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6 Improving the Effectiveness of the Weather Enterprise The joint participation of the public, private, and academic sectors in the U.S. weather enterprise has had the following benefits, among others: Better data coverage. The National Weather Service (NWS) national network is supplemented in some cases with local weather data from arrays of instruments deployed by universities, state governments, regional consortia, and private companies. Wider information dissemination. Weather information is now available through increasingly pervasive and immediate avenues, including radio, television, newspapers, web sites, cell phones, pagers, and personal digital assistants. More realistic and scalable models. Improvements in understanding of atmospheric and ocean phenomena, coupled with advances in computing and access to more data, have brought advanced modeling capabilities to the desktops of meteorologists in all sectors. Increased infusion of cutting-edge technology. Innovations developed in the academic, public, and private sectors are regularly adopted by the other sectors, fueling further innovation. Greater number of specialized products. The large number of companies seeking market niches yields a far more diverse menu of weather products and services than could be offered by the government alone. Although involving the three sectors enhances the overall capabilities of
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the system, it also leads to friction and inefficiencies in the forecasting system. In carrying out its legislated responsibilities, the NWS must make continuous weather predictions on all spatial and temporal scales. The resulting forecasts can be specialized, to some extent, by private companies for local and/or individualized applications. Inefficiencies result from the necessary duplication of some of the efforts to prepare these two types of forecasts. However, it must be recognized that to satisfy the different requirements and objectives of the three sectors, and thus achieve the economic and public benefits to the nation, the weather forecasting system as a whole cannot be perfectly efficient. Similarly, some level of friction is inevitable in a three-sector system when activities overlap and advances in science and technology change what the sectors are capable of doing. An increasing role of the private sector in data collection, for example, could make it more difficult to maintain the open access to data upon which weather and climate applications depend. Advances in modeling and improvements in forecast accuracy, particularly extending forecast accuracy to seasonal and longer timescales, will open new business opportunities for predicting the effects of El Niño and other climate events on industries such as agriculture, energy, and insurance. And new methods of dissemination will reduce some business opportunities (e.g., making government data more accessible) and create others (e.g., personalized weather services via wireless devices). A number of ideas have been proposed that putatively would increase the efficiency of the weather and climate information system and decrease friction among the sectors. Some in the private sector have suggested eliminating some weather services from the NWS or ending research grants, which they view as subsidies, by atmospheric science funding agencies (e.g., National Science Foundation, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration [NOAA], Department of Defense) to scientists creating value-added products.1 Some NWS officials and academic researchers have proposed that companies contribute their data without restrictions to the general pool. However, these suggestions have shortcomings (see Chapter 4), and none have proven to be practical to implement. A better solution is to use criteria such as those given in Box 4.3 to make case-by-case decisions on which sector should undertake a particular activity. Rigid boundaries between the sectors are hard to define, and any such definitions quickly become obsolete as technological capabilities and user demands evolve. Consequently, any precise and detailed division of responsibility that the 1 For example, see testimony before the House of Representatives Subcommittee on Energy and Environment by Michael S. Leavitt, on behalf of the Commercial Weather Services Association on April 9, 1997, 105th Congress, 1st Session.
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three sectors agreed upon today—if such an agreement were even possible—would quickly become out of date and hinder future improvements of the weather information system. One of the committee’s strongest conclusions is that a different approach is needed—one that emphasizes improved processes for dealing with conflicts and change, rather than proscribed activities. In this chapter, the committee recommends ways to strengthen weather and climate partnerships and the contributions of the three sectors. STRENGTHENING PARTNERSHIPS Partnerships are created to take advantage of the strengths of different players and thereby achieve a result that could not be achieved by a single player. There are many successful examples of partnerships in the weather and climate enterprise, particularly among federal and state government agencies and academia. These are relatively easy to establish because the partners share the same philosophy toward open data access and both are at least partly oriented toward improving public services and advancing the science. Partnerships between the private sector and academia or the NWS can be more difficult to establish, but the payoff is high (e.g., widespread dissemination of severe weather warnings and advisories to the U.S. public through the media). The current relationship between the NWS and the private sector is far from ideal, but each sector can take several steps to improve it, as detailed below. Revising the 1991 Public-Private Partnership Policy Far from resolving the roles and responsibilities of the NWS and the commercial weather industry, the ambiguity in the 1991 NWS public-private partnership policy raised new questions and misunderstandings (see Chapter 4 and Appendix B). The growth of a technologically sophisticated private sector has made the approach of defining roles even more untenable than it was in the 1970s when the first such policy was crafted.2 Moreover, the legal interpretation of the 1991 policy has changed with the passage of subsequent laws and policies (see Chapter 4). The NWS has a number of options for addressing these problems: Retain the policy in its current form. The ambiguity in the language provides flexibility, although this flexibility will continue to create friction between the sectors. 2 National Weather Service, 1978, Policy on industrial meteorology, National Weather Service Operations Manual 78-24, Part A, Chapter 55, pp. 1-3.
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Modify the policy to make it consistent with federal law, particularly the NWS Organic Act, Weather Service Modernization Act, and e-government initiatives. In particular, any language suggesting that the NWS should not disseminate information electronically to as wide an audience as possible is inconsistent with the Paperwork Reduction Act and the Government Paperwork Elimination Act. Adding an explanation of the legal framework in which the NWS operates might also prove helpful to the nonlawyers in the community. Modify the policy to remove the following phrase: “The NWS will not compete with the private sector when a service is currently provided or can be provided by commercial enterprises.” The private sector can do much of what the NWS legitimately does, so capability is a poor criterion for differentiating the roles of the sectors. Moreover, private firms can offer many services that they choose not to offer, preferring to use scarce resources on projects with superior returns. Finally, there are good public policy reasons for the NWS to carry out certain activities, even if the private sector does or could do them. Rescind the policy and rely on existing federal laws and policies to decide what activities to undertake. Replace the policy with a new one outlining the relationship between the private sector and all parts of NOAA concerned with weather and climate services. Revise the policy to emphasize processes for making decisions, rather than rigid definitions of roles and responsibilities. Implementing options 1 through 4 without instituting other mechanisms for making decisions would hardly create a good business environment or promote an improved working relationship between the sectors. Indeed, the NWS might then expect that certain private companies would believe that the “contract” has been violated (see Chapter 4 and Appendix E) and continue their efforts to lobby for legislation more favorable to them (see Chapter 1, “History of the NWS-Private Sector Partnership”). The NWS has resisted such efforts in the past for public policy reasons (see Chapter 4).3 The committee concludes that some combination of options 2, 5, and 6 would best foster the NWS-private sector partnership. Moreover, a policy that focuses on processes rather than proscriptive boundaries (option 6) would avoid the practical problems of the current NWS policy. 3 J. Kelly, 2001, Weather, water, and climate information in the 21st century: Opportunities for the risk management community, 3rd Annual Weather Risk Management Association Convention, Bermuda, June 6.
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Recommendation 1. The NWS should replace its 1991 public-private partnership policy with a policy that defines processes for making decisions on products, technologies, and services, rather than rigidly defining the roles of the NWS and the private sector. Because of public confusion about the roles of NOAA’s satellite and research divisions in weather and climate services, the policy would ideally be expanded beyond the NWS to include all relevant parts of NOAA. Of course, any policy on the public-private partnership should be developed in consultation with all stakeholders, both inside and outside NOAA. Such an open process could help lead to a policy that is perceived as fair by all sectors (see Chapter 4, Appendix E). Although enacting such a policy would not resolve all issues associated with the provision of weather and climate services, simply coming to an agreement would be a significant achievement. Facilitating Communication Among the Sectors Organizations generally benefit from ongoing external advice, particularly when multiple stakeholder groups have a strong interest in the outcome of decisions. The NWS formerly had an industrial meteorologist on staff who served as an ombudsman to deal with interactions between the NWS and the private sector. Under the NWS headquarters reorganization of 2000, that responsibility is now shared by the Office of Climate, Water and Weather Services and the Strategic Planning and Policy Office. Today, writing letters and e-mail to NWS officials and participating in regular meetings of user groups associated with different offices and projects are the primary mechanisms available for raising concerns. Although letters often result in a satisfactory explanation or change in behavior on the part of the NWS, the private sector has no recourse when they do not. Lobbying Congress is an option that some companies have used, but the outcome may not always be in their or the public’s interest (Appendix B). In August 2002 the NWS established a new mechanism for gaining feedback on the creation of new or enhanced products and services.4 The new policy lays out principles for deciding whether a product should be modified or created (Box 6.1) and steps for evaluating external comments and deciding whether the product should be made operational. The NWS is to be commended for engaging the community in product planning, although the policy does not cover all of the complexities of product development, as outlined in the sections below. Moreover, the evaluation process 4 NWS Policy Directive 10-102, NWS requirements for new or enhanced products and services, August 28, 2002, <http://www.nws.noaa.gov/directives/>.
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BOX 6.1 NWS Principles for Modifying Existing or Creating New Products and Services Mission connection. Describe the mission connection. Life and property first. Put life and property first in the allocation of resources and the development and dissemination of products and services. No surprises. Provide all users, including those in the private sector, adequate notice and opportunity for input into decisions regarding the development and dissemination of products and services. The taxpayers own the data. Open and unrestricted dissemination of publicly funded information is good policy and the law. Equity. Be equitable in dealings with various classes of entities and do not show favoritism to particular classes of partners, particularly those in the academic and commercial sectors. Do not provide a service to a segment of the user community that cannot be provided to all similar types of users. Maintain and explain the routine. When faced with requests for specifically tailored services, make sure that the customer fully understands which products the NWS “routinely” provides. Refer requests for specifically tailored products or services to the private sector. SOURCE: NWS Policy Directive 10-102, NWS requirements for new or enhanced products and services, August 28, 2002, <http://www.nws.noaa.gov/directives/>. should be expanded to include an objective determination of whether the user understands the product or will make a useful decision based on it. The product generation process and user group meetings are useful ways of keeping the community informed about potential new NWS products. However, neither mechanism permits users to provide input in the early stages of a decision (i.e., the idea formulation stage). One way in which the NWS can obtain early feedback is to establish an advisory committee, under either the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA)5 or some other mechanism that gives the committee official status. Such an advisory committee, whose membership includes academic, private sector, and public interest (federal, state, nonprofit) representatives, as well as NOAA and other agency executives and experts, would also enhance cooperation among the sectors. Although the areas in which advisory committees are 5 The Federal Advisory Committee Act defines the boundaries within which federal advisory committees operate, with special emphasis on open meetings, public involvement, and reporting. FACA does not apply if the intent of the committee is to provide information or viewpoints from individual attendees as opposed to advice, opinions, or recommendations from the group acting in a collective mode. See Management of federal advisory committees, <http://gsa.gov/Portal/>.
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allowed to give advice are circumscribed, there is ample scope for constructive input. If the membership is well chosen and the senior agency management listens to its advice, independent advisory committees can be very effective in providing feedback on plans for collecting data and releasing new products and on defining long-term strategies. An advisory committee could also benefit NOAA and the NWS in the long run by making more outside players in the weather and climate enterprise aware of the importance of core NWS activities. Recommendation 2. The NWS should establish an independent advisory committee to provide ongoing advice to it on weather and climate matters. The committee should be composed of users of weather and climate data and representatives of the public, private, and academic sectors, and it should consider issues relevant to each sector as well as to the set of players as a group, such as (but not limited to) improving communication among the sectors, creating or discontinuing products, enhancing scientific and technical capabilities that support the NWS mission, improving data quality and timeliness, and disseminating data and information. The NWS had an external users’ council in the mid-1980s to provide a mechanism for communicating with commercial data providers and exploring ways to disseminate data.6 After a few years, the council was transformed to an annual users’ meeting, often held at the annual meeting of the American Meteorological Society (AMS). In the late 1990s the NWS considered reestablishing an external council, perhaps through the AMS, to resolve issues of mutual concern to the NWS and the commercial weather industry.7 Instead, the users’ meetings were continued and supplemented with meetings of major constituent groups (e.g., emergency managers). In addition, NWS headquarters was reorganized as part of the modernization effort, and two offices were charged with the responsibility to better support the industrial meteorology community.8 6 A. Eustis, NOAA National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service, personal communication, October 2002. 7 See discussions on a proposed NWS-private sector meteorology partnership initiative, American Meteorological Society Board of Private Sector Meteorology, January 13, 1998, <http://www.ametsoc.org/AMS/PrivateSector/980113_meeting.html> and February 2, 1998, <http://www.ametsoc.org/AMS/PrivateSector/980202_meeting.html>. 8 The Strategic Planning and Policy Office addresses policy issues that affect the agency as a whole, including the public-private partnership, and the Office of Climate, Weather, and
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The NWS users’ meetings are a good mechanism for obtaining feedback from commercial meteorologists, but they are controlled by a single stakeholder—the NWS. In contrast, the AMS has facilitated a dialogue between the sectors since 1948.9 Its membership is evenly divided between government, academic, and commercial meteorologists, so in theory no sector has a stronger voice than the others. The AMS could hold periodic forums, meetings, or other events to encourage each sector to air its complaints and misunderstandings about the actions and practices of the other sectors. Such meetings would complement the activities of the recommended advisory committee by improving communication among the sectors outside of the decision-making arena. Recommendation 3. The NWS and relevant academic, state, and private organizations should seek a neutral host, such as the American Meteorological Society, to provide a periodic dedicated venue for the weather enterprise as a whole to discuss issues related to the public-private partnership. ENHANCING THE CONTRIBUTIONS OF THE THREE SECTORS The interdependence and rapid evolution of government agencies, academia, private companies, and other organizations concerned with weather and climate make it challenging to optimize the weather information system as a whole (see Appendix B). It is easy to envision how NWS services, for example, might be aligned to achieve a single national goal. However, there are many, sometimes conflicting, national goals related to the provision of weather and climate services. Formulating a policy about one (e.g., enhance the national economy) might make it harder to achieve another (e.g., protect life and property). Moreover, whatever policy is chosen to meet a particular goal is likely to have dramatic consequences for different sectors and user groups. This problem is exacerbated because no single entity is responsible for deciding what products and services should be provided, who should provide them, how and to whom they should be provided, and where competition would be desirable. As noted in a recent National Research Council report, “No one sets the priorities, no one fashions the agenda.”10 Consequently, the “playing field” and the “rules of Weather Services addresses all NWS service programs and customers, including commercial meteorologists. See <http://www.weather.gov/im>. 9 The AMS has hosted a number of policy forums on the public-private partnership, from the 1948 conference that yielded the six-point program (see Box B.1) to the 2001 conference that yielded a thoughtful set of position papers. See Opportunities for 21st century meteorology: New markets for weather and climate information, American Meteorological Society presidential policy forum, <http://www.ametsoc.org/AMS/>. 10 National Research Council, 1998, The Atmospheric Sciences Entering the Twenty-First Century, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., p. 58.
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the game” of this complex system are constantly evolving in an ad hoc manner as individual sectors make key decisions. Also, as different sectors lose their status quo property rights, they feel unfairly treated by the system (Chapter 4, Appendix E). Dealing with these issues will require cooperation from all parties. National Weather Service Many of the tasks laid out in the NWS Organic Act are as important to the public welfare and national economy today as they were in 1890. These include data collection; quality control; issuance of weather forecasts, warnings, and watches; and dissemination of information and products. Data collection is properly a government role, particularly given the cost structure and public-good properties of weather data and the need for making international exchange agreements (Box 4.2). Although the data are collected primarily to generate forecasts and warnings, their value is increased if they are validated, checked for quality, and disseminated as widely as possible, thereby making them useful for a wide range of other applications. Indeed, this is the rationale for federal laws mandating the dissemination of high-quality information at low cost. Most private companies agree that the government should continue to collect and disseminate weather and climate data on a full and open basis, but not all companies agree that the NWS should disseminate forecasts. However, the committee notes that forecasts have to be made to generate watches, warnings, and advisories, and it makes economic sense to disseminate these useful intermediate products to the public, which has already paid for them. The value of meteorological data collected by NOAA and its international partners lies not only in the short-term economic and social benefits that accrue from use of the newly collected data, but also in the long-term studies of changes in the Earth’s atmosphere. Such studies are possible only if there is a reliable, accessible, long-term archive. Because of the need for a long-term scientific and financial commitment to the data, the stewardship of atmospheric observations is a proper function of the government and should continue to be carried out by the National Climatic Data Center. Recommendation 4. The NWS should continue to carry out activities that are essential to its mission of protecting life and property and enhancing the national economy, including collecting data; ensuring their quality; issuing forecasts, warnings, and advisories; and providing unrestricted access to publicly funded observations, analyses, model results, forecasts, and related information products in a timely manner and at the lowest possible cost to all users. Government agencies routinely adopt technologies and products developed by the academic and private sectors to operate more efficiently and
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meet their mission. (The same is true of the other sectors.) The expected improvements in meteorological observations, scientific understanding, and computational and communications technologies will create many opportunities for improving NWS information services. Despite objections from some private companies (see Appendix D), the NWS should continue to adopt technologies that improve its ability to carry out its mission. In particular, the NWS should continue to explore ways to increase the amount and usefulness of information disseminated passively over the Internet. The Internet provides a means of reaching a large population and providing access to more NWS capabilities at low cost. The new Digital Forecast Database, for example, will improve the ability of the NWS to provide observations, analyses, forecasts, and warnings in convenient forms, including tables, images, graphics, and other types of visual displays. Similarly, graphics and icons on NWS web sites—if selected with an understanding of what the displays mean to the user—can improve the communication of weather information to the public. On the other hand, technologies that improve the effectiveness of the weather enterprise but are not integral to NWS operations (e.g., wireless communications) should be supported, not adopted (see Recommendation 9). Recommendation 5. The NWS should make its data and products available in Internet-accessible digital form. Information held in digital databases should be based on widely recognized standards, formats, and metadata descriptions to ensure that data from different observing platforms, databases, and models can be integrated and used by all interested parties in the weather and climate enterprise. Adopting new technologies requires an initial investment, but not adopting technologies also has a cost. Any decision that the NWS makes in this regard will affect the other sectors. For example, color graphics were developed by academia and commercial graphics companies and were first deployed in the weather services by the private sector (see example 7, Appendix D). Their use by the NWS should not be seen as unfair competition; rather, such adaptations of technology should be seen as “catching up.” However, copying leading-edge technological developments that in and of themselves still confer substantial added value might stress the partnership. Advances in science and technology lead to the creation of new models and products, which in turn open new avenues of research and development. Consequently, an ongoing question for the NWS, with its limited resources, is which products and services in response to identified requirements it should create. If the NWS is to develop new products and services within a fixed budget, it must either become more efficient in its operations
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or phase out some services. Increasing efficiency is an ongoing effort for most organizations, and the NWS has recently developed guidelines for what products to incorporate into operations.11 However, the NWS has no formal process for identifying candidate products and services to discontinue.12 The criteria listed in Box 4.3 may be helpful in this regard. The NWS has already stopped producing certain products such as fruit-frost and event-specific forecasts. Some private companies would like the NWS (and academia) to discontinue hourly and long-range forecasts or any product that is targeted to a specific user group (e.g., aviation) or local area (e.g., weather forecasts by zip code). However, there may be public-benefit reasons (e.g., open data access) for the NWS to continue to create specialized products, even if the private sector is already producing them. Moreover, there is no guarantee that the private sector would create the discontinued product or that it would continue to provide it if the profitability of doing so declines. For example, agriculture weather products discontinued by the NWS in response to congressional direction have in some cases been taken up by state governments,13 but in other cases they have not. Providing advice on which NWS products should be created and which should be discontinued could be a useful role of the multisector advisory committee recommended above (Recommendation 2). The committee emphasizes that specialized weather and climate information that is primarily of interest to specific individuals or organizations, but is not essential for the protection of life and property or to the overall enhancement of the national economy, should be provided by the private sector through fees for value-added services, rather than by the government through taxation of the public. Recommendation 6. The NWS should (1) improve its process for evaluating the need for new weather and climate products and services that meet new national needs, and (2) develop processes for discontinuing dissemination of products and services that are specific to particular individuals or organizations or that are not essential to the public. The NWS relies on its 135 weather and river forecast offices to provide forecasts and other products for their geographic region and to interact 11 NWS Policy Directive 10-102, NWS requirements for new or enhanced products and services, August 28, 2002, <http://www.nws.noaa.gov/directives/>. 12 Some guidelines for privatizing government functions are given in National Research Council, 2001, Resolving Conflicts Arising from the Privatization of Environmental Data, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 99 pp. 13 For example, Florida has installed an automated weather network to support agriculture services. See <http://fawn.ifas.ufl.edu/>.
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with local officials and the public. Providing a certain level of autonomy fosters innovation, which benefits the weather and climate enterprise. On the other hand, the profusion of offices makes it difficult to communicate and enforce NWS policy. Staff at the NWS offices that the committee visited seem to have received varying guidance from NWS headquarters on generating products. Moreover, under the new NWS guidelines for creating products, new or enhanced regional or local products created by the local offices are approved by the cognizant NWS regional director(s) and do not have to be approved by NWS headquarters.14 Consequently, significant variability exists in what and when products are disseminated, the extent to which they are checked for quality, and the attitude of the office about cooperation with the academic and private sectors. For example, an NWS forecast office recently offered specialized services for newspapers, even though such services were not mission related (see example 21, Appendix D). Such actions violate the public-private partnership “contract” and create resentment and mistrust within the private sector (Chapter 4, Appendix E). The NWS is taking steps to present a more uniform face to the public. The creation of standard web pages for all NWS offices15 and the new NWS policy for creating new products and services represent a good start in this direction, but more has to be done if the NWS offices are to gain the trust of the private sector and be responsive to NWS strategic goals. Recommendation 7. NWS headquarters and regional managers should develop an approach to managing the local forecast offices that balances a respect for local innovation and creativity with greater control over the activities that affect the public-private partnership, especially those that concern the development and dissemination of new products or services. The public relies on the trustworthiness of NWS data, the private sector relies on NWS data to produce high-quality value-added products for clients, and all sectors rely on the NWS to maintain scientifically valid meteorological and climatological databases. Consequently, it is essential that proper attention be paid to maintaining scientific standards for collecting, verifying, and reporting data and for communicating uncertainties. The NWS generally, but not always, deals with its data and products in a scientifically rigorous way. Information generated by some computer sys- 14 Local, regional, and national products undergo the same public notice and comment procedures. 15 NWS Policy Directive 60-1, Technical and content requirements for Internet servers, February 8, 2002.
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tems, for example, is not always scientifically valid. The Advanced Weather Interactive Processing System misleadingly translates hail sizes estimated by volunteer observers as “pea,” “marble,” “nickel,” or “golf ball” to a hundredth of an inch.16 The same system uses a report of a single 6-foot tree down to confirm warnings of winds of 55 knots or higher. Products generated within the Interactive Forecast Preparation System present deterministic high and low temperatures seven days out, which is not viewed as scientifically valid by the broader meteorological community.17 Before implementing systems that generate data, forecasts, and other products, care should be taken that the information is scientifically valid, that it communicates the uncertainties and probabilities inherent in forecasting, and that it maintains the high standards that the general public has come to rely on from the NWS. An area in which scientific methods are not being fully utilized is making and disseminating forecasts in probabilistic terms. The AMS recently endorsed the use of probabilistic methods that would permit users to make decisions based on quantified uncertainties.18 However, the NWS policy continues to rely on deterministic information (e.g., maximum and minimum temperatures, dewpoint, sky cover, wind) for three- to seven-day forecasts. As the organization responsible for setting the scientific standard for operational meteorology, the NWS should take the lead in adopting probabilistic forecasts. Doing so would require forecasters to become more familiar with user needs and expectations. It would also require NWS management to support the development and use of forecaster tools and systems that facilitate the generation of probabilistic information as a more integral part of the forecasting process. As experience in communicating the probability of precipitation in a particular area shows, the public can understand and use probabilistic forecasts.19 16 See Yesterday’s Storm Reports, NWS Storm Prediction Center, <http://www.spc.noaa.gov/climo/reports/>. 17 American Meteorological Society statement on enhancing weather information with probability forecasts, January 2002, <http://www.ametsoc.org/AMS/POLICY/enhancingwxprob_final.html>. 18 The AMS definition of predictive probability is “a numerical measure of the degree of confidence in the occurrence of an event, considering all information (data, models, and judgement) utilized in the forecasting process. This measure must obey the laws of probability theory.” American Meteorological Society statement on enhancing weather information with probability forecasts, January 2002, <http://www.ametsoc.org/AMS/POLICY/enhancingwxprob_final.html>. 19 National Research Council, 2003, Communicating Uncertainties in Weather and Climate Information: A Workshop Summary, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 56 pp.
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Recommendation 8. The NWS should continue to adopt and improve probabilistic methods for communicating uncertainties in the data and forecasts where such methods are accepted as scientifically valid. The types of data collected for weather forecasting are quite varied, and each type tends to be formatted and documented in a different way. This lack of uniformity creates problems in the archival and subsequent retrieval and use of observational data.20 As the primary collector of weather and climate data, the NWS should play a lead role in developing data formats and standards. The NWS already sets the standards for weather data collected under the auspices of NOAA and participates in setting international standards through the World Meteorological Organization. However, an increasing amount of data is being collected by organizations that may not adhere to established formats and standards or even understand the importance of compatible data to the broader weather enterprise. If this trend continues, it could have serious implications for the continued development of high-quality products by all sectors. Diverse and incompatible standards are also a problem in the context of communications technology. The NWS should provide leadership in harmonizing and/or developing interface standards for the delivery of weather forecasts, watches, and warnings over cellular devices. To support wireless dissemination of standard forecasts and NWS warnings by private companies, the NWS may have to develop tailored machine-readable formats for its weather products that can be manipulated by cellular carriers and content providers. The NWS has developed such formats in the past to take advantage of other communications technologies such as radio and television. Such compatibility greatly enhances the usefulness of these new data sources and avenues of communication and creates a level playing field for many prospective users. Recommendation 9. The NWS should retain its role as the official source of instrumentation, data, and data collection standards to ensure that scientific benchmarks for collecting, verifying, and reporting data are maintained. It should lead efforts to follow, harmonize, and extend standards, formats, and metadata to ensure that data from NWS and non-NWS networks, databases, and communications technology can be integrated and used with relative ease. 20 T.R. Karl, V.E. Derr, D.R. Easterling, C.K. Folland, D.J. Hofmann, S. Levitus, N. Nicholls, D.E. Parker, and G.W. Withee, 1995, Critical issues for long-term climate monitoring, Climatic Change, v. 31, p. 185-221; U.S. Global Change Research Program, 1999, Global Change Science Requirements for Long-Term Archiving, Report of the Workshop, October 28-30, 1998, National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colo., 78 pp.
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Private Sector Private sector concerns conveyed to the committee (Appendix D) fall into two broad categories: those that pertain to perceived violations of the 1991 NWS public-private partnership policy and those that pertain to the quality and timeliness of data released to the public. The issue of data quality and timeliness is addressed in Recommendation 4 above). It was difficult to judge the merits of complaints about the public-private partnership because the committee received little quantitative indication that actions taken by the NWS caused financial harm to private companies. Moreover, the committee believes that the NWS public-private partnership policy is outmoded and should be revised (see Recommendation 1). As noted in Chapter 4 and Appendix E, misunderstanding the facts can exacerbate perceptions of unfairness. The private sector must recognize that federal law encourages the adoption of effective technologies by government agencies, as well as the development of academic spinoff companies that will compete with them. As in other industries, companies in the commercial weather industry must stay on the leading edge of technology in a competitive marketplace. Many successful technologies and applications eventually become commonplace and therefore provide little competitive advantage to the companies that developed them. Trying to prevent others from using technologies in common use across all sectors wastes energy and resources that would better be spent in identifying and responding to new user demands. Of course, real examples of inappropriate competition (e.g., NWS forecast offices providing specialized services to newspapers) should continue to be brought to the attention of the responsible organization. Recommendation 10. The commercial weather sector should work with the other sectors, using mechanisms such as those proposed in this report, to improve the techniques and processes by which the weather and climate enterprise as a whole can minimize friction and inefficiency. Academic Sector Researchers have been creating and disseminating practical weather products for more than 50 years.21 Where the purpose is science and education, meteorology departments themselves disseminate the information. Where the purpose is commercialization, universities create separate for- 21 C.C. Bates, 1976, Industrial meteorology and the American Meteorological Society—A historical overview, Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, v. 57, p. 1320-1327.
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profit companies that will compete with other private companies. The committee saw no evidence that universities are not drawing this distinction. Advances in scientific understanding will continue to create new opportunities for science and technology transfer from academia (and NOAA laboratories). The transfer of new weather service technology to the private sector follows the same path as that followed by the computer, software, networking, and biotechnology industries.22 Their experience and precedent have much to offer to the atmospheric sciences (Appendix B). “Best practices” for transferring technology to the private sector and avoiding conflicts of interest have been collected by the Council on Governmental Relations.23 Additional guidance can be found in conflict-of-interest guidelines established by government agencies funding academic researchers, such as the National Science Foundation, and in the policies of research universities. Such practices include having written policies and procedures covering scientific conduct, intellectual property, and the administrative and financial management of government-funded programs; disclosing and reviewing significant financial interests (e.g., consulting fees, equity interests, intellectual property rights) that would compromise a faculty member’s objectivity in teaching and basic research; ensuring that a student’s degree-oriented research does not become entangled with a faculty member’s outside commercial interests; devoting most proceeds to teaching and research (under the Bayh-Dole Act, universities must share royalties with inventors); and refraining from offering special deals to the company for space, labor, data, or technology (i.e., a bright line is drawn between the university and that company). Recommendation 11. Universities seeking to commercialize weather-related research results should follow transparent procedures for transferring technology and for avoiding conflicts of interest. These procedures should be given wide exposure to remove perceptions of unfair competition. 22 See, for example, National Research Council, 1999, Funding a Revolution: Government Support for Computing Research, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 302 pp.; National Research Council, 2001, Capitalizing on New Needs and New Opportunities: Government-Industry Partnerships in Biotechnology and Information Technologies, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 360 pp. 23 Council on Governmental Relations, 2001, Managing externally funded programs at colleges and universities: A guide to good management practices, <http://www.cogr.edu/COGR%20brochure%20final.pdf>.
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IMPROVING THE WEATHER SYSTEM INFRASTRUCTURE The ability of each of the sectors to carry out its goals and objectives depends on the continuation of large public investments in observations and modeling. The academic and private sectors have publicly supported increasing NOAA’s budget to sustain the weather information system. These sectors also contribute to this expensive system through individual taxes and, for the private sector, corporate taxes. However, another type of support that is generally absent is attribution of the source of data and models used to develop and deliver products and services. The committee notes that none of the sectors consistently recognize and give attribution to the contributions of the other sectors (e.g., see examples 5, 12, and 13, Appendix D). Such attribution is important for gaining public support for the large investments required. The member of the House of Representatives who famously proposed abolishing the NWS because the Weather Channel provides forecasts24 is symptomatic of the lack of public understanding of where and how forecasts are generated. Another way in which all sectors can contribute to the weather enterprise is to work to place as much data as possible in the public domain. Data collected using taxpayer dollars—whether by federal, state, or local government agencies or by researchers funded by federal grants—should be made available to the public as soon as possible after collection. This is usually, but not always, the case. Although it cannot be expected that companies will always place proprietary data in the public domain, privately collected data sets that have limited commercial value but potentially great scientific value could be made available for research purposes. Improving data access works to the benefit of all sectors in the weather enterprise. The committee believes that the recommendations made here would, if implemented by the various stakeholders, substantially reduce the occasional frictions and inefficiencies in the U.S. weather and climate enterprise. Despite a certain level of built-in friction, the committee believes that the enterprise can continue to flourish, to reach new levels of accuracy in weather and climate forecasts, and to provide even more valuable services to the public. 24 J. Anderson, 1995, Serving up this year’s top turkeys, Washington Post, November 23, p. B23.
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Representative terms from entire chapter: