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NWS Employee's Union Press release

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 9:23 PM GMT on May 09, 2005

From the Wichita, KS Eagle:

The National Weather Service Employee's Union put out a press release outlining their opposition to the bill before Congress to restrict the ability of the NWS to compete with the private sector. I post it here, and invite comments.

Jeff Masters

Santorum bill will cut off weather data and turn the
National Weather Service into an $800 million a year
"corporate welfare" program for large commercial weather
companies, forecasters say.

The professional association and labor organization of
meteorologists and other employees today announced their
opposition to the National Weather Service Duties Act,
introduced on April 14 by Senator Richard Santorum

If enacted, S. 786 would prohibit the National Weather
Service from providing any service, including marine,
public and aviation forecasts (other than severe weather
warnings) to either the public, the media, academia, or
state and local emergency management officials if private
sector weather companies are providing or could provide a
similar service for a fee. Any forecast, severe weather
warning or other service or product that the NWS could
continue to provide under the Act would be disseminated
"through a set of data portals designed for volume access
by commercial providers." The Act also prohibits the NWS
from directly giving interviews or briefings to the news
media, law enforcement or emergency management personnel
during severe weather events, such as the briefings given
by the National Hurricane Center. The public, state and
local governments, and even other Federal agencies would
be required to obtain all their weather information from
private commercial weather companies. These companies
would obtain their information from the National Weather
Service through the "set of data portals" which the Act
would obtain their information from the National Weather
Service through the "set of data portals" which the Act
would require the NWS to maintain solely for the benefit
of and "access by commercial providers" of weather

In a letter sent to Sen. Jim DeMint, Chairman of the
Senate Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Disaster
Preparedness and Prediction, the organization explained
that "not only would this Act convert the National
Weather Service into an $800 million a year 'corporate
welfare' subsidy to these 'commercial vendors' of weather
information, but it would constitute a tax on state and
local governments who would have to pay middle-men for
repackaged NWS weather information. For example, the NWS
would no longer be able to advise local school districts
and road crews on anticipated snowfall amounts. Such
advice would have to be purchased from a distant
commercial vendor."

According to the union, "the prohibitions contained in S.
786 would benefit only a handful of large commercial
vendors at the expense of smaller firms, and those
seeking to enter the market, who cannot afford the access
fees to the NWS's 'data portals.'" The NWS maintains data
portals, known as the "Family of Services," through which
a very small number of major private vendors currently
obtain volume access to the NWS weather observations,
forecasts and warnings. Some vendors simply resell the
data as received.

"Smaller and new firms that add value to and remarket NWS
products now obtain their weather data from NWS internet
sites which would be shut down under this law. Thus,
rather than increasing competitiveness and bringing new
companies and products into the market place, the NWS
Duties Act would assist a handful of larger, already
capitalized firms in creating a monopoly" on weather
information, explained the NWS forecasters in their
letter to Senator DeMint.

The NWS websites (accessed at www.weather.gov) could be
shut down under the proposed legislation. These websites
receive over 5 million users each month - 60 million
visitors a year. The annual cost for maintaining the
servers and associated staff to maintain the websites is
only $3,755,000 - a little more than a penny a citizen.

The National Academy of Science's Committee on
Partnerships in Weather and Climate Services recently
concluded that the NWS has an "obligation to make its
information as widely available as possible to those who
have paid for it - the taxpayers."

Although some in the private sector would prefer that the
NWS not issue forecasts, the committee believes that
scientific, legal, and economic arguments overwhelmingly
support the continued dissemination of NWS forecasts and
other weather products. Not only has the infrastructure
supporting the forecast already been paid for, but
other weather products. Not only has the infrastructure
supporting the forecast already been paid for, but
disseminating forecasts provides a measure of visibility
to the NWS, which helps ensure continued support for the
expensive infrastructure needed to generate weather and
climate services.

National Research Council, Fair Weather: Effective
Partnerships in Weather and Climate Services, 5 (National
Academies Press, 2003).

NWSEO represents over 3,700 forecasters and other
employees of the National Weather Service located at 122
Forecast Offices, 13 River Forecast Centers, and various
specialized forecast offices (such as the National
Hurricane Center) across the country.

The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.

Reader Comments

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20. aero
7:42 PM GMT on May 30, 2005
Having worked in the field of Meteorology for 41 years I have seen
the field go from forecasting with no
Satellite pictures to Computer model

I am now retired from the NWS and know
how automated it is. The computer can
put out the local or state forecast by itself, email it, speak it on the radio in a computer voice, display it on the internet all automatically. Currently
the only human help that is needed is to launch the Upper Air balloon (which can be mostly automated also).

With all this automation there is no need for the current staffing levels of the NWS (we must be honest here with Tax Payers money). What the Government Weather Forecast Office needs to do to make itself cost effective is to reduce
staffing down to one forecaster on each shift to monitor all the automation and to edit any mistakes the Computer put out. Also there needs to be an Electronic technician on each shift to keep the computers running, and a field
person to keep the Cooperative Progtam of Climate Observers in good stead.
This would reduce the size of the average NWS Office from around two dozen employees to about 10 employees.

Most other nations have much smaller Weather Forecasting Offices than the United States does. In Canada the average staff size is much smaller than
in the US.

For now Weather Warnings should be kept to the NWS to issue, but all the other Forecasts could be issued by Private Meteorologists, such as the General forecast, Fire Weather, Aviation, Marine, and of course the Agriculture Forecasts that have already been taken over by Private Meteorologists.


Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
19. hpbear
11:31 PM GMT on May 29, 2005
Let me correct myself in my comment entry. it's Mr Bastardi, not Bestardi. Now if only my spelling was as good as my forecasting.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
18. hpbear
11:03 PM GMT on May 29, 2005
I never said their forecasts were bad, because everybody has their strengths and weaknesses (I know I'm still personally a bit hesitant on record highs and lows; but for the most part I am in the ballpark with the major storms, not always hitting home runs but not striking out too much, either). I just think some of the business ethic used by the company itself has some to be desired.

As for "shape of the weather, shape of the world", I never saw that show in the northeast. I only remember "weather world" on WVIA/PBS.

But I actually talked personally with Mr Sobel, Mr Abrams, Mr Bestardi, and some others a few times in the PSU weather dept while I was a student there. They, as forecasters, are actually quite brillant and good-natured people that I'll always professionally respect.

As for going commercial, I just wish that I could go commercial in my own country instead of being on the other side of Lake Ontario. Nothing against where I am or the country itself, because I had student loans come due and everything. I just eventually want to be working in my own backyard instead of someone else's, figuratively speaking.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
17. ralsa
3:09 PM GMT on May 29, 2005
I grew up in PA also and I remember watching most of these folks (Myers, Abrams, and Sobel) on a PBS show every night at 6:00pm called "State of the Weather, Shape of the World" There forecasts were very good and very accurate. Of course this was before they went commercial on us. I'm all for free enterprise, however as Pleonic said above, there are somethings the Government does better. I personally don't feel this Bill will see the light of day.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
16. hpbear
10:15 PM GMT on May 28, 2005
well, when I heard that it took a $6000 "donation" from Joel and Barry to Sen Santorum for the bill in question, I thought that was too cheap to buy one in congress these days. According to the Centre Daily Times (State College newspaper), it's now at least $13000, with the article here: http://www.centredaily.com/mld/centredaily/news/local/11760059.htm

I wonder how much more will come out on this, and I wonder what other companies decided to also "donate". I would think maybe WeatherData, since their founder wrote a letter in the Wilkes Barre Times Leader earlier this week: http://www.timesleader.com/mld/timesleader/news/opinion/11730914.htm
Last I knew, being originally from northeast PA where the paper is from, I never heard of WeatherData before I got into the field. I've never personally dealt with them, so I can't judge them personally. if anyone else can add to my enlightenment, it would be much appreciated.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
15. BobMyers
11:31 PM GMT on May 26, 2005
I spoke with Dr. Barry Myers on the phone for about half an hour a few weeks ago. It took me more than five phone calls to get through to him.

During he whole time, the professed that 'all' he (and others) wanted was complete access to all the reports, including those used to make analysis, in order to have the public fully informed. He mentioned that a report was delayed so that one of the 'higher ups' could make the announcement, and alleged that the delay caused a delayed warning resulting in injury and damage.

During the whole half hour, not once did he did not mention the 'anti competitive' sections of the bill. I'm not sure how ignorant (or maybe how stupid I was not to have seen that part of the proposed legislation) I was of those sections.

Below is the text of letter I sent him. I received a hurt feeling return letter stating he though we had an agreement on the purpose of the proposed legislation.
2005 April 26

Dr. Barry L. Myers,
Executive Vice President and General Counsel
AccuWeather, Inc.
385 Science Park Road
State College, PA 16803-2215

Dr. Myers,

Thank you for taking time to speak with me on the phone this morning about S786.

After rereading the text of S786, I must still ask the question Why should I have my direct access from the National Weather Service to weather information (forecasts), restricted, that I as a taxpayer have already paid for, and as a National Weather Service Cooperative Observer and/or Skywarn Spotter have contributed to?

Section 2 (a)(1) limits the information the NWS may make directly available to the public as opposed to your statement that all NWS information should be available to all consumers.

Section 2 (b) intimates the NWS is in competition with private (business) sector. It is the private sector that demands NWS information in order to compete with the NWS in providing day to day and predictive information at a profit with greatly reduced cost to the private sector and increased cost to the individual citizen consumer.

Section (c) (2) specifically ensures the private (business) sector NWS direct access to NWS information, but fails to specifically ensure individual citizens NWS direct access to the same information.

Contrary to your statements, the bill does not protect the right of individual citizens to currently available NWS information. The bill must be seen as an individual citizen unfriendly, private sector (business) enhancing bill.

/s/ R. A. Myers

Copy to: US Senator Santorum
Bob Myers - NO RELATIONSHIP to the Accuweather Myers's!

PS: Weather Underground seems to be flourishing under the present conditions.

I know Weather Underground is not getting rich of the $5.00 for no ads.

The $5.00 is still a bargain.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
14. IHScout800
4:18 AM GMT on May 21, 2005
You know, legislation like this always seems to have a way of getting passed. Shows up as a rider on another bill, usually budget legislation that has a million other things in it and it slides right on through. I heard about this bill on the news the other day. Maybe if it gets enough publicity it might get stopped but I have my doubts about that.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
13. stormtracker
4:20 PM GMT on May 19, 2005
I won't get into the republican/democratic argument with this because that could go on for days, and yes I am a democrat. I will say though I smell a rat after reading all of the statements in this blog. Folks like Accuweather will take the ball and run with this and up their charges for weather content. They are already making millions a year but are looking for ways to make more. And there are many who can't afford a nominal amount of year but need the NWS to inform them with their free content. Being a weather forecaster for years and with the utmost respect for the NWS, I hope like heck they fight this tooth and nail. I am a part of the media and will do all I can to get the media involved in this and use this tool as a way to fight this rediculous and self-help legislation. And one more thing, doesn't our government have more to worry about than putting forth legislation like this?? There is a devestating war going on and domestic problems that certainly need our attention. NOT SELF-HELP LEGISLATION that is going to benefit a few major weather companies but hurt millions of folks. Sorry for the length everyone, but I have been a volcano waiting to spew with my response. I am grateful for what the underground has to offer and hope they also will fight with us against this legislation.

Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
12. Y2KOTA
6:40 AM GMT on May 17, 2005
After reading "Although some in the private sector would prefer that the
NWS not issue forecasts,
The thought of UPS, Fed-X and other shipping companies telling the US Post Office not to deliver packages!!

Someone needs to tell those folks to spend thire time and engery on somthing more importen, like saving the trees or whales. Or better yet feed the hungry cure for AIDS. You get the idea!!

And now back to our show.... ;-)
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
11. prairiebuzz
11:52 PM GMT on May 15, 2005
right on pleonic,
i'm a life long democrat.
someone left the door open to nws' chicken coup and it looks like robber baron politucosa is ready to clean 'er out.
write your senator, write your senator
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
10. FloridaRez
2:38 PM EDT on May 13, 2005
You've got to wonder whether the content and language of the proposed bill were the work of a K Street lobbyist, working for Accuweather, who's headquarters are located in State College, PENNSYLANIA? As a resident of Hurricane Alley, FL, I can use all the help I can get.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
9. rwdobson
4:33 PM GMT on May 13, 2005
All politics is local, as the old saying goes, and in this case, local politics will be more important than party affiliation.

Senators from the western states will probably oppose this measure. These states, with large land areas and low population densities, would suffer most from this bill, because private industry is not going to rush in and market weather data to them. North Dakota only has 700,000 people or so in the whole state, so what is the motivation for AccuWeather to provide good coverage there?

Luckily for opponents of this bill, the committee chair (Stevens) is from Alaska, a state with small population, huge land area, and lots of interesting weather. He touts his ability to bring NWS money (and other federal money) into the state, so it seems likely he will never let this bill see the light of day.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
8. Pleonic
12:51 PM GMT on May 13, 2005
Like everything else in the world these days, this is being crammed into the liberal/conservative dichotomy. Personally I'm pro-Bush, pro-free enterprise and capitalism, pro-limited government... but I just think there are some things the government does better. And one of them is gathering and disseminating weather data. As long as we are paying taxes, the people should be able to access this information for "free." Any businesses that want to go into meteorology need to compete under those conditions. It should be noted that Sen. Santorum is trying to reinstate a regulation that was instituted by the NWS in 1991, and rescinded in 2004 (under the present President). I recall being able to get free government weather data during that period, but I prefer that there be no chance of that being limited. So I'm writing my Texas Senators & Sen. Santorum too.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
7. kritikal
12:06 PM GMT on May 13, 2005
Just sent letters to both my senators. Here's hopin' we get heard.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
6. SoCentDem
1:59 PM GMT on May 12, 2005
I want to echo terratalk's comment. Go to the source. Flood him with comments asking him to withdraw the legislation. I just did that from his own website, which terratalk provides above. What poor public policy this would be, if enacted.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
5. terratalk
5:53 PM GMT on May 11, 2005
While Mr. Santorum proudly exclaims that he is trying to modernize the NWS "to better serve the public" - (see http://santorum.senate.gov/public/ press release 4/14/05), I notice that Mr. Santorum does not mention that this bill was submitted AFTER he received a $5,000 contribution from Accuweather, Inc. (hmmmmmm....???) As to whom to write to? Go to www.senate.gov and find your senator and write, write, write!
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
4. prairiebuzz
3:30 PM GMT on May 11, 2005
jeff, this s-bill is f'd up. it appears to
be a free market type move but in all fairness will restrict access to weather data by individuals and small venues.
typical "bush" smaller gov. bulls..t. this is very upsetting. total ass to use LA
i live in a rural area smack dab in the middle of tornado alley. it is a big deal to have WUNDERGROUND handy not only for this reason but also for prairie work too.
don't let the powers tobe shove this down our throats.
nws resist,resist,resist
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
3. al23
2:38 PM GMT on May 11, 2005
The legislation is indeed nonsensical. To whom in congres should we address our comments?
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
2. radsaq
1:11 PM EDT on May 10, 2005
Sounds like a very sane and sensible response to some very nonsensical legislation.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
1. Walter350SM
11:35 AM GMT on May 10, 2005
In addition teaching institutions should weigh in and oppose this for the loss of a teaching tool. No Child Left behind? Conflict of policy.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:

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Cat 6 lead authors: WU cofounder Dr. Jeff Masters (right), who flew w/NOAA Hurricane Hunters 1986-1990, & WU meteorologist Bob Henson, @bhensonweather

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