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The next step change in weather forecasting could be a private matter.

Meteorology is a young science whose origins lie a little over a century ago. During its short life there have already been 4 step changes. Bjerknes et al first applied scientific method to weather in the 1880s. This was followed by the development of a mathematical description (Richardson et al) in the 1920s. The application of computing to operationalise Numerical Weather Prediction (Charney et al) occurred in the 1950s. The last major step was the assimilation of remote sensing data from satellites from the 1970s onwards, with the introduction of 4-dimensional variational assimilation (4D-Var) in 1997 a milestone within this capability.  

Weather forecasting an exclusive club

Numerical Weather Prediction has a voracious appetite for data and weather forecasting has become the ultimate team sport, requiring unprecedented cooperation on a global scale to exchange observations and forecasts. Since 1950 this has been coordinated by the World Meteorological Organisation, an expert agency of the United Nations. As a result of the international nature of data exchange and the cost, weather forecasting has been almost completely the preserve of nation states for over 50 years.

Changing data landscape

There are signs that as a result of the development of micro sensors, nano-satellites and the democratisation of super-computing this is transforming and the next step change may come from the private sector. The widespread availability of micro sensors have been utilised by commercial weather companies to create private networks to support value added products for specific markets.

In 2019 Weather News International (WNI) announced the “Sora-tenna” concept to collect weather data from supporters via mobiles and social media – leveraging smart phones to crowd source observations. DTN (now owned by TBG which also owns Meteo-Group) has more than 5,500 Agricultural Weather Stations in its network across the United States and Canada. Similarly, Weather Underground (now owned by the Weather Company) enhances data from the National Weather Service with data from 250,000 personal weather stations providing weather reports for most major cities across the world. The Weather Company is owned by IBM. They have created the Global High-Resolution Atmospheric Forecasting System (IBM GRAF) global weather model which updates hourly at a 3-4 km resolution.

The operation of private networks is not limited to terrestrial observations and there are several commercial companies leveraging nano-satellites to operate Earth Observing (EO) private constellations. At least two of these, Climacell and Spire are using their data to create private Numerical Weather Prediction products. 

Public Private Partnership

The importance of these private sources of EO data, particularly the radio occulting data which is observed by Spire, has been acknowledged by some of the leading national centres (ECMWF, UK MetO and NCEP). The future of weather forecasting probably lies in a form of Public Private Partnership. This has been acknowledged by the WMO’s ruling Congress and the WMO is now actively fostering PPPs.

This ability to access and apply sophisticated data sets to specific maritime use cases puts companies like StratumFive and Spire at the forefront of the next step change in meteorology.

Stay connected and safe.

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