The Future of the Weather Enterprise

At a time when the impacts of weather and climate are still growing dramatically, it is important to look for strategies to strengthen the science and technology that have resulted in substantial improvements in the skill of weather predictions and services over the past four decades. 

By Jack Hayes1, Harinder Ahluwalia2 and Jim Abraham3

At a time when the impacts of weather and climate are still growing dramatically, it is important to look for strategies to strengthen the science and technology that have resulted in substantial improvements in the skill of weather predictions and services over the past four decades.  It was not that long ago – when many baby-boomers were just entering the workforce – that accurate, reliable forecasts did not extend beyond 24 hours. Today, high-quality 5 to 7 day forecasts are the norm. This improvement has resulted in lives being saved and avoidable damage and economic impacts being averted. But much more needs to be done to achieve the full potential societal benefits that can be realized from the products and services provided by the Weather Enterprise.      

The World Weather Open Science Conference (WWOSC-2014) included a Special Session on The Future of the Weather Enterprise, aimed at advancing discussion on the collaboration between the private, public and academic sectors that compose the Weather Enterprise. WMO Deputy Secretary-General Jerry Lengoasa participated in one of the panels, which he noted “embraced not only the science and the technical community, but also the end user community.” He viewed the outcomes as “important in doing two things: First, in informing priority-setting for WMO programmes going forward; and, second, in providing a focus for building new partnerships and on strengthening existing ones.”

An unprecedented conversation

Three separate panels were conducted – the first two explored the important issues and challenges and the final panel was oriented towards finding solutions. Panellists included recognized leaders from the global weather community. The topics stimulated dynamic discussions among participants, including members of the audience.  A number of common elements were raised which will require serious consideration by all components of the Weather Enterprise.

Panel 1 - Weather Services Infrastructure: Sustaining what we have and building for tomorrow - Infrastructure was defined as anything necessary to design, develop and deliver products and services such as weather and climate observations, models and numerical weather predictions, and applications for specific customer decision-making needs. It also includes the underlying information technologies (data processing, visualization, communications) as well as the education, training and management of people – weather service providers, research and development scientists and, especially, clients and users.

Panel 2 - Weather Services: Present Status, Trends, and Innovations - Weather services were defined as the research and development, production, delivery and evaluation of weather, water and climate information and knowledge to support customer decision-making.  Customers were broadly defined to include governmental, non-governmental, public, industrial and academic agencies, organizations and enterprises.

Panel 3 - Enhancing Weather Community Collaboration to Meet Shared Goals for the Weather Enterprise: Strategies to advance dialogue on the collaboration of private, public and academic elements of the Weather Enterprise and next steps that would start the weather community down this path.


Collaborating for societal benefit

At the outset, there was an implicit understanding that the Weather Enterprise comprised the public, private and academic sectors. However, panellists made a point of recognizing contributions from non-governmental organizations such as the scientific and professional societies that can act as intermediaries between the three traditional sectors. Tom Bogdan, the President of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR), reinforced this, “We have not-for-profit foundations that are also playing a very large part in our world … these four groups need to start to come together and actually work as a team because they are seeing their business model changing, they are seeing their customer base changing, and they are seeing their global impact changing.” Furthermore, the panels agreed on the benefit of having users of the information produced by the operational components of the Weather Enterprise at the table, given their role in ensuring the societal benefits of weather, water and climate services.

Weather Enterprise panel


During the discussions, it was clear that developing nations and, in particular, least developed countries continue to require significant attention. Ajit Tyagi from the Indian Meteorological Department added, “A caveat is that this Weather Enterprise consists of countries which are at different stages of economic, social, political and scientific development, and, therefore, are not homogeneous.”  The panellists recognized that WMO could play an important role in strengthening international integration of the Weather Enterprise through, for example, its capacity building activities.

There was also common accord on how international collaboration can allay the rising costs of the infrastructure required for a healthy Weather Enterprise such as space-based satellite observing systems and high-performance computing. In fact, relationships need to be strengthened between partners who are well positioned to assist the Weather Enterprise in achieving its objectives. David Kenney, the Chief Executive Officer of the Weather Company, shared his passion: “I am just so excited about our investments in the science and our ability to reduce error, so more people can take action and make better decisions.” He recommended strengthening the relationship between the Weather Enterprise and Silicon Valley in order to take advantage of their expertise in making Big Data available via mobile technology. “Everything that’s happening today in Silicon Valley is Big Data,” he stated.

Indeed, the availability of data was an important part of the discussion on all three panels, with many of the participants promoting the benefits of an “Open Data” policy.  Kristin Lyng from the Norwegian Meteorological Institute challenged the group to broaden access to meteorological data. “If the National Institutes are to have a role in the future Weather Enterprise, we should do our job … and we should make data and services open and available.” Bob Marshall, CEO of Earth Networks, reinforced the benefits of public/private partnerships and how they can accelerate the availability of critical weather observations, “I think we have a great opportunity ahead.”

Jack Hayes, the Chair of the committee that planned the Special Session, thanked all of the participants for their commitment and leadership, adding, “I was moved by the presentations and the collective sense of purpose – to better the fate of society in our lifetime, and future lifetimes.”

The outcome of the Special Session, A White Paper on Future Challenges and Opportunities, currently in preparation, will serve as an important supporting document for further discussions at the upcoming World Meteorological Congress.


1 VP, Senior Executive Account Manager, Weather Products and Services, GCSD, Harris Corporation
2 President and Chief Executive Officer, Info-Electronics Systems Inc, President, Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society (CMOS)
3 Retired, Environment Canada, Senior Manager, Weather Monitoring and Weather Research






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