Nominee to oversee NWS wants to privatize weather forecasting

Barry Myers is the former CEO of Accuweather

NOAA NWSThe person that has been nominated to run the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which includes the National Weather Service, thinks the NWS should reduce or eliminate the weather analysis and forecasting products it makes available to taxpayers. Barry Meyers resigned from his CEO position at Accuweather, a company founded by his brother Joel, in order to improve his chances of being confirmed by the Senate and Congress to run NOAA. The executives at Mr. Meyers’ family business would like to continue receiving weather data at no charge that NOAA and the NWS collect from weather stations and a constellation of satellites. They would then sell it back to taxpayers and private companies with little or no competition from the NWS.

Mr. Meyers was first nominated to head NOAA in October, 2017. He was approved by the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee but his appointment has not been voted on by the full Senate. If finally confirmed he would be only the second head of NOAA that served without having a science degree.

Of the three elements that affect wildland fire behavior — weather, fuels, and topography — weather is the one that changes by the minute, hour, and day and is the most difficult to analyze and predict. Firefighters can see the vegetation and topography in front of them, but they can’t stand on a hill and predict with accuracy humidity, wind speed and direction for the next 72 hours.

It remains to be seen how privatizing weather forecasting would affect wildland fire management. Which company, if any, would issue Red Flag  Warnings for the United States? The Weather Channel, Accuweather, or WeatherUnderground? Would Incident Meteorologists that are deployed to a fire with an Incident Management Team be employees of one of those companies?

The video below from “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” explores the concept of a businessman with conflicts of interest taking over NOAA and the NWS. Mr. Oliver briefly expresses his opinion about a politician, but the video is predominately about the concept of a former CEO of a weather company running NOAA. Warning: it contains crude language.

This is not the first time that privatization of weather forecasting, Accuweather, and one of the Myers brothers have been mentioned in the same conversation. Check out an article by Kelly Anderson in Wildland Firefighter in 1998.

Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire. Google+

27 thoughts on “Nominee to oversee NWS wants to privatize weather forecasting”

  1. In an attempt to avoid being blatantly political, I’ll just say that “it sounds like a fox guarding the chicken coop.” Remove your ban on political comments and I’ll follow thru with my entire diatribe.

  2. I’ve heard about this previously, it would be a terrible idea.

    This is why I only rely on NOAA for my weather forecasts, never Accuweather. I’d actually downloaded the app, for “free”, but then was constantly blocked from reading the forecast unless I “upgraded” to a paid app.

    Terrible, terrible idea.

  3. The NWS is not the sole agency under NOAA. There are several several other functions of NOAA that are not weather related. Google NOAA and you will see that it has the largest fleet of research ships in the US government, is the primary surveying agency for the US government, and the list goes on. The fact that NOAA is one of the seven “Uniformed Services” of the US seems to go unnoticed. (Five are the Armed Forces, two; NOAA and USPHS, are unarmed.) Do we want a corporate shill who wants to gut the NWS also run various highly technical agencies, some run by uniformed Admirals? email your Senators!

  4. What is the next step? Private companies only providing ‘alerts’ for fire, floods, avalanches, hurricanes, to paid subscribers? I find the NWS incredibly useful and accurate as a citizen and firefighter; when I submit spot weather requests I get them quickly, and when they are off I am able to submit my site readings to the meteorologist via email. Several times I have talked on the phone with a NWS office regarding their forecast and we hash out the problem.

    I am appalled that so many ‘sciency’ agencies are now being headed up by former CEOs with MBAs instead of science backgrounds. This shouldn’t be a political conversation it should be conversation about experts leading other experts in their agency.

  5. long before the nws ever heard of weather being influenced by el ninos/la ninas marvin dodge, a private forecaster was on to this. the mendocino and other north zone forests, in the early 1980’s, subscribed to his forecasts. (probably other forests too)
    anyone who has to work with the nws office out of spokane knows to also check missoula nws and canadian weather, due to the fact that spokane is wrong so often.
    there are many private weather forecasters, who issue forecasts to industry for a fee. they have a vested interest in getting forecasts right or the client moves on to someone who will.
    private forecasters also use modeling from other countries – europe, japan, canada, to name a few,m. the nws does not.
    anyone can watch the saturday summary for free. check it out and compare it with what your local forecast is predicting.
    there may be a place for private forecasting fire weather, to dismiss it out of hand because the government is the only one who can do it, is short sighted.
    no, not a private weather forecaster, just a retired ground pounder and interested in weather.

    1. Hey Rosie? Where do you think those private weather forecasters get the data they require for their “pay for” forecasting? NWS! El Nino & La Nina? The term El Nino was likely coined in the mid-late 1800’s by sailors off the west coast of South America, in essence it referring to newborn baby Jesus. They have been researched for decades and without a doubt NWS was aware of the phenomena long before 1980 but why throw out some “silly” terms to us.

      PS I regularly check out surrounding NWS Office weather discussions in order to both extrapolate and interpolate their info into my very localized area (mountain ranges and open desert just northwest of the Salton Trough/Sea of Cortes and bounded to the west by the Pacific. So many local variables come into play for local forecasting.

    2. Rosie? You are wrong in at least one of your statements. NWS relies on European models. ECMWF for one. There are many nuances to forecasting using even all the data in the world. I sincerely doubt a retired ground pounder with interest in weather could ever create reliable forecasts. If he/she, being observant of daily weather, pounded/worked the same Forest for decades then, yes a reasonably reliable forecast is possible. Travel a few hundred miles from your pounding ground and reasonable reliability flies out the window.

      As for El Nino/La Nina NWS has certainly been aware of them before 1980 but why throw out some silly terms to a public that might not care. “El Nino” was probably coined by sailors off the coast of South America in the 1800’s in reference to a seasonal current that occurred around Christmas.

  6. The NWS provides more than the morning commute forecast. It provides aviation forecasts vital for every commercial flight. It provides river forecasts, marine forecasts and more. It does this by being a part of a network comprised of every country on earth coordinating data collected 2 X a day at the same time. NWS’ part in this to send up over 90 radiosondes from all over the US to measure multiple aspects of the atmosphere up to 100,000 feet in order to make the computer models. There are also over 150 Weather radars and innumerable ground and weather buoy weather observation devices. NOAA also has sent up and maintains several of the highest tech weather satellites in spect. Is Accuweather going to get all of this for free. If so, are they going to be able to staff and maintain all of the infrastructure required to provide all of the realtime data needed to make useable forecasts? If so, how much will they charge users?

  7. while the el nino/la nina phenomenon was observed by sailors (and others) early on,
    it not a part of the nws forecast tool box in the 1980’s.
    marvin dodge, a private forecaster, brought this to light. which is why many forests subscribed to his service, as it was particulary helpful in planning.
    gathering data is only a part of the puzzle.
    interpretation it to make accurate forecast is where the rubber meets the road.
    government forecasters do not have a monopoly on good forecasters.
    if the goal is to provide quality accurate forecasts to end users, why does it matter where they come from?
    we certainly owe our firefighters the best we can give them. taxpayers too.

  8. brilliant jayne,
    where in any of this conversation was a discussion about paying or burning?
    you think the government nws employees work for free?

  9. the bigger question in all of this, is what is inherently a government function.
    it may be weather forecasting is one.
    i know as an end user, i no longer count on my local nws office to provide an accurate forecast, and now follow private forecast services. they are not always right but do a better job in my area.

    1. and, if the nws service is so good at providing accurate forecasts and longer range climate predictions, why do so many in industry, energy, agriculture pay good money for private forecast services?
      when they can get nws info for “free”.

      1. Because (if you watched the video it would explain), these private companies take the raw NWS data, and customize the display output for a “value-add” for private companies. There is very little raw data being generated by these private companies.

      2. Again: The NWS does the “heavy work” of collecting the massive amount of raw data that they and all other commercial weather forecasters use to make forecasts. No commercial (including Accuweather) can even come close to being able to do this on their own.

  10. There is a school of economic thought,that has strong favor in the current administration, that all activities aside from a common defense should be privately run. This school holds that a “free market” (whatever that mythological construct actually is) should govern all distribution of goods and services to the citizens. This group has continually refused to recognize the widespread failures of unregulated private commerce that actually led to the current system, as dysfunctional as it is, of regulation and control.

    The weather forecast is a strong public trust that cannot be met by relying solely on for-profit private providers. The only reason the current model of private for-profit forecasting works at all is because they get all of the NOAA data for free, just like the rest of us. If they had to actually pay the full cost of the data, they’d never turn a profit — unless they were granted competitve monopolies like cable companies and utility companies. And then we’d all be paying $100/month or more for our daily forecasts. The current proposals by folks like Accuweather is simply trying to interject their for-profit model between the data that we already pay for with taxes, and the end product forecast.

    That is what’s called a scam.

    1. Thank You for this perspective.

      I retired from the US Coast Guard. I’m thinking — what does it cost to rescue a vessel in distress? The Coast Guard does not bill for their services.

  11. A fox in the henhouse is and never was a good idea. Privatizing Fed agencies and services is a no-win for taxpayers and America. Just think Blackwater and Forest Service campground contractors. There’s a reason these companies are in business – PROFIT. I’m sure their mission statement doesn’t put the public or environment first.
    It’s a shame the current administration has installed CEOs in place of heads that are trained or skilled for the agencies.

    1. Now, Blackwater doesn’t really fit the comment I’m about to make, but bear with me-

      The real reason you see more contractors in all levels of government is the sky-rocketing cost for lifetime benefits that government works have collectively bargained for or been offered over the years. Namely healthcare. Why hire one full time person with FERS and FEHB (not to mention workers comp, life insurance, vacation, etc), when you can hire two part time people with no benefits, no continuing responsibility, and no liability? With federal department budgets flat-lining or being cut, this is what is accelerating at all levels, from municipal to federal.

      Like it or not, the fox is in the hen-house. This has been happening, and will continue for the foreseeable future.

  12. I’ve got a better idea. The NWS should charge all the commercial, for profit, forecasting companies for the use of the NWS data. Why should commercial forecast corporations make money off the “free” data they utilize when it costs taxpayers millions of dollars to collect, refine and distribute NWS data. Let Accuweather, etc. put up their own satellites, ships, aircraft, weather stations, and level the data collection playing field and then see how many private “forecasters” stay in business.

  13. The people who own accuweather have been at this for a lonnng time, pushing for privatization. The difference between now and 20+ years ago is that they now have enough advocates in top appointed positions and enough corporate-friendly helpers in the Senate to actually make a run at it.

  14. By all means, get worked up about something that, Will Never Happen!
    Good thing the Safe Food Quality is involved too! Come on people. Nothing to see here.
    Lets get worked up about real issues.

  15. huh.
    So, Smith, because you’re sure the NWS data/infrastructure/info/intel will , um , never happen, what do you suggest are the “real issues” we should get worked up about? I’m seriously not clear on your ideas there, especially the Safe Food reference …

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