The people of the United States benefit from having a National Weather Service (NWS) that provides – free of charge* – weather forecasts and storm warnings for the public at large that anyone may use if they wish to do so.
In order to create those forecasts and warnings, the NWS has to collect voluminous data and process it. Under U.S. law, that data is available to anyone who wants it.
Specifically, their policy states:
NOAA will carry out activities that contribute to its mission, including conducting research; providing environmental assessments; collecting and archiving data; ensuring their quality; issuing forecasts, warnings, and advisories; and providing open and unrestricted access to publicly-funded observations, analyses, model results, forecasts, and related information products in a timely manner and at the lowest possible cost to users.
As a result of that policy, the U.S. public can get free weather information from the National Weather Service or, if they prefer, from AccuWeather.com or a host of other private-sector providers of weather forecasts and related information.
Companies like AccuWeather Enterprise Solutions take the NWS’s meteorological infrastructure and add additional data, computer models, and other expertise and use them to create specifically-tailored products for specialized users. For example, a year ago today we told both railroads that serve Joplin the tornado was coming in plenty of time for them to move a train out of the storm’s path. No only did the railroad benefit, the people of Joplin benefited by having one less thing to clean up, not to mention the safety of the train’s crew.
The NWS/NOAA policy of unrestricted access to data has been of great benefit to the United States.
Unfortunately, this enlightened view does not extend throughout the federal government. In parts I and II of this introduction to Ascel Bio and our disease forecasts, we’ve talked about the parallels to weather forecasting. Here, the parallels continue: Today’s U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Department of Health and Human Services resemble the National Weather Service (then called the U.S. Weather Bureau) in the 1950’s and do not automatically share data paid for by the taxpayers of the U.S. Some of the reasons were exactly the ones we heard in the 1950’s (see: Warnings: The True Story of How Science Tamed the Weather)!
As with storm warnings, GPS, and numerous other types of federal data, the economy grows when data is shared rather than hoarded. We are hopeful we can get these agencies to adopt policies like NOAA’s that will promote the public health while allowing the economy to grow.
I’m excited about the potential of this new endeavor to save lives and make all of us healthier. Hope you have enjoyed learning about it.
*other than the taxes we all pay