National Weather Service info may be cut
April 26, 2005
If a Pennsylvania senator has his way, many at Tahoe could be cut off from their source of detailed weather forecasts through the National Weather Service.
Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) has proposed a bill (S. 786) to limit the functions of the NWS so its free services do not compete with private companies like Accuweather and the Weather Channel.
Many fear the bill could be bad news for the NWS Web site, which provides free, detailed, hour-to-hour reports and forecasts on high and low temperatures, snow accumulation, wind speed and chances of precipitation.
“I’ve only been able to access that information from the NWS Web site,” said Simon Smith, a volunteer weather spotter for the service in South Lake Tahoe. He’s concerned that hourly forecasts and overnight temperature reports are not available anywhere else.
The bill follows a change in regulations last December, which removed the NWS 14-year non-competition clause.
Since then, the service’s Web site has become more detailed.
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Introduced April 14 to the Senate, the bill states that the NWS “shall not provide, or assist other entities in providing a product or service … that is or could be provided by the private sector. …” The bill is being reviewed in the Senate Commerce Committee now.
“This legislation is in no way getting rid of any NWS service,” Christine Shott, Sen. Santorum’s press secretary, told the Tahoe Daily Tribune. She said the bill was mainly designed to prevent the service from establishing exclusive contracts with customers.
But the bill’s language has more than a few people wondering what could be eliminated from the NWS.
The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association has come out against it.
“This bill has the potential to kill much of the information the NWS provides over the Internet, including (Aviation Digital Data Service),” said Melissa Rudinger, AOPA vice president of regulatory affairs, in a statement on their Web site, http://www.aopa.org.
The only duty specifically protected under the bill is the issuance of severe weather forecasts and warnings for “protection of life and property.”
This leaves the fate of four other NWS duties up for grabs, which include day-to-day forecasts of sunny or cloudy, rainy or snowy, overall accumulation, high and low temperatures, wind speed and humidity.
The NWS was unable to comment on the bill.
AccuWeather global headquarters are located near State College, Pa. Sen. Santorum has received at least $5,500 from AccuWeather employees since 1999, according to Pittsburgh Post-Gazette report on FEC filings. The private company employs 340 people.