Taking the Initiative: Public/Private Weather Debate Continues…

June 21st, 2005

Posted by: admin

For those not familiar with the current (and past) debate between the private weather sector, academic meteorology community, and the public weather services (generally NOAA and the National Weather Service (NWS)), here’s a very brief overview.

The private meteorology community is worried about unfair competition from the academic and public sectors and the lack of a clear policy concerning how the sectors interact and how the sectors should solve disputes that arise. The private sector feels that the government’s weather services are stealing a piece of their pie and doing it unfairly, since the private sector contributes tax dollars which help to fund the government weather services that eventually compete against it. Further, the private sector feels that the nation as a whole could benefit from a more limited NWS/NOAA role. This more limited role would remove some services that are duplicated between the government and private sector which would release more government money and personnel to address the core functions of NWS/NOAA.

The recent NRC Fair Weather Report and the very recent Santorum Senate Bill S.786 both address this issue, and numerous other academic papers and press releases by industry organizations also address the issue. The latest release by the National Council of Industrial Meteorologists is perhaps the most detailed release to-date, and outlines four goals that the NWS/NOAA should work toward while developing policies to solve the on-going debate. In part, these goals mention “…prohibiting uniformly within NOAA the development and dissemination of products and services that unfairly compete with the products and services of private sector meteorology…” and “Encourage positively NOAA’s interaction and collaboration with private sector meteorology through a variety of means and venues…”

What’s lost in this latest release by the NCIM is the mention of a transparent, systematic process to assess new products and services and to settle disputes. This system should also assign accountability for who should carry out this process as well as outline any repercussions if a party does not hold up its end of a deal. Although I imagine that each sector would support some type of system like the one mentioned in this paragraph, each sector is pushing the other sectors to develop this system instead of taking the initiative to do it themselves or to at least start the process.

The end result of this ongoing debate should not be a senate bill or legislated solution that sets hard lines on what each sector should or should not do. Alternatively, the end result should be a process that is agreeable to all parties and developed by all parties. For all the debating and finger pointing that I’ve seen over the past few years, I still find it hard to believe that the sectors are not working to collaboratively to develop this system. Hopefully the new American Meteorological Society’s Weather and Climate Enterprise Committee will be a starting point for this development.

5 Responses to “Taking the Initiative: Public/Private Weather Debate Continues…”

  1. Brian Schmidt Says:

    I don’t see any reason, at all, for withholding taxpayer-created weather information from the taxpaying public. The only justification is if the funding for the government didn’t come from general taxpayers but from private meteorologists. Is that the case? Even if it is, only the privately-funded information should be sequestered.

    Everything else I’ve read about this issue indicates it is a naked attempt to withhold a public benefit for the benefit of a powerful corporation that supports Senator Santorum.

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  3. Brian Schmidt Says:

    I’ve referenced this post here:


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  5. Erik Noble Says:

    The Public-Private Partnership of weather services ordeal marks yet another debate over an otherwise healthy and well-functioning system. Our delivery and communication services have survived and evolved amidst such debates between private and public sectors.

    Unfortunately, this debate does not attempt to solve any problem at all because it fails to connect the debate with how the average american values their weather services. The debate outlined in the NRC’s 2003 “Fair Weather Report”, previous congressional hearings from the private industry, and the Santorum Senate Bill argue about whether the academic and government portions of our weather services should become part of the private market.

    Yet, this debate begs the question of whether a problem exists with how americans (individuals and private businesses) receive weather information and if they are willing to pay more for the same basic services in the future.

    What is really “lost” is how the public-private partnership of weather services arguement represents the values of those who receive weather services, and whether it is a problem that is worth the time and the effort to solve.

    All parties involved should acknowledge this as a “values debate” before setting defined roles of each sector for the provision of weather services. Collaborative processes between the communities will only help settle differences and strengthen an otherwise healthy service to the american public and private businesses.

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  7. Joel Gratz Says:

    A brief response to Brian Schmidt’s comment: I’m sorry if I gave the impression that I am exclusively pro-private sector. I am not. I agree with some arguments of the private sector, and I agree with some arguments of the government. In general, I am calling attention to the fact that during this long standing debate, neither side is focusing on the development of a process to settle the differeing viewpoints of the sectors. Each side tries to stake its claim, but I feel the real success will occur when the sectors come together and agree on a process that can settle disputes over products and services now and in the future when new technologies will surely put more fuel on the fire.

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  9. Brian Schmidt Says:

    Thanks for the clarification, Joel. I think the process should be as open and transparent as possible. This seems to me to be a classic case of a broadly-diffused public benefit being attacked by a small group that stands to gain a great deal in opposition to the public, so that small group will try and work quietly behind the scenes, as with Rick Santorum. I can see now how you may have been criticizing that behind-the-scenes process.

    On another level though, I don’t see that much need for a process because I think the commercial meteorologists should just leave the status quo alone, allowing the National Weather Service to communicate directly to the public with the information that the public paid for.