Could Weather Forecasts Be More Accurate? Yes, With Help From The Cloud

Could Weather Forecasts Be More Accurate? Yes, With Help From The Cloud

By Anne Altman, IBM

Now that summer has started, we’ll pay close attention to the weather as we plan our picnics and trips to the lake or beaches over the next three months.

But where, exactly, do those weather forecasts come from?

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration(NOAA) was created officially in 1970, but its roots go back more than 200 years. The agencies that came together to form NOAA represent some of the oldest federal agencies. So much history, so much research, so much science, so much data and so little time.

Every day, NOAA gathers more than 20 terabytes from Doppler radar systems, weather satellites, buoy networks and stations, tide gauges, real-time weather stations, ships and aircraft. That equates to creating more than twice the data contained in the United States Library of Congress — every day. Yes, data is our greatest natural resource, but like any natural resource, its power is only useful if it can be refined.

In a bold move in April, NOAA announced a Cooperative Research & Development Agreement (CRADA) with IBM and others to help bring NOAA’s data to the cloud where it can be refined by developers, scientists, researchers and others, spurring new capabilities and applications. This news came just after my company’s groundbreaking strategic alliance was announced with The Weather Company to integrate real-time weather insights into business to improve operational performance and decision-making.

By sharing NOAA data in the cloud, our ecosystem of partners, developers and customers will have the means to not only apply analytics, but also to develop new apps with our digital innovation platform Bluemix to garner even greater value from the information.

According to Joshua New, a policy analyst at the Center for Data Innovation, an agency such as NOAA can rely on the cloud “to help reduce the bottleneck effect that limited government IT infrastructure can have on organizations and businesses that rely on government data.”

The faster that my company, and in turn, The Weather Company and others can access that data, the more value that can be generated for those with a need to consume it and act upon it. The CRADA model allows NOAA to explore what works from a cloud perspective before making a deeper commitment. The participants can work on solutions iteratively, by starting with a few large data sets, which allow us and others to determine how the data gets out into the public domain.
Cloud is the logical choice for NOAA because of its elastic nature to scale up and down, and to provide tremendous efficiencies. The cloud can help unlock the abundance of data in a traditional IT environment where only a small fraction is presently available for public consumption. For many organizations with long histories, moving to the cloud can be transformative, because they don’t have the luxury or the simplicity that “born on the cloud” entities have by starting from scratch.

The Obama Administration’s proposed fiscal 2016 budget estimates that about $7.3 billion will be spent on cloud computing. For that reason, federal agencies are focused on solutions that are secure, reliable and integrate easily with existing systems. That’s a perfect recipe for hybrid cloud solutions, which can connect multiple cloud environments or connect a cloud environment with an existing IT system. A hybrid cloud may prove to be the best option for NOAA to weather all the possibilities of making real-time analysis of data.

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