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Expert panel calls for national weather commission

Emerging technologies, private-public cooperation could boost country’s weather readiness and mitigate impact of costly weather events

A national weather commission could help better prepare the U.S. for impacts from extreme weather events that may increase as the global climate warms. Photo by Bob Berwyn.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — A panel of weather experts this week said the U.S. needs a national weather commission to help policy makers leverage weather expertise and shape a response to weather events that cost billions of dollars.

The commission would bridge the gap between government and the private sector to better protect lives and businesses.

“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,” Bogdan said.

The commission would advise federal policymakers on setting priorities for improving forecasts and creating a more weather-proof nation. The goal is to help ensure cost-effective spending on the nation’s weather systems while minimizing the impacts of both major storms, which last year alone cost about $52 billion, and normal fluctuations in weather, which have an estimated annual economic impact of $485 billion.

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

These challenges are 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 services providers.

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

Commissioners would provide guidance on issues such as making 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,” said 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,” said panelist William Gail, co-founder and chief technology officer of the Global Weather Corporation. “As we develop increasingly detailed understanding of our atmosphere, there is enormous potential for helping the public and businesses,” Gail said.

Bogdan said that a commission approach, guided by key actors across the entire weather enterprise, 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.,” he said. “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.”

Today’s panel briefing was the first step in a process that will continue into the next Congress. The panel’s next steps are to brief staff and members on the importance of the commission and the role it will play, seeking their guidance and support for establishing the commission in 2013.

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