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Blog Category: National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration

Two Years after Sandy Landfall, Commerce Continues to Help Affected Communities

Satellite view of Superstorm Sandy, 10-29-12

In the two years since Hurricane Sandy made landfall on October 29, 2012, the Department of Commerce, through its National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Economic Development Administration (EDA), Census Bureau, National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), and National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), has been working to help communities recover and enhance resiliency in the face of future storms.

Hours after the storm hit, NOAA’s National Geodetic Survey began aerial survey missions to assess storm damage. In total, 1649 miles of coastline were documented. The photos taken on these missions provided emergency and coastal managers with the information they needed to develop recovery strategies, facilitate search-and-rescue efforts, identify hazards to navigation and HAZMAT spills, locate errant vessels, and provide documentation home and business owners needed to assess damages to property. To date, FEMA has used the NOAA-supplied photos, as well as those from the Civil Air Patrol, to determine damage to 35,000 homes.

Following a major disaster like Sandy, one of EDA’s key roles is to lead the Economic Recovery Support Function on behalf of the Department of Commerce. After the hurricane struck, EDA joined with several other federal agencies to deploy staff to help hard-hit communities throughout the region. EDA team members worked with officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Small Business Administration, U.S. Department of Agriculture, economic development partners, and the affected communities to identify long-term strategies that aim to help the communities restore their local economies, expedite recovery, and minimize economic losses.

Deputy Secretary Andrews Emphasizes How National Weather Service Employees’ Work is Central to the Department’s Mission

Deputy Secretary Bruce Andrews meets with NWS researchers and tours the Aviation Weather Center

Deputy Commerce Secretary Bruce Andrews traveled to Kansas City, MO, yesterday to meet with National Weather Service (NWS) employees and talk about how important their work is to both help American businesses and save lives and property.

Speaking at the National Weather Service Employees Organization (NWSEO) Conference, Deputy Secretary Andrews talked about businesses that have used NWS data. For example, Dunkin Donuts uses weather information to plan their inventory. Their franchises use weather data to predict how much coffee will be sold and to better inform both day-to-day planning and where to close down stores in advance of an extreme weather event.

Hotel booking services use NWS guidance to help them know where to expect a surge of last minute bookings from stranded travelers. Major retailers like Home Depot, Walmart, and Target rely on data and information to manage their inventory and quickly adjust their stock in stores around the country.

The two industries that rely on NWS employees and the services and products they provide more than any other are the agriculture industry and the airline industry. These industries survive or thrive on the back of forecasts, preventing ruined crops and lost travel days. The work NWS has done to provide increasingly accurate and more sophisticated weather forecasts saves money for both of these industries.

While touring the NWS Regional Headquarters in Kansas City, Deputy Secretary Andrews learned more about the day-to-day work of NWS employees. He met with some of the researchers and other employees who work at the Aviation Weather Center, the National Weather Service Training Center, and the Operations Proving Ground housed there.

Commerce Data: Then & Now

Guest blog post by Mark Doms, Under Secretary for Economic Affairs

In July, Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker announced that our department will be hiring our first ever Chief Data Officer (CDO), building on her commitment to Commerce’s role as “America’s Data Agency.” She also announced the formation of a data advisory council comprising private sector leaders who will help the CDO navigate new and dynamic data challenges. This is the latest chapter in Commerce’s long history of adapting to serve the needs of an ever-changing American economy.

The United States Department of Commerce has been a trusted provider of data and statistics for centuries. The first decennial census took place in 1790 and the first patent was issued that same year.  Today, because of advances in technology, we are able to provide Americans with more data, faster and more accurately than ever before. This transformation can be seen in the evolution of the Census Bureau.

Article 1 Section 3 of the US Constitution states that the U.S. government shall enumerate the population of the United States every 10 years. Beginning with the 1790 Decennial Census and once every decade since then, the federal government has provided this invaluable information, making the United States the first country to produce a regular count of its citizens.   

By the early 1800s it became clear that in addition to the important demographic information flowing from the decennial census, there was also an imperative for regular collection of business information. In response to that need, in 1810, the U.S. Census Bureau established a census of businesses, also known as the economic census.  The initial focal points were manufacturing, lumber yards and butcher shops. In 1902, Congress authorized the establishment of the U.S. Census Bureau and directed that the census of manufacturers be taken every five years (a “quinquennial” census).  As the economy grew, the Census Bureau responded accordingly and by 1930 it had expanded the economic census to include services.  The breadth of the survey has since changed to keep pace with our nation’s growing economy.  The 2012 economic census data are currently being released.

Enhancing the Climate Resilience of America’s Natural Resources

Priority Agenda for Enhancing the Climate Resilience of America’s Natural Resources Graphic

Guest Blog Post by Kathryn Sullivan, Ph.D.,Undersecretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and NOAA Administrator

Our societal well-being is linked to a healthy, productive, and resilient environment. However, many of our nation’s treasured landscapes and iconic species are fundamentally changing due to the effects of a changing climate.

For example, many fish, wildlife and plant species are shifting northward and into higher elevations or deeper water as temperatures increase. Increasing ocean temperature and acidity in our oceans are altering local food webs and disrupting historic fisheries. Sea level rise is decreasing the extent of coastal wetlands and coral reefs. And the disappearance of ice in the northern latitudes is forever changing the habitats where whales, seals, polar bears, and walruses live and feed. 

Conservation is a critical strategy for promoting resilience among our nation’s fish, wildlife and plants – including humans – as our planet continues to change.

A new White House Fact Sheet and report released yesterday, the Priority Agenda for Enhancing the Climate Resilience of America’s Natural Resources lays the path of conservation planning in the face of climate change. 

Protecting our country’s natural resources also benefits communities and economies.  Healthy and resilient ecosystems play an important role in “buffering” the effects of extreme weather on our communities, providing us food and clean water, and helping to mitigate the impacts of carbon pollution by serving as “sinks” that sequester and store carbon.  Additionally, energy generation, agriculture, and tourism, and many more sectors of our economy rely on the availability of natural resources, underscoring the essential need for conservation as a critical resilience and adaptation strategy. 

The Priority Agenda is one part of an ongoing strategy to implement the President’s Climate Action Plan, and make the nation better prepared for the impacts of climate change. The Agenda builds upon the robust climate change adaptation work already underway by federal agencies, including NOAA, and identifies significant actions moving forward.

Updated “Whale Alert” iPad, iPhone app invites public to contribute to protection of West Coast whales

Updated “Whale Alert” iPad, iPhone app invites public to contribute to protection of West Coast whales

Mariners and the public on the U.S. West Coast can now use an iPad™ and iPhone™ to help decrease the risk of injury or death to whales from ship strikes. 

Whale Alert, a free mobile application originally developed in 2012 to help protect endangered right whales on the East Coast, has been updated with new features to provide mariners in the Pacific with the most current information available about whale movements and conservation initiatives. The app uses GPS, Automatic Identification System, Internet and NOAA nautical charts to provide mariners with a single source of information about whale locations and conservation measures that are active in their immediate vicinity.
 
Slow-moving whales are highly vulnerable to ship strikes, since many of their feeding and migration areas overlap with shipping lanes. In 2007, four blue whales were killed by confirmed or likely ship strike in and around the Santa Barbara Channel. NOAA Fisheries declared this an Unusual Mortality Event. In 2010, five whales (two blue, one humpback and two fin whales) were killed by confirmed or likely ship strikes in the San Francisco area and elsewhere along the north-central California coast.
 
Whale Alert has been developed by a collaboration of government agencies, academic institutions, non-profit conservation groups and private sector industries, led by NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. Collaborating organizations include Bioacoustics Research Program at Cornell University, Cape Cod National Seashore, Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping at the University of New Hampshire, Conserve I.O., Excelerate Energy, EOM Offshore, International Fund for Animal Welfare, Massachusetts Port Authority, NOAA Fisheries, National Park Service, Point Blue Conservation Science, U.S. Coast Guard and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, as well as shipping industry representatives.
 
Whale Alert can be downloaded free of charge from Apple’s App Store.

NOAA Ship & National Aquarium Co-Host Star-Spangled Events & Tours

NOAA Ship & National Aquarium Co-Host Star-Spangled Events & Tours

On Sept. 10, NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer, America’s Ship for Ocean Exploration, joined a parade of tall ships, Navy vessels, and other boats entering Baltimore Harbor as part of the Star-Spangled Spectacular, a week-long festival celebrating the 200th anniversary of the national anthem. 

Okeanos Explorer will be moored next to the National Aquarium through Sept. 16. During that time, the Aquarium and the ship will co-host a range of events, including public tours. 

Star-Spangled Spectacular events also include living history demonstrations, a family fun zone, live musical performances, and food vendors. Public events culminate on Sept. 13, when two concerts will take place, as well as a fireworks display over Fort McHenry and the Baltimore harbor. For more information about NOAA and National Aquarium-hosted events go to http://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/about/what-we-do/oer-updates/2014/baltimore-090914.html

The Okeanos Explorer is the only federal vessel assigned to systematically explore the ocean for the purpose of discovery and the advancement of knowledge. She methodically maps the deep seafloor and conducts several major expeditions each year using a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) to investigate seafloor habitats. ROV expeditions are live-streamed to the oceanexplorer.noaa.gov website, where anyone can follow along as a virtual explorer. Through telepresence technology, scientists on shore are able to participate remotely in real time, helping aid in discovery and identification of species, geological features, and other deep-sea phenomena. Okeanos Explorer is in port between Legs II and III of her current expedition, Our Deepwater Backyard: Exploring the Atlantic Canyons and Seamounts. The expedition, taking place Sept. 16-Oct. 7, will explore the diverse deep-sea environments just off the Northeast coast—in other words, within a couple of hundred miles of one of the most densely populated areas of the U.S.  This area is home to deep-sea corals, chemosynthetic communities, and unique geological features. Much of the area is unknown and has never been seen by humans. 

 



The Value of Government Weather and Climate Data

Guest blog post by Jane Callen, Economics and Statistics Administration

The U.S. Commerce Department’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) collects weather and climate data. As we noted in a recent Commerce Department report on the Value of Government Data, the return to society on investment in government meteorological data is large.

For example, one survey found that the overwhelming majority of people said they used weather forecasts and did so an average of 3.8 times per day. That equates to 301 billion forecasts consumed per year!

The study’s authors note that, other than current news events, there is probably no other type of information obtained on such a routine basis from such a variety of sources. Certainly, the researchers say, no other scientific information is accessed so frequently. And while the information is being delivered from an array of sources, most of it directly or indirectly originates from NOAA’s National Weather Service (NWS). Americans check to learn what is happening in the weather, and we plan our days – and lives – based on this data.

The researchers found a median valuation of weather forecasts per household of $286 per year, which suggests that the aggregate annual valuation of weather forecasts was about $31.5 billion. The sum of all federal spending on meteorological operations and research was $3.4 billion in the same year, and the private sector spent an additional $1.7 billion on weather forecasting, for a total of private and public spending of about $5.1 billion. In other words, the valuation people placed on the weather forecasts they consumed was 6.2 times as high as the total expenditure on producing forecasts. NOAA data is re-packaged and analyzed to produce 15 million weather products, such as air quality alerts, the three, five and ten day extended weather forecast, earthquake reports, and tornado and flash flood warnings. Many end users do not realize that NOAA provides the data they see and hear every day on The Weather Channel, AccuWeather, the radio and in the morning paper.

Travel Journal: There’s No Place Like Nome!

Secretary Pritzker reviewing plans in Nome, Alaska with Joy Baker, Col. Christopher Lestochi and NOAA Administrator Dr. Kathryn Sullivan

Last week, I embarked on my first trip as Commerce Secretary to Alaska to see how the Last Frontier directly contributes to our economy, and how the U.S. Department of Commerce can help further support Alaskan communities.

The Arctic’s importance to the Nation continues to grow as the impact of global climate change and loss of sea ice make the region much more accessible. This accessibility has inspired strong interest for new commercial initiatives in the region, including energy production, increased shipping, scientific research, tourism, and related infrastructure development. Last year, the Obama Administration introduced  the National Strategy for the Arctic Region, not only in recognition of the growing interest in and vulnerability of the region, but also to prioritize and integrate efforts across the Federal government to explore emerging opportunities – while simultaneously exploring efforts to protect and conserve this pristine environment.

During my trip, I explored the city of Nome, which is located on the edge of the Bering Sea on the northwest side of the 49th state. Once a gold mining town, Nome is one of the most remote communities in Alaska, with a population of 3,500.

My first stop was the Port of Nome. Joy Baker, Special Projects Director and former Harbormaster of the City of Nome, led me and my staff on a tour and described the economic impact and infrastructure challenges associated with increased Arctic shipping.  Although originally from San Antonio, Texas,  Joy has worked for the City of Nome for almost 25 years. Her passion for the city was obvious, and she explained how satisfying it was to see the expansion and development of the facility as the successful end result of many years of work and input about additional infrastructure needs in Nome.

After the port tour, we saw U.S. Arctic port infrastructure and vessels, ranging from small gold dredges to industry ships, giving us a better understanding of how the Department of Commerce’s work in implementing the Community Development Quota program in 1992 has been able to grow and further support economic development and achieve sustainable and diversified local economies in the region.

Having enjoyed the outdoors, we moved inside for a roundtable focused on new economic opportunities that are emerging as the impacts of climate change are felt in the Arctic region, including maritime transportation, fishing, and oil and gas activities. Various Alaska Native corporations, industries, and local, state, and federal officials offered a variety of perspectives which gave me a better sense of how the Department of Commerce can further our efforts to support the region.

We wrapped up the day with another productive and engaging roundtable centered on the threats from climate change, which are already impacting some Alaskan communities. These threats include exacerbated erosion and inundation frequency; and the shrinking of sea ice habitat affecting marine mammals.

While we face these challenges, my hope is that the Department can continue to do its part to facilitate trade and investment, assist with the development and management of natural resources, and provide the data and environmental intelligence that are critical to the safety and prosperity of individuals, communities and businesses that are dealing with a changing environment.

I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to Alaska, and I look forward to strengthening our partnerships in Alaska and across the Arctic region in the coming months and years.

Commerce and NOAA Data Provide Critical Environmental Intelligence to Alaska

Secretary Pritkzer and NOAA Administrator Dr. Kathryn Sullivan  visited the Alaska Weather, Water and Ice Center which is the National Weather Service’s (NWS) main operations center in Anchorage, Alaska

From supplying daily weather forecasts, severe storm warnings and climate monitoring, to managing fisheries management, supporting coastal restoration and promoting marine commerce, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) products and services are critical to the country’s economic vitality. NOAA maintains a presence in every state, and has a particularly robust team in Alaska.

Secretary Pritzker visited Anchorage this week to see first-hand how Commerce helps Alaska stay “open for business” by supplying the environmental intelligence that citizens, planners, emergency managers and other decision makers rely on. Secretary Pritzker was joined by NOAA Administrator Dr. Kathryn Sullivan on her first trip to Alaska.

Unlocking more of the Department of Commerce’s vast stores of data is one of the key pillars of the Department’s “Open for Business Agenda." In Alaska, the Department's data is critical to the safety and prosperity of individuals, communities and businesses that are dealing with a changing environment.

Secretary Pritzker and Dr. Sullivan visited the Alaska Weather, Water and Ice Center which is the National Weather Service’s (NWS) main operations center in Anchorage. The Center is also among the largest consolidated NWS operations centers in the country, containing four specialized operational units: the Weather Forecast Office including the Sea Ice desk; the Alaska Pacific River Forecast Center; the Alaska Aviation Weather Unit and the Volcanic Ash Advisory Center. No other forecasting operation is positioned to deliver such integrated information services – from marine weather and sea ice to hydrology to public and aviation forecasts – making it incredibly beneficial to Alaskan and Arctic decision makers.

In addition to the NWS Center and various forecast offices, NOAA facilities in the state include four marine laboratories, an atmospheric observatory, and a satellite command data acquisition station.

Later in the day, Secretary Pritzker and Dr. Sullivan met with about 75 NOAA employees to learn more about their work and thank them for their service. NOAA team members had the opportunity to provide their perspectives and discuss Alaska-specific issues.

Examples of Commerce data and research in Alaska include the following:

  • NOAA’s fisheries research and management programs, which are both vital to promoting sustainable use and conservation in light of a changing climate. Fishing is a $5.8 billion industry in Alaska, and supports 100,000 jobs. Fishery-related tourism also brings in more than $300 million annually for the state;
  • NOAA’s sea ice research which strengthens the forecasts of both ice and weather conditions, and helps build a better understanding of the direct links between sea ice and climate change;
  • NOAA essential decision support services that provide regional decision makers with forecasts and warnings for events like extratropical storms, tsunamis, floods, droughts, and volcanic ash;
  • Important NOAA services like mapping and charting, for coastal communities which improves safe Arctic maritime access and prepares communities for intensifying weather.     

Secretary Pritzker: Commerce Department Helps Keep Alaska Open for Business

Secretary Pritzker meeting with CEOs representing the Alaska Native Corporations

The Department of Commerce is focused on creating the conditions for businesses to grow, hire, and strengthen the economy in all 50 states. This week, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker is in Alaska to showcase how the Department keeps the Last Frontier open for business.

Secretary Pritzker met with business leaders in Anchorage this morning to discuss challenges and opportunities facing the business community in the state and resources for Alaska businesses that are looking to grow. Among the roundtable participants were representatives from the Chamber of Commerce, as well as the transportation, logistics, and travel and tourism industries.

During their conversation, they discussed workforce development challenges, the need for infrastructure development to seize the economic opportunities of a changing Arctic, and the importance of making it easier  for visitors to enter the United States. With more than 1.9 million visitors during fiscal year 2014, Alaska’s expanding travel and tourism industry is critical to economic growth and job creation in the state.

She also highlighted the Commerce Department’s “Open for Business Agenda,” of which trade and investment is a key pillar. Alaska’s merchandise exports have grown from about $3.2 billion in 2009 to $4.5 billion in 2013, but the Commerce Department wants to help Alaska reach even more international buyers. Secretary Pritzker announced that the Commerce Department is getting ready to reopen the U.S. Export Assistance Center (USEAC) in Alaska in the coming weeks. USEACs around the country connect U.S. companies with international buyers, provide them with market intelligence and trade counseling, and facilitate business matchmaking and commercial diplomacy support.