Feds' weather information could go dark

zimv20

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Do you want a seven-day weather forecast for your ZIP code? Or hour-by-hour predictions of the temperature, wind speed, humidity and chance of rain? Or weather data beamed to your cellphone?

That information is available for free from the National Weather Service.

But under a bill pending in the U.S. Senate, it might all disappear.

The bill, introduced last week by Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., would prohibit federal meteorologists from competing with companies such as AccuWeather and The Weather Channel, which offer their own forecasts through paid services and free ad-supported Web sites.

Supporters say the bill wouldn't hamper the weather service or the National Hurricane Center from alerting the public to hazards — in fact, it exempts forecasts meant to protect "life and property."

But critics say the bill's wording is so vague they can't tell exactly what it would ban.

"I believe I've paid for that data once. ... I don't want to have to pay for it again," said Scott Bradner, a technical consultant at Harvard University.

He says that as he reads the bill, a vast amount of federal weather data would be forced offline.

"The National Weather Service Web site would have to go away," Bradner said. "What would be permitted under this bill is not clear — it doesn't say. Even including hurricanes."

Nelson questions intention

The decision of what information to remove would be up to Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez — possibly followed, in the event of legal challenges, by a federal judge.

A spokesman for Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., said the bill threatens to push the weather service back to a "pre-Internet era" — a questionable move in light of the four hurricanes that struck the state last year. Nelson serves on the Senate Commerce Committee, which has been assigned to consider the bill.

"The weather service proved so instrumental and popular and helpful in the wake of the hurricanes. How can you make an argument that we should pull it off the Net now?" said Nelson's spokesman, Dan McLaughlin. "What are you going to do, charge hurricane victims to go online, or give them a pop-up ad?"

But Barry Myers, AccuWeather's executive vice president, said the bill would improve public safety by making the weather service devote its efforts to hurricanes, tsunamis and other dangers, rather than duplicating products already available from the private sector.

"The National Weather Service has not focused on what its core mission should be, which is protecting other people's lives and property," said Myers, whose company is based in State College, Pa. Instead, he said, "It spends hundreds of millions of dollars a year, every day, producing forecasts of 'warm and sunny.'"

Santorum made similar arguments April 14 when introducing his bill. He also said expanded federal services threaten the livelihoods of private weather companies.

"It is not an easy prospect for a business to attract advertisers, subscribers or investors when the government is providing similar products and services for free," Santorum said.


AccuWeather has been an especially vocal critic of the weather service and its parent agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

(more)
(emphasis mine)
 

dvdh

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Apr 6, 2004
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In Canada we have a national (read government agency: Environment Canada) providing national weather forecasts and information. Quite frankly I find it much better than the private services (which most get their info from Environment Canada anyways.) The one thing that sets Environment Canada apart is the fact that as a government agency with an equal responsibility to ever citizen of the country, they offer the forecasts and weather reports for areas that the private companies would skip over because of lack of demand and interest. Being not profit driven provides an equality of service that private sector often falls short on.

Personally, if a similar situation arises in Canada regarding Environment Canada being perceived to be in unhealthy competition to private enterprise, I would have to side with the federal service because I don't feel weather services (often an issue of human safety) should be provided strictly on a for profit basis.
 

Thomas Veil

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Feb 14, 2004
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Santorum...said expanded federal services threaten the livelihoods of private weather companies.

"It is not an easy prospect for a business to attract advertisers, subscribers or investors when the government is providing similar products and services for free," Santorum said.
I'll tell Santorum exactly what Republicans used to say: if you want to compete, build a better product, dammit!

I work for a community that provides a low-power radio station carrying 24-hour warnings about road hazards and weather. Guess where that weather report comes from? Guess what we won't be able to afford if Santorum takes the NOAA forecasts away?

What a first-rate jackass. :mad:
 

MongoTheGeek

macrumors 68040
Thomas Veil said:
I'll tell Santorum exactly what Republicans used to say: if you want to compete, build a better product, dammit!

I work for a community that provides a low-power radio station carrying 24-hour warnings about road hazards and weather. Guess where that weather report comes from? Guess what we won't be able to afford if Santorum takes the NOAA forecasts away?

What a first-rate jackass. :mad:
Speaking from first hand experience. Commercial weather companies provide better forecasts than the National Weather Service. Part of the problem is that not many people care if you average half a degree off rather than 2 degrees off.

The real profit comes in value added services things like specific forecasts for things like sporting events and in providing forecasts for specific outlets and not for the general public.
 

MongoTheGeek

macrumors 68040
dvdh said:
Personally, if a similar situation arises in Canada regarding Environment Canada being perceived to be in unhealthy competition to private enterprise, I would have to side with the federal service because I don't feel weather services (often an issue of human safety) should be provided strictly on a for profit basis.
True Story.

A private weather company started providing service to radio stations in Canada. The service was broadcast meteorologists giving forecasts over the radio, providing custom forecasts for the listening area. In addition to the forecasts there was banter with the radio stations personalities and discussion of the days weather events. This was not a simple Rip and Read fax though that was provided as well. Environment canada then started providing the same service to those radio stations for free.
 

Desertrat

macrumors newbie
Jul 4, 2003
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I haven't been paying much attention to where the private forecasters get their info, but isn't a lot of it from the feds?

My basic response to Santorum, given my last several years' use of the Web for weather checking, is, "Hey, wipe your mouth! You still have some BS on your lips!"

I had some back-and-forth emailing with WeatherUnderground, a few years back. I asked why they didn't show where a front was, today; where it was expected to be tomorrow, and then a guess as to the third day. I was told that it was a bit difficult to put on their map. Why? Dunno. A three-day sequence of frontal movements is what I've always found to be most useful, particularly in winter. I know enough about my local area's weather patterns to figure out what's likely to happen...

What gripes me about the wx presentations is the amount of time telling what happened yesterday, and what's going on right now (Like I don't have a window?) The Weather Channel really sucks, insofar as really useful forecast information. They're too busy emoting.

And as long as I'm venting :)D): What's with this "We expect shower activity." BS? Why not, "We expect showers."? Why add the extraneous words? To make themselves sound knowledgeable or (Oh, heavens!) erudite?

The Intellicast 10-day forecast have been reasonably accurate, in my experience. Fairly quick downloads.

My next gripe is with the public at large. Ladybird's TV station in Austintatious once had a truly competent, professional meterologist who gave a really useful presentation. None of this giggle-giggle tee-hee garbage. They fired him and went to g-g t-h stuff. Danged if the ratings didn't go up! Arrgghhhhh!

'Rat
 

MongoTheGeek

macrumors 68040
Desertrat said:
I haven't been paying much attention to where the private forecasters get their info, but isn't a lot of it from the feds?
Almost all of it is from government sources. There are some specialized weather watcher type mostly as a curiosity. The bill doesn't attempt stop the NWS from providing model data satellite imagery or radar data and encourages the distribution of watches and warnings. It is actually an attempt to restore the rules that they've been operating under for the past 5 or 6 years.

Desertrat said:
I had some back-and-forth emailing with WeatherUnderground, a few years back. I asked why they didn't show where a front was, today; where it was expected to be tomorrow, and then a guess as to the third day. I was told that it was a bit difficult to put on their map. Why? Dunno. A three-day sequence of frontal movements is what I've always found to be most useful, particularly in winter. I know enough about my local area's weather patterns to figure out what's likely to happen...
Fronts are rough to do programatically and WU has a very small staff.
 

pseudobrit

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Jul 23, 2002
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MongoTheGeek said:
Desertrat said:
Almost all of it is from government sources.
Just wanted to make this clear again, as was noted in the article: since we pay out in taxes for these services, shouldn't we get the service?

What Santorum wants is for our tax dollars to subsidize a private industry with no return to the citizens.
 

zimv20

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pseudobrit said:
What Santorum wants is for our tax dollars to subsidize a private industry with no return to the citizens.
unless we pay again.

anyone want to guess how many times we pay for scientific journals? i think we're up to 3x now.
 

IJ Reilly

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Jul 16, 2002
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MongoTheGeek said:
Speaking from first hand experience. Commercial weather companies provide better forecasts than the National Weather Service. Part of the problem is that not many people care if you average half a degree off rather than 2 degrees off.
Not so, also speaking from first-hand experience. Most of the commercial weather sites stink. For the most part, they get their data and forecasts from the NWS, and at best, regurgitate them verbatim, and at worst, digest them into pretty little weather icons that are worth zip to anyone who actually needs to know about the weather. Tell me, for example, where you can find a Discussion Forecast on any commercial web site?

I remember a few years ago when Republicans in Congress tried to get rid of the USGS because they "compete" with commercial map-makers. This is the same sort of blind idiocy.
 

MongoTheGeek

macrumors 68040
pseudobrit said:
MongoTheGeek said:
Just wanted to make this clear again, as was noted in the article: since we pay out in taxes for these services, shouldn't we get the service?

What Santorum wants is for our tax dollars to subsidize a private industry with no return to the citizens.
From what I have seen of the law it doesn't ban the NWS from giving out model data, radar data and historical data. The goal is to make sure that the NWS sticks to its mission of serving the public and not serving individual interests.

Do you really want someone at the NWS spending two hours writing out the forecast and performing it just for the Washington Post. And then another hour for the Washington Times?
 

pseudobrit

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MongoTheGeek said:
From what I have seen of the law it doesn't ban the NWS from giving out model data, radar data and historical data. The goal is to make sure that the NWS sticks to its mission of serving the public and not serving individual interests.

Do you really want someone at the NWS spending two hours writing out the forecast and performing it just for the Washington Post. And then another hour for the Washington Times?
If the NWS is forced to cut its forecast staff, won't that limit their resource pool when it comes to forecasting things like hurricanes, tornadoes and floods?

And, as IJ Reilly pointed out, the NWS addresses many aspects you just don't see with commercial weather services.
 

MongoTheGeek

macrumors 68040
IJ Reilly said:
Not so, also speaking from first-hand experience. Most of the commercial weather sites stink. For the most part, they get their data and forecasts from the NWS, and at best, regurgitate them verbatim, and at worst, digest them into pretty little weather icons that are worth zip to anyone who actually needs to know about the weather. Tell me, for example, where you can find a Discussion Forecast on any commercial web site?
http://wwwa.accuweather.com/news-summaries.asp?partner=accuweather&myadc=0&traveler=0&type=wxnews

There is even more in depth analysis on the pay side.

Icons are useful to get a lot of information at a glance.
 

IJ Reilly

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MongoTheGeek said:
http://wwwa.accuweather.com/news-summaries.asp?partner=accuweather&myadc=0&traveler=0&type=wxnews

There is even more in depth analysis on the pay side.

Icons are useful to get a lot of information at a glance.
Icons are utterly useless for all serious purposes. Anyway, you clearly don't understand what I am taking about. Here is a typical forecast discussion from the NWS.

000
FXUS66 KLOX 241120
AFDLOX
SOUTHWEST CALIFORNIA AREA FORECAST DISCUSSION
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE LOS ANGELES/OXNARD CA
330 AM PDT SUN APR 24 2005

.SHORT TERM...UPPER LOW MOVING ACRS SRN CA EARLY THIS MORNING. MAIN
BAND OF SHOWERS HAS MOVED TO THE E OF THE AREA...BUT UPPER DIFFLUENCE
AND SOME MID LVL LIFT ASSOCD WITH VORT CENTER NEAR 32N/119W WAS CAUSING
SHOWERS TO CONT TO DEVELOP ACRS SRN AND ERN L.A. COUNTY. AND THE
ADJACENT CSTL WATERS. SINCE SHWRS WERE CURRENTLY OCCURRING ACRS THE
L.A. COUNTY CSTL PLAIN AND THE SAN GABRIEL VALLEY...WILL HAVE TO GO
WITH AREAL COVERAGE WORDING FOR AT LEAST EARLY THIS MORNING. WILL KEEP
POPS AROUND 40 PERCENT SINCE MEASURABLE SHOWERS ARE SCATTERED IN NATURE.
AT THIS POINT...HAVE OPTED TO LEAVE THUNDER OUT OF THE FCST...SINCE THE
GREATEST INSTABILITY LOOKS TO BE TO THE S AND E OF THE FCST AREA...BUT
WOULD NOT BE SURPRISED TO SEE A LIGHTNING STRIKE OR TWO ACRS THE
AREA...MAINLY L.A. COUNTY. OTHERWISE...PLENTY OF CLDS ACRS THE AREA
THIS MORNING. WITH SOME GRADUAL DRYING WORKING INTO THE REGION BEHIND
THE UPPER LOW TODAY...SKIES WILL TRY TO CLEAR...BUT WITH SO MUCH
RESIDUAL MSTR AND CYCLONIC FLOW ALF...EXPECT SKIES TO BECOME PARTLY
CLOUDY AT BEST TODAY. SOME AREAS MAY WELL STAY MOSTLY CLOUDY MUCH OF
TODAY. CAN NOT RULE OUT A FEW SHOWERS DEVELOPING ANYWHERE ACRS THE
AREA TODAY...SO WILL KEEP SLIGHT CHANCE ACRS THE ENTIRE AREA THROUGH
THE DAY. TODAY SHOULD BE RATHER COOL FOR LATE APRIL...WITH HIGHS
MAINLY IN THE 60S W OF THE MTNS..

UPPER RIDGING WILL BEGIN TO BUILD INTO THE AREA TONIGHT AND MON BEHIND
THE DEPARTING UPPER LOW...AND FLOW WILL TURN NWLY. XCT DECREASING CLOUDS
ACRS THE AREA TONIGHT. THERE COULD BE SOME GUSTY WINDS THRU AND BELOW
PASSES AND CANYONS IN THE MTNS...AND ACRS THE S CST OF SBA COUNTY...
BUT NOTHING TOO STRONG IS EXPECTED. XPCT PLENTY OF SUNSHINE ACRS THE
AREA ON MONDAY...AND MAX TEMPS WILL LIKELY BE UP A FEW DEGREES IN MOST
AREAS. RIDGING WILL HOLD ACRS THE AREA MON NIGHT AND TUE. SOME STRATUS
MAY BEGIN TO FORM ACRS CSTL SXNS AS THE MARINE INVERSION DEVELOPS... WITH
LOW CLDS/DOG MOST LIKELY ACRS L.A. COUNTY AND ON THE CENTRAL CST.
XPCT LITTLE CHANGE IN TEMPS ACRS THE AREA ON TUE.

.LONG TERM...
ALL MODELS INDICATE A LARGE AND FAIRLY STRONG UPPER LOW MOVING THRU
THE ERN PAC AND APCHG THE W CST BEYOND TUE...BUT OF COURSE...SHOW
SOME DIFFERENCES WITH THE DETAILS. AT THIS TIME...IT APPEARS THAT
AN IMPULSE ROTATING AROUND THE LOW MAY PROVIDE ENOUGH MSTR AND LIFT
TO BRING SOME RAIN TO THE CENTRAL CST WED...(POSSIBLY EVEN AS EARLY
AS LATE TUE NIGHT). HOWEVER...THE BEST DYNAMICS WITH THE SYSTEM
LOOK TO ARRIVE LATE WED NIGHT AND THU. GFS INDICATES RATHER STRONG
UPWARD OMEGA FIELD...GOOD UPPER DIFFLUENCE...INCREASINGLY STRONG AND
DEEPLY LAYERED MOIST SWLY FLOW WITH PW VALUES APCHG 1 INCH ACRS THE
AREA. THIS COULD PRODUCE A FAIRLY SIGNIFICANT SHOT OF LATE SEASON
RAIN ACRS THE FCST AREA LATE WED NIGHT INTO THU. ADDITONAL SHOWERS
COULD CONTINUE INTO THU NIGHT OR EVEN FRI AS THE CENTER OF THE
UPPER LOW MOVES INTO CENTRAL CA. ALTHOUGH THE DETAILS ARE STILL
SOMEWHAT UNCERTAIN...IT DOES APPEAR THAT MORE RAIN IS HEADED FOR
SRN CA LATER THIS WEEK...AND THERE IS THE POTENTIAL FOR SOME
MODERATE TO HEAVY RAINFALL TOTALS.

&&

.LOX WATCHES/WARNINGS/ADVISORIES...
NONE.

&&

$$

BRUNO
These Area Forecast Discussions come out four times a day for every part of the country. They provide essential information for people who have to know more about the weather than whether to wear a long sleeve or short sleeve shirt to the mall.

Oh, and what's going to happen to the NWS aviation desk?
 

IJ Reilly

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Jul 16, 2002
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pseudobrit said:
And, as IJ Reilly pointed out, the NWS addresses many aspects you just don't see with commercial weather services.
Even more to the point, the commercial weather services for the most part do no original forecasting -- they repackage the NWS's data and forecasts. Take a look sometime at the wording of the "Your Local Forecast" segment on the Weather Channel (assuming they are broadcasting the one that's actually relevant to where you live), and compare it to the NWS's Zone Forecast. Strangely enough, they are the same! How the heck did that happen, I wonder? The point has already been made, but it's worth making again: we are being asked to pay for the same information twice. And why? Let me think a moment, I know I'll come up with some explanation...
 

zimv20

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MongoTheGeek said:
Do you really want someone at the NWS spending two hours writing out the forecast and performing it just for the Washington Post. And then another hour for the Washington Times?
i assume you have evidence this is happening?
 

pseudobrit

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Jul 23, 2002
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MongoTheGeek said:
There is even more in depth analysis on the pay side.
That's funny, because you get the same info out of the NWS if you look at their site.

http://www.srh.noaa.gov/data/CTP/AFDCTP

The only difference (besides being bombarded with ads) would be that we'd rely on commercial forecasters to deliver this to us properly.

Are you proposing that the NWS stop making forecasts and just provide raw data? I don't think the pay-weather services could afford the staff to make these same forecasts. No, they don't want that. They want to keep their free forecasts.

You are simply proposing that the NWS stop making its forecasts available to anyone other than commercial services. We pay either way.
 

IJ Reilly

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With some effort, I found the bill as it was introduced by Santorum (S. 786). Oddly enough, it wasn't even linked on Santorum's web site. Well maybe not so oddly, once you get a load of this provision of the bill:

(d) PROHIBITION ON CERTAIN DISCLOSURES- An officer, employee, or agent of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Weather Service, or any other department or agency of the United States who by reason of that status comes into possession of any weather data, information, guidance, forecast, or warning that might influence or affect the market value of any product, service, commodity, tradable, or business may not--
(1) willfully impart, whether directly or indirectly, such weather data, information, guidance, forecast, or warning, or any part thereof, before the issuance of such weather data, information, guidance, forecast, or warning to the public under subsection (c); or
(2) after the issuance of such weather data, information, guidance, forecast, or warning to the public under subsection (c), willfully impart comments or qualifications on such weather data, information, guidance, forecast, or warning, or any part thereof, to the public, except pursuant to an issuance that complies with that subsection.
IOW, a NWS employee who discloses a weather forecast would be breaking the law. Nice.

BTW, did we mention that AccuWeather is headquartered in Pennsylvania? It's just a coincidence, I'm sure.
 

zimv20

macrumors 601
Original poster
Jul 18, 2002
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IJ Reilly said:
warning that might influence or affect the market value of any product, service, commodity, tradable, or business
whuh? perhaps that's the driving force here. i'd love to see the research on the adverse effect weather reports have on commerce.

the GOP reality distortion field is in full effect: controlling information about the weather is akin to controlling the weather.

rather insidious that the GOP considers timely delivery of Corn Flakes more important that letting people know about dangerous weather.
 

pseudobrit

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Jul 23, 2002
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IJ Reilly said:
IOW, a NWS employee who discloses a weather forecast would be breaking the law. Nice.
Only if he discloses it to the public.

If Accuweather doesn't want competition from us (we are the government), maybe they should buy their own satellites, supercomputers and meteorologists.

Here's the juicy "subsection c" to which your quoted portion refers:

(2) MODE OF ISSUANCE- Data, information, guidance, forecasts, and warnings shall be issued under paragraph (1) through a set of data portals designed for volume access by commercial providers of products or services and by such other mechanisms as the Secretary of Commerce considers appropriate for purposes of that paragraph.
IOW, you must rely on commercial weather reporting to warn you of dangerous weather. And hope they don't decide to start charging us for those warnings. Pilots, boaters and sailors would also be at the mercy of commercial providers to distribute the weather reports. If they would choose not to provide such services, then no such service would be available.