Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.
By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 6:56 PM GMT on May 01, 2005
Thanks to all who joined our discussion on this important issue! (for those new to this thread, I am referring to the fact that it may soon be illegal for the National Weather Service (NWS) to issue non-severe weather forecasts under the provisions of the National Weather Service Duties Act of 2005, Senate Bill S.786, introduced April 14 by Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa.)I think we have all learned and benefited from this discussion, and I believe a few points of clarification are needed:
1) The bill is difficult to interpret and confusing. I asked Dave Moran, Professor of Law at Wayne State University, to comment on the bill. He remarked that the bill was "incredibly poorly drafted" and criticized it for leaving key terms undefined, such as "hydrometeorological guidance" and "core forecast information." (To this list, I would add "severe weather"). This confusion alone makes the bill unworthy of passage.
2) The only NWS functions completely protected are listed in Section 2(a)(1): "preparation and issuance of severe weather forecasts and warnings designed for the protection of life and property of the general public" because section 2(b) says: "The Secretary of Commerce shall not provide, or assist other entities in providing, a product or service
(other than a product or service described in subsection (a)(1)) that is or could be provided by the private sector." The only exceptions given are aviation forecasts and things the private sector cannot provide.
What this means is that while the NWS may continue to make its own "sunny and warm" public forecasts and marine forecasts (which is not certain under the vague conditions of the bill, but lets assume it might be so), it cannot give these out to the public if a private meteorology company complains. Sen. Santorum seems to think that no one will make such a challenge, remarking in a recent interview, "the NWS will not cease dissemination of regular daily forecasts, weather information and climate data." However, the comments of Barry Myers of AccuWeather indicate that his company does plan to have these type of forecasts eliminated under the new law:
"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.'"
Who are you going to believe? And when Sen. Santorum says the NWS will continue to issue "regular forecasts", does this mean "sunny and warm" forecasts, or just regular "severe forecasts"? It's not clear.
3) I did not mean to criticize private forecasters when I commented that "I believe the expertise of the NWS forecasters is unmatched anywhere in the world." There are many excellent forecasters in the private sector, and
private weather forecasters do better forecasting than the NWS in many cases, particulary for specialized applications that the more general NWS forecasts do not focus on. How else could private companies get their business clients to pay for their services, when free NWS forecasts are available?
4) It would be interesting to see some forecast verifications of NWS vs. AccuWeather vs. Weather Channel forecasts. If anyone has some links, please post them. However, general judgements on which forecasts are the best will be difficult to draw, since one could easily pick a few cities or use a statistical technique that favors one forecast provider over another.
The Weather Underground is preparing a packet arguing against adoption of the Santorum bill. This packet will go to all the members of the Senate Commerce Committe later this week. We plan to use the comments posted in this blog as part of our argument. Thanks to everyone who wrote in, both pro and con!
How to oppose The National Weather Service Duties Act of 2005. The National Weather Service Duties Act of 2005 is currently before the Senate Commerce Committee, and will have to make it out of there before the full Senate votes on it. The time to kill this bill is now! If you're interested, you can sign a petition opposing the National Weather Service Duties Act of 2005, or write your Senator if he or she is on the Senate Commerce Committee: http://commerce.senate.gov/about/membership.html
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