This week, Steve Volz, the head of NOAA’s Satellite and Information Service, announced that the US government will not provide funding to commercial companies trying to develop their own satellites to gather weather data. NOAA would rather allocate its resources to its marquee weather satellite programs, the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) and the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES).
In a nod to commercial weather companies, however, Volz did add that “The capabilities of the commercial [weather companies] … are definitely worth evaluating and using. There is a good probability we will be using some commercial data.”
NOAA’s JPSS and GOES programs form the bedrock of US’s future plan for weather collection and forecasting. Unfortunately, delays in the development of JPSS and GOES and the potential for failure of the current weather satellites (which are already operating beyond their expected lifespan, create the risk of a “weather data gap.” If the flow of weather data was halted, both businesses and individuals would lose accurate knowledge of what the weather is or will be. Given weather forecasting’s role in a myriad of critical decisions in nearly every industry – from air traffic management to routing oil tankers, and countless others – this outcome is unacceptable.
NOAA’s Volz referenced a handful of start-ups that are developing their own satellites that will gather weather data from space. These companies will generate revenue by selling their data to government meteorological agencies such as NOAA, as well as commercial companies that have their own uses for weather data. While these weather start-ups employ different types of technologies, they are ultimately collecting measurements of temperature, pressure, and humidity – the building blocks of weather forecasting.
This data is by no means a replacement for data collected by NOAA’s satellites, however it is a powerful complement when used in weather forecast models, and could be used to mitigate the impact of a weather data gap.