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Blog Category: National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration

The National Weather Service in the 1940s

Women hovering over weather maps

Ed. Note: This post is part of a series following the release of the 1940 Census highlighting various Commerce agencies and their hard work on behalf of the American people during the 1940s through today

The 1940s was a pivotal decade for the National Weather Service and the entire field of meteorology. Advancements in technology during the ‘40s, spurred by World War II, provided the scientific foundation for modern day weather forecasting throughout the world.

The agency, founded by Ulysses S. Grant in 1870 and called the Weather Bureau, was originally housed in the War Department. It was later moved to the Department of Agriculture in 1890, and then in 1940 President Roosevelt transferred it to the Department of Commerce. In 1970 the agency was renamed the National Weather Service when it became part of the newly-created National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) within the Department of Commerce.

In the 1940s, most of the modern technology forecasters rely on today had not yet been invented, such as satellites and super computers. Weather observations were painstakingly logged by hand.

By 1940, the Weather Bureau operated 35 radiosonde stations (weather balloons), allowing for the routine measurement of atmospheric pressure, temperature, humidity, wind direction and speed. In 1942, the Weather Bureau received 25 surplus radars from the military, launching the network of weather surveillance radars.

Risk of Major Flooding in Spring is Low for the First Time in Four Years

U.S. Spring Flood Risk Map for 2012

Drought lingers in southern Plains and Southeast, expands in West and upper Midwest

For the first time in four years, no area of the country faces a high risk of major to record spring flooding, largely due to the limited winter snowfall, according to NOAA’s annual Spring Outlook, which forecasts the potential for flooding from April to June.

“We’re not forecasting a repeat of recent historic and prolonged flooding in the central and northern U.S., and that is a relief,” said Laura Furgione, deputy director, NOAA’s National Weather Service. “The severity of any flooding this year will be driven by rainfall more so than the melting of the current snowpack.”

The Ohio River basin including portions of Illinois, Indiana, and Kentucky, along with parts of Louisiana and Mississippi are the only areas with an above-normal risk of flooding as soil moisture and river levels are currently above normal. Additionally, odds favor above-average April rainfall for the Ohio River basin.

River and stream water levels are normal to below normal for most of the country and there is less snow pack than in previous years. As a result, there is a normal flood risk from the Northeast, through the mid-Atlantic, across most of the northern Plains and into the Northwest. However, heavy spring rainfall can lead to flooding at any time, even in areas where overall risk is considered at or even below normal.  Drought outlook infographic  |  Full NOAA release

National Consumer Protection Week: Spotlight on Fighting Botnets

President Obama declared March 4-10, 2012 as National Consumer Protection Week, building on a coordinated effort that encourages consumers nationwide to take full advantage of their consumer rights and make better-informed decisions. The Commerce Department is using this occasion to showcase the efforts of our Internet Policy Task Force, which is leveraging the expertise of several Commerce bureaus that are aimed at ensuring continued innovation in the Internet economy and preserving consumer trust in Internet commerce and online interactions. In particular, the Task Force continues to move forward in our work to promote new efforts that will lead to improved Internet privacy protection and better security for consumers online.

In September, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) in cooperation with the Department of Homeland Security, released Request for Information (RFI) to focus on the growing concern around a specific Internet security risk related to "botnets."

While security risks on the Internet continue to exist in many areas, one increasingly exploited threat is the global rise of botnets. A botnet infection can lead to the monitoring of a consumer's personal information and communication, and exploitation of that consumer's computing power and Internet access. Researchers suggest an average of about 4 million new botnet infections occur every month.

NOAA Issues Severe Weather Outlook Three Days Ahead of Tragic Tornado Outbreak

NOAA Infographic of Severe Storm and Tornado Watches and Warnings, March 2, 2012

Each year, the United States experiences approximately 1,300 tornadoes. No state is invulnerable to the twisting, destructive winds that emanate from dark thunderstorms–and last week, Nature’s fury was focused on the central and southern states. 

Commerce's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has in place a multifaceted tornado early warning system that includes general area outlooks days in advance and that gives individual cities and towns an average of 14 minutes warning before the potentially deadly tornadoes strike. Through a tremendous investment in research, observing systems and forecasting technology, NOAA’s National Weather Service issues more than 1,000 watches and nearly 30,000 warnings for severe storms and tornadoes each year. 

On February 29, 2012 that investment resulted in an outlook issued by NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center a full three days ahead of the deadly outbreak. This outlook advised forecasters and the emergency management community that conditions would become favorable for severe thunderstorms and tornadoes. 

Advances in research and technology have increased the average warning lead time from only five minutes in the early 1990s to 14 minutes in 2010, thereby giving people and communities more time to seek shelter and reducing loss of life. But technology can only do so much; individuals also need to be prepared for disaster. Visit www.ready.gov to learn more. NOAA Weather Radio webpage  The Weather Channel, "Tornado Outbreak: As It Happened"

National Consumer Protection Week: Spotlight on Privacy

Today, President Obama declared March 4-10, 2012 as National Consumer Protection Week, building on a coordinated effort that encourages consumers nationwide to take full advantage of their consumer rights and make better-informed decisions. The Commerce Department is using this occasion to showcase the efforts of our Internet Policy Task Force, which is leveraging the expertise of several Commerce bureaus that are aimed at ensuring continued innovation in the Internet economy and preserving consumer trust in Internet commerce and online interactions. In particular, the Task Force continues to move forward in our work to promote new efforts that will lead to improved Internet privacy protection and better security for consumers online.

 In February, the Obama administration unveiled a “Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights” as part of a comprehensive blueprint to improve consumers’ privacy protections and ensure that the Internet remains an engine for innovation and economic growth. The president’s report called on the Commerce Department’s NTIA to begin convening companies, privacy advocates and other stakeholders to develop and implement enforceable privacy policies based on the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights.

NTIA is now moving forward and seeking public input on what issues should be addressed through the privacy multistakeholder process and how to structure these discussions so they are open, transparent, and most productive. Today, NTIA issued a formal request for comment (PDF). The comment period will remain open until March 26, 2012.

As NTIA Administrator Lawrence Strickling illustrated last week, we hope to receive meaningful suggestions and input from a range privacy stakeholders.  Their continued involvement will be key for the future of consumer protection and we need your help to make it a success.

The report, “Consumer Data Privacy in a Networked World: A Framework for Protecting Privacy and Promoting Innovation in the Global Digital Economy,” (PDF) resulted from a comprehensive review of Internet privacy policy and innovation in the Internet economy lead by the Commerce Department’s Internet Policy Task Force.

Spotlight on Commerce: Dr. James Turner, Director of the Office of International Affairs

Dr. James Turner, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce for International Affairs and Director of NOAA Office of International Affairs

Ed. Note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series, which highlights members of the Department of Commerce who are contributing to the president's vision of an America Built to Last.

I am a native of Washington, DC and had the benefit of growing up in a home with loving parents who stressed family, integrity, achievement, service, and education.The values I learned at home were reinforced by those I was taught by the Jesuits at Gonzaga High School.  This strong foundation led me to receive degrees in Physics from MIT (Ph.D.) and Johns Hopkins (B.A.). 

Physics is simultaneously empowering and humbling.  It is empowering in the knowledge and understanding that helps others and humbling in that often the more we learn the more we realize we do not know.  When I was in school, it was disturbing that so few minorities and women were considering Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) career fields.  So, after finishing at MIT, I applied for positions at universities in Africa and at Historically Black Colleges in the U.S.  My first two positions were on the Physics Faculties at Southern University (Baton Rouge) and Morehouse College.  I am very proud that, among the students I taught while at Morehouse, two are now NOAA scientists.

Science at Sea: Teaching Our Youth About the Jobs that Make it Happen

"If I Worked on a NOAA ship" book cover

As NOAA’s Teacher at Sea Program (TAS) prepares for its 2012 season, the lessons and materials created by its participants from the 2011 season are making it into the hands of their eager students around the U.S. In 2011, 34 teachers representing 21 states, participated in NOAA research cruises, involving science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) concepts that can be integrated into their daily lessons. One of the goals of the TAS program is that teachers understand and use NOAA data in their classrooms. Teachers also obtain and translate this STEM knowledge for their students and the public in their blogs.

Another goal of the TAS program is for teachers to learn how different STEM occupations support NOAA’s mission and to then convey this information to their students. Each teacher is required to meet with, and sometimes interview, multiple crewmembers during the research cruise.  Often times, these interviews are featured in their blogs, but sometimes, teachers have the students create a product that explains the different jobs.

NOAA: 2011 A Year of Climate Extremes in the United States

Map of U.S. showing wettest, driest, coolest, warmest regions by colored dots

NOAA announces two additional severe weather events reached $1 billion damage threshold, raising 2011’s billion-dollar disaster count from 12 to 14 events

According to NOAA scientists, 2011 was a record-breaking year for climate extremes, as much of the United States faced historic levels of heat, precipitation, flooding and severe weather, while La Niña events at both ends of the year impacted weather patterns at home and around the world.

NOAA’s annual analysis of U.S. and global conditions, conducted by scientists at NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center, reports that the average temperature for the contiguous U.S. was 53.8 degrees F, 1.0 degree F above the 20th century average, making it the 23rd warmest year on record. Precipitation across the nation averaged near normal, masking record-breaking extremes in both drought and precipitation.

On a global scale, La Niña events helped keep the average global temperature below recent trends. As a result, 2011 tied with 1997 for the 11th warmest year on record. It was the second coolest year of the 21st century to date, and tied with the second warmest year of the 20th century.  See NOAA's full 20011 Review

Weather By the Numbers: 2011 Remembered as "Year of Severe Weather"

Satellite image of Hurricane Irene

2011 will be remembered as the year of extreme weather. From extreme drought, heat waves and floods to unprecedented tornado outbreaks, hurricanes, wildfires and winter storms, a record 12 weather and climate disasters in 2011 each caused $1 billion or more in damages—and most regrettably, loss of human lives and property. NOAA's National Weather Service has redoubled its efforts to create a "Weather-Ready Nation," where vulnerable communities are better prepared for extreme weather and other natural disasters.  Video of Hurricane Irene approaching the U.S.  |  Severe Weather blog
 
Here are some fast facts for weather by the numbers in 2011:

  • 3 million-plus: the number of residents who lost power during an unseasonably early nor’easter storm that spanned West Virginia to Maine (Oct 29-31)
  • -31 degrees F: the record low temperature reported in Nowata, Oklahoma, on February 10, 2011, which is the coldest temperature on record for the state!
  • 343: the largest outbreak of tornadoes ever recorded (April 25-28), which left a deadly path of destruction from Alabama to Virginia.
  • 199: the number of confirmed tornadoes across the Southeast on April 27, the most on record for any single day in the United States!
  • 1 million-plus: the number of acres burned across just Texas, during a record wildfire season for the Southern Plains states.
  • 3 billion: the potential cost (dollars) to rebuild Joplin, Mo., after it endured the single costliest tornado in U.S. history on May 22. It was the 7th deadliest tornado the U.S. has seen, with 158 lives lost.
  • -7.97: the value of the Palmer Hydrological Drought Index (PHDI) for Texas in September that indicated the most intense drought to affect the state in 117 year period of record.
  • 300 percent: three times the amount of average precipitation (mainly rainfall) in the Ohio Valley that caused historic flooding along the Mississippi river.
  • 19: the number of tropical storms in the Atlantic this year, the 3rd busiest season since record keeping began in 1851

Building a Weather-Ready Nation

Luchenco on-screen video conference

This week, the Department of Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) kicked-off a national dialogue to improve our nation’s readiness for extreme weather. At the Weather-Ready Nation: A Vital Conversation workshop, held in Norman, Okla., participants assessed why the nation has become more vulnerable to severe weather and identified ways to improve the public’s awareness, preparedness and response to future extreme events.

More than 1,000 lives have been lost this year to extreme weather, including about 550 from tornadoes. And the economic losses are equally staggering—at least 12 separate weather disasters, each with $1 billion or more in economic losses.

These impacts moved NOAA’s National Weather Service to launch an initiative called Weather-Ready Nation. The goal is to improve America’s readiness for weather events and save more lives and livelihoods. The Norman event is the first in a series of Weather-Ready Nation activities to be held across the country.