The core business of national meteorological services (NMSs) is to serve public good by providing essential – reliable – weather, climate and related information to the community at large. NMSs depend on the international cooperation and underpinning infrastructure of the World Weather Watch (WWW) to perform this service. Thanks to the data exchange and cooperation fostered by WWW, NMSs form a whole greater than the sum of its parts.
NMSs face many internal and external challenges – funding, maintenance of observational networks, competition from private sector service providers, staffing, evolving technology, increasing urbanization and pollution, the list goes on. WWW has also assisted NMSs in facing these challenges through the WMO Public Weather Services (PWS) Programme, created in 1991 to strengthen NMS capabilities to provide comprehensive weather services to the general public and to foster a better understanding by the general public of the capabilities of NMSs and how best to use these services.
Over the last two decades, the PWS Programme has assisted NMSs through hundreds of training activities, by facilitating the work of numerous experts who have produced dozens of guidelines and reports, and by the implementation of projects to create dialogue between the user communities and producers of meteorological information. This article highlights this work then discusses some of the technological, social, economic and cultural influences that will shape the future in order to offer a vision of what lies ahead for NMSs. The article that follows it, “The Hong Kong Observatory – Through science we serve,” offers a practical example from the perspective of a small NMS.
Creation of PWS Programme
The push towards the privatization of utilities and identification of alternate sources of revenues for publicly funded services accelerated in the latter half of the 20th Century. Government supported NMSs were no exception; they were pressured to become more cost-effective by generating greater revenues through “specialized” services. In addition, some NMSs faced stiff competition from private sector entities offering similar services.
In 1987, a consensus emerged from discussion in the Tenth World Meteorological Congress that all NMSs could gain through a greater sharing of experiences and expertise in the basic operations of services geared to the public. The Congress also recognized the need to develop closer relationships with public users of weather services in order to find ways to better meet their requirements. Further discussion led to the approval of the proposed PWS Progamme by the Eleventh World Meteorological Congress in 1991 as part of the WWW. Since, the PWS Programme has focused on helping NMSs to understand why users need their services and how they use them in their decision-making so that NMSs can tailor services to fit user needs.
Key to the high performance of NMSs in disaster situations is their ability to provide high quality, reliable weather services to the general public on a daily, routine basis. Where this is the case, NMSs earn public recognition as the regular, reliable source of authoritative advice on a range of weather issues. This requires that they maintain good relationships with emergency management authorities, regularly reinforced by meetings and other dialogue aimed at improving planning for disaster management. The “Guide to Public Weather Services Practices “(WMO No. 834), published by the PWS Programme, provides valuable guidelines to assist NMSs in these areas and to improve their capabilities to perform on a daily basis as well as in disaster situations.
But the pressure on some NMSs to reduce their size and become cost-effective continued to intensify. In a more competitive world, most had realized the importance of improving their visibility and demonstrating their value by providing, and being seen as the main source of, good quality public weather services. The WWW and its PWS Programme assisted them in doing both through training and the publication of good practices.
The 1990s were the UN International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction and the 1995 World Meteorological Day theme was “Public Weather Services”. These offered great opportunities for NMSs to increase their visibility and build public awareness. The PWS Programme and NMSs used these events to underline the important linkage between the provision of reliable and timely weather information to local communities under threat and the availability of information nationally and internationally.
In 2005, the UN Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-2015: Building the Resilience of Nations and Communities to Disasters (HFA) was negotiated and adopted by 168 countries, shifting the paradigm for disaster risk management from post disaster response to a more comprehensive approach that would also include prevention and preparedness measures. NMSs were in the spotlight. To achieving the objectives in the Hyogo Framework, the World Meteorological Congress created a Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) Programme in 2007. The DRR Programme has assisted NMSs in coordinating Early Warning Systems, which have empowered local communities and increased cooperation amongst within government agencies as well as regionally.
Since the launch of the PWS Programme in WWW, it has coordinated with other WMO Programmes, providing a focus on the socio-economic benefits of meteorological and hydrological services. The PWS Programme has cooperated closely with numerous experts from many WMO Members to produce a large body of works – guidelines, reports and scientific papers – on all aspects of the work of NMSs.
Looking to the future – challenges and opportunities
A number of global factors – such as population growth, increasing urbanization and technological breakthrough in communication – will impact the nature, range and delivery of weather services to the public over the next few decades. The biggest impact will probably be on services related to food production and water resource management. NMSs will be expected to support local governments when it comes to the use of scarce resources, such as water and energy. Understanding urban meteorologywill be crucial to meeting the challenges and needs of megacities and to sustainable development. Urban and rural lifestyles will further diverge and require different services. Ever more attention will also focus on environmental matters, foremost among them those brought about by climate variability and change.
Governments, concerned with the security of citizens from both natural and human-induced hazards, will increasingly turn to NMSs for information in support of reducing these risks. More will be expected from them, especially in the reassessment of hazards and in providing early warnings and improved lead times to allow more effective response. NMSs will also be expected to provide forecasts of environmental conditions that may lead to disease outbreaks and deliver advance warnings of these to public health communities.
The successful evolution of NMSs will depend on the degree of their engagement with citizens, clients and partners in establishing priorities and integrating advances in science and technology. As primary information conduits, they will have to provide a variety of new products and services that will inform sound decision and policy-making at the local, national and international levels. To be effective, NMSs will have to monitor and recognize the evolution of user means, methods and needs, and integrate improved science, new technologies and applications to expand decision support services.
These are the kinds of challenges that motivated creation of WWW and which will drive its successor, the WMO Integrated Global Observing System (WIGOS). Under the umbrella of WWW, NMSs can cooperate, learn and benefit from the science and technologies of colleagues around the world. Through its many programmes, skills will be honed, data can be share and access data, and much more.
WIGOS will assist NMSs in every way to respond to future user and policy-maker needs for relevant and timely information and services in order to make society more resilient and enable it to overcome the challenges and seize the opportunities of tomorrow.
Haleh Kootval, Chief, Public Weather Service Division, WMO