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Blog Category: National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration

NOAA Releases New Views of Earth’s Ocean Floor

A view of Delgada Canyon offshore Northern California, as portrayed in NOAA’s new online viewer.

NOAA has made sea floor maps and other data on the world’s coasts, continental shelves and deep ocean available for easy viewing online. Anyone with Internet access can now explore undersea features and obtain detailed depictions of the sea floor and coasts, including deep canyons, ripples, landslides and likely fish habitat.

The new online data viewer compiles sea floor data from the near shore to the deep blue, including the latest high-resolution bathymetric (sea bottom) data collected by NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey primarily to support nautical charting.

“NOAA’s ocean bottom data are critical to so many mission requirements, including coastal safety and resiliency, navigation, healthy oceans and more. They are also just plain beautiful,” said Susan McLean, chief of NOAA’s Marine Geology and Geophysics Division in Boulder, Colo.

McLean’s division is part of NOAA’s National Geophysical Data Center, responsible for compiling, archiving and distributing Earth system data, including Earth observations from space, marine geology information and international natural hazard data and imagery. NGDC’s sea floor data have long been free and open to the public in original science formatting, but that often required the use of specialized software to convert the data into maps and other products.

In Time for Home Opener, NOAA’s National Weather Service Declares Coors Field StormReady®

Ominous Clouds Approaching Coors Field (credit: Rich Clarkson and Assoc)

Just in time for their home opener of the 2012 season, fans of Colorado Rockies baseball can feel safer when severe thunderstorms threaten Coors Field now that the park has earned designation as a National Weather Service StormReady® Supporter. Coors Field is the fourth major league baseball park to earn StormReady distinction.

To become StormReady, Rockies officials worked with local emergency management and NOAA’s National Weather Service to adopt a rigorous set of detection and warning criteria to provide protection from severe weather. Warning coordination meteorologist Robert Glancy will present a StormReady plaque and certificates to the Rockies at the April 13 game against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

The nationwide community preparedness program uses a grassroots approach to help communities and organizations develop plans to handle local severe weather and flooding threats. The program is voluntary and provides clear-cut advice from a partnership between local National Weather Service forecast offices, state and local emergency managers and individual organizations. StormReady started in 1999 with seven communities in the Tulsa, Okla. area. There are now nearly 1,900 StormReady sites across the country. StormReady baseball fields include the Minnesota Twins' Target Field, the Cincinnati Reds’ Great American Ballpark, and the St. Louis Cardinals' Busch Stadium.

NOAA: U.S. Records Warmest March; More than 15,000 Warm Temperature Records Broken

U.S. map showing locations of record-breaking temps

First quarter of 2012 also warmest on record; early March tornado outbreak is year's first "billion dollar disaster"

According to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) scientists, record- and near-record breaking temperatures dominated the eastern two-thirds of the nation and contributed to the warmest March on record for the contiguous United States, a record that dates back to 1895. Over 15,000 records were broken as March 2012 became the warmest on record.

The average temperature of 51.1 degrees F was 8.6 degrees above the 20th century average for March and 0.5 degrees F warmer than the previous warmest March in 1910. Of the more than 1,400 months (or more than 116 years) that have passed since the U.S. climate record began, only one month, January 2006, has seen a larger departure from its average temperature than March 2012.

This monthly analysis from NOAA's National Climatic Data Center is part of the suite of climate services NOAA provides government, business and community leaders.  Full release  |  NOAA visuaolization

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.