry Myers (CEO, AccuWeather), Mr. Jim Block (Chief Meteorological Officer, Schneider Electric), Dr. Neil Jacobs (Chief Scientist, Panasonic Weather Solutions, Panasonic), Dr. Antonio Busalecchi (Director, Earth System Interdisciplinary Center, University of Maryland), and Dr. Sandy MacDonald (Director, Numerical Weather Prediction, Spire Global) each provided compelling testimony about primarily positive interactions between various weather forecasting groups. Mr. Myers explained that, “The United States has the best weather information available to its citizens and its business and industrial sectors of any nation. This result did not occur by the American weather industry acting alone, it was, and continues to be, the interactive cooperative approach of the weather industry, the academic research community, and NOAA and its National Weather Service that has led to this result.”

Despite the witnesses’ strong support for fundamental work by NOAA, and Representative Suzanne Bonamici (OR-1) declaring, “The National Weather Service is a public good,’ Republicans on the dais continued to probe about perceived failures of NOAA and the National Weather Service. Representative Randy Webber (TX-14) asked whether NOAA scientists showed a bias toward climate change, global warming, or sea level rise; Drs. Jacobs, Busalecchi, and MacDonald each confirmed that they had never observed these biases. Dr. Jacobs did acquiesce that there was some resistance from NOAA in working with the private sector. 

One of the private sector companies with whom NOAA could further interact, Panasonic, recently made news by revealing a new weather model which the electronics company claims makes better predictions than current National Weather Service models. When asked about the new technology, Dr. Jacobs reaffirmed the prowess of Panasonic’s model and said that the company would be willing to share some aspects of the technology with the governmental agencies as long as the sharing did not decrease their financial opportunities.

Great gains in weather forecasting have been made by the trio of private sector, academia, and government networks, but the House would like to see further linkages between NOAA and the private sector. The Fiscal Year 2017 budget request includes funding for acquiring industry data, and the panel expressed hope for these collaboratively working weather groups continuing to improve their predictions and save even more lives.