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AccuWeather's Warnings
No weather warnings on our horizon

Andrew Freedman @ 8:22 AM

Pennsylvania-based private weather forecasting firm AccuWeather is planning to roll out a new product next spring that will include severe weather watches and warnings - a function that may encroach on the central purpose of the taxpayer-funded NOAA National Weather Service.

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The plans, which AccuWeather Executive Vice President Barry Myers confirmed in an interview with on Friday, are being met with tepid support by meteorological professionals on web sites such as as well as here at Some have raised concerns that private sector public watches and warnings will confuse the public and create an unnecessary duplication of the NWS.

Myers resisted opportunities to go into detail on what exactly AccuWeather is planning to do other than saying that a "product rollout" involving severe weather watches and warnings is slated for spring of 2007. He downplayed the significance of the move, denying that his company has any plans to replace the NWS' congressionally mandated mission as the sole "official" voice of severe weather watches and warnings. He also said the new product is not likely to inflame tensions within the public/private partnership that exists among government agencies, private companies and universities responsible for gathering and disseminating weather information.

At the same time, he said his company's 100 plus meteorologists can issue more accurate watches and warnings than the Weather Service. "We don't have just one official government voice and everyone else is silenced," he said. "I would think people would want the best information that they could get."

According to Myers, the private sector has a long history of issuing weather watches and warnings both for private companies as well as public use. "The fact that we are looking at improving severe weather warnings is a natural evolution of how our company started," he said.

Normally the business plans of an individual private weather forecasting company wouldn't be noteworthy, but AccuWeather has a history of being one of the more provocative private weather companies towards the NWS, often taking stances that antagonize employees of the federal agency. For example, AccuWeather recently backed a bill introduced by outgoing Pennsylvania Republican Senator Rick Santorum that would hand NWS' routine weather forecasting functions over to the private sector. That bill was vehemently opposed by the NWS Employees Union, which saw it as a threat to the agency's mission as well as federal jobs.

Myers characterized the company's relationship with the NWS as "very cooperative." As with any "family," he said, there are "little spats."

The NWS is not up in arms about this latest development, at least not yet.

In an email, NWS Public Affairs spokesman Greg Romano said:
AccuWeather and other private weather companies have issued, and have every right to issue, their own forms of weather information, including their own watches and warnings, to their customers, providing they do not misrepresent themselves as the National Weather Service or change an official watch or warning.
Ed Johnson, an amiable former professor who directs the NWS' Strategic Planning and Policy Office, said although he has not seen their plans in detail he is not opposed to the idea of AccuWeather issuing watches and warnings along with its current suite of forecast products. According to him, AccuWeather would likely only run afoul of the agency and land in regulatory hot water if they were to fail to differentiate their warnings from the Weather Service's.

"If someone pretends to be the Weather Service that isn't the Weather Service, that's actionable," Johnson said.

Johnson agreed with a National Research Council report released in 2003 that stated that tension is inevitable within the public/private partnership despite its success. "The system is really highly effective and I think valued, frankly, on all sides," he said.

AccuWeather's Myers dismissed the notion that the NWS has an advantage in issuing warnings because of its dispersed presence throughout the United States: The NWS currently has121 field offices, 13 River Forecast Centers and nine national centers. Severe weather watches may be issued by a national center such as the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., while local offices maintain responsibility for issuing most warnings. AccuWeather's meteorologists work out of one large facility in State College, Pa.

"We are actually better staffed than any local [NWS] office," Myers said.

He noted that the NWS issues each hurricane watch and warning from the National Hurricane Center in Miami, Fla., and said the agency once issued all types of weather warnings from a central location. In addition, Myers disagreed with the view that the NWS has a greater depth of local knowledge simply by basing employees at local and regional offices. He said local "anomalies" are well-documented and studied by AccuWeather forecasters who develop the same specialized weather knowledge as NWS forecasters do.

He also said AccuWeather does not believe it's getting into treacherous legal territory by issuing watches and warnings since courts have rarely held weather forecasters accountable for trying to forecast an act of God. "There have been few cases, ever, about it," he said.

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