ROLE OF GOVERNMENT AGENCIES: A BIT OF HISTORY

Changnon (1995) describes one of the earliest applications of climate data as the use of weather observations in colonial times to plan agriculture and construction. The U.S. Weather Bureau, founded in 1870, established the Weather Records Center, later to be called the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) in 1951. The name was a clear indication of the concept of climate information in the 1950s. The next major evolution in the provision of climate services was the Weather Bureau’s creation of the state climatologist program in 1954 (Hecht 1984). The program was an attempt to better link the needs of state and local users and the capabilities of the Weather Bureau. The program was successful in some states and not particularly successful in others. Because of budget pressures, uneven results, and increasing concerns over excessive federal involvement in what was perceived to be a state role, the program was terminated in 1973, and states were left to determine what kind of state climatologist program, if any, would be supported. The present situation is also mixed. The current president of the American Association of State Climatologists divided the state programs (including that of Puerto Rico) into four categories. Seven states have what he defined as good programs, 19 have satisfactory programs that are good but limited by funding, 21 are marginal, and 4 have no program at all (Angel 2000). One noteworthy example of a successful state program is the Oklahoma Climatological Survey (OCS) (see Box 2–1). Such successes provide important lessons for extracting “best practices” for efforts to move toward more effective climate services in the United States.

Box 2–1 The OCS and the Oklahoma Mesonet: A Climate Services Success Story

The OCS was established in 1982 by legislative mandate to “acquire, archive, process and disseminate, in the most cost-effective way possible, all climate and weather information that is or could be of value to policy and decision makers in the state.” It has developed into an operation with a budget of $3 million per year that employs 30 full-time staff and 20 students. In addition to the usual historical data records and studies contained in typical state programs, the OCS developed the Oklahoma Mesonet (funded in 1991), a detailed observing network of 114 sites across the state with 3,100 sensors



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