A Meteorological Example of the Superiority of the Private Sector

This isn’t going to be a long post…but I thought it worth comment that the United States is not the superior force in numerical weather prediction or in the operational forecasting process…or in the provision of archived model data…or in the administration of climatic data…or in the development of upper air measuring devices (ours used to be good…then they were “improved” and are now shit)…or…well…anything reelated to atmospheric science.

How the hell did THAT happen?  The US is supposedly an exceptional nation…we were, at one time at the height of the world in understanding the atmosphere.  We were the first nation to have a weather bureau, the first nation to send weather information by wire, the first nation to develop a numerical weather prediction model, the first nation to forecast the weather beyond day two, the first nation to launch weather satellites and monitor hurricanes that way…the nation that invented weather radar, the rawinsounde, and the blinkin’ sling sychrometer.  The first nation to understand sewvere thunderstorms and even tornadogenesis.  The first to have tornado sirens and severe thunderstorm warnings and weather radio.  The first to link the emergency broadcast system to weather information.  The first at EVERYTHING until fairly recently (about 20 years ago).

So…why aren’t we at the top anymore?  Why is the European Center for Medium Range Weather Forecasting a superior weather outlet?  Why does there model have 50% more vertical levels, twice the spatial resolution, twice the ensemble members and 10-20% more forecast skill?  Why are they the ones teaching US how to keep climate records?  Why are our upper air soundings frought with HUGE glitches in relative humidity and wind direction while they’re still producing outstanding upper air data?  Here it is in four words.  They’re a private company.

The NWS and all of the various weather-related NOAA branches aren’t doing a bad job…they are good scientists doing the best that they can.  But government is less efficient than business…and the European Center is a business.  They sell their model data to private corporations for a very large price…and people pay it!  They sell their model data to the NWS…and we pay an even HIGHER price.  They sell their data and we give it away for free and hey…here’s a shock…they can afford giant supercomputers that make our NCEP machine look like a child’s calculator.  They have better data assimilation schemes (that’s the process by which all of the observations we get are merged into our best guess at what the entire atmosphere is doing at the start of a model cycle), better model physics, and better ensembles.  All because they can buy a better computer.

Don’t let the left fool you…government-run weather services aren’t a God-given right…they’re not even a good idea.  Unlike some, I will not argue that the NWS needs to be replaced or disbanded.  I think the government DOES have a place in weather prediction…but they shouldn’t have a monopoly on the production of forecast models, or weather data, or of forecasts.  If I had my druthers, the NWS and other weather brancehs would have one job…save lives and property with timely warnings and watches and make some good, basic forecasts accessible to everyone.  Let the private sector do your innovating.  You’ll be amazed at what happens.

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