NOAA updates policy on weather info dissemination

NOAA updates policy on weather info dissemination

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has updated its policy on sharing weather-related information.

The agency still plans to make the data easily accessible on the Web.

The policy update follows a year of debate over how vigorously NOAA should work to disseminate its weather information, and how much it should leave to industry.

The agency has left the bulk of the job to the commercial media, such as TV networks and newspapers. These outlets have long used the National Weather Service’s forecasts and alerts, available as satellite feeds, teletypes and other means, as the basis for weather reports.

More recently, however, NOAA has branched out with its own basic weather forecasts on its own Web site. NOAA is also testing e-mail, a wireless access protocol for mobile phones and a Web service that could provide other applications or Web pages with weather information.

These technology forays have worried commercial providers of weather reports, which have voiced concern about the government encroaching on their turf.

A company doesn’t want to build a consumer service at great expense only to have an agency offer a similar competing service, said John Toohey Morales, president of the National Council of Industrial Meteorologists.

On the other side of the debate are consumer advocacy groups, such as the Center for Democracy and Technology, which lauds NOAA for continuing to make its data easily accessible.

“The public should not have to pay twice for weather information,” said Ari Schwartz, an analyst at the Washington center.

The NOAA update is a reworking of a 1991 policy that defined how the National Weather Service should work with the private sector in collecting and disseminating weather information to the public. Released as a draft for comment in January, the proposed policy received 1,473 comments, at least 1,190 supporting the policy and 176 opposing it.

Many of the comments noted the growing privatization of weather services.

“I was getting the distinct feeling that commercial entities were being favored by the NWS. I could see the day coming when I would have to pay for any weather info
not provided by public broadcasters,” one comment noted.

As a result of these comments, the agency drafted a new section stating specifically that the agency would continue to use open Internet standards to make its forecasts and alerts available to the general public, said Edward Johnson, director of NOAA’s Strategic Planning Office.

For guidance on the issue, the agency looked to OMB Circular A-130, Johnson said. The circular mandates that agencies must make their information available in commonly accepted formats and through public conduits, such as the Internet.

The NOAA policy also clarifies the process the agency will take in the future in using new technologies.

Schwartz said his center approves of the new policy. Morales said the National Council of Industrial Meteorologists is still reviewing it.

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