social and economic aspects

Social and economic sectors impacted by weather – who are the users of forecasts?

Users are often difficult to identify.

More difficult is to quantify the $$$ benefit of the forecast information.

This is important to justify the operation of the NMS to the Gov’t, and to set priorities for different services.

Does the public count??

As noted above, this item is key to all other activities of a met service.  The question of whether a met service is needed in a particular country depends above all on the perceived impact that weather and climate variations have on the country and whether an improvement in forecasting such variations would have a net positive impact on the country’s economy. Such a service can hardly be justified if it will cost more to operate a met service than the anticipated economic and social benefits.  Fortunately for those interested in meteorology, it has not been difficult to convince decision makers worldwide that national met services are a cost-effective investment, despite the difficulty in actually quantifying the benefits.

Despite the informal perception of the value of met forecasts, there will be a point of diminishing returns for every met service, where an additional investment in the activities of the met service does not yield a net improvement in the economic benefits to the country.  Finding this level of investment is extremely difficult, since quantifying the benefits of an imperfect forecast skill on potentially millions of decision makers (the public at large) is a nearly impossible task.  However difficult the task, the effort to quantify the benefits must be made to estimate the size and scope of a met service for a given country.

Because of the great difficulty in accurately estimating the economic benefits of weather forecasts (of limited skill) to the general public, the justification of met service operations often relies on benefits calculated for specific sectors of the economy, such as aviation, shipping, agriculture or energy generation.  While this is logical, it can have some unintended consequences that adversely impact the overall potential benefits of a met service.  If the primary justification for a met service comes from a particular industry or sector of the government, the met service will invariably tend to put more emphasis on serving this sector at the expense of other sectors.  This can lead in many countries to the diversification of met services, with specialized services for aviation, the military, the energy sector, and for agriculture.  In this manner more specialized forecasts can be generated for each important sector that stands to benefit from improved weather forecasts.  Unfortunately, there is quite often one loser in this diversification of met services – the general public.  Since the benefits to the public are so difficult to quantify they cannot be easily used to argue for additional financial support for new equipment, personnel or expanded services.  And since the public forecasts are not supported by a particular economic interest but rather general tax revenues from the central government, there is usually little organized lobbying for better services.  If budget cuts are required in economic hard times, the public met service may likely be cut before services for paying customers.

Although we defer most discussion of the use of met data to section vvv, it should be noted that data generated by met services often has commercial value.  Met services have recognized this, and the distribution of these observation made by meteorological services to the general public continues to be a source of major disagreement at the international level.

Taking a broad perspective:  the overall goal of a met service is to provide the most useful information for the least cost… the challenge is to quantify all of the benefits and costs and continually evaluate this as circumstances (technology, labor costs, economic interests) change.

It is time to recap perhaps the most fundamental role of any met service.  This would be to have the greatest positive impact on the economic activities of the user community for the lowest possible cost.   This should be the goal of any met service.  The details of just how to approach this goal are anything but clear, requiring a blend of the science of meteorology, many aspects of technology and communications and an understanding of human nature and its adaptations and responses to imperfect information.  Most of the remainder of this guide describes what needs to be considered to optimize met service operations in the service of a user community, whomever that may be.