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--> 3 Providing Weather and Environmental Information Services "Environmental information" includes not only meteorological and hydrologic observations, analyses, and forecasts but also other indicators of physical, chemical, and biological phenomena relevant to the functioning of ecological systems, including human communities. The panel expects the value of environmental information to increase greatly as it becomes more useful and reliable in meeting the diverse needs of a broad base of sophisticated users. These users will depend on advanced information technology to select and receive information of interest. As science and technology improve the accuracy of environmental forecasts, the market value of environmental information will increase. There will be major consequences for the NWS and other organizations in the public and private sectors, as well as for individuals. The chapter includes scenarios to illustrate four factors that will influence which consequences occur: (1) the rate of progress in science and technology, (2) the economic value of environmental information, (3) government policy and budgets, and (4) international cooperation on information exchange. If current trends continue, a broad range of environmental information services may soon be available. As computer modeling and the automated processing of meteorological data advance, the workforce, both public and private, in the weather-related sciences will change. Partnerships among government organizations and private-sector companies will become more widespread and will alter the roles for the NWS and its partners in providing environmental information to the nation. Although the panel does not expect the mission of the NWS to change (see Assumptions in Chapter 1), the resolution, quality, and reliability of weather observations, forecasts, and warnings will improve dramatically. The amount of data available to users will increase by many orders of magnitude, by virtue of much higher spatial and temporal resolution and the integration of complementary environmental information. These vast data resources will be widely available, as the capacities and capabilities of local, regional, national, and international information networks expand. The availability of this information base will set the stage for a great expansion in the number and diversity of secondary providers, both public and private. As the services of secondary providers expand, the NWS will need to participate in diverse partnering relationships. The partnerships will range from collaborations for integrating national and global data with local and regional data to agreements establishing new data interfaces, based on emerging technology, through which NWS services and products can be disseminated. In the following sections, the term "provider network" refers to the totality of governmental, commercial, and nonprofit outlets for environmental information that supply users in both the public and private sectors. The terms "user" and "customer" are used interchangeably. Customers and Providers of Weather Information As the recent modernization of NWS technology and operations nears completion, the various communities of information users are already reaping benefits from the improved observations, data assimilation, and modeling. The print and television broadcast media, often with the help of private meteorologists, have been instrumental in communicating NWS forecasts to the general public via increasingly sophisticated and effective graphical representations of weather information. Weather information has also become a more serious competitor for consumer attention. Weather reports, which were once a few lines of text buried in the daily newspaper or a brief announcement at the end of a television news
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--> program, are now major features in both media. Responding to media coverage of the current debate on global climate change, the consequences of the latest El Niño cycle, and the relation between severe storm warnings and risk reduction, the public is more aware than ever of the importance of weather and climate to our daily lives and economic well being. NWS products also reach a variety of user groups with differing information needs: emergency managers at all levels of government, economic sectors that are heavily dependent on weather (for example, aviation and agriculture), and private firms that use weather information in conducting their business. The issue of who should provide services to these emerging market segments is being debated, especially in terms of the appropriate "service territories" for the NWS, other federal and state agencies, and private providers of meteorological services. The debate is likely to intensify as the economic value of environmental information increases and market incentives for new, specialized products and services become strong enough to interest commercial providers. Programs for new applications, such as intelligent highway initiatives, are beginning to combine weather related information with other application-specific data in their planning and decision making. The emergence of customers in the transportation sector has led to new customer and provider coalitions that include state and local governments and a variety of private businesses. The needs of emerging customers have created enormous opportunities and challenges for the private and government sectors to work together to provide services for the protection of life and property and to further economic growth. The panel foresees the following outcomes as reasonable projections of these trends. Services and products from the provider network will multiply and proliferate in response to growing demands from existing customers, while new customer segments will emerge as new and improved products and services become available. As the NWS improves its capabilities to observe and forecast the weather, a major challenge for the environmental information system will be to disseminate this information quickly in forms that a diverse and segmented public can understand and respond to rapidly. Customers in 2025 will be considerably more knowledgeable about weather and environmental forces than their counterparts in 1998, and they will be more sophisticated in using this information in their professional and personal lives. Future customer communities will demand access to a wide range of information from multiple sources. Graphics combined with text and audio communication will provide information to the general public, as well as to decision makers in government agencies and businesses. More individuals and businesses will use information networks to select what they need from widely distributed information sources. In addition to receiving prepackaged information products intended for broad dissemination, these information consumers will be able to select highly processed information tailored to meet their personal or institutional needs (NRC, 1996a). Environmental information, both global and local, will become part of the international information infrastructure that individuals and organizations use on a daily basis. Business customers will use worldwide environmental information to plan operations in the global marketplace. At the same time, customers will also require information for specific times and places. Location-specific business decisions, such as when to start pouring concrete in a construction project or whether to shut down operations in response to tornado or hurricane warnings, will be made with the help of decision support systems that include environmental data targeted for a specific place and time. The burgeoning customer base for weather and environmental services will include new economic sectors and populations; customers who are underserved in 1998 will become active consumers of new services made possible by the continued growth of the information economy. Health-related environmental forecasts will be available to help vulnerable individuals manage illness, disability, and their daily activities. The banking and commodities sectors will use sophisticated algorithms to manage speculative risks. Resource managers in the public and private sectors will routinely use weather and other environmental information to allocate physical resources, such as water and power, as well as public services, such as emergency room facilities and police forces. Economic sectors that are already active users of weather forecasts, such as the aviation, marine and agricultural sectors, will develop even more sophisticated ways of using weather and environmental information. Environmental information services will develop as markets, applications, and public needs emerge. As the services and products become more complex, organizations will increasingly function as both providers and customers in the flow of information through society. Weather Information in an Information Economy Given the rapid changes of the past three decades in information technology and in the ways this technology has transformed how we communicate and use information, one can expect that future weather information services will differ from today's in ways we can scarcely imagine, much less predict with confidence. However, two major driving forces are already present and will continue to have a substantial influence at least until 2025. First, the United States and much of the world are shifting from an industrial economy to an information economy. Second, with progress in meteorology, hydrology, oceanography and associated technologies, weather observations and forecasts are becoming products with substantial economic value in everyday decisions. In the information economy, the major component of economic growth will be information
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--> as an item of commerce, information that is gathered, packaged, and distributed according to its economic value to various markets. During the past decade, attention has focused on constructing an infrastructure to support the flow and use of information. This infrastructure will continue for at least another decade and will result in a strengthened infrastructure that will include computers as sophisticated information handling nodes in communications networks; a global Internet for the low-cost transport of information; microprocessors that add "intelligence" to the growing range of products, tools, and services; the World Wide Web as an electronic medium for the global village; and the fusion of audio, graphical, video, and digital communications through interchangeable, interconnected modes of transmission (e.g., digital telephony and interactive video, wireless digital communications, and computer-mediated multimedia messaging). Almost everyone in 2025 will take this infrastructure for granted, just as we now take for granted indoor plumbing, household electrification, and the national highway system. Their attention will focus on the information that passes via the infrastructure, rather than on the infrastructure itself. Signs of the growing economic value of weather and climate information are less often acknowledged, but they are pervasive. Individuals and organizations are increasingly willing to make significant economic decisions based on weather forecasts that, even a decade ago, were not reliable enough to "bet on." In 1997 and 1998, many energy companies made significant investment plans based on predictions of the effects of El Niño on weather conditions in the eastern United States. In some cases, newspapers in New England have printed headlines about a coming winter storm, even though the source of the storm was still in the Gulf of Mexico, several days away. On a smaller scale, individuals are more likely to alter weekend or travel plans based on three-day to five-day forecasts than they were just a few years ago. User Needs To understand how and why the uses of environmental information will change over time, one must move beyond thinking of information in terms of what it is about (e.g., meteorological and hydrometeorological information) and think of it in terms of how it will be used, that is, the uses that will develop into economic markets for information as a commercial item. For example, commercial providers of weather observation and forecast data already think of users in terms of economic sectors, such as aviation, energy, agriculture, or surface transportation. Although the accuracy of three-to-five-day forecasts as represented by reductions in forecast errors may be a useful benchmark for measuring meteorological forecast skill, these measures may mean little to a potential information consumer who only wants to know how the information can help solve a problem or improve business. Thus, traditional measures of the quality of forecasts or warnings may not capture the utility of information for customers. As weather information becomes more accurate, the familiar weather forecast products will be augmented, or even superseded, by information in the form of decision-support aids tailored for business, public, and personal decisions. The What and How of Information For application-specific products and services, weather information will be integrated with other environmental, economic, and technical data to produce information products that (1) describe the current status of a relevant situation, (2) forecast relevant conditions, or (3) provide a combination of observational and probabilistic data to aid in decision making. This integration represents a marked change from the past. Integration of Gridded Data Types Until recently, weather data and other environmental data were separate data sets based on the type of environmental phenomena observed (for example, weather data as distinct from data on vegetation and soil moisture, which were distinct from data on air and water quality). These data sets remained distinct (in separate "stovepipes") throughout the process leading from the base observations through assimilation and prediction to information products that contained predictions about phenomena of the same type. These data on diverse phenomena are relevant in various combinations to specific applications. In the future, they are likely to become available in a gridded format linked to one or more common frameworks. Computer-based data processing will be essential for integrating gridded data sets that describe diverse phenomena. As the algorithms at the core of the model become better at representing (or at least providing a quantitative analog for) the underlying physical, biological, and socioeconomic processes being simulated, and as the computational power of the hardware increases, computer-based modeling will become the best way, and eventually the only way, to produce high-quality, useful products. The channels through which information commodities will pass from provider to user and the formats for representing the information will continue to evolve. Gridded data, including observations, analyses, and forecasts, are likely to become a powerful and convenient way to transfer information from a provider to the next user in line without losing spatial and temporal specificity. Graphical representations of forecasts, particularly moving representations like the time loops used in forecast workstation displays and on television weather reports, can be readily created from gridded data to meet the needs and interests of consumers. Digitized imagery—similar to current satellite images, graphical
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--> displays of radar data, or forecast workstation composite images—will be another format for transmitting large volumes of high-resolution data. Spatial and Temporal Scales The spatial and temporal scales at which data are needed will depend on the application. For example, probabilistic forecasts of deviations, on seasonal and interannual time scales, from climatic norms on a regional scale will be valuable for businesses with seasonal variations in supply or demand. By contrast, forecasts of severe weather tracks will be on time scales of hours (for mesoscale storms, whose spatial scales are several kilometers or less) or days (for tropical storms, forecast at scales of hundreds of kilometers). But these examples only reflect the spatial and temporal scales of weather-related information. Other data being integrated for a specific application may be on the same or different spatial and temporal scales as the weather data. Data sets for an integrated model may describe environmental parameters, such as soil and plant moisture levels, vegetation or crop types, or pest and vector populations. Economic and business data may relate to the supply of, and demand for, affected products or to the risk distributions associated with the utility of the product. Implications of Automation The history of numerical modeling in the NWS forecast process illustrates the evolution of computer-based information processing. As computer power has increased and human experts have developed better algorithms (software), the meteorological models routinely run at NCEP and the hydrologic models run at river forecast centers have become more precise on finer spatial and temporal grids. Local forecast meteorologists or hydrologists can still add value to the predictions produced from these models. However, the time interval within a forecast for which human experts add value by modifying the model output is becoming shorter. Automation will change but not eliminate the role of people in weather observation and forecasting. In the future, highly skilled experts will be needed for interpreting nonrepetitive data or for ensuring that unusual circumstances (those not covered by the processing rules) are taken into consideration. Many complex modeling processes, whether implemented as algorithms or as sophisticated rule sets and inference engines, could fail under previously untested conditions. Human quality control will therefore continue to be necessary to check the basic realism of the output, especially in situations involving unusual or catastrophic weather. Most important, of course, continued refinements and improvements of the models will depend on human expertise. Implications of the Increasing Commercial Value of Environmental Information As the commercial value of weather information increases, the current debate about the public versus private delivery of information will be settled in part by economic realities. As the information (particularly forecast information) becomes reliable enough to make a difference in economic decisions, individual and corporate buyers will demand more specialized services. A broad range of commercial providers will step in to supply these needs. New and more sophisticated means of providing individuals with information specific to their needs will create new commercial opportunities. The resulting new channels for communicating information can also be used to communicate relevant emergency weather warnings to targeted audiences. Individuals and organizations can thus receive information they want without being overloaded with irrelevant information. One can easily imagine, for example, an electronic "personal assistant"—a sophisticated descendent of today's pagers, cellular phones, and palm-top computers that would receive emergency weather alerts along with many other types of information. Weather alerts would be based on the user's current location and other user-specified locations of interest, such as the locations of family members or business interests. Sources of Uncertainty The major driving forces arising from the information economy and progress in science and technology will dominate the evolution of weather information services for the next three decades. Nevertheless, no one can predict with certainty the consequences of these forces because significant sources of variability and uncertainty will influence the responses to the creation of information commodities in an information economy. In Boxes 3-1 through 3-4, the panel uses alternative scenarios to illustrate four sources of uncertainty: (1) the rate of progress in science and technology, (2) the change in economic value of reliable environmental information, (3) government policies and expanding or shrinking budgets, and (4) the degree of international cooperation on exchange of observational data. These scenarios are provided to alert planners to the range of variations in scientific, economic, political, and international conditions relevant to the panel's vision for 2025. Present and Future Roles of Information Providers To illustrate how the creation and distribution of weather information products and services are likely to be affected by increases in the value of environmental information, the panel developed a description of how such information is currently provided and a vision of how environmental
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--> BOX 3-1 Progress in Science and Technology A strong market for environmental information products and services will develop only if the information is reliable enough to influence choices with real economic consequences. Once that point is reached and the market "takes off," the financial resources available in the private sector for providing reliable information will dramatically increase. The panel believes that scientific and technological progress will be rapid. In the panel's scenario for rapid scientific and technical progress, this change will occur soon (within the next decade) for forecasts of a variety of key weather and climate-variation factors. The quantity and variety of products and services increases as new providers enter the market, which is driven by the demand for reliable information. Initially commercial providers continue to use observations and model data from NWS, other government agencies, and entities supported by foreign governments. When better forecast data or better (e.g., more timely, denser coverage) observational data can be acquired through more capacity or advanced technology (observing instruments or platforms, computing capacity, model resolution, etc.), commercial suppliers may take on new roles, such as operating observing systems or providing specialized numerical forecasts of the environment. NOAA and the NWS (as well as other suppliers of environmental information) may decide to purchase some observational data or model output from commercial vendors. For the environmental provider network as a whole, and for the NWS, products and services of greater economic value are produced and disseminated at lower cost. In the panel's scenario for slow scientific and technical progress, the reliability of weather and climate-variation forecasts improves only marginally over time. The national (and global) network for providing weather services and products grows modestly. Some companies survive as they do now, by tailoring application-specific forecast products from NWS observational data (radars, satellites, and surface observations) and NCEP model output. The cost of operating observational systems and state-of-the-art modeling capacity on a global or regional scale is too high, relative to the expected return on investment, to stimulate private-sector growth, except for niche markets and high-value specialized services. information and services may be provided in 2025. At present, weather forecast offices (WFOs) provide observations, forecasts, and warnings to entities in both the public and private sectors and to the general public. The NWS national centers provide products (observational data and model output) to the WFOs and to public and private entities. Direct dissemination to the public is limited essentially to NOAA Weather Radio and, recently, Internet services. NWS forecasts, warnings, and watches are disseminated to most of the public through private broadcast and print media. In addition to the broadcast and print media, other markets for commercial providers of weather information have emerged in recent years. Commercial providers now sell several hundred million dollars worth of specialized products and services annually. These providers rely largely on the NOAA Family of Services (described below) as their source of observational and forecast data. Public-private partnerships are increasing and are providing better service to the public. Most of them are involved in planning for and responding to emergency situations, but there is also an emerging market for specialized services, such as the Oklahoma Mesonet (Brock et al., 1995) or the provision of weather information for special events like the Olympic games. Changes in information provider roles will depend on how the developing information economy and the rate of progress in science and technology affect the existing network. One significant change will be a greatly expanded role for providers of application-specific products and services to customers in a broad range of market segments, most of which do not yet exist in the 1998 network. A second significant change will be new dissemination nodes, which will be distribution hubs on the national infrastructure for electronic communication, the descendent of today's Internet. These dissemination nodes will provide more than weather or climate information; they will resemble "supermarket" versions of present sites on the World Wide Web. For example, a dissemination node might include information on road construction schedules, soil moisture and vegetation conditions, air quality, and traffic congestion. Many of the commercial providers of application-specific products and services will probably use these dissemination nodes for distributing and marketing their products to customers. The overall network will be many times larger than today in the quantity and diversity of information flowing through it, the categories of providers or consumers, and the number of participants in each category. Sources of data will increase to supply consumers' demands for integrated information
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--> BOX 3-2 Economic Value of Environmental Information Uncertainty about the future value of environmental information is an important reminder that scientific and technical progress alone cannot give commercial value to information. Based on the trend of the past 50 years, the panel believes the future will more closely resemble a scenario of increasing economic value than one of decreasing economic value, although some technological or societal changes might decrease the potential economic impact of environmental fluctuations. In the panel's scenario for increasing economic value, more and more ways are found or created to use information profitably. For example, airlines and the Federal Aviation Administration demonstrate that real-time nowcasts, incorporating data from local and aircraft sensors and combined with differential-GPS navigation aids, substantially improve the safety and reliability of instrument landings, thus helping increasingly busy airports to avoid delays. Climate-variability forecasts, improving on the success of the 1997-1998 predictions of the El Niño cycle, have a significant economic impact on the deregulated power industry. Users of the information learn to assess their exposure to economic consequences, positive and negative, of the conditions being forecast. For example, insurance companies find a competitive advantage in being able to price real estate insurance, and even motor vehicle insurance, according to interannual climate-variation forecasts. The increasing value of this information spurs development of new uses for environmental information and new market segments. The environmental information infrastructure grows in response to the perceived value of the available information products. In a scenario with decreasing economic value, new technology or societal trends make environmental information less valuable by decreasing the sensitivity of economic decisions to environmental information, even when reliable information is available. For example, radical changes in national and state policies restrict or reverse floodplain development, while the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers devises more effective ways to control river flood damage through expanded wetlands and "controlled flooding" of undeveloped floodplains. Changes in building codes, together with new construction technologies, substantially reduce heating and cooling demands for power, as well as the likelihood of wind and hail damage in all but the most severe storms. One effect of this scenario on the environmental information network is much slower differentiation of markets for specialized products and services. Although more reliable observations and forecasts have increased value in established applications, there are fewer opportunities for profiting from new kinds of decision aids. that meets their personal and business needs. Innovative partnerships that integrate diverse data sets to meet specific customer needs will probably be the norm. Channels for providing data to consumers will also be more diverse, including not only the media and the successor to the Internet, but also "point casts" via wireless communications, to users in homes, businesses, and vehicles. There will also be sophisticated computer programs, tailored to meet a single consumer's needs. Role of the National Weather Service The NWS today supplies multifaceted data and valuable information to the public and private entities that provide weather and emergency management services. The nearly completed modernization of NWS observing systems, systems for processing and communicating data, and staff structure has improved the quantity and quality of NWS services. New forecasting algorithms can be devised at any of the distributed WFOs and easily incorporated into the system. The information system for the modernized weather service, called the Advanced Weather Interactive Processing System (AWIPS), can easily accommodate new algorithms and data sources. This capability allows for timely implementation of locally developed and locally targeted methods of forecasting. NWS forecasters at WFOs prepare public weather forecasts and warnings for their geographical areas of responsibility. They combine national data (model data from NCEP and satellite data from NESDIS) with their personal knowledge of local geography and climatology (e.g., terrain effects, lake effects, and coastal currents) and a variety of local observational data, such as NEXRAD radar products, hydrologic data (stream and river gauges), spotter reports, and observations from the Cooperative Observer Network. Flood warnings are based on all these data plus information from river forecast centers. The NWS chooses algorithms for forecasting based on a variety of sources, including research conducted at NOAA laboratories (under the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research), NWS headquarters organizations
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--> BOX 3-3 Government Policies and Budgets In the panel's scenario for an expanding government budget, public opinion (and therefore public policy) favors social policies in which the federal (and state or local) government provides more services. Sustained economic growth and public acceptance of tax burdens produce the substantial tax revenues needed to fund the increase in government-supplied services. In this scenario, the environmental information network offers better products and broader services, provided principally through governmental agencies and many forms of public-private partnering. Government agencies, including the NWS, have the budgets and staff to expand their services and product offerings quickly and to adopt new technology far more rapidly than they could during the difficult decades at the end of the twentieth century. The number of commercial providers who offer differentiated, specialized products could grow more slowly, and the market value of economic information might not be high enough for commercial suppliers to invest in providing new kinds of services. However, the panel believes that, instead, the increased variety of services provided by the government in this scenario would stimulate even greater demand for specialized services in new and diverse markets. In the scenario for contracting government budgets, the recent trends toward decreasing budgets (in constant dollars) and reducing staff at government agencies continue. Budget constraints and antitaxation sentiment also prevail at the state and local levels where, for example, emergency warning services are maintained but agencies have great difficulty expanding into preparedness programs. Funding is not available for initiatives that would apply environmental information to highway programs, agriculture, or tourism. In this scenario, growth and improvement in the information provider network depend increasingly on (1) the development of commercially viable markets served by commercial providers and (2) the ingenuity of public information providers like the NWS in leveraging their limited fiscal resources through intergovernmental and public-private partnering. In its most extreme form, in which the economic value of the information is not high enough to attract commercial partners, this scenario could lead to reductions in vital public services. BOX 3-4 International Cooperation Substantial growth in commercial environmental information services will require taking advantage of global opportunities, rather than serving only a domestic market. Weather is a global phenomenon, and most of the initial customers supporting the expansion of commercial services will be either multinational companies or companies that operate internationally. In addition, low-cost communications networks will make global service economically feasible. Because of low costs and guaranteed access to data from national observing systems, commercial providers today have little incentive to compete in that area (as long as government-provided data are near the state of the art). However, recent trends by foreign governments to support state-owned or state-favored information providers by restricting access to observational data may favor the entrance of privately owned remote sensing platforms. Once these systems have been acquired, using them to provide products in the domestic market will be economically feasible. In the panel's scenario for strong international cooperation, open access to observational data and even modeling data at a reasonable cost to all parties regains the support of the established industrial countries. Industrializing nations join this regime of environmental cooperation because they recognize the need for joint efforts to deal with their serious environmental problems. In the environmental information network, this broad base of shared, high-quality observational data at low cost encourages the expansion of value-added products and services. Overall, the global environmental infrastructure produces a wider variety of products and services more cost effectively. In the scenario for restricted international access, the recent trend toward controlling access to observational data intensifies, and the high cost of data restricts the growth of the global information provider network. Eventually these restrictions raise the market value of alternative sources of observational data. Depending on how quickly technology and other economic factors reduce the cost of setting up privately owned systems and on the perceived return on investment from application-specific products, national weather agencies eventually find themselves competing against state-of-the-art commercial systems. In countries with a strong tradition of market-oriented economies (such as the United States), this situation leads to pressures for the government to leave the field because industry can now do it better and cheaper. For the network as a whole, however, the artificially high barriers to new uses for observational data hinder the rise in value of the network's products and services.
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--> such as the Techniques Development Laboratory and the Office of Hydrology, and research and testing by field office staff. New techniques and algorithms also result from staff interactions with the academic community, NCAR, and other national research facilities. NWS data are accessible to all NWS customers, which include emergency management organizations at the federal, state, and local levels; specialized customers, such as the Federal Aviation Administration; commercial entities; and the general public. Some of the information channels NWS uses to distribute data and products are described in Box 3-5. Some NWS services (e.g., NOAA Weather Radio) are intended primarily for ultimate consumers (or end users), while others (NOAA Weather Wire Services and the Family of Services) are intended primarily for intermediate users who facilitate the dissemination to the ultimate consumers and may add value. In the future, NWS products will continue to be accessible to all NWS customers, but the ways in which these products are created and disseminated will improve. With the growth of information infrastructure, the NWS will be called upon to provide more information to a greatly expanded public and private provider network. NWS products will include environmental observations; high-resolution regional and national gridded data sets for present and future environmental conditions; and forecasts, warnings, and watches. The future NWS will continue to play a critical role in providing technical support (information and expertise) to its governmental and private-sector partners. Assuming that moderate progress is made in modeling algorithms and computing capacity, the regional models will run quickly and routinely on grids of a kilometer or less. National and regional forecasts will be distributed as gridded data sets, much like the national model runs are now. Some forecast products will also continue to be distributed in graphical or text formats. The gridded data sets will facilitate the development of representations, including interactive displays, that focus on the locations and interests of specific customers. These customers will include the broadcast, cable, point cast, and print media, which will still be the principal distributors of environmental forecasts to the public. NWS observations and forecasts will be the essential base products that feed many other environmental information providers. Because this information will be critical to the overall functioning of this network of providers, the leadership exercised by the NWS in promoting partnerships and BOX 3-5 NWS Information Channels The NOAA Weather Wire Service is the primary telecommunications network for distributing NWS forecasts, warnings, and other products to the mass media and emergency management agencies. NOAA Weather Radio provides voice broadcasts of weather information, including present weather reports, forecasts, watches, and warnings. Cable television weather channels and local traveler information services often rebroadcast the information. The broadcasts are also available through a commercial (900 code) telephone service operated by a private company under contract. The NEXRAD Information Dissemination Service provides radar products to users outside the NWS (primarily the academic community and commercial providers of weather information, including the broadcast media) on a fee-for-service basis. This service is provided by several commercial companies, under contract to NOAA, which have access to all commissioned NEXRAD radars. The NOAA Family of Services uses the NWS Telecommunications Gateway to provide dedicated telecommunications lines for users of NWS data, including private-sector data resellers and value-added resellers. Users pay a connection charge and annual fee. The services available include access to the NWS products for public distribution, domestic and international observations, data from NOAA/NWS forecast models in gridded binary format, and graphic products from NCEP in vector format. The older land-line telecommunications link will soon be supplemented by NOAAPORT, a satellite broadcast available to NOAA staff, partner-providers, and end users of weather information. The NWS Internet site provides up-to-date weather information in both text and graphical formats. Climate data from the Climate Analysis Center of NCEP are available for a fee through dial-in access. Weather satellite imagery is available through either the GOES-TAP data service for a connection charge and annual fee or without charge by connecting to an existing GOES-TAP circuit to an NWS field office. Private vendors also sell weather satellite imagery. Since the mid-1980s, the NWS has been replacing its automated telephone announcement systems for public forecasts with contractor service by local vendors who offer equal or better service. Some of the remaining in-house systems still provide dial-in service by which callers can speak directly to a forecaster in the local office.
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--> innovation will significantly influence how the provider network evolves. Roles of the Private Sector In 1998, the private sector plays two principal roles in providing weather services: he dissemination of weather data to the public (examples are The Weather Channel, which provides national and local weather forecasts throughout the day, and the many local television and radio weathercasts, all based on data from the NWS) the provision of weather data to specialized communities (e.g., agriculture, energy, and financial services), usually with value-added information Some for-profit providers produce their own forecasts using various combinations of public and proprietary observations and model data. Others, such as value-added resellers of NWS forecast data, add value to forecast data by providing specialized graphical presentations or data formats for specific customers. As the weather information industry grows, many more private-sector organizations will join the provider network. The boundary between public service and private enterprise is becoming blurred as new relationships and activities are developed. For example, some state governments are becoming involved in partnerships that generate revenue. These partnerships, which have limited government financial support, cover their costs with fee-for-service charges. In time, some of them may evolve into for-profit enterprises. On the other side of the boundary, some for-profit companies contribute to information services for their communities as a form of advertisement. Other forms of public-private collaboration include advisory groups, coalitions, and community partnerships that bring businesses with common interests into semi-official relationships with local and state governmental bodies. In the future, the private sector will include increasing varieties of for-profit information services that provide value-added products for specific customers based on observational and forecast data provided by the NWS. Detailed point-to-point highway travel forecasts, for example, will require that a number of "public" data sources (map and terrain data, highway conditions, local weather observations, near-term weather forecasts) be quickly integrated into a format suited to individual circumstances and priced according to the value to the consumer. An example of a for-profit, value-added service that goes beyond integrating and tailoring public data is an environmental conditions forecast that incorporates such data as soil moisture and absorption/runoff parameters and predicts runoff conditions to help farmers decide when to fertilize. Vendors of Specialized Commercial Applications The growing economic value of environmental information will promote the development of proprietary software applications that use weather observation and forecast data as input. The input data might be acquired from public data providers (the NWS or, for local surface observations, local and regional mesonets), the value-added private weather services described above, or proprietary observation and modeling systems. The developers of these tools for using information can be considered as either providers of information processing tools or enablers of the dissemination of value-added environmental information from public and private providers. However they are viewed, these tool developers will have a synergistic relation with information providers (including the NWS). If the data are available and a need for them has economic value, there is an economic incentive to develop the tools. If the tools already exist or can be easily adapted from existing tools, the economic incentives to improve the data increase. Private Broadcast Media Radio stations, broadcast and cable television, and public displays will continue to provide advertisement-supported dissemination of "public weather information." Television, and to a lesser extent radio and print media, will continue to try to gain a competitive advantage by adding value to the observation and forecast products provided by the NWS or others. In some broadcast media, such as The Weather Channel, the NWS is already explicitly identified as the source of observations, forecasts, and warnings for specific areas. As the provider network becomes more extensive and complex, this demarcation will become increasingly important for the following reasons: To maintain public support for the tax-supported government activities of the NWS, the public must be made aware of the services it receives for tax dollars. Standard statements of attribution can clarify the extent of NWS involvement (e.g., satellite or radar data from NOAA-operated systems and NWS model output) in creating the final product. As providers of forecasts proliferate, the source of the observational basis for the forecast, as well as the model used and any interpretation or analysis applied to the model output, will become an increasingly important part of the information used by sophisticated customers. The statements of attribution that identify the NWS role in providing an information product could inform potential buyers of the source of observational data, NWP models, and other inputs.
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--> Partnerships in the Provider Network Federal agencies are under increasing pressure to justify their existence and their budgets through strategic planning, annual performance plans and evaluations, and objective performance measures. Partnering is often promoted as a way of leveraging limited, and often decreasing, agency resources. In this context, agency partnerships can be characterized in three ways. First, partnerships may involve only public entities, such as federal agencies or state and local entities (intergovernmental partnerships). Second, partnerships may include private-sector partners, which may be for-profit (commercial companies), nonprofit organizations, or both. Third, regardless of who participates, partnerships may be short term (with definite end points) or ongoing (with indefinite end points). As of 1998, NOAA is involved in many partnerships. among which is the USWRP (U.S. Weather Research Program), a multi-agency partnership. Others include the Partnership Research Programs under the Office of Global Programs, the Coastal Ocean Program, and the Advance Short Term Warning and Forecast Services (a research program on new observing capabilities). The NWS has service delivery partnerships with several traditional federal partners, including the Federal Aviation Administration for aviation weather services and the Federal Emergency Management Agency for responding to severe weather events and weather-related disasters. Other traditional partnerships produce and disseminate marine weather information and weather information for planning large controlled burns or dealing with wildland fires on public lands. State and local partnerships are vital to the NOAA and NWS mission because most emergency weather information must be disseminated to state and local governmental agencies to effect timely responses. As federal-state partnerships become more common, the state and local partners are taking on more and more decision-making responsibilities. With the evolution of new information dissemination channels widely used by the public, the NWS, NOAA, and FEMA will have opportunities to work with state and local emergency preparedness and public safety officials to improve the alert system. Despite major improvements, much remains to be done to ensure that those at risk receive useful information in time to act. An interesting example of the role of the NWS and other federal agencies (in this case, the Federal Highway Administration) in providing information resources and processing capability for making decisions is the Weather Information for Surface Transportation Systems. The Federal Highway Administration, which is the lead agency for the program, plans to serve all modes of transportation (including highway transit, rail, and intermodal interfaces, such as airports and truck-rail transfer points) and all transportation decision makers, including transit operators, travelers, shippers, planners, and builders, as well as highway departments and safety agencies (Pisano and Nelson, 1997). In partnerships with for-profit companies at the national level, the NOAA and NWS roles have been limited to contractor-disseminator and providing access to data for a fee. Mechanisms for outreach and interactions between the NWS and private weather services and commercial media are provided principally through the Office of Industrial Meteorology. Public-private partnerships for developing new services (not merely a hand-off of public data to a disseminator or value-added reseller) are springing up in areas such as transportation weather. One recent public-private partnership is the FORETELL project, in which the Iowa Department of Transportation is the public sector lead and Castle Rock Services is the private sector lead. FORETELL will deploy service centers to disseminate road and weather information in a five-state region of the Midwest (and western Ontario). The project's vision description cites research from the NOAA Forecast Systems Laboratory and the distribution capabilities of the modernized NWS as key public-sector contributions to the long-term success of the project (Davies et al., 1998). In addition to the enduring partnerships discussed so far, there are also event-based or relatively short-term collaborations among interested parties. The focus of these partnerships may be a single event or a specific problem. An example of an event-driven partnership in which the NWS collaborated with a private nonprofit organization and commercial partners was the establishment of weather support offices for the Atlanta Olympic games (Box 3-6). In the future, short-term partnerships will be fostered by the new dissemination nodes for environmental information because much of the special-purpose information offered at these nodes will be provided by sources outside the NWS. Implications for the National Weather Service The principal future roles of the NWS in providing environmental information will be extensions of its current roles. First, public forecasts and severe weather warnings will continue to be a government responsibility. The NWS will retain the lead role for issuing warnings and ensuring their dissemination. Second, the NWS will continue to provide information-rich observational data and gridded forecast products to other information providers, including not only the traditional disseminators of NWS products (emergency preparedness and broadcast media) but also a wider range of private-sector providers of specialized products and services. Partnering with government and private-sector entities will be the principal means by which the NWS fulfills its broad mission to disseminate public forecasts and warnings and meet the increasing needs of the nation for weather information. The NWS can continue to provide the best
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--> BOX 3-6 Weather Support Offices for the Olympic Games Peachtree City and Savannah, Georgia In response to a request from the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games (ACOG) for information about local weather conditions at each Olympic competition venue, the NWS established two Olympic Weather Support Offices. To obtain the most accurate and current weather data, the NWS collaborated with the University of Georgia, the Georgia Forestry Commission, the University of Auburn, the South Carolina Forestry Commission, the Florida Forestry Commission, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to create a comprehensive mesonet of monitoring stations throughout Georgia, Tennessee, and the Carolinas. In addition, several outside agencies and private companies agreed to lend much of the equipment used to provide weather support for the Olympic Games. The various agencies and ACOG worked together to determine the most effective placement of monitoring equipment; ensure that observing stations were erected in locations that did not have observation sites for local conditions; and calibrate, maintain, and perform quality control checks on the observing stations. During the Olympics, 50 to 60 observing stations were polled every 15 minutes. The collected data were then processed by the NWS and used as input to fine-scale numerical models. The observations and model results were sent to a variety of Olympic participants, including coaches, athletes, and the media, through ACOG's information system. possible weather information to the nation by developing partnerships that involve it in the emerging markets for environmental information. The expertise of the NWS staff will be an essential resource that NWS brings to these partnerships, in addition to the data it provides. Opportunities can be sought for participating in newly emerging entities, such as quasi-governmental organizations that blur the boundaries between the public and private sectors, particularly at the state and regional levels. NWS partnerships with private-sector and government entities in the provider network will continue to be shaped and constrained by government policies and budget allocations (NRC, 1998e). Recent legislative attempts to define these relationships, such as the debate over funding for agricultural weather services, have taken an "all or nothing" approach to whether a given service should be provided as a public service or a market-provided commercial item. A better approach would be to consider NWS responsibilities in terms of potential partnerships and collaborations, which could provide better private-sector or mixed public-private services overtime. Statutory and administrative changes may be necessary to allow this change. Focusing on Primary Customers In the future environmental information network, data and information will often flow from one information provider to another before they reach their ultimate consumers, or end users. The length and complexity of these information chains will increase as the network of providers expands and diversifies through a range of specialized applications and services developed as decision aids for market segments and individual customers. For the market to be efficient, all providers, including the NWS, will have to focus on serving their primary customers, defined as whoever immediately receives their products. The primary customers of the NWS will often be other information providers, not end users. Based on the panel's review of NWS documents and discussions with NWS personnel, the NWS does not distinguish adequately between customers of the entire provider network and the primary customers of the NWS. Box 3-7 lists the user sectors identified in recent NWS planning documents (e.g., NWS, 1994; Kanawha Institute, 1997). The list is a summary of all the users of weather information, who will in the future be served by the provider network. But it is not a list of NWS primary customers. The NWS cannot serve all of these information users well by trying to serve them all directly. It will either stretch its resources too thin and fail to do most things well enough to excel or it will retreat to "one size fits all" products (e.g., zone forecasts) that do not adequately meet any users' needs. To determine how well its products and services are being used, the NWS will need to understand the needs and capabilities of providers and users who are not its primary customers. Nevertheless, in providing quality service the imperative to "focus on the customer" pertains first and foremost to existing and potential primary customers. Requirements Definition and NWS Leadership in the Network Rapid growth of the provider network for environmental information during the next quarter-century will mean that the primary customers for NWS services and products will
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--> BOX 3-7 Current National Weather Service Users The general public Aviation (e.g., FAA, pilots, Air Weather Service) Marine (e.g., Naval Oceanographic Command) Emergency management (e.g., FEMA, state and local emergency managers) Fire, police, safety (e.g., local fire and police departments) Agriculture (e.g., U.S. Department. of Agriculture) Transportation (e.g., U.S. Department of Transportation) Land conservation and environment (e.g., Environmental Protection Agency, Bureau of Reclamation, Soil Conservation, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) Forestry (e.g., Forest Service) Water resources (e.g., state divisions of water resources, flood control districts) Media (e.g., The Weather Channel, Associated Press, Radio and TV News Directors Association) Law (Forensic services) Travel and recreation (e.g., National Park Service) Energy (e.g., Department of Energy) Education (e.g., U.S. Department of Education, state and local jurisdictions, local schools) Health (e.g., Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) Private meteorological companies (e.g., The Weather Channel, Accu-Weather, WSI) Universities and research institutes (e.g., National Center for Atmospheric Research) Professional meteorologists and hydrologists Elected officials (e.g., Congress, local elected officials) Other industries (e.g., construction, insurance) be changing more rapidly than in the past. Even the needs of continuing customers will change more rapidly, as they develop new products or find new ways to use detailed environmental information. Therefore, the NWS will need a requirements definition process that allows for frequent, structured reassessments of its goals and activities. The "reverse end-to-end" requirements definition process used by the NWS Office of Meteorology and frequent meetings with user groups are two excellent first steps toward a flexible process for defining and updating requirements. But these are only first steps. The NWS process for defining requirements could become a tool to help define the roles of various members of the provider network, including the roles of private-sector participants, as well as the roles of other federal and nonfederal public-sector providers. By providing a forum for diverse providers to come together, with the NWS playing a leading role as the dominant information provider, meetings with its primary customers could do even more than help the NWS formulate its own requirements. These meetings could contribute greatly to the development of a shared view of what ought to be done, in what time frames, and how the parties could work together to meet the needs of everyone served by the network. In fact, the broad mission of the NWS to provide weather services to the nation requires that it take a leadership role in this process. An ongoing, periodic process for defining requirements should have an accompanying response process. The NWS will need a mechanism for sorting through the diverse and often conflicting inputs from partners and customers, so that short-term and long-term priorities can be clearly defined. This process should include defining the criteria for meeting the needs of primary customers; that is, how the NWS and its partner-providers will know if the requirements are being met and if the requirements need to be updated. For example, as the primary source of weather data and models, the NWS can play a key role in facilitating the integration of environmental data sets by taking the lead in establishing standards for data formats and quality.
Representative terms from entire chapter: