Blog of Don Berchoff – TruWeather CEO

Are Human Forecasters still needed?

If those who see the impending demise of weather forecasters (ARSTechnica Article Link ) talk with operational meteorologists–folks who have the immense responsibility to produce warnings and forecasts in real time–the general consensus would likely be that until automated forecasts are able to forecast the weather that matters most to protect life (e.g., tornados, convective winds, etc.), with greater precision and accuracy, there will be a significant role for a meteorologist in developing short-range (less than one day) forecasts and warnings.  For longer range forecasts, the value of a forecaster becomes more expertise and skill dependent, and numerical weather prediction models and statistical methods will generally outperform.  Automated forecasts are good and progressing every day, but still are not accurate or granular enough for local scale events.  To improve automated local scale forecasts, we need denser real time measurements, better convective parametrization, and more computing to assimilate data faster at much lower latency and higher resolution than today.  These advancements still require more science, and the solutions are not cheap.  So for the foreseeable future, meteorologists will remain an important component in the forecast process in local scale, high impact warnings and forecasts.

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Don Berchoff
CEO TruWeather Solutions, LLC

A Visit to Capitol Hill

Last week, we accompanied the American Meteorological Society (AMS) on a visit to Capitol Hill for the AMS Congressional Visit Day (CVD).  The program was run by the staff at the AMS Policy Program Office, led by Ya’el Seid-Green.

The goals of CVDs are to:

  • Help AMS members learn about Congress;
  • Build relationships between our community and the Hill; and
  • Provide Congressional offices with access to the best possible information about weather, water and climate issues.

The AMS’s official policy is they do not advocate policy positions, but rather, offer important geoscience information to help inform policy decisions.  In this round of meetings, we focused on two strategic messages:

  • The importance of the geosciences in advancing society both in terms of improving American lives and growing the economy
  • The importance of communications spectrum to improving weather, water and climate forecasts.  There is a desire by the telecommunications industry to acquire more spectrum, that could impede upon spectrum bandwidth that transmits important weather satellite data.

TruWeather Solutions also had the opportunity to meet with Congressional staffers from the two states we now reside, New York and Virginia.  We were proud to represent AMS in these important meetings and thank them for the opportunity for TruWeather Solutions to meet with and discuss important initiatives we are working in both New York and Virginia.

 

Risky Marine Business—What is the true cost of Weather and Water disruption?

There have been a series of recent tragedies within the marine industry, including the El Faro Sinking off the Bahamas and a near-tragedy, the Royal Caribbean Cruise.  Weather and water science and technology has advanced significantly in the last 10 years, and yet we are still seeing an unsettling number of port and maritime incidents despite having improved marine forecasts with longer lead-times.  What can the weather and water service community do to better pinpoint threats and communicate them in a way that will illicit the decisions one would expect in high-risk threat situations and save businesses money?

As a thought leader in the weather and water services community, TruWeather Solutions has extensive experience in providing decision-based solutions to clients to help mitigate risk to their operations. We are in the process of embarking on a listening campaign with marine business stakeholders to better determine how to mitigate the risk with better solution and service strategies.

TruWeather believes solutions should not only focus on capturing big, headline grabbing weather and marine events and tragedies; but also capture local scale events that do not capture headlines; but result in incidents that with “fit for purpose” weather solutions and services, are avoidable.  “Fit for purpose” solutions can also cut weather related costs to businesses on a daily basis during routine marine, port and intermodal operations.

CMA Industry

Marine stakeholders run tight margins and it is difficult to see the Return on Investment for special services…but do stakeholders really know what weather and water impacts cost them in incidents and lost productivity?  We believe through a workflow analysis, any business can isolate weather related costs within their P&L.  Once this analysis is complete, the return on investment for customized solutions becomes clear.  A general, well-tested rule of thumb is 20-40%+ of weather and water related costs are avoidable with a consistently executed environmental action plan that includes focused, integrated, and customized weather and water intelligence.

The Imperative for Increasing Real Time Vertical Atmospheric Measurements To Enable the Transportation Automation Era

The importance of the Weather Enterprise’s drive to improve forecast precision and accuracy to support a Weather Ready Nation grows more critical every day.

Society’s vulnerability to environmental events is increasing with more frequent and severe weather events that threaten lives and property; growing urban and suburban populations that require greater movement of commerce within a finite water, ground and air transportation grid; increased risk from flooding rains caused by thunderstorms and major storm systems in urban and coastal areas; and society’s reliability on environmentally sensitive technologies vital to improving lives and the economy, such as renewable energy generation, unmanned aerial vehicles and semi-autonomous and autonomous ships and vehicles.  Businesses are also becoming more attuned to how the environment affects their business and profit margins, and with big data analytical processing capabilities that can mine and fuse elements of information critical to optimizing decisions, precise and accurate weather data and forecasts is becoming more sought after in making operational business decisions.

Thus, as science and technology continues to improve, and society’s expectation for ever more refined and accurate weather data increases, weather forecasts are becoming more relevant in life and business decisions.  This drive for improved weather knowledge, pushed to any device, anywhere can only meet society’s needs if forecast accuracy becomes more reliable down to the neighborhood, highway, airport, and wind farm scale.  Improvements in model physics and resolution have delivered notable improvements in hyperlocal forecasts with the fielding of regional models such as the High-Resolution Rapid Refresh model.  But there still remains one significant limiting factor in advancing the precision and accuracy of hyperlocal forecasts, and that is the availability of high-resolution vertical measurements of the atmosphere (especially in the lowest 5,000 feet of the atmosphere.)   Such real time profiles are vital to improving forecasts for such forecast challenges as thunderstorm initiation, potential severe thunderstorm intensity, precipitation type, localized fog generation and dissipation, and localized wind events, to name a few.

According to the National Research Council Study, “Observing Weather and Climate From the Ground Up,” page 122, published in 2009, “the vertically resolved water vapor field, especially in the lowest 1 KM, is most critical, being essential for improved prediction of all high impact weather.”  The study went on to recommend, “as a high infrastructure priority, federal agencies and their partners should deploy lidars and radio frequency profilers nationwide at approximately 400 sites to continually monitor lower tropospheric conditions.”  The intent was to build a high latency measuring network to complement aircraft, satellite, GPS radio occultation and rawinsonde measurements to adequately capture vertical measurements of water vapor, temperature and wind to improve hyperlocal weather forecasts.

To date, the vertical profiler network has not been deployed due to costs and operational hurdles, and meteorologists are seeking other methods to fill the vertical profiling gap needed to improve hyperlocal forecasts.  The industry is looking at how small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) can potentially close this gap by flying weather sensors, at low altitudes, to provide meteorologists with information not previously available to them, critical for providing better decision services.  An affordable, easy to deploy and operate and sustainable UAV vertical profiling capability can improve hyperlocal forecasts that are critical to “new economy” initiatives such as renewable energy, commercial UAV applications and autonomous vehicle operations over the next ten years.

Using UAVs is a good first step in increasing the sensing of the atmosphere, especially in advance of expected severe weather; but in an era where technology can solve so many problems, the weather industry can and must do better if we are going to meet the needs of the “new economy” industries and provide the kind of hyperlocal forecasts needed to safely and effectively move into greater transportation automation.  The solutions are available, it is about the public and private sector working together to find ways to field systems to fill the gap.

Don Berchoff, CEO of TruWeather Solutions was the National Weather Service Science and Technology Director between 2008-2012 and was a key participant in the formation and growth of the NWS Mesonet Program.

 

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Don Berchoff
CEO TruWeather Solutions
don.berchoff@truweathersolutions.com

Micro-Weather Data Fusion Can Accelerate Fielding of Autonomous Transportation Systems

This week the Unmanned Systems Institute Conference on unmanned aerial vehicles, and semi-autonomous and autonomous vehicles was held in San Diego, CA.  The conference was more akin to a workshop, where industry technologists with car and unmanned aerial vehicle equipment manufacturers and sensor manufacturers; guidance and communications systems experts; investment bankers; test facility operators and other experts focused on the unmanned systems industry.  The workshop covered unmanned systems technology, growth outlook and schedules, international and domestic uses, investment opportunities, application to commercialization, technology challenges and future uses.  This was a high-powered group of innovation leaders and technologists, which included representatives from Tesla, Daimler, Boeing, Mercedes-Benz, BMW to name a few.

http://unmannedsystemsinstitute.com/event/agenda-2015/

The industry milestone that drew the most discussion was the prediction that fully autonomous ground vehicles will operate by 2021, transporting the general public and workers in semi-controlled areas such as work and college campuses, large work sites, government installations and other such environments.  I spent considerable time listening to sensor presentations and talking with robotics experts assessing the sensor and guidance systems that will guide the vehicles safely.  My assessment is that while ambitious, the goal of deploying the vehicles in controlled environments by early next decade are attainable with the right roadside infrastructure supporting vehicle on-board sensors, even in snow, ice, heavy rain, and ponding water conditions.

Google, Apple, Mercedes Benz, Daimler and others are making huge investments to bring the technology to market as rapidly as possible.  My experience and expertise tells me costs and risk to commercializing and operating these vehicles safely in cities is manageable.  But my enthusiasm is guarded as it appears society—the general public, lawmakers and policy makers–may lag behind the industry in accepting the notion of self-driving vehicles at the accelerated timeframe discussed in the workshop.  This is somewhat evident in the latest news out of California in the article link below.

http://www.autonews.com/article/20151216/OEM06/151219895/california-dmv-proposes-ban-on-driverless-cars

Additionally, there are still technical hurdles to fielding a true autonomous vehicle without roadside guidance infrastructure by the mid-2020s, as some manufacturers believe.  The sensor technologies tested on autonomous vehicles today will periodically degrade in certain weather conditions during circumstances where vehicles can operate today with a driver in relative safety.  There will be use cases or areas of the country where vehicle-borne sensors will suffice, but without the investment in some roadside infrastructure, certain significant weather conditions will impact the widespread use of reliable self-driving vehicles.

But whether we are talking about semi-autonomous vehicles with driver override, autonomous vehicles with only onboard sensors, or autonomous vehicles with roadside infrastructure support, micro-weather sensing is paramount to a safe and productive ecosystem that will drive consumer confidence in embracing the technology.  Derived data from vehicle computer and telematics systems, today’s onboard temperature sensors, and crowd-sourced human reporting is not accurate enough to ensure comprehensive micro-road segment situational awareness and road forecasts.  A high fidelity, high-density road and weather sensing ecosystem, especially coupled with a road side guidance infrastructure, provides the best chance for autonomous vehicles to operate in any weather within the normal physical limits vehicles can operate today.

High-density road and weather sensing will also significantly improve road segment weather and road forecasts at a magnitude better than anything available today.  And forecasts will be critical for safe route and journey planning transmitted directly to onboard systems, to mitigate not only what is impacting the vehicle at that moment, but in potentially avoiding high threat areas likely to occur hours in advance through proactive re-routing and planning.

In a nutshell, with the right mix of weather sensors, forecasts systems and roadside infrastructure, it is plausible for a self-driving vehicle to successfully operate safely and effectively in a Boston snow event in January, or a heavy rain thunderstorm in Miami in the next decade.  Driving down weather risk will enable quicker FAA and DOT action in producing the regulation needed to operate in the most autonomous matter possible, and in bringing the general public along in welcoming and embracing this life-changing technology.

TruWeather Solutions is a thought leader focused on the nexus of unmanned transportation systems technology and weather and water solutions. Don Berchoff is a meteorologist and was the National Weather Service Science and Technology Director from 2008-2012.

berchoff2_web-2Don Berchoff
CEO – TruWeather Solutions
Cell:  (703) 915-7639

What Drives Efficiency at Ports?

This week, TruWeather Solutions attended the American Association of Port Authorities Convention in Miami, Fl.  Bethann Rooney, Assistant Director, Port Commence Department, The Port Authority of New York and Steve Cernak, Chief Executive/Port Director at Port Everglades, articulated thought-provoking case studies during the session, “Enhance Efficiency in and Around Your Port.”  Key themes included intermodal efficiency, revenue generation, and port efficiency and reliability.

 

Steve Cernak identified how optimizing five port attributes can drive efficiency at a port:  Navigation; Landside Transportation; Internal Port Circulation; IT Technology; and Security.  All these attributes become more effective and efficient when proactively using accurate and precise weather and water behavior intelligence to anticipate and exploit the environment, rather than trying to just cope and avoid.  Having a comprehensive weather and water integration strategy, that results in consistent business decisions, will increase profits for all operators by reducing risk and costs during intermodal container transfer and in operating vessels, rail, trucks and aircraft.

 

Bethann Rooney focused on the importance of data integration and interoperability in improving efficiency and reliability and discussed the findings of a task force that resulted in the development of the Terminal Information Portal System (TIPS.)  TIPS is a central web portal that enables users to check container availability, and export booking status, as well as to obtain information on terminal-specific news such as extended hours, holiday schedules or row closures.  TIPS was developed to give port users a central portal location to access information that can streamline business processes. TIPS is available to truckers, beneficial cargo owners, and other service providers.

 

With the focus on efficiency and reliability at ports, and across the intermodal value chain, and with tools like TIPS available to deliver fused and consistent data to end users, how can intermodal operators gain the weather and water behavior insight they need to address pain points and help improve business results?

 

TruWeather Solutions consults, solutions and provides customized services for marine, port, and trucking operations.  Our water products are powered by MetOcean Solutions, who have the most accessible, state-of-the-art hyperlocal water behavior modeling on the market today.  TruWeather is your single source of consistent weather and water intelligence, accessible by portal, API for integration into an operator’s interface, and/or through instantaneous alert messages to any device, anytime, anywhere.  Our services are focused on helping our clients make better business and safety decisions by avoiding costly surprises and proactively managing business risk, turning a profit killer into a profit builder.

berchoff2_web-2Don Berchoff
CEO
TruWeatherSolutions, LLC

The IBM and Weather Company Deal–Watson Possibilities Are Enormous, If…

It is only a matter of time before the fusion of weather, big data technologies and life and business applications go mainstream and change the way people and businesses view weather and water data, and experience the force-multiplying effects it will have on improving life and weather sensitive business decisions.

Some of us have seen this day coming for many years, and weather companies have been working in big data analytics for several years to influence consumer decisions and improve the application of weather in business decisions. But the efforts have only touched a sliver of the potential market. There are virtually billions of applications of weather data for improving billions of decisions, with the potential to save companies hundreds of billions of dollars each year. For society to truly realize the potential in how weather data can improve people’s lives and improve business outcomes, it requires very precise and accurate hyperlocal data, scalable computing and software (i.e. like Watson) and a team of experts working with the public and weather sensitive businesses to identify what weather data and what life or business processes require fusing to generate a specific insight that improves societal and economic outcomes.

The requirement for hyperlocal data is absolutely critical, and hyperlocal data is not merely showing weather data on a hyper locally zoomed map; but rather real-time and forecast data with a precision and accuracy that matches the zoom level of the map. Data precision and accuracy is imperative for ensuring the outcomes that Watson produces are accurately insightful and valuable to the user. The constraint here is on the current state of science and technology…our ability to improve the sensing of the atmosphere, the science in our prediction models and the speed at which we can crunch all this data in real time. These critical factors will all continue to improve, thus driving improvements in the outcome’s Watson provides. But this will take a village…a combination of government, academic and private sector intellect and investment that no one company can replicate on its own.

The requirement to uncover the billions of applications of weather data that can enable a billion decisions, every day, is also a daunting challenge. No one company or entity can do this on their own. It will take a number of private environmental companies, working hand in hand with users across all industries, companies and the public to understand how weather impacts every facet of life and business, and understand how inherent uncertainty in weather data can negatively affect a decision. These experts will have to apply specific expertise in weather knowledge to fuse the right data inputs with the specific life or business process to improve quality of life or profits. This is not rocket science, it just requires work, and it is all very doable if there are people incentivized to do the doing.

Which leads me to my main thought about the IBM and The Weather Company deal…if IBM allows Watson to accept commercial proprietary data sources and protects the data, and makes the platform available as a service for the hundreds of weather providers out there to leverage, the impact will be enormous for the weather industry, but more importantly for the general public and businesses.  It can incentivize a large cadre of experts to do the hard work required in uncovering those billions of applications, and accelerate the benefit to society and the US economy, while still making a nice return on investment for IBM.

 

berchoff2_web-2Don Berchoff
CEO
TruWeatherSolutions, LLC