June 14, 2016

Congressman’s idea to privatize NWS forecasts gets icy reception among broadcast meteorologists.

Posted by larryohanlon

By Dan Satterfield

NOAA-NWSI’m hearing a lot of talk among my fellow forecasters about legislation (introduced by an Oklahoma congressman) that would privatize many forecast functions of the NWS. You might think that private sector meteorologists would support this, but almost every broadcast metr. I know has panned the idea. The quality of public weather forecasts is due to the cooperation between the public and private sector, and a survey of comments by my fellow broadcast mets on social media, showed that nearly all think it’s a lousy idea. As models get better, the ability of forecasters like me to tailor hyper local forecasts to viewers will improve, but the quality of today’s forecasts would suffer greatly without NOAA’s forecast offices.

Mess with this at your peril.

When you put advertising revenue pressures together with forecasts, you can get real problems, and a blog post I wrote recently is a good example of it. Angela Fritz, at the Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang, has a detailed piece on this proposal today, and it’s a must read here. The NWS costs the taxpayer about as much as a the cheapest cup of coffee at star bucks, once a month. That gets you everything from hurricane warnings, to that radar data that tells you when to get off the beach, and it’s a real bargain. The private sector does a great job of adding value to the output from NOAA, and fooling with this partnership between the government and the private sector is a bad idea. It might very well lead to forecasts going the same way as airline customer service: Twice the price and a whole lot worse.

Don Paul, (Long time Buffalo broadcast meteorologist) put it this way: This is, as previously mentioned, mainly an AccuWx idea with an understandable profit angle being the driving force. I firmly believe the public would be ill-served, if not endangered, if you take away the forecast function from the NWS as well as an enormous body of scientific expertise. And, there’s a point I raised earlier. While not all NWS WFOs are created equal, nor are their forecasters, there is something much more akin to MANDATORY training and continuing education in those WFOs as well as their centers. The private sector, IMO, doesn’t come close to that kind of quality control.

The preposterous 45 day weather forecasts that AccuWeather is giving the public is a real warning sign of how things might go if NOAA forecasts were contracted out. It seems to me that any changes we make to the weather enterprise in this country should be slow and carefully thought through.

Dan Satterfield has worked as an on air meteorologist for 32 years in Oklahoma, Florida and Alabama. This post originally appeared on his blog Dan’s Wild Wild Science Journal.