Privatization of the weather threatens government services -- and the accuracy of the information you receive
Hurricane (Photo: Screen capture)

As climate change sparks more and more extreme weather events, a new crop of companies are popping up that specialize in providing timely and accurate weather information -- and they're threatening to do a better job at it than the federal government. But the newfound competition for the government in the weather forecasting game could create a problem for people who want to get access to the best available weather and climate data in the coming years, The Washington Post reports.

As these new startups take off, the Trump administration has shown little interest in making sure government agencies can compete.

"Until recently, AccuWeather, Earth Networks, the Weather Co. and other private weather providers relied on the fire hose of data from NOAA’s National Weather Service and satellite arm, as well as NASA and other agencies," Wapo's Andrew Freedman writes. "Now companies are producing their own data and using analytics in business-savvy ways, tailoring their forecasts to specific real-world problems. With the ability to launch satellites and supercomputers and to harvest data from semiautonomous vehicles and wearables, the new arrivals are leapfrogging the information-gathering capabilities of federal agencies."

As private companies' weather technology grows, government agencies are faced with the prospect of having to partner with those companies to get the best data, but that doesn't always mean the companies will provide it.

“So on one hand we’ve got the emerging interests that want to make observations and sell them,” Karen St. Germain of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said. “And they want to, of course legitimately, then they want to control the licensing terms and so forth and sell to more than one [customer]. And then on the other end of the value chain, we’ve got the folks who make their money by building tailored products."

Currently, the NOAA still holds the role of being the only authorized source of severe weather watches and warnings in the country. According to St. Germaine, it's crucial that these agencies continue to be the primary source of information.

“The fundamental public good predictions and warnings, I think is one that has to stay with NOAA, because it can’t be subject to the profit motive,” she said.

Thanks to climate change, weather is on people's minds much more than it used to be. As Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) points out, the US government "shouldn’t be playing second fiddle to anybody on weather forecast information." Nevertheless, US weather agencies are already seeing competition from global agencies -- one example being when Europe's weather models accurately predicted Hurricane Sandy’s track a week in advance back in 2012.

A big sticking point in making sure the US stay ahead in the game is the fact that there's currently a US president who is at odds with the scientific community when it comes to climate change.

Read the full report over at The Washington Post.