As the sun rises on this Feb. 5, 2013, please take a moment to think about the tens of thousands of people that it takes to bring you weather forecasts and weather warnings on a routine basis. Think, too, about the tens of thousands of weather observers, storm spotters, technical staff and others that help support the Nation’s weather enterprise. Today is the 280th anniversary of the birth of John Jefferies, one of the Nation’s first weather observers. Somewhere along the way, this day became known as National Weatherman’s Day. With no offense to the growing number of female members of the profession and its behind the scenes support team, I will not succumb to the politically correct rewriting of the holiday’s name.
According to the St. Louis office of the National Weather Service (NWS), Jeffries, “began taking daily weather observations in Boston in 1774 and he took the first balloon observation in 1784.”
Jefferson, Washington, Franklin and others helped support weather science in our Nation’s early years.
There were scores of others in Europe and elsewhere around the world who helped build the science we know today, the technology that drives it and its myriad of applications. This includes conceptual and computer-based models of the atmosphere, physical understanding of the myriad of atmospheric processes that drive the atmosphere and its water-based hydrologic arms, weather tools [such as radar (Fig. 1), satellite (Fig. 2), radiosondes and hurricane hunter aircraft (Fig. 3)], weather education, TV weathercasting, weather consulting to businesses, attorneys, emergency managers and others, and so much more.
Clearly climate science, space weather, hydrology and oceanography are among closely affiliated sciences and are players in the American weather enterprise. This “enterprise,” according to Tim Spangler, recently retired director of the COMET (Cooperative Program for Operational Meteorology, Education and Training) atmospheric sciences training program, “…estimates the broad U.S. weather and climate industry at more than $5 billion, including some 250 commercial weather companies that generate roughly $2 billion.” Based on my assessment of the enterprise, I think he may have seriously underestimated the value of weather to the Nation.
The driver of the enterprise is clearly NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and its weather, satellite and climate agencies. These provide the main observational, data handling and computational power for the rest of the enterprise. NASA and a host of other Federal agencies, universities and private sector companies are drivers in the research and operational applications of weather information. These support nearly every aspect of our lives – weather safety, water management, forest fire fighting, aviation, boating, agriculture, home energy use and more. What once used to be a challenge, predicting a day or two ahead of the weather, has now been replaced by forecasts a week or more into the future (Fig. 4), seasonal forecasts (Fig. 5) and even the onset of longer-term ocean patterns (like El Nino).
There are also a host of professional organizations that support the weather enterprise in various ways (including the advancement of scientific understanding about the atmosphere). These include, but are not limited to: The American Meteorological Society (AMS), the National Weather Association (NWA), the National Council of Industrial Meteorologists (NCIM) and the American Weather and Climate Industry Association (AWCIA).
There is even a proposal to create a Weather Coalition.
This is, in my humble opinion, an ill-conceived idea because it would place a new bureaucracy over existing organizations that already effectively collaborate and support the weather enterprise.
There are scores of spotter organizations out there, too, each of which helps provide the eyes and ears for local communities when it comes to detecting significant weather (tornadoes, large hail, high winds, heavy rain, heavy snow, more).
The COCORAHS network has amassed more than 10,000 rainfall and snowfall observers, most of which report their data daily to a highly interactive nationwide web site.
And COCORAHS has even reached our neighbor to the north, furthering the data gathering effort to much of North America.
There’s also Weatherwise Magazine and its easy-to-read articles that help people better understand the weather.
TV meteorologists are an integral part of all news shows (local and national). However, no testimonial about weather can ignore The Weather Channel for its more than 30 years of focusing on the weather almost 24-7. The network’s first weathercast was on May 2, 1982.
These days, one can’t ignore the Internet when it comes to weather. I just performed a Google search for weather and netted 1,150,000,000 hits. It may or may not be the top search word, but it’s still HUGE!
So, when you go out today, hopefully dressed for the weather, take a moment, however brief, to think about the army of meteorologists and their support team who bring you the best weather, water, and climate forecasts and warning services of any nation. These really are one of the most dedicated and customer-service driven groups of people in the Nation.
As one who has undertaken weather education activities since 1979 through my How The Weatherworks company (school-based programs, teacher training, book writing, online writing, forensic support and more), I hope that this brief article helps you gain a better understanding of what meteorologists do to support the entire Nation.
Allen Pearson, former director of the National’s Severe Weather Prediction Center, noted some 40 years ago, “the cost to the Nation annually for this support is about the price of a McDonald’s Big Mac per person.” It might be a bit pricier these days, but it’s still a bargain.
© 2013, H. Michael Mogil