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The Future of Free Weather Data on the Internet 312

Posted by michael
from the looks-like-rain dept.
An anonymous reader writes "The National Weather Service wants to update a 1991 policy that limits what data it can put on the Internet. The proposed new policy makes putting free data on the Internet official. The Private Weather Sector wants NWS to provide its new digital forecasts only in specialized data formats and would like NWS to shut down new XML data feeds. Barry Myers (MS Word doc), president of Accuweather wants you to have pay before using Kweather and other similar tools. Myers is asking friends to comment against the new NWS policy by June 30. Should we have to pay twice to get weather forecasts?"
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The Future of Free Weather Data on the Internet

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 27, 2004 @06:11AM (#9541426)
    I have the Accuweather Premium Java App on my Sprint PCS Phone at 2.99 a month.

    I just cancelled it.

    AC
  • by CdBee (742846) on Sunday June 27, 2004 @06:28AM (#9541466)
    It's my understanding that weather-satellite transmissions aren't encrypted and can be picked up by anyone, this certainly used to be the case.

    So, write a Distributed Computing Client which downloads weather-satellite data from a handful of sat-dish-connected servers and predicts the weather. You'd need a great many clients doing the basic data-processing and a lot of higher-level nodes which collate the information, but in theory you could use weather satellites from all over the globe instead of just the ones your domestic weather service relies on... and probably build a bigger picture of the weather-system.

    We slashdotters always say Data should be free, how could it be more free than if we generate it ourselves?
  • Won't Happen (Score:5, Interesting)

    by artlu (265391) <<ten.ultra> <ta> <ultra>> on Sunday June 27, 2004 @06:28AM (#9541469) Homepage Journal
    The NWS is pretty hardup for cash right now in order to waste money on developing Internet standards. This is probably a vapor article, which won't effect any of our little applications anyway. I use "WeatherPop" for the mac. It sits in the menu bar real nice and does not annoy me, which is the most important factor ;).

    GroupShares Inc. [groupshares.com] - A Free Online Investment Community
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 27, 2004 @06:29AM (#9541470)
    Private companies from all over the world can cooperate just like bureacratic, inefficient government agencies.

    Besides, your link [1900storm.com] gives a 404.

  • Middlemen (Score:5, Interesting)

    by The Tyro (247333) on Sunday June 27, 2004 @06:33AM (#9541475)
    Sounds to me as if these companies want the government to sanction their status as middleman brokers of weather information, all at the public's expense.

    Sorry, but I don't agree. If I'm not mistaken, the NWS exists on public funds; the info should be public also.

    Besides, weather can make an actual life-and-death difference in some scenarios... just ask any sailor or pilot. Also, how about tornado warnings and such... will you have to pay to get those as well? I'd like to see them try to extract payment for such life-saving info, and watch the avalance of negative public outcry... you'd be more popular if you kicked a puppy.

  • by BadDoggie (145310) on Sunday June 27, 2004 @06:37AM (#9541481) Homepage Journal
    don't understand how anyone is paying "twice". Please explain?

    The National Weather Service [noaa.gov], a part of NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), is funded by taxes. It's already been paid for. The need for accurate weather information is extremely important for the military. Because it's almost as important for civilian use, the information is made available to the public.

    Pilots, farmers, businesses and municipalities need this weather information, and in the U.S., weather is almost an obsession (Weather Channel [weather.com], anyone?) There is no national or continental weather service in Europe; private pilots have to pay for information, usually in the form of two daily faxes. This means that European pilots have to know even more about weather than their American counterparts because they must be able to predict conditions, whereas U.S. pilots can get up-to-the-minute information [duats.com].

    In a nutshell, the Private Weather Sector want to be a middleman, themselves continuing to get the information for free and then charging others for what they (the public) have already paid for.

    • Pay government (taxes) for weather information.
    • Only one private group has access to this information
    • Pay private group to give you this information
    Neat, huh?

    If you still don't see it, imagine "EduCorp". EduCorp cuts a deal with the local government to provide schooling for children. The locality stil pays for everything, but EduCorp acts as a middleman. Only EduCorp subscribers can send their kids to these public schools. You pay taxes for schools and then pay EuCorp for th right to send your kids there. All clear?

  • by hadesan (664029) on Sunday June 27, 2004 @06:40AM (#9541490)
    We the people, pay for the National Weather Service in the form of our tax dollars (2003 $800M, 2004 $824M). "The National Weather Service provides weather, hydrologic and climate forecasts and warnings for the United States, its territories, adjacent waters and oceans." (blurb ripped from Washington Technology.com [washingtontechnology.com])

    I see no reason that we should have to pay for Accuweather to make a pretty graphic or the like. By opening up the data on the Internet you provide researchers, hobbyists, and tinkerers with a means to get up-to-date and accurate weather information easily as well as historical data.

    NWS also talks about their Information Quality [noaa.gov] guidelines here - detailing their information and what is available.

    Who knows maybe someone will develop a Weather@Home model which runs on the same principle as SETI@Home. It would be pretty cool to start doing climate models outside of the governments and universties Research labs...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 27, 2004 @06:51AM (#9541511)
    This is from BARRYMYERS-AMS-031804.doc:
    Author: Tammy Zanghi
    Company: AccuWeather, Inc.
    Email subject: AMS Corporate Forum Presentation
    Author email: myersb@accuweather.com
    Author email display name: Barry Myers
  • by Chris Mattern (191822) on Sunday June 27, 2004 @07:16AM (#9541552)
    I think we *definitely* need to follow Mr. Myers advice and send our comments to the email addresses he gives. Oh, and be sure to cc: him. He did ask, after all...

    Chris Mattern
  • Weather Display (Score:2, Interesting)

    by sobinz (702278) on Sunday June 27, 2004 @07:57AM (#9541631)
    I'm in the navy stationed in guam. With the exception of typhoons we have almost no (very consistant) weather. Out of boredom I rigged up a pretty neat setup. I bought a serial, text-only 4 by 20 character LCD display. I wrote a program that every 5 minutes parses weather.com to determing the description of the weather, and temperature in Bat cave NC and writes it to the display. I can watch the temperatures change with the seasons from here in guam. It also displays a continuous(10 times a second) update of my happiness factor (time in the navy divided by time remaining).
    A picture of it can be found here [racktopia.com]
    Also, I put up a copy of the program [racktopia.com] to anybody that wants it.
  • by Lumpy (12016) on Sunday June 27, 2004 @08:26AM (#9541681) Homepage
    yup. I recieve the images from NOAA-17 all the time.

    makes it great for when you are camping and need to know upcoming cloud patterns heading your way and you dont have net access.

    there are many more NOAA sattelites, but NOAA-17 is the newest and can be easily recieved on a handheld reciever without any trouble.
  • Non-Compete (Score:2, Interesting)

    by njk (75938) on Sunday June 27, 2004 @08:36AM (#9541704)
    Although I agree with the general position in most of these replies there are some subtle rationals behind the NWS policy.

    The NWS neither had the funds, nor the infrastructure, to provide weather data to the widest audience possible so they asked the private sector to accomplish this for them (think 25 years ago). The private sector (5 companies Kavoris, Unisys, ..) were granted exclusive access to the NWS feeds to assist the NWS in their mandate to dissemeniate the weather data as widely as possible.
    Technically not everyone could connect to the NWS so these companies were 're-distribution' points. If you were an airline and wanted weather data you couldnt drop a line into NWS but you could into UNISYS. In turns these companies secured some garauntees that if they were going to invest in this infrastructure that a goverment organization (NWS) wasnt going to compete with their business. This worked very well for its time.

    That time has gone. Cheap distribution mechanisms such as the internet, satellite, have changed that. This has increased the number of player in the weather game and changed their role. They now (should) be fulfilling the role of value-added generator and not re-distributor.
    The raw and marginally processed packages should be available to anyone via the internet and satellite feed (and they are). Pretty animated pictures, custom forecasts, lightning strikes, ... these products should still be left to the private sector.
  • Re:Excellent... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by velo_mike (666386) on Sunday June 27, 2004 @09:01AM (#9541774)
    Pay twice? These pricks want us to pay over and over again. The current direction of the greedy bastards is to convince congress (or the relevant rule making body) that people should be forced to pay for everything that they COULD be forced to pay for.

    You're confusing the public and private sectors.

    For things that we've been forced to pay for through taxation, the NWS in this example, should not be able to turn around and charge us again to access the data, other than whatever minimal distribution fee is applicable. We paid, at gunpoint IMHO, for the NWS to collect weather data. I don't have a problem if they want to charge a small printing fee (N cents / copy for example) to distribute it or the equivelent. It's when the data that I already bought is being sold back to me that I have issues.

    When it comes to disposable intellectual property be it music, movies or weather reports, computers make it technologically possible to force people to "pay per use". It's like installing a vending machine for your product in everyone's home, worldwide. Since it's basically been proven that copy protection doesn't work they want to make it illegal for anything to be free

    This is the private sector, if you don't like it than don't buy it. Nobody is putting a gun to your head and saying "Buy the new Robbie Williams CD or else". If enough people don't like it, the product will disappear (New Coke). OTOH, if "pay per use" takes off on a large scale and you don't like it, you're free to join us luddites on the front porch bitching about the good old days when you bought a CD once.

    The key difference is voluntary funding, nobody can force you to buy a product on the free market while taxpayer funded projects are a different matter (the gun to your head).

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 27, 2004 @09:40AM (#9541964)
    As a Pilot in Fance, I can say that all weather data is available through Meteo France.

    As for detailed weather maps, ADP can fax or email one to you anytime, and usually prints the latest copy when you come put you flight plan in...

    where are you flying exactly ?
  • by Julian Morrison (5575) on Sunday June 27, 2004 @09:48AM (#9542040)
    As a Libertarian, I don't support tax funded anything, and that includes weather measuring.

    But, also as a libertarian, I find it daft to deliberately block people who know stuff from telling it, so as to "create a market". Trade is a way to mitigate the unpleasant fact that some things in life aren't free. In aggregate it efficiently allocates resources and effort towards making things cheaper, ie: approaching closer to free.

    When things actually are free for the taking, "creating a market" isn't efficient, it's wasteful. It's directly analogous to going around with a sack of rocks, "creating a market" for glaziers.

    PS: this is also why copyrights and patents are a bad idea...
  • Re:Who pays for it? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by tdemark (512406) on Sunday June 27, 2004 @09:55AM (#9542077) Homepage
    So a government monopoly on weather services benefits us how exactly? Whenever taxpayers subsidize a service that could be provided in the marketplace, that subsidy undermines the development of true competition for that service.

    Let's use severe weather as an example.

    You need a single organization for severe weather coverage to ensure public safety. Imagine if you had multiple companies issuing conflicting severe weather warnings? Since it is an issue of public safety, it makes sense to have a government agency in control of these statements.

    In order to provide severe weather coverage, the government needs to:

    (a) collect significant amounts of data (observations, satellite, radar)
    (b) process that data into certain forms (forecasts, models, etc)

    Since we are paying for this service, why should access to the data be limited?
  • Re:Who pays for it? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by tdemark (512406) on Sunday June 27, 2004 @09:57AM (#9542097) Homepage
    For reasons of commerce, national security, and personal safety, NOAA must gather significant amounts of weather data. Furthermore, to ensure that products like severe weather statements can be issued accurately, the organization must provide data such as current conditions and forecasts.

    An artificial scarcity of data does nothing to help the people paying for it via their taxes. It only serves to help the bottom lines of a few large corporations whose only responsibilities are to themselves, not the citizens of the United States.

    The services that are currently "experimental" or whose ultimate availability is unknown due to pressure from certain members of the Commercial Weather Industry should become permanently and freely available to anyone wishing access to it.

    Back when data dissemination costs were high, it made sense to limit the NWS role in giving data to the public. By allowing only a few organizations to have access to the data and allowing them to sell it, those organization would pay the rather high costs to ensure the data was, in fact, available.

    However, now that communication costs are so low, such a method makes no sense.

    A recent letter from Barry Myers to members of the Commercial Weather Industry pleading for them to come out against the NWS Partnership Policy, he stated:

    "Industries grow where risk is controllable or predictable. The present path of the NWS- controlled federal policy introduces greater risk to the private sector. Not less."

    In this case, he is partially right.

    However, the risk he is actually talking about is the ability for large commercial weather organizations to maintain a stranglehold on the sector.

    You see, the products that NOAA currently offer, themselves, pose no threat to AccuWeather or other large organizations. It is just data, and most people don't want to look at coded data. They want an end product.

    By allowing data to flow freely to the public, the NWS ENCOURAGES competition to the incumbents. Barriers that prevented bright entrepreneurs from pushing new services are greatly reduced and a new era of value-added products will be born.

    To this end, I see no alternative but for NOAA to provide the services it currently does in a permanent, free fashion as well as to develop other offerings that benefit the taxpayers as it sees fit.
  • Re:We do and should! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ichimunki (194887) on Sunday June 27, 2004 @11:16AM (#9542818)
    By my reasoning, weather services are, and can be, provided by private businesses. The military, however, does things that are otherwise illegal-- bombing cities, killing people, taking prisoners, etc etc. Providing weather services is not illegal as far as I know.

    In any case, I never said that this information should not be free (as in beer AND speech). I firmly believe that any time the taxpayers pay for information that we all have a right to that information. What I don't believe is that taxpayers should necessarily be paying for all this-- in fact, the more we pay for it, the more it appears we are subsidizing businesses, even before they might pass this proposed "partnerships" thing.
  • by UnrepentantHarlequin (766870) on Sunday June 27, 2004 @12:30PM (#9543525)
    Imagine the following scenario . . .

    With NWS data and forecasts limited to only established corporations, rather than entrepreneurs and the private citizens who pay for them, the number of corporations providing that service will tend to shrink due to mergers, buy-outs, business failures, etc. That happens in just about every industry, and weather data and forecasting will be no exception. People would be dependant on a very few sources of weather information with no checks or balances.

    Now imagine that one of those corporations provides the weather forecasts to the state of Florida. One day, their forecast shows them that there will be a hard freeze in a couple of days, which will severely damage the Florida orange crops. A few of the top-level people in that corporation delay that forecast for half a day or so, so that they have time to call their brokers and invest in frozen orange juice futures. I think you can take it from there.

    There are some things so critical to the public good that the public has, over the past few hundred years, determined that it is in our best interest to jointly contribute to maintaining those services for ourselves, via our proxy, the government. (despite what some people, and a lot of politicians, forget, that is what a democratic government is: the proxy of the citizens, and the equivalent of a condo association hiring a guy to mow the lawns)

    Firefighting, for instance, is one of them. We've had plenty of experience with privately run firefighting services, back in the 18th and 19th century. We found out they didn't work. They only extinguished fires in property owned by their subscribers ... which meant that small fires became major conflagrations by the time they reached the house of someone who could afford to pay a fire company. It was finally realized that, for the good of the entire city (except maybe for the marshmallow vendors) it was necessary to have a centralized fire service that responded to any fire before it could spread.

    Employees in general theoretically have the best interests of their employers at heart. In the case of a public service such as the NWS, those employers are us, the citizens. In the case of a private service, those employers are the corporate officers and stockholders. When it comes to things that people's lives, safety, and livelihoods depend on, I am very reluctant to trust that service solely to people whose concern is not for the public good, not for my safety, not for a level playing field for all businesses, but solely for how much money they can gain.

    And remember: Accu-Weather and the others don't want the National Weather Service privatized or abolished. They would collapse overnight if it was, because they utterly depend on its data. They want distribution of that taxpayer-funded data to be limited solely to them. They're perfectly happy with the NWS the way it is, so long as they are the only ones who can benefit from it.
  • Re:Who pays for it? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by calidoscope (312571) on Sunday June 27, 2004 @07:17PM (#9546402)
    As far as "who is responsible", do you honestly think that AccuWeather or Landmark Communications (Weather Channel) would be in business if you could sue them for incorrect forecasts?

    This is probably the strongest argument against an exclusively private weather service. The private companies are probably better off with the public having free access to NWS forecasts just for reducing liability.

    As I've mentioned elsewhere, the functions of the NWS are entirely consistent with the "general welfare" and "interstate commerce" clauses of the Preamble to the US Constitution (and also the "National Defense" caluse as well - weather is important to military operations).

  • by LostCluster (625375) * on Sunday June 27, 2004 @10:20PM (#9547439)
    When TWC is airing such a documenary show ("Atmospheres" and "Storm Stories" are the current titles) the "Local on the 8s" feature still continues uninterrupted. The shows have to take a break every 10 minutes to allow that to happen. If you want local information from TWC, there's not really much point to watching the other 8 minutes of the hour, the 90 seconds there is all you're really going to get.

    If a tornado warning was issued for Fairfax County, the computer that generates the local forecast would have overtaken the video with a full red screen alert and added a beeping sound to the national audio. However, tornados rarely travel in a straight line and a National Weather Service warning is only issued once a tornado exists to communites that that will be hit by it. Since the tornado changed directions before heading into your area, there no reason for a warning to be issued.

    I fear that your local TV station needlessly panicked you. Tornados are devistating storms, but they affect a very narrow path. That's why NWS only puts out warnings to the communities in immediate danger. You weren't. You could have gone about your business without having much to fear.
  • Re:It should be free (Score:3, Interesting)

    by 4of12 (97621) on Monday June 28, 2004 @12:37PM (#9551716) Homepage Journal

    consider accurate weather forecasting to be critically important to business,

    Absolutely.

    I remember years ago visiting a private weather forecasting outfit in the central valley of California, probably one of the richest agricultural producing regions in the world.

    They had very impressive facilities and were able to provide farmers with the detailed kinds of information about soil moisture, predicted rainfall, temperatures high and low, what the weather was forecast to be on a hourly basis, etc. This was many years ago when all you could get from the NWS was today's weather, tomorrows forecast for a region that was 100 km across.

    I think the government should provide the free weather data to the taxpayers that support them. It's a public benefit that costs little to do. The right to make money based on artificial scarcity is not constitutionally protected.

    There's still plenty of room in the marketplace for real value added services that the average taxpayer is not yet willing to pay for but which the farmer or marine navigator is very keen to know about.

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