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Blog Entries from August 2012

NOAA Provides Easy Access to Historical Hurricane Tracks

Map of U.S. with storm and hurricane trackings

Understanding historical hurricane landfalls is important in preparing for current storms

Seeing where hurricanes have hit and how often is one of the best ways to bring home a powerful hurricane preparedness message. A NOAA website, Historical Hurricane Tracks, lets users insert their zip code and see a map that contains more than 150 years of Atlantic hurricane tracking data. The site also contains global hurricane data from as far back as 1842.

“Knowing more about local hurricane history can help communities better understand their vulnerabilities so they can take steps to be more resilient if a future hurricane strikes.” says David Eslinger, Ph.D., an oceanographer with the NOAA Coastal Services Center and one of the site’s developers.

The Historical Hurricane Tracks website, http://www.csc.noaa.gov/hurricanes, includes tropical cyclone data and information on coastal county hurricane strike data through 2011 while also providing links to detailed reports on the life history and effects of U.S. tropical cyclones since 1958.

In addition to the tracks of storms, the site provides insight to the increasing numbers of the U.S. citizens and infrastructure at risk for hurricanes, detailing population changes for U.S. coastal counties from 1900 to 2000. As the population continues to grow, so too has the number of storms with multi-billion dollars in damages to coastal infrastructure and property. Seven of the top 10 costliest hurricanes in U.S. history have occurred in the past eight years, including seventh-ranked Irene last August with $15.8 billion in damages.

The site’s popularity with the public was evident as Hurricane Irene bore down on the U.S. East Coast. Tens of thousands of people used Historical Hurricane Tracks to compare the National Hurricane Center’s projected path of Irene with past storms. User traffic peaked at over 19,000 visits on August 26, the same day Irene swirled off the North Carolina coast heading towards New York City while saturating the East Coast and New England and leaving millions without power.

U.S. Businesses Going for the Gold

Gold Key Matching Services Logo

As the 2012 Olympic Games wind to a close, American athletes have racked up nearly 40 gold medals against the best of their international competition. They achieved those victories with hours of practice, dedication, and partnership with coaches and mentors. Like America’s Olympians, American businesses are also competing on the global stage, and the Commerce Department is partnering with them through our Gold Key Matching Service to help them win.

Gold Key Matching Services, run through the International Trade Administration’s U.S. Commercial Service, is a low-cost service for American businesses to expand their global reach by making contacts with foreign firms and potential business partners.

Before business leaders go oversees to meet with prospective trade partners, the Gold Key Matching Service arranges appointments with pre-screened overseas agents, distributors, sales representatives and business partners. This cuts the time and cost to businesses in locating and vetting prospective trade partners.

The Gold Key Matching Services provide a host of other benefits for U.S. companies, including market research, industry briefings with U.S. Commercial Service trade specialists, and assistance with travel, accommodations, and interpreter services. In addition, for business leaders who aren’t able to make a trip overseas, video services are available to meet with potential business partners via videoconferencing.

ITA: Exports Bring Jobs to the Twin Cities Region!

Congressman Keith Ellison (MN-5) and Under Secretary Francisco Sánchez take questions from local companies during a business round table event in Minneapolis.

Guest blog post by Francisco Sánchez, Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade.

Since the 2012 Olympic Games began, Minnesotans have competed in sports ranging from basketball to fencing, proving that athletes from the North Star State can succeed on the global stage. The same can be said for Minnesota’s businesses.

Yesterday, I visited Minneapolis to meet with Congressman Keith Ellison, Mayor R.T. Rybak and business and community leaders. It was a great opportunity to see and hear firsthand how local entrepreneurs are designing and manufacturing quality products that are being exported all over the world.

For instance, I had the pleasure of visiting Accent Signage Systems, a small manufacturing company. A pioneer in innovative sign technology, Accent Signage is experiencing the direct benefits of exporting and has plans to increase its workforce by 25 percent in the near future. This is a gleaming example of a business that is successfully competing abroad, and, in doing so, is making a positive impact here at home.  

NOAA Raises Hurricane Season Prediction Despite Expected El Niño

Satellite image of Hurricane Ernesto taken on Aug. 7, 2012 in the Gulf of Mexico (NOAA)

Updated outlook calls for near- or above-normal Atlantic season

This year’s Atlantic hurricane season got off to a busy start, with 6 named storms to date, and may have a busy second half, according to the updated hurricane season outlook issued today by NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, a division of the National Weather Service. The updated outlook still indicates a 50 percent chance of a near-normal season, but increases the chance of an above-normal season to 35 percent and decreases the chance of a below-normal season to only 15 percent from the initial outlook issued in May.

Across the entire Atlantic Basin for the season—June 1 to November 30—NOAA’s updated seasonal outlook projects a total (which includes the activity-to-date of tropical storms Alberto, Beryl, Debbie, Florence and hurricanes Chris and Ernesto) of:

  • 12 to 17 named storms (top winds of 39 mph or higher), including:
  • 5 to 8 hurricanes (top winds of 74 mph or higher),
  • 2 to 3 could be major hurricanes (Category 3, 4 or 5; winds of at least 111 mph)

The numbers are higher from the initial outlook in May, which called for 9-15 named storms, 4-8 hurricanes and 1-3 major hurricanes. Based on a 30-year average, a normal Atlantic hurricane season produces 12 named storms, six hurricanes, and three major hurricanes.  See NOAA's full release

Census Bureau Releases Its First Mobile App Providing Real-Time Statistics on U.S. Economy

Logo: America's Economy

The Department of Commerce's U.S. Census Bureau today released its first-ever mobile application, "America's Economy," which will provide constantly updated statistics on the U.S. economy, including monthly economic indicators, trends, along with a schedule of upcoming announcements. The app, which is currently available for Android mobile device users, combines statistics from the U.S. Department of Commerce's Census Bureau, Bureau of Economic Analysis, and the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics.

America's Economy is the first mobile app from the Census Bureau that provides smartphone and tablet users with the real-time government statistics that drive business hiring, sales and production decisions and assist economists, researchers, planners and policymakers. The economic indicators track monthly and quarterly trends in industries, such as employment, housing construction, international trade, personal income, retail sales and manufacturing.

The America's Economy app has been developed as part of the Census Bureau's Web Transformation Project and fulfills a key goal of President Obama's recently announced Digital Strategy to provide federal employees and the general public with greater access to government information and services. The creation of this app is also consistent with the Census Bureau's longtime mission of providing accurate statistics about the nation's growth and changes using 21st century technology to make that information available more quickly and easily. Read the full press release. America's Economy is available now for Android users and is expected be available for Apple smartphone and tablet users in the Apple App Store in the coming weeks.

EDA Works with Federal Partners to Help Drought-Stricken Rural Areas

President Barack Obama meets with the White House Rural Council on August 7 to discuss ongoing efforts in response to the drought. (White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Guest blog post by Matt Erskine, Acting Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development

A look at the recent national weather map underlines the reason for the Obama administration’s comprehensive response and action plan: large sections of the country are experiencing one of the worst droughts in decades—with levels ranging from “severe” to “extreme” and “exceptional.”

The consequences of drought don’t just affect farmers and their crops and livestock, but have ripple effects throughout the regional economies that depend on them. It is with this in mind that President Obama convened a recent meeting of the White House Rural Council to coordinate an administration-wide response to the drought and focus agency activities to partner and support Americans impacted by it.

The U.S. Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration (EDA), with its decades of experience helping communities stricken by natural disasters, will play an important role to help rural communities with economic recovery. Along with the Small Business Administration (SBA), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and other federal partners, it will leverage its resources, economic tool box, and expertise to help implement initiatives to alert drought-stricken communities to the federal resources that are already available to them.

Shelling Out Evidence: NIST Ballistic Standard Helps Tie Guns to Criminals

Image of shell casing

Thanks to a new reference standard developed by Commerce's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), law enforcement agencies will have an easier time linking the nearly 200,000 cartridge cases recovered annually at U.S. crime scenes to specific firearms.

Cartridge cases—the empty shells left behind after a gun is fired—are routinely sent to forensic laboratories for analysis when they're found at a shooting scene. Using a specialized microscope called an Integrated Ballistic Identification System (IBIS), lab technicians acquire digital images of three markings, or "signatures," impressed on the cartridge case by the gun that fired it. These signatures—the firing pin impression, the breech face impression and the ejector mark—are unique when fired from a specific firearm and can serve as "fingerprints" for that gun once the digital images are entered into a national database known as the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN).

For forensic examiners to reliably match recovered cartridge cases with ones whose signatures have been recorded in the NIBIN, they need to have confidence in the accuracy of the equipment and procedures used to make the link. That's where NIST's new "standard casing" comes in. The standard contains two items: an exact replica of a master cartridge case with distinct signature marks (obtained from the Department of Justice's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, or ATF), and a "golden" digital image of those same signatures that reside on the NIBIN.  Full Tech Beat story

July 2012 Marked the Hottest Month on Record for the Contiguous United States

Map highlighting July significant weather events

Drought expands to cover nearly 63 percent of the Lower 48; wildfires consume two million acres

The average temperature for the contiguous U.S. during July was 77.6°F, 3.3°F above the 20th century average, marking the hottest July and the hottest month on record for the nation. The previous warmest July for the nation was July 1936 when the average U.S. temperature was 77.4°F. The warm July temperatures contributed to a record-warm first seven months of the year and the warmest 12-month period the nation has experienced since recordkeeping began in 1895.

Precipitation totals were mixed during July, with the contiguous U.S. as a whole being drier than average. The nationally-averaged precipitation total of 2.57 inches was 0.19 inch below average. Near-record dry conditions were present for the middle of the nation, with the drought footprint expanding to cover nearly 63 percent of the Lower 48, according to the U.S. Drought MonitorSee full report

Commerce Department Needs Your Input on Digital Strategy

On May 23, 2012, the White House released the Federal Digital Strategy that outlined the use of “modern tools and technologies to seize the digital opportunity and fundamentally change how the Federal Government serves both its internal and external customers–building a 21st century platform to better serve the American People.” The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is requiring agencies to implement at least two such tools or technologies by August 23, 2012.

As part of the Digital Strategy, the Department of Commerce has identified two areas that are ripe for improvement and several platforms within each that could be updated: APIs and mobile-optimization. As such, today we are asking for your input in deciding which two items we will commit to completing by OMB’s August 23 deadline. In the comments section contained below, we welcome your feedback on the possible candidates for improvement, or other opportunities we may have overlooked. Your feedback, combined with other internal and external conversations, will guide Commerce’s digital plan in the coming months and years.

U.S. Manufacturing Continues to Create Jobs in the U.S.

Guest blog post by Mark Doms, Department of Commerce Chief Economist, Economics & Statistics Administration

Earlier today, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released a report showing that the private sector added 172,000 jobs last month, and overall employment rose by 163,000. While there’s more work to be done, the economy is creating jobs on a consistent basis. The economy has added private sector jobs for 29 straight months, for a total of 4.5 million jobs. In fact, since the beginning of the year, the economy has added over 1.1 million private sector jobs. Today’s employment report provides further evidence that the U.S. economy is continuing to recover from the deepest recession since the Great Depression.

Additionally, the BLS report also showed that the manufacturing sector continues to be a bright spot, which is especially important for middle class families, because these jobs pay high wages and provide high levels of benefits.

The good news is that the U.S. manufacturing sector’s recovery continues: 532,000 new manufacturing jobs have been created over the past 30 months, with 25,000 being added in July. In terms of production, manufacturing output is up 19.8 percent from the trough reached in June 2009.

A part of manufacturing that has been consistently strong is the motor vehicles and parts industry, which has added 165,000 jobs since June 2009. Further, production of cars and trucks in the U.S. reached 10.5 million units at an annual rate in June, a sharp contrast to the shockingly low level of 3.7 million units witnessed in January, 2009.  To continue the revival in manufacturing jobs and output, it is crucial that we implement President Obama’s proposals providing tax incentives for manufacturers, supporting training for the workforce, creating manufacturing hubs, and ending tax breaks for companies that send jobs overseas and provide tax incentives for companies bringing jobs back to the United States.