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March 7, 2018

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Essential Guide to the History, Current Trends, and Future of Meteorology and Climate

November 29, 2017

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The Future of the Weather Industry

August 1, 2017

If one were to attempt to analyze the private weather industry 50 years ago, they would find little to nothing. Weather was an entity mainly controlled by the military and the government, simply because they were the only ones with the technology and capability to forecast. Today, with the advancements in technology, there is a large private weather industry with a plethora of companies providing a variety of weather services. Companies range from media groups such as Accuweather and the Weather Channel to private consulting companies providing specialized forecasts.  In order to better grasp where the industry is headed, it is important to understand the current landscape of the industry and the trends within it.

 

 

Photo Credit: https://www.windowscentral.com/top-windows-phone-weather-apps-severe-weather

 

Weather has been and will most likely always be integrated into the consumer’s life through some sort of media platform. Companies like Accuweather and The Weather Channel do just this, providing both live broadcasts and programming through their respective TV stations, in addition to various web content through their websites. In addition to Weather based media companies, news outlets continue to provide local weather forecasts to their viewing areas. However, these companies have an edge over local news companies, because as technology advances, people are starting to transition away from normal cable programming. Today’s media scene is dominated by the internet, whether that be social media, mobile services, or content streaming. Companies like Accuweather and The Weather Channel also provide local weather forecasts through their websites, allowing the consumers to know exactly the type of weather “in their backyard,” just by simply imputing their zip code into a search bar.  Although these forecasts may be volatile and at times inaccurate, it is a direct line for the consumer to obtain a forecast on demand for their specific location, as opposed to listening to a local news broadcast that may forecast for a 120 mile radius.

In addition to media companies providing localized and specific forecasts, there are many weather consulting companies that provide specific and personalized forecasts for a variety of clients. There are plenty of private consulting companies on the market, with a majority of them comprised of either a team or single meteorologist. These consulting firms take the specialized forecasting to another level, providing specific forecasts tailored to the needs of the client.  Clients can ask for pretty much anything related to a weather forecast, whether that be a detailed forecast for the weekend of a wedding, or a marine wind forecast for a sailing company. The weather consulting business is largely driven by the demand of the client, and the ability for the client to work closely with the forecaster and have direct access to a meteorologist. However, while there are many private weather consulting firms listed under NOAA’s Directory Of Private Weather Services, around a third of them were presumably defunct when I received bounced emails when attempting to contact them. This, while perhaps troubling, is not all that surprising. Most of the companies listed under the website are operated by one person, which would most likely indicate that it is not one’s main form of income, and may not be so heavily attended to. In addition, the website was formed in 2005, and does not seem to have been updated since, and most likely does not have a comprehensive vetting process or checkup system to ensure that the companies are still active.

 

Outside of smaller weather consulting firms, another form of consulting has taken shape inside the energy industry. As we transition from fossil fuels to alternative energy sources, the weather has become a large player in the energy industry. While the weather has always affected oil prices and demand of energy, it is starting to play a direct role. For example, if an energy company is attempting to implant a wind farm to produce electricity, the placement of that wind farm would quite obviously need to be in a place that frequently experiences moderate to strong winds. Another example could be the placement and operation of solar panels, needing a meteorologist to determine the best location for the panels to receive the most sun, and to find a spot to obtain the most direct sun angle. As the alternative energy industry continues to grow, meteorologists will most likely be in demand to optimize the profits and returns.

 

 

Photo Credit: http://metraweather.com/energy/weather-services-for-energy-generators-retailers

 

The private weather industry has began to focus on the commercialization of the weather.  When the NWS was originally created its main purpose was to monitor the weather and provide forecasts to help people and protect the public from potential life threatening conditions. While this has of course continued to be a focal point of the weather industry and probably its biggest selling point, many in the private industry have shifted their focus from helping people to attempting to make the most money. One such example is the practice of trading commodities, such as oil and natural gas, on the basis of weather forecasts. If one were to know that an extended cold spell was on the way, and gas prices were low, they could buy a surplus of oil or buy oil futures, and then sell when the prices were to go up. This practice is similar to any investor or trader, however the meteorologist may have the advantage of understanding the weather to base their trading practices. Weather has such a large impact on the economy that there is a whole Weather Derivatives market, which uses index-based instruments to create an index on which a payout can be based dependent on the context, which was a relatively small market in 1998 at $500 million[1]. In 2011, the market had grown to $12 billion[2]. This is obviously a huge growth and signals the trend for the industry to focus on the revenue rich avenues regarding the weather. In addition, companies like Google have capitalized on forecasts to provide “weather accurate” advertisements to consumers[3]. For example, if there is a forecast for warmer weather, Google may advertise summer clothing over winter clothing. On the flip side however, there are companies that are attempting to advance the science while also capitalizing on the opportunity to cash in.

 

One of the biggest reasons that weather is an inexact science is because of the limitations of what data we can collect. The technology and manpower needed to collect data at every level of the atmosphere over a wide region is quite extensive, and even then we are limited in what we can collect. Even if we could saturate our data, we are still limited in the computing power of our current technology. This need for more data and better models has catapulted larger companies such as IBM with sufficient capital and technology into the weather industry. IBM recently acquired The Weather Channel and WSI, and has started to integrate their artificial intelligence technology, Watson, into weather forecasting. IBM will aim to improve their weather forecasting by both obtaining more data and by using their machine learning technology to interpret model output without the need of a human[4]. Other companies have followed suit with the launch of their own satellites and data-collecting products, as the industry begins to capitalize on the need for more data and observations.

Photo Credit: NOAA

 

It is important to mention however that without the NWS, much of the operations of the private weather industry would not be possible. The government provides an enormous amount of data, whether that is satellite products or weather balloon soundings that basically every meteorologist uses to construct a forecast. However, moving forward, the NWS will likely become just a large database as opposed to a forecasting entity. It is quite possible that many local offices will close and cease to provide forecasts while larger regional offices would take over their jurisdiction[5]. The absence of forecasts from the NWS will likely open the door for other meteorologists to provide localized forecasts.

 

Moving forward, weather forecasts in the traditional sense will most likely be accessible to the consumer primarily on a handheld device, on demand, at any time. As our technology continues to improve and new forecasting methods are established, a handheld device could effectively replace an on-air meteorologist. The daily consumer would want a quick way to access a forecast in order to plan for their day, and with the increased use of smartphones and mobile applications, an influx of accurate forecasting apps would essentially fill that demand. This however is a big if, because at the moment, there are some ideas to better our forecasting methods, but they are quite far from materializing.

 

Currently, meteorologists use a variety of products put out by the NWS, mainly a congregation of real time observations and data, coupled with the guidance of computer models to create a forecast. Many times, people will confuse weather models as the exact predictor of the weather and not as just another tool to formulate a forecast. As any meteorologist will tell you, the computer models are rarely entirely accurate, and often times miss certain aspects of a forecast that only a human could comprehend. A testament to their unreliability is the fact that any given time two computer models could be putting out two completely different scenarios with the same data. This of course is a problem that could only be solved with improvements in our understanding of the atmosphere to fine-tune our algorithms in addition to collecting more data. One such innovation in the “weather model sector” is the development of a new method to modeling the atmosphere: Earth System Modelling. This is a very interesting and ambitious effort to help not only accurately predict the weather but the other earth systems, including the hydrologic, geologic, and biological components of our planet. Earth System Modelling (ESM) aims to incorporate the chemical and biological processes of our planet into an extensive climate model that will weigh the effects that all living life has on our weather[6]. ESMs include processes, impacts, and complete feedback cycles; for example, they can stimulate droughts as well as the resulting change in plant cover due to the drought, which may lead to more or less drought[7]. They can even include the impact of human decision-making.

 

This type of model however requires an immense amount of data and computational power to analyze that data as well as to conduct a 100 year projection. Therefore this project has mainly been undertaken by the government, with the majority of the mathematics and computing taking place in the DOE Laboratories, along with collaboration with the private sector[8]. Since this type of model has applications outside of weather, all aspects of the private sector will be drawn to this project with an abundance of capital and resources to catapult the project. At its current state however, it lacks the computational power needed to actually complete an accurate model run. This is once again a great example of how much the weather industry is limited by technology.

 

One thing that is absolutely certain about our future however is the fact that our technology will improve. We will one day have the computational ability to run not only 100 year projections but 100,000 year projections. As our technology improves our ability to predict the weather, the classical human aspect of telling the weather to the consumer will most likely become outdated. There will undoubtedly be new avenues in the weather industry to take advantage of the accurate predictions. The weather derivatives market will continue to grow and people will continue to explore ways in which the weather can be used to make money. New, accurate and potential life-saving products such as real time lightning detection will continue to be created.

 

The weather industry looks to be expanding towards bigger things, and while the traditional view of the meteorologist may be one day down the road gone, beyond that, the sky's the limit.

 

 

Emanuel Beys: 

https://www.linkedin.com/in/emanuel-beys-2718a7115/

E: eb559@cornell.edu

 

Citations:

[1] Today’s Forecast for the Weather Business: Increased Revenues and a Focus on Innovation. Knowledge@Wharton (2013, April 10). Retrieved from http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/todays-forecast-for-the-weather-business-increased-revenues-and-a-focus-on-innovation

 

[2] Today’s Forecast for the Weather Business: Increased Revenues and a Focus on Innovation. Knowledge@Wharton (2013, April 10). Retrieved from http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/todays-forecast-for-the-weather-business-increased-revenues-and-a-focus-on-innovation/

 

[3] Today’s Forecast for the Weather Business: Increased Revenues and a Focus on Innovation. Knowledge@Wharton (2013, April 10). Retrieved from http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/todays-forecast-for-the-weather-business-increased-revenues-and-a-focus-on-innovation/

 

[4] Shepherd, M. (2016, June 07). When It Comes To U.S. Weather Forecasting: Private, Public Or Both? Retrieved July 31, 2017, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/marshallshepherd/2016/06/07/when-it-comes-to-u-s-weather-forecasting-private-public-or-both/#30ba98253a37

 

[5] Mandel, R., & Noyes, E. (2013, January 11). Beyond the NWS: Inside the Thriving Private Weather Forecasting Industry. Retrieved July 31, 2017, from http://www.weatherwise.org/Archives/Back%20Issues/2013/January-February%202013/beyond-nws-full.html

 

[6] Béland, M., & Thorpe, A. (2016, November 15). The Weather: What's the Outlook? Retrieved July 31, 2017, from https://public.wmo.int/en/resources/bulletin/weather-what%E2%80%99s-outlook-0

 

[7] Buonocore, M. (2014, July 24). Earth System Modeling, a definition. Retrieved July 31, 2017, from https://www.climateurope.eu/earth-system-modeling-a-definition/

 

[8] U.S. Department Of Energy. (2013, July 21). Earth System Modeling. Retrieved July 31, 2017, from https://climatemodeling.science.energy.gov/program/earth-system-modeling

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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