EVOLUTION OF CLIMATE SERVICES IN THE UNITED STATES
The provision of climate services in the United States is continually evolving in response to a growing understanding of climate, from the scales of natural variability to long-term climate change, combined with a growing appreciation of the intersection of climate and human endeavors. The context for this evolution is best viewed by starting with a brief historical review and then looking at the present National Weather Service; the state climatologist program; nascent ocean observing, modeling, and predicting endeavors; and other federal, state, and local activities, with a vision of a more comprehensive “environmental service”. This context arises because “climate service” can be considered as a (thoughtfully) structured portion of a larger applied earth sciences program with a greater degree of organization, purpose, and continuity that is likely to result in substantially greater national benefit. The weather service began with a system that was based largely on observations and, as capabilities increased and demands for service were more clearly articulated, expanded to a predictive service. Climate services have an analogous evolution, with an observation-based historical emphasis followed by a growing emphasis on abilities to forecast seasonal to decadal changes. While it is analogous to a weather service in that sense, it is important also to acknowledge the major differences.
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
used to identify smaller scale weather and climate regimes and to provide detailed information to users. The OCS provides a variety of data products and access to models linked to weather and climate information (e.g., fire damage, dispersion for pesticide application, evapo-transpiration, and pest and plant disease). Easy user access to the information is the goal. The OCS received over 3.5 million requests in 1999. Access is provided on the Web as a self-service operation for television, news services, universities, and area businesses. Call-in requests are handled for a variety of stakeholders— from farmers to insurance agents to attorneys. The OCS is founded on strong partnerships with research programs at several federal agencies (the Department of Energy, the Department of Agriculture, the National Science Foundation, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) and a host of state agencies (such as those related to water resources, environmental quality, forestry, civil emergencies, and agriculture). Outreach is a significant part of the charter and a K-12 program, a public safety outreach program, and a rural electric outreach program are formally established. The OCS charges for non-Oklahoma and for-profit data requests to supplement state funding and to ensure that Oklahoma taxpayers do not underwrite the requests of non-taxpayers. The director, Ken Crawford, attributes the success of the OCS to the following: (1) users have been involved from day one, (2) products are developed in direct partnership with users, (3) strong partnerships exist with mission agencies and with research elements, (4) information is accessible, and (5) education of users and potential users is an important element of the program (the OCS holds workshops on such topics as correct interpretation of weather and climate information). By honoring the mandate of ensuring decision makers access to information of value, the OCS has become a success story. In 1999, it was selected by Harvard University and the Ford Foundation as one of the twelve “most innovative American government programs.” (Crawford 2000).
In response to the increasing need for climate information, Congress passed the National Climate Program Act of 1978. The purpose of the act was
to promote the understanding of climate and the provision of climate services. The act directed the development of a network of regional climate centers (RCCs) to meet regional climate service needs (Hecht 1984). The centers were established over the ten-year period 1981–90. The executive branch, however, never embraced the concept of the RCCs because they were all created by congressional earmarks and add-ons; the Department of Commerce proposed their elimination each year, and Congress restored them in each appropriations cycle. Six RCCs currently exist and report to NCDC, which also maintains close ties to the state climatologists. The Western Regional Climate Center processed 35,000–40,000 requests from 1982 to 1995, and the demand is increasing. The center’s characterization of the requests demonstrates interest in a broad array of topics, such as agriculture, engineering, legal issues, and economic development (see Appendix D).
The RCCs’ focus is to apply climate information to regional issues, recognizing the “regionality” of the issues facing decision makers. The centers emphasize the breadth of climate service requirements, including evaluation of data, archiving, indexing, retrieval, quality assessment, synthesis, interpretation, and dissemination, and maintain a central focus on the user (Redmond 2000). A major climate product of the RCCs, and one not available at NCDC or most state climate offices, is on-line access to daily updated climate conditions, including the temperature and precipitation conditions of yesterday (or the last few days) and interpretations of how those conditions rate climatologically against values from the past 50–100 years. That type of information is often sought by those attempting to rate what has just occurred against past behavior and past decisions. For example, government decision makers often seek such information to get a rating on recent extremes, such as a recent two-day rain-storm that produced flooding in southern Wisconsin. Regional centers identify a key problem in providing climate services—that is, climate services are made up of a mixture of elements or components without effective national integration. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has been unsuccessful in its attempts to link the activities of NCDC, the RCCs, and the state climatologists.
The Climate Analysis Center, established in response to the National Climate Program Act, is a part of the National Weather Service’s (NWS) National Centers for Environmental Prediction. When first established, it included a diagnostics component, a data and information component, and a prediction component. The climate diagnostics component received considerable attention after the 1982–83 El Niño. With the rapid scientific advances
in the understanding of the El Niño/Southern Oscillation that took place in the 1980s and early 1990s, the center’s name was changed to the Climate Prediction Center (CPC). Recognizing that a major service now provided by the CPC is the seasonal to interannual forecasts issued for the United States, the NWS recently created a Climate Services Division within its headquarters to provide oversight and direction of the CPC.
The climate activities within NOAA now consist of the CPC within the NWS, NCDC within the National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service, and several research laboratories7 within NOAA’s Office of Research.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) mission includes efforts to support the development of new and innovative observations, research, modeling, and data and information management that have a direct impact on the potential to provide climate services. NASA and NOAA provide satellite and in situ observations that are the backbone of the climate observing system. Mechanisms for establishing sustained long-term climate satellite and in situ observations, which are viewed by the Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate (BASC) as essential to supporting a wide variety of climate services, are yet to be realized (see NRC 2000b, 2000c). NASA has also developed an applications program to create public-private partnerships that result in the use of NASA science and technology to improve environmental, community growth, resource management, and disaster management decisions. The NOAA and NASA efforts to combine forecasts and observations through data assimilation and reanalysis are providing an invaluable best estimate of a host of weather and climate variables that are difficult to measure. This reanalysis using state-of-the-art models is rapidly becoming the de facto climate record.
A number of the agencies participating in the U.S. Global Change Research Program8 (USGCRP) contribute to the development of climate services through data collection and/or efforts to improve climate prediction capa-
bilities. For example, the U.S. Department of Energy maintains a series of research observation sites that contribute to the understanding of climate processes. It has also supported climate modeling development through its carbon dioxide research programs. The National Science Foundation has provided support for improved climate model parameterizations and increased understanding of natural variability such as ENSO. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has a growing effort to link climate change with the assessment of impacts on water, including water quality, and human health and a continuing interest in maintaining observation capabilities to assess environmental standards for air and water. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and some states maintain hydrologic measurement stations across the nation. Many USGS gauging stations are supported by joint federal-state funding. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) maintains a Joint Agricultural Weather Facility that relates crop production to weather and climate events; this facility is staffed jointly by the USDA and the NWS (USGCRP 2000).
The nation has also provided substantial support to increase the ability to model climate variability and climate change through a commitment to fund national centers, including the National Center for Atmospheric Research, the NOAA Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, and the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Such efforts are critical in providing climate services for national assessments of climate impacts, for participating in such international assessment activities as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and in considering U.S. participation in international treaties. However, those institutions were designed as research centers, not as service centers. In addition, the United States has provided support for such innovative institutions as the International Research Institute (IRI), whose mission is to show that forecasts on seasonal to interannual time scales can be used successfully in real and meaningful applications.
Many of the research aspects of the various agency programs are coordinated through the USGCRP and are reported annually to the nation through the publication of Our Changing Planet (see, e.g., USGCRP 2000). However, there is no comparable mechanism for promoting or coordinating the climate services aspects of the various agencies.
DEVELOPMENT OF THE PRIVATE SECTOR
After World War II, thousands of meteorologists who had been trained for the war effort returned to the United States. Many went back to their previous
employment; some went into the U.S. Weather Bureau and academic institutions; but several formed private weather forecasting services and began applying the skills they honed in wartime. The latter and their companies responded to the needs of weather-sensitive businesses and industries for weather and climate information that was more tailored to their specific needs than what could be provided by the Weather Bureau.
In 1957, the American Meteorological Society, recognizing the need for a professional certification process, initiated the Certified Consulting Meteorologist (CCM) program. The growing need for specialized weather- and climate-related services has resulted in substantial growth in the environmental consulting industry and in the demand for trained meteorologists. There are currently over 550 CCMs.
At present there are over 250 private weather firms listed on the NWS Web site (<http://www.nws.noaa.gov/im/more.htm>), and most offer climate services as part of their product suite.
A POSSIBLE FUTURE
For the last 60 years the United States has developed and supported a national weather service that today uses vast amounts of meteorological data, assimilates these data into models of the atmosphere, and produces and disseminates about 24,000 weather forecasts each day (Hooke and Pielke 2000). At the beginning of the twenty-first century, two changes are occurring. First, growth in knowledge is enabling recognition of the interactions of a multitude of environmental stresses, including land-use change, climate variability and change, waste products, population growth, and health and well-being. Second, technological advances in earth observing sensors and systems, in computers and information storage, and in communication networks are enabling a much more comprehensive approach to environmental conditions. Combined, those two factors provide the nation with the potential to transform a weather service with an inherently short-term perspective into a decision-centric environment service that spans the spatial scales of local to global concerns and the temporal scales of minutes to a century, including both weather and climate (NRC 1999c).
Aided by that technological evolution, a broader, organized, and sustained environment service will probably emerge as the needs of decision makers become more complex. In addition, the environmental approach should reflect the fact that most regions are influenced by multiple stresses, such as weather
and climate, land-use change, and input and character of pollutants. Our Common Journey: A Transition Toward Sustainability (NRC 1999c) recommends moving toward a research framework that looks at all elements that influence a specific locale or region (multiple stresses). An environmental service will likely develop as this more holistic place-based approach to earth sciences is undertaken. Such an approach was also recommended in Grand Challenges in the Environmental Sciences (NRC 2001c) and The Science of Regional and Global Change: Putting Knowledge to Work (NRC 2001b). In this view, climate service is an important ingredient in a service that will ultimately support integrated management. It is a logical and needed next step.
The climate services under discussion in this report would use observations of the physical, chemical, biological, and geological state of the solid earth and its surface cover, the ocean, and the atmosphere extending from the earth’s surface to outer space. The observations would include the meteorological, hydrologic, oceanographic, atmospheric, and space observations currently made. Central to the scope of climate services is the need for them to embrace wide ranges of time and space scales. This is an expansion of what the NWS uses as a data base and predictive framework, but it is not as comprehensive as an environment service, in which the data and predictive models would include, for example, species populations and distributions, and the data systems would be modified to provide the accuracy and stability necessary for climate.
In many ways, the evolution of technology and growth in knowledge have enabled the establishment of a climate service and will continue to foster the evolution of a climate service to an environment service. Data storage and exchange have been made possible. Computational resources suitable for such an endeavor are within reach. Many of the global observing capabilities are now online in the ocean, as well as on land and in space. Increasingly, global and regional atmospheric and oceanic models are moving toward understanding the variability and predictability of the fluid envelope of the earth system, including its biogeochemical, hydrologic, and ecosystem elements. Those capabilities are reflected in the scope of the climate service in this discussion. The present emphasis on assessments at global to regional scales sets the stage for this new climate service. The NWS, the IRI, the IPCC, the U.S. Assessment, the RCCs, and the state climatologists can be viewed as prototypical, and such activities are likely to evolve in response to the demand for climate information. However, BASC concluded that a more cohesive management and integration will result in a comprehensive climate service that
is capable of integrating and synthesizing data from diverse sources and is willing to accept the charge to do so, rather than a diverse set of services for different elements of the earth system. The climate service should be inherently integrative and synthetic, capable of bringing together diverse data sets and advancing the ability to understand and predict climate variability and change. It should produce products and achieve the benefits of access to global data and global participation.