Senate Bill Would Open Some Weather Agency Models to the Public

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The bill would require the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to share more weather modeling data with third parties and review possible innovations.

A bipartisan bill introduced in the Senate Tuesday would require the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which collects and models scientific data for weather forecasting purposes, to make certain operational weather models publicly available.

Under the Learning Excellence and Good Examples from New Developers, or LEGEND Act, NOAA would also “periodically review innovations and improvements” to operational models made by third parties and the public. The bill would give NOAA’s administrator authority to utilize certain outside innovations.

“The livelihoods of farmers and ranchers in my state often depend on forecasting accuracy, so it’s important that we find innovative ways to improve government forecasting capabilities,” Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., said in a statement. Thune sponsored the bill with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii.  “This legislation, which builds off my work to improve weather forecasting throughout my time serving on the Commerce Committee, makes NOAA’s current and future models more accessible to outside experts—including scientists and engineers in academia—who can provide new insights to improve existing forecasting models.”

The bill, which does not yet have sponsors in the House, would augment the National Integrated Drought Information System Reauthorization Act of 2018. That policy required the U.S. Weather Research Program to establish an Earth Prediction Innovation Center, which was designed to bring commercial innovation to weather modeling and forecasting research.

Specifically, the LEGEND Act would require NOAA to make its non-national security-related operational models “open source by publically posting the source code, including the models and the data they use.”

“In a place like Hawaii, NOAA models provide vital warning for hurricanes, king tides, and tsunami,” Schatz said in a statement. “Making the code for these models open source will make it easier for experts to partner with NOAA to improve forecasts and keep our communities safe.”