Feds' weather information could go dark

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senorpepr
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Feds' weather information could go dark

#1 Postby senorpepr » Thu Apr 21, 2005 2:40 pm

http://www.palmbeachpost.com/news/conte ... _0421.html

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.

The company has accused the federal agencies of withholding data on hurricanes and other hazards, and failing to ensure that employees don't feed upcoming forecasts to favored investors in farming and energy markets.

Weather service expands data

The rivalry intensified last year, when NOAA shelved a 1991 policy that had barred the weather agency from offering services that private industry could provide.

Also last year, the weather service began offering much of its raw data on the Internet in an easily digestible format, allowing entrepreneurs and hobbyists to write simple programs to retrieve the information. At the same time, the weather service's own Web pages have become increasingly sophisticated.

Combined, the trends threaten AccuWeather's business of providing detailed weather reports based on an array of government and private data. AccuWeather's 15,000 customers include The Palm Beach Post, which uses the company's hurricane forecast maps on its Web site, PalmBeachPost.com.

NOAA has taken no position on the bill. But Ed Johnson, the weather service's director of strategic planning and policy, said his agency is expanding its online offerings to serve the public.

"If someone claims that our core mission is just warning the public of hazardous conditions, that's really impossible unless we forecast the weather all the time," Johnson said. "You don't just plug in your clock when you want to know what time it is."

Myers argued that nearly all consumers get their weather information for free through commercial providers, including the news media, so there's little reason for the federal agency to duplicate their efforts.

"Do you really need that from the NOAA Web site?" he asked.

But some weather fans, such as Bradner, say they prefer the federal site's ad-free format.

Another supporter of the weather service's efforts, Tallahassee database analyst John Simpson, said the plethora of free data becoming available could eventually fuel a new industry of small and emerging companies that would repackage the information for public consumption. He said a similar explosion occurred in the 1990s, when corporations' federal securities filings became freely available on the Web.

Shutting off the information flow would stifle that innovation and solidify the major weather companies' hold on the market, Simpson said.

Santorum's bill also would require the weather service to provide "simultaneous and equal access" to its information.

That would prevent weather service employees from favoring some news outlets over others, which Santorum and Myers said has happened in some markets. But it also could end the common practice of giving one-on-one interviews to individual reporters who have questions about storms, droughts or other weather patterns.

"What we want is to make sure that whatever information is provided to one source is provided to all," Myers said.

But Johnson said it's importanst to answer reporters' questions so the public receives accurate information — especially when lives are at stake.

"We are not interested in turning off our telephones," Johnson said. "I would be concerned that that would actually be dangerous."
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#2 Postby depotoo » Thu Apr 21, 2005 3:15 pm

they are discussing this in the political forum also. this could be very bad for all of us. we need to contact our representatives and let them know we are not happy with it. accuweather just wants to shut down its competition is what is boils down to in my opinion.
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#3 Postby SkeetoBite » Thu Apr 21, 2005 3:20 pm

The NWS existed long before commercial entities attempted to create a revenue model out of forecasting (poorly) the weather. These government agencies are funded by our tax dollars to provide these services. Forcing folks to pay for this data via a commercial venture means that the data we were already paying for is no longer available. This is taxation without representation, and just plain stupid. For example, the NHC was accurate within 60 miles of the Ivan landfall 72 hours in advance. Joe B. and others have a long way to go to reach this level of accuracy.

I am considering preparing an internet based tool that will allow folks to sign a petition electronically and forward message to all members of the U.S. Congress. This tool will allow you to send an email messages instantly to every single member of the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate.

Although I doubt this bill would ever make it out of committee, I will create this tool for all the weather enthusiast sites to use if I get enough favorable response.
Last edited by SkeetoBite on Thu Apr 21, 2005 3:23 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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#4 Postby depotoo » Thu Apr 21, 2005 3:22 pm

i think it's a great idea! the sooner the better to me!
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#5 Postby chadtm80 » Thu Apr 21, 2005 3:25 pm

We have been discussing this all day here http://www.storm2k.org/phpbb2/viewtopic ... 60&start=0
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#6 Postby MWatkins » Thu Apr 21, 2005 3:25 pm

I posted this in the political forum earlier but I'm still just as angry as I was when I wrote this several hours ago...enjoy.

Let me preface this by stating that I am not in a very good mood to begin with. This only serves to throw flames on an already raging fire.

Also...I know there are mets on this board who are from Accuweather, so when I refer to Accuweather hence-forth as Slaccuweather, this is not a swipe at you, or JB, or anyone else who works hard in the profession. My problem is with the people who are running your company. Please don't take the following personal...you are just doing your job...

First of all, what a shock that Slaccuweather would be coming forward to support a bill sponsered by a senator from...gee...which state do you think...PA? Let's see...let me look at where Slaccuweather is headquartered. How 'bout that? Also PA. What are the odds of that?

Of course, the next question is who's pocket is he in?

Even more fun, the senator in question, in his yearly income disclosures available to the public, as of 2003 receives a considerable amount of income from...guess where? You got it...rental properties right there at the home of Slaccuweather...State College PA, 2.3 miles away from the Slaccuweather headquarters.

http://www.opensecrets.org/pfds/pfd2003 ... 0_2003.pdf

On top of that...he's the head of a political action committee...Called America's Foundation, Located in Alexandria, PA. What a shock that little/no direct information could be found in the 20 mins I've spent looking for it.

So...I realize that self-serving politicians are nothing new. But this is yet another attemt by Slaccuweather to hijack the NWS satellites, models and other data and resell it to the public at a profit. Let's run through the checklist...shall we?

Is there an Slaccuweather Satellite? NO
Is there an Slaccuweather Model? NO
What about an Slaccuweather radar tower? NO
Slaccuweather Wind profiler? NO
Slaccuweather Soundings? NO
Slaccuweather Recon? NO

So they...once again...want to use all of this taxpayer data...and then charge us for it? What?

"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.


Hey...I know how he feels. It's not easy finding advertisers for the weather radio programming either. What's next? Having companies analyize congressional voting records, then taking that public access away so they can charge for it? Am I the only one seeing a dangerous pattern here?

MW
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#7 Postby x-y-no » Thu Apr 21, 2005 3:34 pm

I'm going to keep my mouth shut about the politics of this, but this is absolutely outrageous. :grr: :grr: :grr:
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#8 Postby senorpepr » Thu Apr 21, 2005 3:51 pm

Oops... I was looking for this thread earlier on the other sections, but I must have been distracted and missed it.

In any event, the idea behind it is upsetting, but I don't see the bill being passed.
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#9 Postby depotoo » Thu Apr 21, 2005 3:57 pm

in the political forum (link above) there is a spot where you can click to find your rep to let them know how you feel. don't take it for granted this won't pass - be certain to let them know.
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#10 Postby P.K. » Thu Apr 21, 2005 4:02 pm

MWatkins wrote:So they...once again...want to use all of this taxpayer data...and then charge us for it?


Sounds like here. (I'm not joking sadly)

It is no wonder on the internet we all use the GFS model data as Met Office data like that just isn't viewable to us. I've heard of plans to fully privatise the Met Office which I'm not at all happy about. :x :x
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#11 Postby Aquawind » Thu Apr 21, 2005 5:09 pm

Wow..WOW..... Well I just got done sending emails to everyone on the committe.. This is outrageous!! I have some serious issues with those sponsoring and supporting this bill.. This Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa is confused and was misled. I have emailed him directly as well.. :grr:

Thanks S2k and Chad for the link to the other thread..


http://commerce.senate.gov/about/membership.html


http://santorum.senate.gov/public/


Paul

:grr: :grrr: :grrr: :grrr: :grrr:
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#12 Postby Rainband » Thu Apr 21, 2005 5:12 pm

Letter to Bill Nelson
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
I was shocked today when I signed into Storm2k, the site where I am a staff member, and read the post about a proposed Bill to take away the Free weather information, we all have received in the past from Federal Weather Agencies.

My Name is John and I am both a Skywarn spotter for the National Weather Service and a concerned constituent of yours. I really hope that you and the other members of the house and senate realize how vital this information is and how important it is that it remains freely available to the citizens of the United States.

You are no stranger to the events of the 2004 Hurricane season and how it impacted the State of Florida. Do you realize HOW important this information was for the residents of the storm ravaged areas. Some areas lost cable TV before they lost power and the internet was there only viable source for information on these storms.

I am appauled, as is the Weather Enthusiast community as a whole, that companies such as AccuWeather can try and force us to buy the same information we have access to now at no cost.

We are taxpayers and this information should be available to us at NO COST. If you care about the residents of the state you represent and the citizens of this country for that matter, do not support any such bill. Tell your colleauges to do the same. Supporting this bill will send a message to the voters that our represenatives support companies making more money, more than they care about the safety of there citizens. Federal Weather sites and there Data has been and should always be available at no cost. Vital information should not be monopolized by a money Hungry Companies. Are you prepared to put a price on our safety??
If we choose to a pay weather site, thats fine. I belong to Wunderground. That is my choice. I shudder at the thought of last years Hurricane Season without the satellites and Bulletins accessible from the National Weather Service site and other Federal agencies. Please tell us you care about what we think. Do not support this bill.

Sincerely
John R Bieckmann
Port Richey, Florida
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#13 Postby Anonymous » Thu Apr 21, 2005 6:03 pm

Indeed, you can bet I won't be voting for Santorum if he runs for the nomination in 2008.
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#14 Postby Aquawind » Thu Apr 21, 2005 6:11 pm

~Floydbuster wrote:Indeed, you can bet I won't be voting for Santorum if he runs for the nomination in 2008.


I told him so and then some in my email to him.. :x

Paul
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#15 Postby Derek Ortt » Thu Apr 21, 2005 6:43 pm

my response to senator santorum:

Senator Santorum:

Today, I have come across news reports indictaing that a bill has been introduced into the Senate by yourself stating that you wish that the National Weather Service would not issue day to day forecasts as these are done by the private industry. I do have some concerns on this particular issue.

The first concern I have is why are these terms being dictated in legislation without all of the facts? The National Weather Service is consistently better than most of the private sector (which I would like to enter after obtaining my PHD at the University of Miami, specifically for tropical cyclone forecasting). There have been many instances where private firms, such as Accuweather, have issued forecasts on dangerous systems, such as Hurricanes Gilbert in 1988 and Emilia in 1994, where they have forecast the worst case scenario, causing mass panic when no panic was justified as in btoh cases, the hurricanes avoided the United States, as indicated by the official forecasts from the National Weather Service. Similar events also occurred during this recent hurricane season.

2. Accuweather has a long history of taking every opportunity it has to criticize and to attempt to discredit the National Weather Service. In doing so, they overlook or ignore their own faults, which are significantly worse than are those by the National Weather Service.

3. Accuweather does not wish to just issue day to day forecasts. Instead, they desire to be the "official source" weather information, including the issuance of watches and warnings. It should be stated that many meteorologists at Accuweather make less than those currently in many graduate institutions. This fact should give rise to some credibility questions about these meteorologists. Are the bets meteorologists making less than 20,000 on an annual basis (this I know for a fact as one of my closest friends was offered a position at Accuwx a few years ago for this amount. He turned this down and went to graduate school at UM, where he made more. I can say that Accuweather lost one of the best young meteorologists in the nation -- he is one of the two co-presidents, I am the other, of the Greater Miami Chapter of the American Meteorological Society). Only the best meteorologists should be making thee life and death decisions, which Accuweather does not have.

Senator Santorum, It is my opinion that this legislation does take us down a slipperly slope, toward the elimination of the National Weather Service. I would like you to reconsider this proposed legislation and possibly withdraw the bill, for the good of the country. Thank you

Derek Ortt
Co-President of Greater Miami Chapter of the American Meteorological Society
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#16 Postby DoctorHurricane2003 » Thu Apr 21, 2005 6:55 pm

As well as 2008, I'm not voting for his reelection in 2006 either.
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#17 Postby Anonymous » Thu Apr 21, 2005 8:27 pm

As a Conservative Republican, I see where Santorum is coming from. Democrats like to make government bigger, and Republicans like to make it smaller. This would make government smaller, yet, I disagree with it.
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#18 Postby wxman57 » Thu Apr 21, 2005 9:34 pm

As a meteorologist working for a private weather company that makes NWS-type 7-day forecasts as part of a vast assortment of customer-specific services, I really don't think that the NWS public forecasts are any threat to private industry at all. I seriously doubt that anyone would purchase our services or Accuweather's just for that 7 or 10-day very general weather forecast.. We keep in close contact with our local NWS office, and I consider the mets there friends. We aren't in any kind of competition. They work for the general public, we provice much more specific forecasting services for weather-sensitive companies.

I think the basic question here is what is the job of the NWS? I can tell you that issuing a 7-day planning forecast takes A LOT of valuable time that could be spent doing severe weather analysis. I'd love to just provide NWS forecasts to our customers and put our mets to work really covering severe weather events or detailed hourly temperature forecasts, or whatever - something that is of real value. I don't buy the argument that you can't forecast severe weather unless you're making a 7-day general forecast for a city. That's ridiculous. Issuing zone forecasts do distract from severe weather forecasting and coverage.

So is it the NWS's job to tell you that you'll need a raincoat tomorrow, or would their time be better spent monitoring for potential severe weather that could endanger lives and property? Can they do both? I guess it depends on their funding. It may take more tax dollars to do both. Regardless, there will be plenty of free forecasts for the general public (TV, Radio, Internet), so none of you will go without a local forecast.

Personally, I seriously doubt that any such bill would pass, and I hope it doesn't. Might actually be better for private weather providers if the NWS continues as it is. Anyway, I don't consider them competition - we provide quite different weather information to our customers.
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#19 Postby TexasSam » Fri Apr 22, 2005 1:10 am

Ya know it wasn't all that long ago that we were able to see NOAA radar on the internet without paying for it from the "other places". I find the new watch & Warning maps great, and getting better all the time. I like that I get to see the local Forcast Discussions, they are another way of looking at what they see. I also think that most of the local day-to-day weather stuff is done by the computers, and nust some local minor changes are done. I would hate to let my car drive down the freeway, and only be stopped because someone in the Senate said, without being given a warning before.
here's a link to the Senator's web page, and the story from his side.
http://santorum.senate.gov/public/index ... N=83234716
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#20 Postby wxman57 » Fri Apr 22, 2005 5:28 am

TexasSam wrote:Ya know it wasn't all that long ago that we were able to see NOAA radar on the internet without paying for it from the "other places". I find the new watch & Warning maps great, and getting better all the time. I like that I get to see the local Forcast Discussions, they are another way of looking at what they see. I also think that most of the local day-to-day weather stuff is done by the computers, and nust some local minor changes are done. I would hate to let my car drive down the freeway, and only be stopped because someone in the Senate said, without being given a warning before.
here's a link to the Senator's web page, and the story from his side.
http://santorum.senate.gov/public/index ... N=83234716


That article says that the bill is simply to restore the policy that went into effect in 1991 (which NOAA repealed in Dec. 2004). It says the NWS will continue providing warnings and forecasts just as it has been doing since 1991. If that's the case, then why all the fuss?
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