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FOXNews.com - Does Government Weather Forecasting Endanger Lives? - Opinion

Fox News: Fair and balanced or fairly unbalanced? I invite you all to check out a new editorial by John Lott being distributed by Fox News. I'm not about to get too deeply dragged into a "he said, she said" debate with someone who is clearly so far off-base that it is scary, but I wanted to let everyone know that this misinformation is out there. Please take a change to read the editorial before continuing with my response.

Lott claims that the National Weather Service's (NWS) forecast are more inaccurate than private forecasts and therefor, money and lives could be saved by eliminating the weather service. Need I point out what crap this is? Because every fear mongering weather article today has to reference Hurricane Katrina, Lott makes the claim that Accuweather (the big weather corporation based in Pennsylvania) beat the National Hurricane Center (NHC) by 12 hours in forecasting Katrina to strike New Orleans. He cites some statistics (of course provided by a private weather forecasting firm) that NWS forecasts show about 20% greater error than private forecasts. While I cannot just pull statistics out of thin air that discredit this claim, I can assure you that from personal experience this sounds like junk. Every NWS forecast office alone has a forecast staff the same size as most private forecast companies. My guess is that these statistics he cites, are for specific locations that the companies are paid to tailor their forecasts for. However, the Katrina claim is quite easy to debunk as seen below.

Lott also makes no mention of Accuweather's forecast from last year calling for a devastating major hurricane strike in the Northeast. Nor does he mention their seasonal forecast of only 5 hurricanes for the record breaking year of 2005. However, he is quick to point out the inaccuracy of government issued 'outlooks' (NWS does not issue seasonal 'forecasts' despite his claim). This exerpt is circulating among the tropical meteorology professional community:

(ACCUWeather for 2005):

Private forecaster eyes Carolinas NOAA officials said they could not predict how many of the storms would hit the U.S. coast. The season typically peaks in August. However, Joe Bastardi, a meteorologist with private forecasting company AccuWeather, predicted most of the remaining storms this year will take a more easterly path than the June and July storms that entered the Gulf of Mexico.

"The most action will be from Aug. 15 to Oct. 15 along the Eastern Seaboard. I'm targeting the Carolinas for the worst," Bastardi said. "Also, there will be (landfalls) in New England and the Florida coast."

Of course, as we all know the 2005 season brought three Category 5 hurricanes (Katrina, Rita, and Wilma) into the Gulf of Mexico during the period when Accuweather claimed the Gulf would be quiet. In the interest of full disclosure, I do not work for NWS. I do not work for any private weather company. I have professional contacts in both camps, but even more contacts in the private companies. If anything, I stand to make more money from privatization. However, I also have a responsibility to society to share the truth.

I do not see how a private company could possibly maintain all of the surface weather stations, weather balloon stations, weather radars, public advisories (like tornado warnings), hurricane hunter recon flights, and create and maintain the weather models necessary to replace NWS. There is a reason they have a billion dollar budget -- they need it. I can claim that for every dollar the government spends on weather forecasting they save ten dollars in agriculture alone. (I actually remember hearing this bit before but cannot cite it. More importantly than that, just try to prove me wrong.) There it is: fairly unbalanced.


Posted by Bryan Woods | Permalink