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There has been a lot of press coverage of late about the successful commercial space venture Space-X.   This private sector effort was able to build a launch vehicle (Falcon-9) and a spacecraft (Dragon) that not only worked flawlessly, but made a delivery to the international space station.  With NASA out of the manned space business for a while with the end of the Space Shuttle program, this feisty young company has taken on a role previously held only by a U.S. government agency, and they did it far faster and cheaper than a Federal entity could ever do.   To its credit, NASA has been supportive of Space-X's activities.



So now let's consider weather prediction.  A portion of U.S. numerical weather prediction has been done outside of the National Weather Service/NOAA and the U.S Navy (Fleet Numerical):  in the private sector and academic institutions (like the UW!).  However, the core global prediction infrastructure for the U.S. has really been a NWS function and most of the non-governmental efforts are dependent on NWS global grids, data assimilation, and other products.

Unfortunately, the current situation is not good.  The National Weather Service prediction efforts are crippled by inadequate computer infrastructure, lack of funds for research and development, an awkward and ineffective research lab structure out of control of NWS leaders, and government personnel rules that don't allow the NWS to replace ineffective research and development staff.  Lately there has been talk of furloughs for NWS personnel and a number of the NWS leadership are leaving.  The NWS has fallen seriously behind its competitors (e.g., the European Center for Medium Range Weather Forecasting, UKMET office, Canadian Meteorological Center) even though the U.S. has a huge advantage in intellectual capital (U.S. universities and the National Center for Atmospheric Research are world leaders in field, as are several U.S. government research labs--e.g, NRL Monterey).

So we have a U.S. government entity that has lost leadership in a key technological field of huge importance for the nation.  It no longer has the resources to be state-of-the-art and is hemmed in by ponderous governmental regulations.   Sounds quite a bit like NASA's situation, doesn't it?   And might the solution be the same?    Could a private company develop the capability for state of the art global prediction, high resolution regional prediction, and the ability to move into the probabilistic prediction we know represents the future?  Is it time for Weather-X?

The clear answer ... you bet.

Let me be honest, I am really surprised that a private sector firm hasn't taken on this challenge already, considering the obvious potential to create a forecast entity that could produce a product that would be in considerable demand.  For example, U.S. companies are spending millions of dollars to get the European Center (ECMWF) forecast model output---and it is possible to do far better than the ECMWF. 

To create this new firm one would need large computer resources (.5 to 1 petaflops would be a good place to start).   That would cost 10-15 million dollars to buy from scratch, but many companies (e.g., Microsoft, Google, Boeing, Amazon, IBM, major defense contractors, and more) have it already.

The new firm would need computer models, but those are already freely available, and research folks like myself could easily be bribed to help with some research grants (trust me on this!).  In fact, the research community would be lining up at the door to help if some $ was available.

The most difficult aspect is the data assimilation part... securing all the satellite and observational assets needed to initialize the forecasts---but many of those are in the public domain and I suspect that some deals could be made with NASA, NOAA, and the European Space Agency.  And there are some potentially very useful data sets that the NWS can't afford today that would be a substantial value (e.g., weather data from commuter planes).

Yes, it would probably take 5-25 million dollars to get started on this, but consider that the folks at Space-X invested 100 million dollars for a venture that was far more speculative.   Local investors are willing to spend as much or more ON A BASKETBALL TEAM. 

There is no doubt this idea would work. The best weather forecasts in the world would be a valuable commodity for many industries that would be ready to pay (e.g., renewable energy, agriculture, power generation and distribution, shipping...the list is endless).   Want to make your search engine attractive?   Have the best forecasts available on it!

Some of you might argue that my colleagues in the NWS might not be pleased about such an upstart.  But if NASA can happily agree to work with a private sector firm to take on some of its work, why should the NWS be any different?  I suspect the private sector could fulfill this function more effectively and at less cost.  And the benefit to the nation of vastly improved weather prediction guidance could be enormous.

As noted above, there are several companies that already have the computer and IT infrastructure in place to take this on (such as Microsoft, Google, Apple, and Amazon).  Several of them are found here in the Northwest.  All that is missing is the vision to see the opportunity and seize it.

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