Weather Rocks of the Sea and NOAA's Budget Shenanigans

Discussion in 'Weather and Surf Forecasting' started by viajerodevida, Nov 5, 2013.

  1. viajerodevida

    viajerodevida Well-Known Member

    Oct 21, 2012
    This is a spinoff of this thread

    The message from basically says, pay up or deal with it.

    I guess this isn't surprising considering the government shutdown, but 55 out of 110 moored buoys in U.S. waters have some sort of problem including two that I care about in NY/NJ waters that recently lost wave data. Many of the failures listed at affect only one or two sensors such as temperature or dewpoint but a bunch have completely failed and a few are adrift. And that's not counting NDBC buoys beyond U.S. waters.

    Look at all that red...

    Some buoys like 32412 in the Pacific have been adrift for over a year. But hey, look at the nice swirly patterns it has made in the last 10 days. It's moved 20 miles since yesterday, and look where it started!


    Maintaining these buoys isn't an easy task. The NDBC needs help from USCG airplanes to search for adrift buoys and USCG buoy tender ships to service the buoys. And to complicate matters, the USCG is part of the Department of Homeland Security and buoy maintenance clearly isn't as important as the joke that national security has become.

    In an article about the USCG tender Juniper, "The vessel's captain, Cmdr. Rick Wester, says that the creation of the Department of Homeland Security changed the way the tenders are regarded. "The transfer [from Department of Transportation to DHS] led to a higher visibility of our capabilities," he says. "Our schedule is dependent on the buoys; whatever time is left is for law enforcement." He calculates that 39 percent of Juniper's time at sea is now spent maintaining buoys, down from 70 percent when he took command in June 2006. " --

    No buoy reading or forecast will ever trump local knowledge of tides, sandbars, or an in-person visit to the beach, but damn they're useful. And not having them means we all need to spend more time figuring out what the ocean is doing.

    But thankfully there's lots of other information available to self-forecast surf conditions. Taxpayer and government-funded organizations like the Navy (which runs FNMOC) and NOAA (which created the NESDIS to manage U.S. weather satellites as well as the NWS to provide weather forecasts) provide everyone who has an Internet connection with (basically) free access to troves of satellite data, weather forecast models and forecaster discussions. This open sharing of data enables surf forecast sites like SwellInfo to exist and provide you and I with useful information. At least for now...

    There was a proposal in Congress a few years ago to privatize much of the National Weather Service (which includes the NDBC). This would have allowed corporations to be the sole providers of NWS buoy, satellite and weather data. A short, poor-quality clip explains it here: (naked buoy at 2:05).

    I'm not sure I agree with the guy in the video who says that private forecasting companies are "losing business because the NWS is addressing specific [user] needs ... that they shouldn't be doing". And I think it's silly for the taxpaying public to pay twice for NWS data. We've funded the satellites, the scientists, and the supercomputers; and now we should expect to pay to access that data?

    The National Weather Services Duties Act of 2005 starts by saying that "Data, information, guidance, forecasts, and warnings [prepared by NOAA or the NWS] shall be issued ... through a set of data portals designed for ... commercial providers."
    Then it goes on to say that "An officer, employee, or agent of the NOAA the NWS or any other department or agency of the U.S. ... who ... comes into possession of ANY weather data, information, guidance, forecast, or warning that might influence or affect the market value of any product, service, commodity, tradable, or business may NOT willfully impart [to the public] such weather data ... comments or qualifications on such weather data ... except [if it's through the commercial portal]."

    I have no issue with companies charging for the interpretation of the NOAA/NWS data (as Surfline does), but to hold that data hostage for ransom is ridiculous. I hope that bill dies a humiliating death if it ever resurfaces.

    But could a private company do better than the gov't at servicing all these buoys? I think that's a tough task right now given that the USCG provides airplanes, ships and manpower, but who knows? There's a reason they've left buoy 32412 all alone in the Pacific. But in the past few years private companies have been sending payloads into space. Managing buoys in the oceans isn't as profitable, but not as expensive either.

    I'm not sure where I'm going with any of this... but I'm curious to know what you guys think about these issues. There's good reason for publicly funded NWS data to remain in the public domain. Even if that means for-profit weather forecasting companies must nut up and actually compete to gather data and produce a good product (as opposed to having the data handed to them for free via congressional mandate).

    Would you pay for this site if SwellInfo had to pay a private company to access NOAA satellite or buoy data? Would you pay that same amount to fund NOAA? Would you rather see NOAA's budget increase to cover these costs? Should DHS give up some of its funding to NOAA?

    Maybe those who can't read weather maps or don't live close enough to the beach should just be left in the dark about when the surf will be good. Fine. Turn all the buoys off.

    And on another note (maybe Micah or someone else can chime in here), how do the failed buoys affect the accuracy of surf forecast models? If the forecast models get feedback from real-time buoy data, is the missing data estimated or ignored?

    This is posted in Weather and Surf Forecasting so don't get upset if I didn't offend or attack any SI members in this post.
  2. 252surfer

    252surfer Well-Known Member

    Dec 1, 2010
    if some private company wants to take this over, where could i get an application?? if not, i would still pay for it. its something i would invest my money in

  3. viajerodevida

    viajerodevida Well-Known Member

    Oct 21, 2012
    I saw some requests on the Federal Business Opportunities website ( for buoy maintenance proposals near Charleston, SC. I'm sure there are more contract positions available elsewhere but I'm not sure which companies actually do this sort of work.

    As circular as it seems, if a bunch of people have startup capital it's probably worth it in the long run to get a federal grant to start a business to fulfill federal contracts. The question for taxpayers is whether a private company can do the job more efficiently than gov't funded employees. There's a lot of wasted $ in gov't mismanagement, but probably more wasted on contracts with private companies who do half-assed work or no work at all. But with the USCG being redirected to law enforcement duties, lots of people would be happy if a private contractor attempted to pick up the slack -- even if they wasted money. I mean, we can print more, right?