Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. National Weather Service

 
“Should we talk about the weather?
Should we talk about the government?”
– R.E.M., Pop Song 89
 
As we turn to December, this post closes out our varied ruminations on service by politicizing the most mundane of subjects: the weather. My apologies for taking the last subject suitable for polite conversation into the realm of controversy. Or perhaps like me, you’ve noticed that opinions about the weather have become yet another ideological marker that threatens to divide family, friends and citizens from one another.
 
Modern weather forecasting, like dentistry, is an undeniable benefit to our country. But as the National Weather Service (NWS) looks toward its 150th anniversary in 2020, should we ask whether the services it provides ought to remain the purview of the government? 
 
The government’s long-standing role in weather forecasting is itself an argument for maintaining the status quo. Yet the increasingly politicized nature of weather and climate science, along with ever increasing government spending and a vibrant market for weather forecasting may suggest that a bureaucracy such as the NWS has lived long enough. 
Published in Group Writing
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There are 24 comments.

  1. Arahant Member

    It’s an interesting question, and I admit that I’m torn. All commercial forms of news have become entertainment and as such, are overhyped. On the other hand, there is the politicization of the bureaucracy.

    • #1
    • November 30, 2019, at 8:13 PM PST
    • 7 likes
  2. Boss Mongo Member

    Ah, well you see, @lillyb, you keep talkin’ about weather.

    That’s a no-no.

    Weather is immediate and you can quickly amass the data you need to make a good decision on actions to take locally.

    T’ have a seat at the table darlin’, yer gonna need to use the term “climate change.”

    • #2
    • November 30, 2019, at 9:46 PM PST
    • 15 likes
  3. Front Seat Cat Member

    I like the National Weather Service. Here in Fl, it offers necessary alerts, on radio, phone, and TV. When they allude to hit the deck, I do…..

    • #3
    • December 1, 2019, at 5:47 AM PST
    • 6 likes
  4. Nohaaj Coolidge

    Lilly B: My apologies for taking the last subject suitable for polite conversation into the realm of controversy

    How Dare You!

    • #4
    • December 1, 2019, at 6:05 AM PST
    • 7 likes
  5. Lilly B Coolidge
    Lilly B Post author

    Front Seat Cat (View Comment):

    I like the National Weather Service. Here in Fl, it offers necessary alerts, on radio, phone, and TV. When they allude to hit the deck, I do…..

    Exactly. So if this service is valuable, could it be provided as well or better by a private company?

    • #5
    • December 1, 2019, at 7:06 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  6. Lilly B Coolidge
    Lilly B Post author

    Arahant (View Comment):

    It’s an interesting question, and I admit that I’m torn. All commercial forms of news have become entertainment and as such, are overhyped. On the other hand, there is the politicization of the bureaucracy.

    I’m similarly torn, but I have read arguments for privatization and for maintaining every penny of the NWS (and probably more). The original service was established under the War Department, while it’s now under Commerce. The justification for having a national service take over for states was the expense of maintaining the infrastructure. Maybe that’s still true, and maybe we’d rather not have private companies have too much power. 

    I wonder if there are parts of the service that could be privatized, and likely some that could be scrapped without consequence. If we can’t ask these kinds of questions about a billion dollar “service” within the even bigger National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) under the federal Department of Commerce, then I doubt we’ll ever address the excessive mission creep of the federal government. It’s ultimately contrary to the design of our republican representative democracy. Too late? 

    • #6
    • December 1, 2019, at 7:10 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  7. Jon1979 Lincoln

    As others have noted, the NWS has been politicized for a while now due to climate change, especially in using what were rural weather monitoring stations 50-100 years ago and using their now-urban Heat Island numbers to show the planet is heating up generally.

    • #7
    • December 1, 2019, at 7:19 AM PST
    • 5 likes
  8. OldPhil Coolidge

    If we turned it over to The Weather Channel, there’d have to be a name for every cloud that formed over the continental United States. 

    • #8
    • December 1, 2019, at 7:56 AM PST
    • 8 likes
  9. Vectorman Thatcher

    Lilly B (View Comment):
    I’m similarly torn, but I have read arguments for privatization and for maintaining every penny of the NWS (and probably more). The original service was established under the War Department, while it’s now under Commerce. The justification for having a national service take over for states was the expense of maintaining the infrastructure. Maybe that’s still true, and maybe we’d rather not have private companies have too much power.

    The US government has measuring sites located at most tower controlled airports. In addition, many smaller airports have AWOS and ASOS. Along with weather radar, these services form the raw data for most short term weather forecasting.

    Unfortunately, the government does not always make it easy to get this information online. AWOS and ASOS information is usually accessed by telephone. Weather Radar can be found on sites like Weather Undergroundbut there are delays built into the updates. The National Weather Service updates about every hour, but the information doesn’t show up online until 10 – 20 minutes later.

    In short, we pay for good data, which private weather services can use, but the presentation of the information could be better.

    • #9
    • December 1, 2019, at 8:58 AM PST
    • 4 likes
  10. Bruce Caward Thatcher

    OldPhil (View Comment):

    If we turned it over to The Weather Channel, there’d have to be a name for every cloud that formed over the continental United States.

    That’s pretty funny.

    • #10
    • December 1, 2019, at 9:13 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  11. Arahant Member

    Lilly B (View Comment):
    Too late?

    It’s the people’s choice, but do they even know it?

    • #11
    • December 1, 2019, at 10:48 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  12. OmegaPaladin Moderator

    The National Weather Service is really good at forecasting weather. Their forecasts save lives, and they make the information available widely and freely. This includes areas too small to support weather forecasting. It’s the same reason I support the Postal Service.

    All I want is for them to just stick to their damned job.

    • #12
    • December 1, 2019, at 11:31 AM PST
    • 7 likes
  13. Clifford A. Brown Contributor

    Hurray for a thought provoking post at the end of the month, crafted in short enough form to catch readers’ attention on Thanksgiving weekend. This post is part of the November theme, “Service.” December’s theme is “Memories,” and it is rapidly filling.

    • #13
    • December 1, 2019, at 8:50 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  14. Larry3435 Member

    But without the NWS, how would we get weather maps on TV with blobs of color moving around too fast to follow, much less figure out what they mean? Or learn that there is a 20% chance of rain, which means that it will rain unless it doesn’t? We would have to go back to the old-fashioned method of weather forecasting, which is, “Tomorrow will probably be pretty much like today.” That actually may be more accurate than what most meteorologists come up with. (Hmm, I ended that sentence with a preposition. Should it be “up with which meteorologists come”?)

    • #14
    • December 2, 2019, at 4:32 AM PST
    • 1 like
  15. Phil Turmel Coolidge

    Weather prediction is a core component of military planning, and not just (or even particularly) on land. The National Weather Service would have to be replicated within the military if it didn’t exist. It is a necessary government function that happens to have non-military applications. Kinda’ like GPS, but with a longer pedigree.

    I’m with @omegapaladin: They just need to stick to their damned job.

    • #15
    • December 2, 2019, at 7:22 AM PST
    • 4 likes
  16. WillowSpring Member

    Ten years or so ago, I would have said that the Government should have a role in overall data collection , state governments take a role in emergency warnings and leave the day to day predictions to commercial interests*. These days, I think the government role has become too politicized and should be restructured.

    I am reminded of an often forgotten part of Eisenhower’s “Military Industrial Complex” speech. Here is the relevant part:

    Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers.The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present and is gravely to be regarded. Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific technological elite.

    The full speech is here https://avalon.law.yale.edu/20th_century/eisenhower001.asp

    *I subscribe to the premium service of https://www.weatherbell.com/#featured. It is sort of pricey at $240/year, but does long term predictions based on comparisons to historical patterns. This intrigues me, since it is the same technique used by the team in WWII that my father worked with to predict the best time for the D-Day assault. Joe Bastardi is one of the principle authors.

    @vectorman

    The US government has measuring sites located at most tower controlled airports. In addition, many smaller airports have AWOS and ASOS. Along with weather radar, these services form the raw data for most short term weather forecasting.

    They are fine for that purpose, but unfortunately, the data forms a substantial part of the data used in “climate change” analysis. Most of these airports were once in fairly rural areas and have been expanded and encroached on by development, contributing to an artificial increase in measured temperatures.

     

    • #16
    • December 2, 2019, at 7:54 AM PST
    • 4 likes
  17. GLDIII Temporarily Essential Thatcher

    Apparently NOAA is wondering about their role as well. And leave it to the Whitewash Post to inject their political commentary at the end. If they (NOAA) stuck to weather and refrain from opining on climate change, I suspect they would be left alone to continue providing their products.

    The problem is some of their rank and file cannot but help but go into the archives and “fiddle” with data. This include some of the folks substituting inlet water temperature from ocean going vessels (which is subject to “interpretation”) vs the more accurate and expensively tax payer funded buoy data, but alas it is un-fudgeable and more pervasive (ie outside of the shipping lanes).

    They had their own internal brouhaha over these shenanigans, but seems only the prevailing zeitgeist of rising sea temperatures makes it to the front pages.

    • #17
    • December 2, 2019, at 8:05 AM PST
    • 4 likes
  18. Lilly B Coolidge
    Lilly B Post author


    GLDIII Temporarily Essential (View Comment)
    :

    Apparently NOAA is wondering about their role as well. And leave it to the Whitewash Post to inject their political commentary at the end. If they (NOAA) stuck to weather and refrain from opining on climate change, I suspect they would be left alone to continue providing their products.

    I just saw that WaPo article this morning, since it appears in the December 1st print edition. We were traveling yesterday. 

    This part is interesting:

    The Weather Service is already sometimes lagging behind global technological advances, especially in computer model accuracy.

    And this:

    According to Mary Glackin, a veteran of senior-level positions at NOAA and IBM who is president-elect of the American Meteorological Society, the agency isn’t innovating quickly enough.

    I appreciate all the informed comments above, since I realize this is a complicated topic about which I am not that familiar. What I am familiar with is the mindset of bureaucratic experts and climate change true-believers. I hope that commercial competition will be good for the NWS.

    • #18
    • December 2, 2019, at 9:05 AM PST
    • 1 like
  19. WillowSpring Member

    GLDIII Temporarily Essential (View Comment):
    The problem is some of their rank and file cannot but help but go into the archives and “fiddle” with data. This include some of the folks substituting inlet water temperature from ocean going vessels (which is subject to “interpretation”) vs the more accurate and expensively tax payer funded buoy data, but alas it is un-fudgeable and more pervasive (ie outside of the shipping lanes).

    I don’t have a problem with adjustments, per se. In an example before yours, the temperature was taken early on by dipping a wooden bucket from a sailing ship, bringing it up and measuring the temperature. Then came the switch to engine inlet temperature. It was felt that some adjustment was needed, since evaporation cooled the bucket system, but not the inlet temperature. That sounds plausible and at least a reason was given.

    I have two problems with the adjustments. The first is that in most cases, they have astoundingly only kept the ‘as adjusted’ data and not the original and the adjustment methods are not tracked. In my life as an engineer, treating original data as cavalierly as that would get you fired or at least reprimanded.

    The other problem is that amazingly, almost all adjustments are in the direction of climate change. Below is one of my favorite plots showing this. The “hockey stick” you see is not the NASA Global surface temperature, but the adjustments made to it. This seems very suspicious, as does making an adjustment sometime after 2001 to a temperature taken in the 1920’s.

     

    • #19
    • December 2, 2019, at 9:23 AM PST
    • 5 likes
  20. Al French, Count of Clackamas Member

    When I served on a Navy destroyer in 1970, every day at sea included taking water temperature gradient for anti submarine warfare purposes, as well as air temperature and humidity measurements. We also occasionally launched weather balloons. I wonder what happened to all that data. I presume that it was all sent to the Naval Oceanographic Office.

    • #20
    • December 2, 2019, at 9:57 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  21. GLDIII Temporarily Essential Thatcher

    WillowSpring (View Comment):

    GLDIII Temporarily Essential (View Comment):
    The problem is some of their rank and file cannot but help but go into the archives and “fiddle” with data. This include some of the folks substituting inlet water temperature from ocean going vessels (which is subject to “interpretation”) vs the more accurate and expensively tax payer funded buoy data, but alas it is un-fudgeable and more pervasive (ie outside of the shipping lanes).

    I don’t have a problem with adjustments, per se. In an example before yours, the temperature was taken early on by dipping a wooden bucket from a sailing ship, bringing it up and measuring the temperature. Then came the switch to engine inlet temperature. It was felt that some adjustment was needed, since evaporation cooled the bucket system, but not the inlet temperature. That sounds plausible and at least a reason was given.

    I have two problems with the adjustments. The first is that in most cases, they have astoundingly only kept the ‘as adjusted’ data and not the original and the adjustment methods are not tracked. In my life as an engineer, treating original data as cavalierly as that would get you fired or at least reprimanded.

    The other problem is that amazingly, almost all adjustments are in the direction of climate change. Below is one of my favorite plots showing this. The “hockey stick” you see is not the NASA Global surface temperature, but the adjustments made to it. This seems very suspicious, as does making an adjustment sometime after 2001 to a temperature taken in the 1920’s.

     

    I have been working for NASA for coming up to 40 years, and I thought our earliest satellite base measurements of the earth started in the middle 60’s. How do we have global measurements that need “adjusting” back to the 1920’s?

    As some one who regularly has to go in the lab to make temperature measurements on our various experimental payloads, we always have the dance on accuracy and repeatability, and this is in an environment where knowledge is very important. I shudder to think of all of the probable errors in a non precision situation such as a inlet temperature from various ships, with non calibrated measurements, and how each ship defines where to make that inlet measurement, and then say we have a confident understanding of sea surface temperature down to 0.1C. 

    Yeah just not buying it.

    • #21
    • December 2, 2019, at 10:19 AM PST
    • 7 likes
  22. Lilly B Coolidge
    Lilly B Post author

    GLDIII Temporarily Essential (View Comment):

    WillowSpring (View Comment):

    GLDIII Temporarily Essential (View Comment):
    The problem is some of their rank and file cannot but help but go into the archives and “fiddle” with data. This include some of the folks substituting inlet water temperature from ocean going vessels (which is subject to “interpretation”) vs the more accurate and expensively tax payer funded buoy data, but alas it is un-fudgeable and more pervasive (ie outside of the shipping lanes).

    I don’t have a problem with adjustments, per se. In an example before yours, the temperature was taken early on by dipping a wooden bucket from a sailing ship, bringing it up and measuring the temperature. Then came the switch to engine inlet temperature. It was felt that some adjustment was needed, since evaporation cooled the bucket system, but not the inlet temperature. That sounds plausible and at least a reason was given.

    I have two problems with the adjustments. The first is that in most cases, they have astoundingly only kept the ‘as adjusted’ data and not the original and the adjustment methods are not tracked. In my life as an engineer, treating original data as cavalierly as that would get you fired or at least reprimanded.

    The other problem is that amazingly, almost all adjustments are in the direction of climate change. Below is one of my favorite plots showing this. The “hockey stick” you see is not the NASA Global surface temperature, but the adjustments made to it. This seems very suspicious, as does making an adjustment sometime after 2001 to a temperature taken in the 1920’s.

     

    I have been working for NASA for coming up to 40 years, and I thought our earliest satellite base measurements of the earth started in the middle 60’s. How do we have global measurements that need “adjusting” back to the 1920’s?

    As some one who regularly has to go in the lab to make temperature measurements on our various experimental payloads, we always have the dance on accuracy and repeatability, and this is in an environment where knowledge is very important. I shudder to think of all of the probable errors in a non precision situation such as a inlet temperature from various ships, with non calibrated measurements, and how each ship defines where to make that inlet measurement, and then say we have a confident understanding of sea surface temperature down to 0.1C.

    Yeah just not buying it.

    Here’s a link to a long series of articles on the manipulation of historical climate.

    I can’t claim to have read it all, so it’s not an endorsement. I’d be interested in your thoughts if you have time to peruse any of it.

    • #22
    • December 2, 2019, at 11:26 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  23. WillowSpring Member

    @LillyB – the article linked is a pretty good summary and has some good links. I came into all of this about this time:

    The story of Ball’s vindication, and of Mann’s shame, is a somewhat long one, and turns on Mann’s flat refusal to share publicly the data and methodology by which he constructed the Hockey Stick graph. In about 2003 a very talented Canadian mathematician named Steve McIntyre began an effort to replicate the Mann/Bradley/Hughes work. McIntyre started with a request to Mann to provide the underlying data and methodologies (computer programming) that generated the graph. To his surprise, McIntyre was met not with prompt compliance (which would be the sine qua non of actual science) but rather with hostility and evasion. McIntyre started a blog called Climate Audit and began writing lengthy posts about his extensive and unsuccessful efforts to reconstruct the Hockey Stick. Although McIntyre never completely succeeded in perfectly reconstructing the Hockey Stick, over time he gradually established that Mann et al. had adopted a complex methodology that selectively emphasized certain temperature proxies over others in order to reverse-engineer the “shaft” of the stick to get a pre-determined desired outcome.

    I was very interested in a statistical programming language called ‘R’ and was looking for non-trivial uses of it. Steve McIntyre’s blog – https://climateaudit.org/ had actual code along with analysis. This was when he was trying to replicate the “hockey stick” and could not. McIntyre is very smart, has a lot of experience in using statistics where there are legal issues if you ‘cheat’ and is also very transparent. He posted the exchange about his attempt to get more details on data and methods and the reply was basically: “Why should I give you anything? You will just try to find problems with it!” Well, yeah! that is how science is supposed to work.

    One serious issue with the “Hockey Stick” is that the flat part of the stick misses various well known climate extremes such as the Midieval warm period and the little ice age. Eventually McIntyre showed that Mann’s methods would take noise data and produce a hockey stick.

    The linked article mentions “Climate Gate”. That happened when a “whistleblower” leaked a lot of emails from the Climate Research Unit (CRU). The site that I recommend a lot has a section summarizing the analysis that was done back then on the emails https://wattsupwiththat.com/climategate/ . Basically, it makes it clear that data was being faked, graphs being produced which “spliced” one type of data with another, a “peer review” system which was really “friend review” and that there was a substantial effort by the climate “In crowd” to exclude any skeptics (I would say real scientists) from publishing.

    I apologize that this is such a long response – clearly, it is a topic that “triggers” me.

    • #23
    • December 2, 2019, at 1:04 PM PST
    • 7 likes
  24. Lilly B Coolidge
    Lilly B Post author

    WillowSpring (View Comment):

    @LillyB – the article linked is a pretty good summary and has some good links. I came into all of this about this time

    I was very interested in a statistical programming language called ‘R’ and was looking for non-trivial uses of it. Steve McIntyre’s blog – https://climateaudit.org/ had actual code along with analysis. This was when he was trying to replicate the “hockey stick” and could not. McIntyre is very smart, has a lot of experience in using statistics where there are legal issues if you ‘cheat’ and is also very transparent. He posted the exchange about his attempt to get more details on data and methods and the reply was basically: “Why should I give you anything? You will just try to find problems with it!” Well, yeah! that is how science is supposed to work.

    One serious issue with the “Hockey Stick” is that the flat part of the stick misses various well known climate extremes such as the Midieval warm period and the little ice age. Eventually McIntyre showed that Mann’s methods would take noise data and produce a hockey stick.

    The linked article mentions “Climate Gate”. That happened when a “whistleblower” leaked a lot of emails from the Climate Research Unit (CRU). The site that I recommend a lot has a section summarizing the analysis that was done back then on the emails https://wattsupwiththat.com/climategate/ . Basically, it makes it clear that data was being faked, graphs being produced which “spliced” one type of data with another, a “peer review” system which was really “friend review” and that there was a substantial effort by the climate “In crowd” to exclude any skeptics (I would say real scientists) from publishing.

    I apologize that this is such a long response – clearly, it is a topic that “triggers” me.

    No apologies necessary! I think this is a fascinating and important topic, with massive implications for policy. I found the arguments against the NWS remaining purely governmental on wattsupwiththat. And I remember the whole climate gate controversy.

    It seems foundational that science should be subject to testing and that underlying data would be crucial to that effort. But it’s clear that something other than science is being pushed. Some scientists may understand that they are serving particular political and ideological interests, and some may just be chasing research grants. 

    • #24
    • December 2, 2019, at 1:49 PM PST
    • 2 likes