America Needs A National Weather Commission
September 28, 2012

Weatherproof Nation: Experts Call For Official US Weather Commission

April Flowers for - Your Universe Online

An expert panel called on Congress yesterday to create the first U.S. Weather Commission to help guide policymakers to leverage weather expertise across government and the private sector. The goal is to better protect lives and businesses during weather events that could conceivably cost billions of dollars.

"The nation must focus its weather resources on the areas of greatest need in order to keep our economy competitive and provide maximum protection of lives and property," said Thomas Bogdan, president of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research. "Emerging technologies are providing an opportunity to create forecasts that are more accurate and detailed than ever, and to communicate them instantly to key communities and businesses. We need a U.S. Weather Commission to ensure that our entire weather research and technology enterprise provides maximum benefit to the nation."

The commission would advise federal policymakers on setting priorities for improving forecasts and creating a more weatherproof nation. Normal fluctuations in weather have an estimated economic impact of $485 billion annually. Add that to the $52 billion price tag of major storms just last year, and it becomes clear that the goal for this commission would be to ensure cost-effective spending on the nation's weather systems while minimizing the economic impact of the weather itself.

The National Academy of Sciences released a hallmark report earlier this year entitled "Weather Services for the Nation: Becoming Second to None." This report concluded that the country faces challenges in harnessing the best science and private resources available for protecting the nation from weather impacts, even with the recent concerted efforts to modernize the National Weather Service.

The report identifies those challenges as being rooted in evolving scientific and technological advances, rapidly changing needs of the nation's weather information consumers, and an increasingly capable and growing third-party community of weather service providers.

Twice in the past, Congress has created an ocean commission for setting direction on commerce, research, and defense related to the world's oceans. However, there has never been a U.S. Weather Commission, even though weather has far-reaching effects on all Americans.

The commissioners would provide guidance on such issues as appropriate investments in satellite and radar systems, protecting vulnerable communities, setting research priorities, and meeting the needs of key sectors, ranging from agriculture to utilities to the U.S. Armed Forces.

"Weather is immeasurably important to public safety and our economic competitiveness," says Pam Emch, a senior staff engineer/scientist with Northrop Grumman Corporation and one of the panelists. "Effective organization of the diverse entities that span our weather enterprise is necessary for economic stability, innovation, and the good of the nation."

"Improved weather information can be an engine for economic growth," says panelist William Gail, of the Global Weather Corporation. "As we develop increasingly detailed understanding of our atmosphere, there is enormous potential for helping the public and businesses."

"We must keep pace with accelerating scientific and technological advances and meet expanding user needs in our increasingly information-centric society," says panelist John Armstrong, chair of the Committee on the Assessment of the National Weather Service's Modernization Program.

Guided by key actors across the entire weather enterprise, the commission approach will provide needed direction and consensus.

"The U.S. Weather Commission offers the promise of better research, state-of-the-art prediction, and protection for the health and prosperity of the U.S.," Bogdan says. "It will also foster growth for the innovative private weather sector we have all come to rely upon. This is an issue that affects all members of Congress and all their constituents, no matter where they live."

The panel briefing today was the first step in a process that will continue into the next Congress. Next, the panel will brief staff and members on the importance of the commission and the role it will play in an attempt to garner their guidance and support for establishing the commission in 2013.