Chairman Begich, Ranking Member Rubio, and distinguished members of the Subcommittee: It is a privilege to be present here today and to testify. Thank you for your invitation. My name is
Let me first commend you for the attention you are giving to the topic of U.S. weather readiness. Support for our nation's weather infrastructure pays off many times in benefit to the nation, and legislation to accomplish that is wise. Properly crafted legislation, sufficiently comprehensive in scope and not overly prescriptive, can help achieve what I believe is a broadly supported objective of elevating the nation's weather, water, and climate capabilities.
I'll begin by speaking to you today in my role as a member of the Committee that produced the
BACKGROUND OF THE NRC SECOND TO NONE REPORT
In the first report, the Committee was asked to perform an overall review of the MAR, which was initiated in the 1980's and completed about a decade later. During that time, major upgrades were made to the satellite, radar, and ground-based observing systems. In addition, the field offices and national centers underwent significant restructuring and major staffing realignment.
Although the MAR faced many difficult lessons during this decade-long process, the Committee concluded that it was a success and worth the investment. One of the most striking results has been the improvement in the probability of detecting and issuing warnings for severe weather events. For example, the probability of detection for flash floods increased from about 40 percent to about 90 percent over the course of the MAR.
The second report, referred to widely as
IDENTIFYING TODAY'S KEY CHALLENGES
The MAR produced major improvements to our nation's weather observing systems and to the NWS structure. It was primarily the response to an internal failure to properly modernize the technology base and organizational structure from the mid 1950's to the early 1980's. The Committee felt that the NWS successfully internalized most lessons from the MAR, and has since continued to modernize to the extent that resources have allowed. Yet today the challenges the NWS faces are no less important than those that motivated the MAR era. However, rather than internal failures, today's challenges are largely external, reflecting the ever-more rapidly evolving user needs and technology context of our society. These challenges include:
* Keeping Pace. The pace of scientific and technological advancement in the atmospheric and hydrological sciences continues to accelerate. As an outgrowth of public and private-sector investment, technology advancements are exceeding the capacity of the NWS to optimally utilize these technological achievements. Furthermore, enormous amounts of data generated by new surface networks, radars, satellites, and numerical models need to be rapidly distilled into actionable information to create and communicate effective public forecasts and warnings. The skills required to comprehend, manage, and optimize this decision-making process go beyond traditional meteorological and hydrological curricula. Hence, the NWS workforce skill set will need to evolve appropriately.
* Meeting Expanding and Evolving User Needs. Increasingly,
* Partnering with an Increasingly Capable Enterprise n1. At the time of the MAR, delivery of weather information was largely synonymous with the NWS, the broadcasting sector, and those private-sector suppliers of weather data and services that supported the broadcasting sector (and a few specialized industries). Outside of this, the weather, water, and climate enterprise had limited capacity. Today, the enterprise has grown considerably, and now the NWS has many important partners. All of these entities rely on core NWS infrastructure and capabilities to provide customized services. Together this combination of the NWS and third parties serves the nation better than the NWS could on its own.
Today's challenges are made more difficult by the external context, two areas of which are of particular importance:
* Budget resources are uncertain and will likely be constrained for the next decade.
* Operational performance standards against which NWS is measured, including those set by international weather service counterparts and private-sector entities, are increasingly high.
Additional important contextual issues include: the transformative pace of technological change; expansion of the number and type of observational data; continued concentration of infrastructure investment and population growth in vulnerable areas; the possibility of changing weather patterns arising from climate change; and ongoing evolution of international dimensions.
RESPONDING TO THE CHALLENGES
Meeting today's key challenges will require NWS to evolve its role and how it operates. The goal is for it to become more agile and effective. This report presents three main recommendations for accomplishing this: Prioritize Core Capabilities, Evaluate Function and Structure, and Leverage the Entire Enterprise.
I. Prioritize Core Capabilities
The NWS needs to prioritize those core capabilities that only the NWS can provide so as to deliver the products and services upon which the public and the entire national weather, water, and climate enterprise depend. These core capabilities include creating foundational datasets, performing essential functions such as issuing forecasts, watches, and warnings, and conducting operationally-related research.
Recommendation I: The
1. Evaluate all aspects of its work that contribute to its foundational datasets, with the explicit goal of ensuring that those foundational datasets are of the highest quality and that improvements are driven by user needs and scientific advances. As part of this initial and ongoing evaluation effort, clear quality and performance metrics should be established. Such metrics would address the technical components of NWS operations, as well as the efficiency and effectiveness of the flow of weather information to end users.
2. Ensure that a similarly high priority is given to: (a) product generation and dissemination; (b) the brokering and provision of data services, and (c) development and enhancement of analysis tools for maintaining a common operating picture (COP).
3. Engage the entire enterprise to develop and implement a national strategy for a systematic approach to research-to-operations and operations-to-research.
In support of this recommendation, the NWS should:
* Continue effective technology infusion programs,
* Improve numerical weather prediction systems,
* Develop and advance observational data metrics,
* Lead a community effort to provide probabilistic forecasts,
* Develop hydrologic prediction metrics, and
* Maintain an ongoing capability for development and testing of its incremental technical upgrades.
II. Evaluate Function and Structure
The current structure of the NWS primarily reflects the functions of the weather, water, and climate enterprise in the 1990s. Technology, including improvements in communications and computer forecast models, has changed much of the rationale for the present organizational structure of the NWS. In view of the directions outlined in NWS's Weather-Ready Nation Roadmap for expanding the role of forecasters and other NWS staff, it would be prudent to evaluate the NWS's organizational and functional structure.
Recommendation II: In light of evolving technology, and because the work of the
In support of this recommendation, the NWS should:
* Broaden the scope of its post-event evaluations,
* Expand its vision of team structures and functions within and between forecast offices,
* Develop performance metrics-based approaches to assessing staff skill sets,
* Retrain service-hydrologist staff to instill an evolutionary culture.
III. Leverage the Entire Enterprise
The relationship between NWS and the rest of the enterprise has improved considerably since the MAR, with praise deserved by all parties. The Committee views further improvement of NWS-enterprise interaction as a way to enhance the NWS's capability to accomplish its mission of serving the public. This is especially important when it is seeking to enhance its service at a time when the nation faces constrained resources. Leveraging the entire enterprise provides one means to further NWS's mission of serving the public.
Recommendation III: The
In support of this recommendation, the NWS should:
* Seek to better understand the functioning of the secondary value-chain (defined as enterprise partners that provide value-added services beyond dissemination of NWS weather and warnings), and
* Strengthen its systems engineering and procurement processes for major systems.
A REVOLUTION IN SERVICE TO THE NATION
Now let me turn to my personal perspective, derived from my experience starting a weather services company in this challenging economy and from my role as incoming president of the
I have found this to be a tremendous time to be part of the weather community. We have the opportunity to serve the nation - our citizens and businesses - far more effectively than has ever been possible. The reason is simple. Our work involves three basic activities: observing the current weather, converting that information into forecasts, and getting the information to the people who need it. Over the last fifty years, this three-step process has been revolutionized. Starting in the 1960's, the advent of advanced observing systems such as satellites and Doppler radar gave us new ways to view current weather. Then in the 1980's advances in both computing power and modeling techniques began to make possible far more accurate forecasts of future weather. More recently, rapidly expanding Internet access and now smartphone ownership have allowed us to make great progress in delivering the right information to people and businesses - at the time they need it.
For us, getting to this point is a dream. After fifty years, the fruits of the weather information revolution are now within reach. We can finally start delivering on the ultimate vision: individualized weather information matched to every user's need, time, and place. With that, we in the weather industry can do phenomenal new things, not only for the nation but also as leaders in the weather market internationally. NOAA's newly-developed strategy, the Weather-Ready Nation, is nicely aligned with this vision.
Why is this important? We have all been touched by the tragic tornados in
A GROWTH ENGINE FOR THE ECONOMY
We know more can be done to protect lives and property, and we must do so. But often forgotten is the importance of weather information as a growth engine for our economy. A recent study showed that, on a state-by-state basis, variability in U.S. economic output due to weather-related supply and demand inefficiencies averages more than 3 percent. In some states, it is over 10 percent. A significant portion of this can be recovered as economic growth through improved weather information. Doing so would be a huge boost to the nation's welfare. As we seek ways to grow our economy, better use of weather information can provide large returns from small investments. This is true across virtually all business sectors.
Many of us today, from academia to NOAA to the commercial sector, are focused on ways to accomplish this. The commercial sector is expanding because there are customers within the public and the business sector who derive real value from what we do. My startup company is a perfect example. In some cases, we are having trouble keeping up with the demand because it is growing so fast. I would like to provide three examples from my own company's experience reflecting innovative approaches to business growth through better use of weather information.
THE REMARKABLE WEATHER ENTERPRISE
None of this could happen without a remarkable collaboration between three organizational sectors: academia, government agencies such as NOAA and the DoD weather services, and the commercial sector. We refer to this as the American weather enterprise. Academic and research organizations (which may involve all three of the sectors) are the foundation, providing the basic knowledge that drives innovation and the education for our workforce. Government agencies including NOAA provide the core data and forecast capabilities used across the enterprise. The commercial sector customizes information for end-users and delivers it across many channels, through what we call the secondary value-chain (direct delivery to the public by NWS is the primary value-chain). For example, though NOAA is the original source for virtually all weather information in this nation, today 95% of delivery occurs through this secondary value-chain via television, websites, and apps from the commercial sector. By working together, this enterprise has greatly improved the quality of weather forecasting and the ability to deliver that information effectively. Collaboration allows us to be bigger than the sum of our three parts - a key reason for our success.
This shining example of how government works productively with the academic and commercial sectors can be held up to other industries to help them do the same. But it has not always been this way. We have worked hard at making this happen. Indeed, we are entering what might be called the third phase of our enterprise. The first phase, through the 1990's, was characterized by mistrust and competition, particularly between the government and commercial sectors. A decade ago a
A portion of our community put forth a proposal last fall to form a congressionally-chartered
BUILDING A BETTER ENTERPRISE
We are not without flaws as an enterprise. Over the last decade and more, we have struggled with our satellite system and worked to stay competitive with our European counterparts in weather forecast models. We have labored to build mechanisms that help us collaborate across the enterprise and speak with a single voice. NOAA in particular has faced challenges in areas such as the transition from research to operations and major systems procurement. These issues have been openly documented in reports from the
Such reports reflect broad input from the community and professional advisory groups. It is time to heed this advice and start implementing the changes needed to fulfill the vision, including NOAA's Weather-Ready Nation. Legislation that can accelerate this, and in particular motivate the cultural and organizational changes within NOAA recommended in these reports, is welcome. This must be done wisely and incrementally. Moving forward, additional planning guidance will become available from the
I have talked mostly in terms of weather for the sake of simplicity, but it is important to realize how our strength derives from a breadth of disciplines. For example, we increasingly recognize that space weather is a fundamental counterpart to atmospheric weather. Hydrology and oceanography are key sister disciplines. Disciplines such as coastal meteorology have specific but essential roles. Inclusion and cross-disciplinary integration is something we must prioritize.
Climate is increasingly an important piece of high-quality weather forecasts, especially as the demand for longer lead-time forecasts grows. For the real world in which my company operates, weather and climate can' t be separated. There just is no good place to draw a line between them.
Indeed, forecasts for coming seasons are enormously valuable to companies in energy and agriculture. The travel and leisure industries take an even longer view; they can benefit directly from improved forecasts of the El Nino cycle even years ahead. Construction companies need to anticipate flood zones and coastal erosion decades out. Our commodities markets - from heating oil to orange juice - could not function without seasonal climate forecasts.
A PATH FORWARD
The issues we must address to make progress are not simple. The problems are interlinked. For NOAA, the solutions require collaboration across many of its organizational elements. Increasingly, NOAA must extend this collaboration to include the enterprise - public, academic, and commercial - as a whole. As we seek ways to move forward, the leadership of our community, including those within NOAA, should be encouraged to innovate and to bring forth new ideas for improving how we work. Truly novel approaches to public-private partnerships that enable open data access and low-cost use of commercial data - not just the old data buy paradigm - are but two examples. Rather than prescribing specific methodologies, legislation that promotes broad innovation in response to community guidance, and provides the resources to accomplish it, would produce results.
Unlike most people who have the honor to serve as AMS president, my career has not been entirely within the field of weather or climate. In addition to weather, I have also worked in consumer software and satellite construction, serving commercial, scientific, and military customers. That gives me a bit of an outsider perspective. My experience is that the people in this field - and I enthusiastically include those in NOAA - are the most dedicated, passionate, and innovative people I have ever met. They have one focus: make the nation safer and more productive. That commitment to integrity is a rare quality today. In your role as legislators, this can be leveraged to improve our nation. I believe organizations need to change and progress, and that NOAA would benefit from further focus on modernization. The people within our community can be the foundation for that change.
SUCCESS FOR THE NATION
The recommendations in our NRC report
* Put Forth Visionary Framing. Frame the goal of U.S. weather readiness as a core national priority, at the level of national security, through appropriately visionary legislation
* Rely on Expert Advice. Build on the excellent existing community advice, including formal advisory reports
* Define a Path for Change. Work with us to define a path for successful change, involving all three enterprise sectors and built on transparent processes
* Include All Enterprise Elements. Ensure that this change enables all three enterprise sectors and all needed disciplines to best serve the nation and position the U.S. as a global leader in weather, water, and climate services
Thank you, once again, for the invitation to testify. I am happy to answer any questions the Subcommittee might have.
n1 The "enterprise" includes all entities in the public, private, non-profit, research, and academic sectors that provide information, services, and infrastructure in the areas of weather, water, and climate. For the purposes of this report, "enterprise" is often used as shorthand to refer to those enterprise elements outside NOAA that it can draw on in its mission. The non-NOAA portion of the enterprise is now of equal or greater economic size compared to the NOAA portion.
Read this original document at: http://www.commerce.senate.gov/public/?a=Files.Serve&File_id=f4e91015-af87-409a-960b-12b25a8d966b
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