“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.” – Charles Dickens
Yesterday the National Academy of Public Administration released its long-anticipated report on the National Weather Service. Building off the work of an earlier NAS/NRC Report: Weather Services for the Nation: Becoming Second to None, and entitled Forecast for the Future: Assuring the Capacity of the National Weather Service, the NAPA study provided fifteen recommendations. You can find those and a brief commentary in the previous post.
Others have reacted to the NAPA findings over the past 24 hours. Several colleagues, people who are leaders, and well-respected in the meteorological community, have used the word underwhelming. You get the sense they had expected more… a critique that might have been more expansive, visionary. The earlier NAS/NRC report had articulated a future for national weather services in which the NWS was an important player, but no longer the single dominant actor. Instead, the NAS/NRC saw that the NWS would or should be an agent of change, partnering with a vibrant private-sector weather-services industry. Together both would tap new technologies, the natural and the social sciences, and the power of today’s IT and social networking to serve emerging national needs for weather observations and forecasts. There’d been a hope that the substance and the language of the NAPA report would capture the community’s imagination in the same way.
That may have been asking more of the NAPA report than it could deliver. NAPA was tasked to provide a “change management framework for the future.” The report’s recommendations are subject to interpretation, and interpreted broadly and in the most positive light, would seem to be responsive. That’s particularly true when we note that the end-goal of a “weather-ready nation” is threaded throughout the report and the recommendations. See this goal in its broadest, most challenging and comprehensive sense, and things fall into place. Take the words at face value, and nothing more, and the report might seem a bit dry. [In that way, the report, like all such reports, is something of a Rorschach test.]
So much for the NAPA Valley of despond… the winter of despair. NWS leadership and employees can be forgiven for feeling put-upon and worn. The partnering community can be disappointed because it fails to find the hoped-for note of inspiration.
What about the other Napa Valley… the spring of hope? Please indulge a mere vignette, one that illustrates the larger story unfolding… one that for me at least hints at the excitement and the vitality of our community and conveys a sense of the opportunities ahead. It’s about a former Navy officer by the name of Jim Etro. After retiring, Jim founded Itri Corporation, back in 1998. Here’s a snippet from their website: Itri Corporation provides technical management and advice, the services associated with the application of the environmental sciences and the technologies that may be employed to assess and characterize the environment. We also develop and implement information fusion and decision support tools that integrate information and sensors and modeling technologies. Itri Corporation also has a system integration and manufacturing business in which we develop, deploy, and operate unique remote sensing equipment for our clients.
Back when Jim’s company was much younger and smaller, and I was just starting at the AMS, we would talk. One year he told me he was purchasing and instrumenting a drone aircraft with remote sensors which he was going to use to help California winegrowers (think Napa Valley) monitor the condition of their vines.
[But just a sample of the kind of innovation evident every day from dozens of startups, like Joel Gratz and OpenSnow, Bill Gail and Global Weather Corporation, and myriad more, as well as the continuing iimprovement and advance that’s the hallmark of more mature companies like AccuWeather and The Weather Corporation and everything and everyone in between.]
In 2006, Jim Etro did something else that was very cool, and says a lot about the man. Running his small company, scrabbling to make ends meet, he nevertheless found it easy to do something that has left leaders of much bigger enterprises, with annual revenues in the hundreds of millions of dollars, scratching their heads. He invested in the professional development of one of his Itri employees, a young professional by the name of Andrea Bleistein, and paid to send her to the AMS Summer Policy Colloquium that year. Today she’s a valued part of NOAA National Weather Service leadership.
Spring of hope? Winter of despair? Like Charles Darnay and Sydney Carton, we each get to choose, every day.