The Weather Company Relies on Partnerships to Issue Forecasts Worldwide
Every day, people around the world wake up, eat breakfast, and check the weather before going about their day. Odds are, they’re one of the more than 1 billion people who pull between 2 and 10 billion weather forecasts from The Weather Company (TWC), which is the umbrella over The Weather Channel, weather.com, wunderground.com, and WSI.
While this information might help the average person decide whether to take a raincoat with them when they leave the house, for others the information is more critical. The weather forecast from TWC can mean that an official has to decide whether to close school for the day, reschedule an event, or cancel a flight route because of a storm.
“It is our job to present the facts, to present the forecast,” said David Kenny, CEO and chairman of TWC. “It is not our job to close a school, or call a day off, or move an event, or issue a warning. It’s very important that that be done by the public sector, by authorities and governments.”
Helping TWC present the facts and provide forecasts to millions of people across the globe is a range of public-private partnerships with the U.S. government, international governments, airlines, associations, and academics. “The value we create for citizens and for our business customers is entirely possible because of the way we’ve created a company based on public-private partnerships,” Kenny added.
Kenny provided an overview of TWC’s partnerships on Wednesday afternoon as part of the 2014 Building Resilience through Public-Private Partnerships conference, hosted by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) National Protection and Programs Directorate. Sticking with the theme of partnerships, the directorate worked with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), North American Aerospace Command, U.S. Northern Command, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation to put on the event, which brought together hundreds of public and private stakeholders to discuss ways attendees have worked together to protect critical infrastructure and create a more resilient nation, which benefits business.
TWC is doing this by mapping the atmosphere and using that information to help decision makers. “All the weather happens in the atmosphere,” Kenny said. “The tornado warnings that we’re giving today actually began with a storm in Japan nine days ago, and the weather here today will impact the weather in Africa six days from now.”
To help it do a better job of predicting the weather, TWC has partnered with academics to advance the science aspect of weather prediction. It works with NOAA—the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration—and other similar organizations around the world to share data about weather forecasting. TWC has also partnered with the World Meteorological Organization, which represents 140 countries who all have weather services of their own, creating a more global model that is “more absolute” for weather forecasting.
Initially, TWC did only four weather forecasts throughout the day. But in response to demand, it now forecasts the weather 96 times per day—every 15 minutes. “Because [people] want to know…when is the rain going to start, and when is it going to stop,” Kenny added.
Assisting the TWC and developing alongside the science aspect to make forecasts more available to consumers is technology, most importantly the tremendous growth of the mobile phone and other mobile devices, Kenny said. TWC is now standard in most smartphones with Apple automatically installing it into iOS8 for all its devices, Google making it the default in the search for weather, Samsung embedding it into its phones, and TWC’s own apps. All of these technologies come together to allow people to pull weather forecasts for 3.2 billion named locations and an infinite number of locations.
In turn, having more weather forecasts available and the technology to make that information more accessible has led to additional service partnerships for the TWC. One of its most important partnerships is with the aviation industry, where TWC works with 122 airlines and provides weather information for approximately 50,000 private flights each day. TWC provides them with weather forecasts and alerts, which allow pilots to make decisions prior to takeoff about the flight plan and keeps them updated on weather changes while in the air. American Airlines is just one of TWC’s partners in the industry and TWC’s information has helped the airline reduce turbulence by 70 percent on its flights, Kenny said.
Additionally, the airlines assist TWC with its efforts to map the atmosphere on a regular basis by installing sensors on their planes, which transmit data to the TWC. This allows for a constant flow of information about weather patterns along flight routes around the world, Kenny added, which helps keep crews and passengers safe.
Along with working with service sectors, TWC is also working with local governments to help them understand weather data and how they can use that information to make better decisions. “In our country…it’s the local authority who is accountable for making the decision to empty the stadium as a tornado is approaching, or close Atlanta when ice is approaching—or not,” Kenny said. However, most individuals in local government are not atmospheric scientists, so TWC is working with officials to help them better understand the risks and how to leverage weather data to make good decisions that are then communicated to others.
“We have been working on briefing; we have been working on helping people interpret the data in ways that are useable, and certainly supporting both our national and local partners,” Kenny said.
One change that has come out of collaborations was in how TWC sends out warnings for tornados, based on research by its partner—the National Weather Service. Ten years ago, tornado watches were issued when conditions were very high for a tornado and tornado warnings were only issued when it was observed. “Through the methodology, we got confident enough in the models that it is now the practice to warn on the forecast,” Kenny explained. “By warning on a forecast versus waiting for observation, we have a much better chance of getting people in safe places…quite honestly, if you wait for observations, it’s too late.”
This practice has led to further discussion about when other alerts should be sent out. “When do we warn on forecast? When do we take action on forecast? And when do we wait for observation?” are all questions that Kenny said the TWC is looking to answer to provide more accurate information to consumers that will help them make better decisions.
“I do think that public-private partnerships make our science better, make us safer, help tell stories that help people learn, help in services, and it works,” Kenny said. “It works for those of us who are capitalists because it actually makes businesses stronger and more profitable; it actually makes our businesses more resilient, and it creates jobs.”