WunderBlog Archive » Category 6™

Category 6 has moved! See the latest from Dr. Jeff Masters and Bob Henson here.

Follow-up on NWS Duties Act of 2005 discussion

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!

Jeff Masters
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


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

"... the bill was 'incredibly poorly drafted'"
And you expect better coming from someone with a JD?
S786 isn't a precedent for poorly written documents. See 29CFR1910.147 for another "fine" example! Whereas the former is vague, the latter is loaded with contradictions (anything to get a fine out of someone and pad the pockets of lawyers!)

I am not familiar with the history of legislation impacting the NWS.

In the case of the FCC, however, poorly worded bills are no accident, but rather (often effective) attempts to serve private interests at the expense of the public good.

Maybe the Myers brothers and Santorum should back HR 50. HR 50 basically does what they want, and does it in a way that doesn't confuse people. HR 50 http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/C?c109:./temp/~c109G8zZdk - requires that the NWS policy on public and private partnerships be reviewed by Congress every 5 years and be amended as needed. The good thing is that at least for the moment, SB 786 has had no further actions. Hopefully it won't, either.
As a Skywarn Weather Spotter, I can say I was appalled at this bill even being introduced and referred to committee hearings. I have been following its course through Washington carefully and have sent over 30 emails to various members of the political arm of Washington.

Senator Rick Santorum ~IS~ attempting to serve the private interest. This is nothing new. Neither is the NWS and NOAA giving out non-severe related bulletins.

However my question is this... Sites like Accu-Weather and those like it have been in business a long time. Why is it JUST NOW that they're taking a stand against the National Weather Service? Could it be that they finally have SPONSORSHIP in Congress via Senator Santorum?

I smell a setup... And Wx Underground, Skywarn, and the Amateur Radio Relay League are taking a huge stand against this Bill. People are once again rallying around the NWS to protect what THEY feel is important. In the words of a great man so many years ago...

Government FOR the people BY the people.

Anthony Ellrodt
Amateur Callsign W8ANT
Former Callsign KI4VPR
I think all of you shoul read this: http://www.weathermatrix.net/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=1426 before you jump to any conclusions
Next thing we know, it will be illegal for any government agency to duplicate the services that private industry could also provide, such as street lights, postal delivery, police/security, and civic planning. After all, there are companies who do lighting, parcel shipping, security, and civil engineering/architecture who I'm sure are nearly on bankruptcy's doorstep because they can't compete with tax-dollar-funded government services. And, you know, letting private industry block government initiatives that might compete with them has worked out so well with things like broadband Internet access. I'm no socialist or Marxist, but if what we have isn't broken, why try to fix it?
fluffybunny: Careful, now.. Postal Delivery is NOT a government-run function. Though not "privatized," it is an independent establishment that is NOT run by Congress, but by a Board of Governers.

Street Lights, at least where I live (in Dallas area) are owned and maintained by the local utility, NOT the government, though the city pays the electric bill...

Not directed at anyone in particular: Just back to the general rant...

Why is it that people want to have their cake and eat it, too? People here say they want the government to get out of their business, but also want the government to have sole authority to do things. Can't have it both ways....
If the Bill has good points, maybe the Senator should withdraw it, revise it and resubmitt it.
If it doesn't have good points then fight it totally.
It is disturbing how many Americans have fallen into a mind set in which government is seen as the way to do everything best.
The history of the nation actually shows that America's greatness came about when government got out of the way and people were allowed to come up with better and better ways of doing things while devising a variety of innovations.
Having government in the central role smacks of modern day Europe where economies today are largely stagnant and beaucratic rules and regulations do nothing more than impose heavier than ever tax burdens.
It is even more disturbing how many uninformed Americans have fallen into the mindset that says private interests can ALWAYS do EVERYTHING better, so hogtie government services and give the profit motive full power.

To the comment about public utilities in Texas - all i can say is OY-OY-Oy!!

Out-of-control capitalism is JUST as bad as out-of-control government. (Know anything about Chicago in its wild daze?)

Government OF BY and FOR the PEOPLE does NOT mean let Big Biz & Corporations take over and run everything. Our diversity and BALANCE between private and public service is what makes America rock.

As a met student in the northeast, i learned quickly like most wx people that AccuWx was a 'sweat shop' where student work was exploited. They were ALWAYS advertising for help because they couldn't get anyone (but the captive audience of needy students) to work for their low pay and poor conditions. I learned to ignore AccuWx a long time ago, so i really have no idea what they do now. Under the same leadership,i doubt much has changed.

(At that same time, WxUnderground was an intriguing, innovative student-run organization, i believe.)

When i became a NWS employee (met intern) in tornado alley (where i had NO personal vs. textbook frame of wx reference, having lived my entire life on the east coast) i was shocked at how consistently, even *DANGEROUSLY* inaccurate AccuWx forecasts for our area were. (Luckily, no one has to rely on them.)

I am no longer a NWS employee, but an entrepreneur. I can tell you firsthand that some of the the MOST dedicated people worked for NWS. They were absolute wx weenies from the word go. They were totally focussed on providing the very best forecasts and info simply because that's who they are and what they do.

MONEY was NOT their driving force for excellence. They were excited and interested in their work every single day for its own sake, in sharing their expertise and always striving to improve their services to the public. I have the greatest respect for the forecasters and staff at NWS offices across the country.

I am incredibly grateful for NWS and shocked that so lowly an entity as AccuWx with their newly bought right-wing mouthpiece could endanger the irreplaceable service NWS provides our nation and the world. (But then, look at the lowly imposter who claims to reign - maybe it's not really so surprising.)

As a student, i was taught that you often need to LIVE in an area for a year or so and really OBSERVE the conditions to become a good forecaster for that place. Very true for a northeasterner suddenly in West Texas!! Now, i can almost forecast the wx here with my eyes closed. But i still wouldn't want to lose the NWS / WxUnderground info i totally rely on.

I sure wouldn't want anyone depending on me to forecast for Seattle or Madison without help from NWS. And puh-leez don't ask me to rely on AccuWx - YIKES!!!

As for the smarty pants remark about the European economies - you might want to bone up on your political economy info.

The European Union is rapidly growing stronger and bigger than the US economy. The Europeans have really gotten it together and they're leaving us in (our own!) dust. We could learn a thing to two. They DO understand and practice the BALANCE between government and private services.(And THEIR citizens even get HMO-free reasonably-priced health care!)

OFF Soapbox :D
Totally agree with billkodak. There's no need for the government to tell us what the weather is going to be when many capable private-sector companies can do just as well. Anyhow, I disagree with Weather Underground's stand and will be taking my viewing elsewhere. I know it's only $5, but if enough people stop renewing their memberships, maybe Weather Undergound will reconsider its position in favor or more government more of the time.
Cloudwoman, sounds like you were well trained in college.
Don't worry about the EU becoming a world power. With foreigners swarming all over their countries, Europeans are wondering if the Western World will still include them by mid century. I have a cousin in Europe who has been waiting for 38 months for a surgery that would ease her pain, but since it is not considered life threatening, she waits in line and suffers. I am always bemused when the word FREE enters the argument. Nothins is FREE, except in a society where slavery is condoned. Thanks, but no thanks, I'll stick with the U.S.A. It may not be perfect but it sure beats France and Jacques Chirac.
The problem with privatizing any of the weather services are the same as with any profit driven organization; the minute providing a particular service, or providing for a particular area becomes unprofitable, the service is reduced or eliminated. This is exactly why privatizing ANY weather services just won't work.
Does anyone have a list of organizations and companies who have come out in opposition to / support of S. 786?
I'm starting a new company aimed at taking over the functions of senators and congressmen. Their only functions will be to make national security decisions during wartime. Anyone interested in joining my company?
I think you are free to save your $5 per year and instead pay the $1250 per year that AccuWeather wants for the equivalent service provided (for a $0 marginal rate) by NWS. (no, the decimal point isn't missing {yea capitalism})
Listen to what people are focusing on here...Most of you are off the point... The point is not about the govt vs big buisness...It is about US. The fact that if this bill was to ever pass we would basically lose information that WE PAY FOR is insane. We have built the NWS with our tax dollars and they are one of the finest organizations in our country....government or private !!!!!!.

Have you ever heard anyone complain about the NWS ? Now of course Accuweather and some other private firms will want this to pass because it means a BIG PAYDAY for them... people will be forced to pay them money for information they already pay for ( in taxes ) from the NWS. After this happens there are no guarantees what these private companies could charge for VITAL information. Weather is a huge part of our economy in a way ( farming,disasters, livestock, freezes ) To Make matters even more crazy is the fact that the NWS will not save a penny by withholding information to the general public... The NWS will have to process the information they use to make the forcasts in the same way they do now ... It is not like they can say " well it looks like it will be sunny today so lets not focus on the weather in xyz area "... As everyone here knows weather must be monitored 24/7/365 in order to make reliable estimates of probable severe weather.

SIDENOTE: To whoever is talking like europe is the next Utopia...check the unemployment rate in europe...it is insane ( over 12% and over 28% for people under 30 ) ...Plus they will start fighting soon amongst themselves...history always repeats... OH there economy is strong? Yeah right, maybe without a defense budget it looks good on paper but when we pull out our 250,000 troops and 940 billion worth of defense assets than who will protect them??? Dont even start talking about comparing the euro to the dollar either...People overseas are dumping their US dollars at pawn shop rates ( 10%-30% of what they paid for them ) so I say keep it coming...
HAARP, I believe, unfortunately you made one sad but probably true prediction, namely that European EU members will sooner or later start fighting among themselves. The 1000 year history of "modern" Europe shows no tendency for unity. Some believe that it is because of all the languages spoken on the continent. Anyone have any other theories on why Europeans always revert to infighting?
20. mare
As someone who used to be in aviation and married to a commercial pilot, the bill scared me. I showed my husband, who forwarded it to his union contact who sent it to the union government affairs liasion.

There is no co-sponsor for this bill and no current support for it in the Senate. Sen. Ted Stevens, (R-AK) is the Chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee does not support this effort - NWS has an outpost in Alaska. It is not anticipated there will be any hearings any time soon on this bill.

Sounds like Sen. Santorum is just trying to keep his constituency happy.

This legislation is ridiculous at best.

To suggest that Accuweather can provide equivilent services to the NWS is not even a question, they obviously cannot. Look no further than the satellites to see that this is the case. See below.

What Accuweather is looking for is increased profits by being subsidized by tax payers. In effect, this is equivilent to double taxation. They are wanting to be paid a premium for information that is already available.

The truth is that Accuweather is not competiting with the NWS, but rather using the resources of the NWS to make a profit.

As mentioned by others, how many other services could be taken over by private companies that would in effect just re-package government subsidized information? This type of arrangement that Accuweather is seeking should be criminalized.

I commend Weather Underground for taking the stance it has on this issue. They could only benefit from this legislation and have rightly sided against it.

On last point is that actions by Mr. Santorum are symptomatic of larger problems we are facing in this country. The government is rarely acting for the good (or safety) of the people but rather for the well being of special interests and in turn his own personal interests, $$$.


From Accuweather.com:
What is a Satellite Image?

Satellite images are measurements of the Earth (some are "photos" in the classic sense) from high in space, taken by governmental satellites, which are usually used to show clouds and cloud movement. AccuWeather uses GOES-8, GOES-10, Meteosat and GMS Satellites to make dozens of different satellite sectors available, each showing clouds over a different area.
Isn't it amazing that laywers and legislators come up with new and innovative ways to tie up our tax dollars and give themselves a paycheck? Come on...does anyone really thing this is for the benefit of people? NO. It is for the benefit for those who's only concern is making money. Who cares if Accuweather.com goes out of business? I certainly do not. I am a scuba diver and pilot, to which I probably access weather for air and sea more than most. The NWS, Weather Underground and other resources give me all I need and quite frankly, pretty accurately....certainly more than the TV media moguls...who just copy everyone else reporting. There are 100's of other resources to get data from. The NWS focus from its mission is scientific information gathering and dissemination for public information. The mission of privately held companies is to make money and that is it. Just wait...you will be paying through the nose and the prices will increase every year.

Scubamania, J.D.
BrightonMI: You're talking out of both sides of your mouth at the same time. You say: how many other services could be taken over by private companies that would in effect just re-package government subsidized information?

What you're accusing Accuweather of is EXACTLY what Wunderground does, and for profit. You still want to criminalize it? That's absurd.

Scubamaniac: As a pilot, I'm sure you realize that the majority of the data that the FAA uses as its weather source used at Flight Service Stations is from a private company, NOT NOAA?

The point you fail to see is that Weather Underground is not paying off a politician (call lobbying what you will)to PREVENT the NWS from distributing information that could be "perceived" as competing with Weather Underground.

What Weather Underground does is make available the NWS data and data from other sources in new innovative ways such that the public is willing to pay for there services. What a novel concept.

If Accuweather can not compete in an open and fair market without lobbying for the restriction of information flow, I have a suggestion for them, get out of the business.
Excuse the typos from the last post. ty.
What scares me most about this bill is that the major media effect... They have the ability to sway peoples view and drum up support... Why would they do that??? because they use accuweather and I am sure there will be some sort of benifit to them that accuweather will pass on...

MurphyPhillips posted above the fact that people want there cake and eat it too ! then followed up with a comparison of accuweather vs weather underground.... Well People may want the government to stay out of there personal buisness but this is not a personal issue...this is all about our taxdollars being used to line the pockets of a few that are in the game...THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT NOBODY WANTS!!!!

And your comparison of accuweather vs weather underground is baseless...they both may be "commercial" buisnesses but from what I recall , you do not have to pay to use the weather underground...

To be honest you dont even need it because you could just get all the info from the NWS...What makes it nice is it is all in one place ...that is why I choose to pay the LOW price.
S.786 is another example of a politician using their powers to pay for a kickback (this in the form of campaign contributions).

To be sure, AccuWeather and its employees are Santorums constituents but to place a bill designed to benefit such a small group that would impact the entire nation shows that the system is in need of a major overhaul.

I live in the Midwest where many not only rely on severe weather statements to protect life but also day to day forecasts for their very livelihoods. These forecasts need to continue without the variances of commercial aspects creeping into them.

Whats next, a bill to outlaw the Coast Guard in favor of private security firms.

As stated earlier, if these so called private companies can not offer a product that is unable to compete in a free market without the aid of a government crutch then perhaps they should not exist in the first place.
Recommend all read the article "Stormy Weather" in the June issue of Business 2.0. Weather Channel is whipping AccuWeather's butt in the market place: double the estimated revenue, 3.5 times the web users, starting to take over the newspapers. Myers still thinks the problem is the NWS. As the authors of the article illustrate, he doesn't get it.
my takes on this matter:

1: if this bill passes, how long until I am priced out of the biz thanks to malpractice insurance.

2: how will small comnpanies like where I work at be competative in that paradighm?

3: how much would it cost to reverse the policy if it turns out a worse mess than anybody anticipates?
Anthony Ellrodt
Amateur Callsign W8ANT
Former Callsign KI4VPR
Date: 6:36 PM GMT on May 02, 2005
By: Weatherdude9
I think all of you shoul read this: http://www.weathermatrix.net/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=1426 before you jump to any conclusions
Date: 12:37 AM GMT on May 03, 2005
The first paragraph of the article reads:
"Unless you've been living under a rock, you may have heard an internet
rumor that has been spreading like wildfire this week. Petitions to "Save the NWS" have popped up like wildflowers and several WeatherMatrix members have asked me: "Is AccuWeather Really Going to Close the National Weather Service?"

The answer is: NO."
Distraction at it's best (or worst)! No one is accusing Accuweather, et al, of trying to close the NWS. Why would they? They need the NWS as their primary source of both raw and analyzed data.

What Accuweather, et al, is trying to do is close the NWS's mouth as much as possible in order to have the public access field all to themselves.

Bob Myers

My favorite part of whole discussion is the part where the pro-Accuweather people is the snippet from the proposal that says the data will be delivered to the everyone (public) everywhere in real-time.

If this were true, there would be no need for the non-compete clause.

This is obviously nothing more than a carrot to the public as the non-compete clause will prevent the realease of any information that is being released by any private source, anywhere.

The only thing the NWS will be able to release, given the way it is written, is information not released by anyone, anywhere, that no one can find a way to make a dime on the data.

Maybe a sunrise/sunset predication?

While I agree that the NWS should not be used to compete with very specific markets (such as soybean crop yield, or other data suited to benefit a very few individuals), this bill is left wide open to interpretation and special interests.