The importance of global weather forecasts for U.S. Military and Civil Agency missions

Weather models help the U.S. military execute critical missions, federal engineering organizations create more resilient infrastructure, and scientists better understand climate change. By providing the data accuracy needed to safeguard military personnel and assets, global weather forecasting plays a pivotal role in today’s world.

Through the advancement of technology and communication systems, easily accessible weather forecasts have become a part of our everyday lives. Today’s weather forecasting is so standard, in fact, that we don’t even need meteorologists to bring us expected weather conditions hour by hour. Instead, global weather forecasting is brought to us by way of weather models – mathematically-based weather prediction technologies that use physics to characterize the movement of air and how heat and moisture are exchanged in the atmosphere.

Through a process known as data assimilation, numerical data and physical observations are coupled to analyze atmospheric conditions globally or in a specific geographic region. The weather model assesses previous forecasts and compares them with new weather data, cataloging, compiling, and updating information as time progresses. By constantly tracking and analyzing data trends alongside previous atmospheric behavior, machine learning weather models can accurately predict current and future weather patterns based on real-time data observations.

Weather forecasting is an essential aspect of our lives. We use weather forecasts to travel safely by land, sea, and air, engineer our roads and infrastructure, prepare for natural disasters, and provide much-needed data for agricultural production. Weather forecasting also plays a pivotal role in our understanding of climate change. In the U.S. alone, the annual economic benefit of public weather forecasting is estimated to exceed $31 billion. More importantly, though, the number of lives saved using weather forecasting is substantial. Even with our current weather alert services in place, over 1.5 million weather-related road accidents occur each year, with average yearly road deaths exceeding 7,400. It’s hard to tell how much higher the death toll would rise if we didn’t have these systems in place.

Apart from public use, governments and militaries across the globe use weather forecasting to ensure public safety and plan and execute operations. While different branches of the U.S. military have different needs and applications for weather forecasting, accurate weather models are essential for each. The Air Force and the Navy rely heavily on oceanic and atmospheric forecasting, while the Army and Marines use land-based forecasting to tactically execute ground missions. Regardless of the purpose, the need for precise weather monitoring technology in military applications is evident.

How the U.S. Military relies on weather forecasting

Following the World Trade Center attacks on September 11, 2001, the United States launched Operation Enduring Freedom – a global war on terrorism targeting Al-Qaeda and Taliban forces in Afghanistan. With feet on the ground in South Asia, one of the first tasks of U.S. military forces was collecting weather data in the region. From day one, military commanders leveraged the data to launch advantageous tactical missions to overturn power and eventually topple the Taliban forces on foreign soil. The treacherous terrain and unpredictable climate of the Hindu Kush mountain range soon became advantageous to the U.S. military through advanced weather modeling – potentially saving the lives of countless U.S. soldiers.

Various civilian and federal agencies also rely heavily on weather modeling. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) plans, designs, and operates water resource infrastructure projects across the country, most of which are affected by extreme weather events. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), over $1 billion in losses resulted from 49 extreme weather events between 2010 and 2014. Much of the damage resulted from outdated infrastructure that was built before collecting sufficient data on changing weather and climate patterns. Today, federal agencies such as NOAA, USACE, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) use weather data to construct resilient infrastructure and adequately manage water resources.

While the U.S. military, federal, and civil services are constantly working to enhance weather modeling capabilities on their own, a common approach to accurate weather forecasting involves observing multiple forecasting models and integrating data into a single system.

Are free weather forecasting resources enough?

Free weather prediction services are available by the hundreds, but with significant capability differences between free and paid services, how can you know which is suitable for your needs?

Generally, a free weather modeling service is plenty sufficient to meet the needs of everyday personal use. However, business, military, and government agency operations involve human safety and supply chain efficiency, so it’s critical to have advanced weather intelligence that often can’t be met with free services. In the past, most weather forecasting services used data collected by the NOAA’s National Weather Service to generate forecast models. In recent years, however, private companies have been developing new ways to produce their own data to use in more specific applications – often better suited to a particular purpose or industry. Private businesses are now launching satellites and supercomputers into space, leveraging the opportunity to advance data collection capabilities. Further, the advancement of machine learning, artificial intelligence, and cloud-based systems allow companies to analyze data in sophisticated ways, pushing the envelope for the global forecasting industry.

At Spire, we utilize a private constellation of low-earth orbit (LEO) satellites in conjunction with a network of grounded weather stations to continuously collect real-time data from every layer of the earth’s atmosphere. We help businesses reduce costs, increase revenue, and streamline supply chain efficiency by easily integrating weather forecasting services into existing workflows. Further, we provide military and government agencies the data accuracy required to carry out missions with maximum efficiency while safeguarding personnel and assets at every corner of the earth. Our services are unbounded, and we are proud to play a global role in space-based weather forecasting.

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