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Blog Entries from August 2011

NHC'S Bill Read: A Hurricane by Any Other Name. . . .

Satellite photo of Hurricane Dora, July21,  2011

Guest blog by Bill Read, Director of NOAA's National Hurricane Center

One of the customs of my job as Director that has been most interesting is the practice of naming of tropical cyclones. For several hundred years, many hurricanes in the West Indies were named after the particular saint's day on which the hurricane occurred. Ivan R. Tannehill describes in his book, Hurricanes the major tropical storms of recorded history and mentions many hurricanes named after saints. For example, there was Hurricane "Santa Ana," which struck Puerto Rico with exceptional violence on July 26, 1825, and "San Felipe" (the first) and "San Felipe" (the second) which hit Puerto Rico on September 13 in both 1876 and 1928.

Prior to the current naming scheme, storms were identified mostly by the current position (latitude and longitude). Not all of us are geographically oriented, and experience shows that the use of short, distinctive given names in written as well as spoken communications is quicker and less subject to error than the older more cumbersome latitude-longitude identification methods. In the pre-Internet, 24/7 news cycle era, these advantages were important in exchanging detailed storm information between hundreds of widely scattered stations, coastal bases and ships at sea.

While not officially adopted until after 1950, the use of common people names dates back to the last century. An early example of the use of a woman's name for a storm (a winter storm called “Maria”) was in the novel Storm, by George R. Stewart, published by Random House in 1941, also filmed by Walt Disney. During World War II, this informal naming practice became widespread in weather map discussions among forecasters, especially Air Force and Navy meteorologists who plotted the movements of storms over the wide expanses of the Pacific Ocean.

Winning the Future in Detroit: Public-Private Partnerships Advance Economic Transformation

Members of the Detroit Regional Chamber pictured meeting with Fernandez and Baruah

Guest blog post by John Fernandez, U.S Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development, Department of Commerce's Economic Development Administration

Last week, I had the pleasure of visiting Detroit, Mich., to see firsthand how close collaboration between the public and private sectors is working to transform the region’s economy and create the businesses and jobs of the future.  I was pleased to be joined by Sandy Baruah, President and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber and also my predecessor at the U.S. Department of Commerce during the Bush administration. 

The trip was a great opportunity to witness how the economic landscape in America’s "Motor City" is being transformed, particularly around the emerging and robust information technology and robotics cluster, which is thriving due to the city’s skilled talent pool, affordable retail opportunities and urban attractions such as the Fox Theater and Detroit Opera House.

There is something positive in the air in Detroit and the local economy is reaping the benefits. From the mayor, to members of Congress, to business leaders, to community stakeholders—there is a shared commitment to strengthen the city and create new jobs. Vibrant public-private partnerships are being leveraged and driving growth.

Women and STEM: My Perspective, and My Story

Image of female scientists

Guest blog post by Jane Lubchenco, Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and NOAA Administrator

Last week, as the administration and Congress agreed on a debt ceiling deal, those of us in the science world were reminded of another looming deficit: the lack of women with jobs – and education – in science, engineering, technology and mathematics (STEM).

According to the “Women in STEM” report issued by Commerce’s Economics and Statistics Administration (ESA), nearly half of U.S. jobs are filled by women, yet they hold less than 25 percent of STEM jobs. This is despite the fact that women with STEM jobs earn 33 percent more than women in other fields.

A country, especially one in the throes of tough economic times, needs all of the skilled brainpower it has to “win the future.”  Science and technological innovation have a key role to play in creating jobs, stimulating a robust economy and creating durable solutions to tough problems.  Women and people of color have more to offer than is currently being tapped.  Since the ESA report focuses on women, I’ll do the same here.

We at NOAA are doing our best to identify, hire, promote and engage talented people. I am surrounded by women in all stages of their careers who are pursuing their passions for science and science policy.

We have a history of distinguished women scientists working at NOAA and continue to actively seek new talent. In addition, women of distinction also fill the uppermost ranks of the NOAA leadership team.

What differentiates NOAA from other science-based institutions, and what attracts budding scientists and students to NOAA? One obvious answer is our mission to create and use cutting-edge science to provide services and stewardship—our weather, climate and ocean science enterprises.

Kids are especially intrigued and excited by weather and climate as “see and feel” phenomena that touch them daily. The same can be said for the ocean, which like space, is a largely unexplored frontier that offers the promise of adventure and discovery.

This is, in fact, what hooked me.

NOAA: Heat Wave Leads to Fourth-Warmest July on Record for the U.S.

Infographic of U.S. showing temperature differences

Persistent, scorching heat in the central and eastern regions of the United States shattered long-standing daily and monthly temperature records last month, making it the fourth warmest July on record nationally, according to scientists at NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center. The heat exacerbated drought conditions, resulting in the largest “exceptional” drought footprint in the 12-year history of the U.S. Drought Monitor. “Exceptional” is the most severe category of drought on the drought monitor scale. Drought conditions at several locations in the South region are not as long lived, but are as dry, or drier, than the historic droughts of the 1930s and 1950s. July NCDC report.

The average U.S. temperature in July was 77.0 degrees F, which is 2.7 degrees F above the long-term (1901-2000) average. Precipitation, averaged across the nation, was 2.46 inches. This was 0.32 inch below the long-term average, with large variability between regions. The monthly analysis is based on records dating back to 1895.  Read more of NOAA's release.

USPTO Director David Kappos Talks Innovation with Business Leaders in Florida’s Space Coast

Kappos with roundtable participants

This week, the Commerce Department's Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) David Kappos is in Orlando, Fla., to hear directly from small business leaders as part of the White House Business Council Roundtable series being held across the country. Engaging with innovators and entrepreneurs in the state’s vibrant Space Coast community, Kappos is gaining additional perspective on the regional business climate and using that feedback to identify resources, partnerships and investments that will strengthen the Space Coast economy by boosting its diversity and global competitiveness.

Touring the Kennedy Space Center and the University of Central Florida’s Institute for Simulation and Training, Kappos is observing firsthand how research centers and labs in the region are developing the cutting-edge tools and programs that will inspire the next frontier of innovation and exploration. He is also talking with area businesses about the critical steps the USPTO is taking to streamline the patent system—arming high-tech entrepreneurs in the Space Coast with the strongest and most consistent intellectual property protections to swiftly bring their innovations to the marketplace and jumpstart their companies.

Senior administration officials across the federal government have participated in several business roundtables around the country this summer to determine how the administration can best support the very businesses that are doing the innovating and hiring that will write the next chapters of 21st century growth.

Research and development being unleashed in states like Florida are the building blocks of innovation, Working together, the federal government and local partners can establish an environment ripe for small businesses to flourish, create jobs and help America win the future.

NOAA's Atlantic Hurricane Season Update Calls for Increase in Named Storms

Satellite photo of Emily as of 8-3-11

Forecasters have a higher confidence for an active season

The Department of Commerce's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued its updated 2011 Atlantic hurricane season outlook today raising the number of expected named storms from its pre-season outlook issued in May. Forecasters also increased their confidence that 2011 will be an active Atlantic hurricane season. NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, a division of the National Weather Service, updates its Atlantic hurricane season outlook every August.

“The atmosphere and Atlantic Ocean are primed for high hurricane activity during August through October,” said Gerry Bell, Ph.D., lead seasonal hurricane forecaster at the Climate Prediction Center.  “Storms through October will form more frequently and become more intense than we’ve seen so far this season.”

Key climate factors predicted in May continue to support an active season. These include: the tropical multi-decadal signal, which since 1995 has brought favorable ocean and atmospheric conditions, leading to more active seasons; exceptionally warm Atlantic Ocean temperatures (the third warmest on record); and the possible redevelopment of La Niña.  Reduced vertical wind shear and lower air pressure across the tropical Atlantic also favor an active season.

Based on these conditions and on climate model forecasts, the confidence for an above-normal season has increased from 65 percent in May to 85 percent. Also, the expected number of named storms has increased from 12-18 in May to 14-19, and the expected number of hurricanes has increased from 6-10 in May to 7-10. Read NOAA's full release

Rural and Suburban America: When One Definition is Not Enough

Graphic of three possible ways to define Peoria, Illinois

Guest blog post by Robert M. Groves, Director, U.S. Census Bureau

Cross-posted on the Census Director's blog

Last week I was pleased to speak to the Rural Philanthropy Conference. They are a set of private and community foundations that identify problems and issues facing rural America and seek to improve the areas through foundation investments. They want to do good works and see the lives of rural peoples improve. 

There was discussion about what “rural” really means. It is fair to say that rurality as a concept has for years been derived from first identifying various types of urban areas. In that sense, rural areas are residual to urban areas; everything that’s not urban is rural.

For example, looking at the area around Peoria, Illinois, illustrates the problem (see graphic). If we use the city limits of Peoria as the urban unit, then we deduce more land as rural adjacent to it. If we identify land use patterns, then we bring into a Peoria urban area more space, mainly suburban ring areas. If we use commuting patterns and other data to describe a cohesive economic center, then the rural fringe shrinks even more.

So, “urbanicity” (and thus “rurality”) is currently defined by various combinations of civil jurisdictions, population density, land use and economic notions.

Women in STEM: An Opportunity and An Imperative

Gender Shares of Total and STEM Jobs, 2009

Today Commerce's Economic and Statistics Administration released the second in a series of reports on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). This report, entitled Women in STEM: A Gender Gap to Innovation (PDF), looked at women and STEM. The results offer an opportunity and an imperative for women and America. The results showed that women are vastly underrepresented in STEM jobs and among STEM degree holders despite making up nearly half of the U.S. workforce and half of the college-educated workforce. That leaves an untapped opportunity to expand STEM employment in the United States, even as there is wide agreement that the nation must do more to improve its competitiveness.

Other key findings are:

  • Although women fill close to half of all jobs in the U.S. economy, they hold less than 25 percent of STEM jobs. This has been the case throughout the past decade, even as college-educated women have increased their share of the overall workforce.
  • Women with STEM jobs earned 33 percent more than comparable women in non-STEM jobs–considerably higher than the STEM premium for men. As a result, the gender wage gap is smaller in STEM jobs than in non-STEM jobs.
  • Women hold a disproportionately low share of STEM undergraduate degrees, particularly in engineering.
  • Women with a STEM degree are less likely than their male counterparts to work in a STEM occupation; they are more likely to work in education or healthcare

For more information on this topic, read Chief Economist Mark Doms's blog post about the report and ESA's first report on STEM: Good Jobs Now and For the Future.

U.S. EDA Invests in Rural America—West Virginia Receives Over $5 Million to Advance Innovation Economy

Aerial view of Tech Park

Guest blog post by John Fernandez, U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development, U.S. Economic Development Administration

On August 1, 2011, the U.S. Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) invested $5.25 million in the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission of Charleston, W. Va., to upgrade a key research lab building in South Charleston’s West Virginia Regional Technology Park to help attract rural small businesses. The effort is expected to create an initial 96 jobs and an additional 9,000 jobs over the long term.

The facility will provide leased incubator space to high-tech start-up companies in the chemical, energy, and advanced materials industries. The renovations will result in significant energy savings for the State and businesses working in the facility, reducing operating costs by nearly 50 percent annually. Start-up companies and entrepreneurs in the park will conduct innovative product and process research, testing and business development, and will also have manufacturing capacity. The building will also include research and teaching facilities for Marshall University, West Virginia University, and four community colleges. 

This rural investment enjoys wide Congressional and State support.

Secretary Locke Resigns, Becomes Next Ambassador to China; Acting Deputy Secretary Blank Assumes Role of Acting Secretary

Secretary Clinton applauds Gary Locke as his wife and children look on

U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke formally resigned today and was sworn-in by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as the next U.S. Ambassador to the People’s Republic of China. Dr. Rebecca M. Blank, Acting Deputy Secretary of the Commerce Department, will serve as Acting Commerce Secretary. Blank has served as Acting Deputy Secretary since November 2010.

“It has been the honor of a lifetime serving as Commerce Secretary for President Obama.  I’m proud of the men and women with whom I had the privilege to work and the tremendous accomplishments we’ve made together in the last 28 months,” Ambassador Locke said.

“From increasing U.S. exports and reducing patent application wait times, to creating the foundation for a national smart grid and taking an important first step to reform the export control system, we have helped create jobs, lay the foundation for future economic growth and made American companies more innovative at home and more competitive abroad. And we did all of this while making the Commerce Department more efficient and responsive to its stakeholders," Locke noted, citing the 2010 Census in particular.

Under Locke’s leadership, the Commerce Department also reduced the average time needed to award a competitive economic development grant from 140 days to 20 days; streamlined Department business services through the Commerce Connect one-stop shop initiative; efficiently distributed nearly $5 billion in Recovery Act funds for broadband development in under 18 months, which helped create more than 120,000 miles of broadband infrastructure; and, oversaw a significant first step in the President’s export control reform effort, which strengthens our national security, while making U.S. companies more competitive by easing their licensing burden for exports to partners and allies.