The Secretary of Commerce shall have charge of forecasting of weather, the issue of storm warnings, the display of weather and flood signals for the benefit of agriculture, commerce, and navigation, the gauging and reporting of rivers, the maintenance and operation of seacoast telegraph lines and the collection and transmission of marine intelligence for the benefit of commerce and navigation, the reporting of temperature and rain-fall conditions for the cotton interests, the display of frost and cold-wave signals, the distribution of meteorological information in the interests of agriculture and commerce, and the taking of such meteorological observations as may be necessary to establish and record the climatic conditions of the United States, or as are essential for the proper execution of the foregoing duties.

Under the statute, the NWS is charged to collect data on weather and climate, to provide forecasts and warnings of severe weather in order to protect life and property, and to create and disseminate forecasts and other weather information for the benefit of a wide range of weather-sensitive businesses and activities. Although the NWS has traditionally regarded public safety as its most crucial mission, the text of the Organic Act gives it broader responsibility. As well as charging the NWS to gather weather and climate data and issue weather forecasts and warnings, the law directs the NWS to collect and publicly distribute weather information useful to sectors of the nation’s agriculture, communications, commerce, and navigation interests. In addition to the Organic Act, Congress has enacted several statutes that require the NWS to engage in specific meteorological tasks in cooperation with other government agencies and lay out the services to be provided by the NWS forecast offices.2

As an executive agency within the Department of Commerce, the NWS is also subject to laws applying to federal agencies generally. In particular, the Paperwork Reduction Act, as amended in 1995, requires each agency to

2  

See, for example, 42 U.S.C. § 8910 (acid precipitation database) and 49 U.S.C. 44720 (collection and processing of aviation-related meteorological data). The NWS cooperates with the National Climatic Data Center, which archives NWS data under the Federal Records Act (44 U.S.C. Chapter 31) and provides it to users. Additionally, the Weather Service Modernization Act, October 29, 1992, Public Law 102-567, Title VII, 106 Stat. 4303, limits the Secretary of Commerce’s discretion in restructuring the NWS. The act requires that the Secretary certify that no degradation in weather service will result from closing, consolidating, automating, or relocating any NWS field office. Regulations promulgated under the Weather Service Modernization Act list the basic weather services provided by local field offices: “(a) surface observations, (b) upper air observations, (c) radar observations, (d) public forecasts, statements, and warnings, (e) aviation forecasts, statements, and warnings, (f) marine forecasts, statements, and warnings, (g) hydrologic forecasts and warnings, (h) fire weather forecasts and warnings, (i) agricultural forecasts and advisories, (j) NOAA weather radio broadcasts, (k) climatological services, (l) emergency management support, [and] (m) special products and service programs” (15 C.F.R. § 946.4).



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement