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FSU Cuts Off Free Hurricane Modeling For Weather Agencies; Meteorologists Frustrated

This article was placed on Hurricane City and has a HUGE thread to it already... I thought this would be interesting for th communities I'm x-posting this to (tropicalstorm and twc_aficionados)...
This is the Hurricane City Thread


Published Saturday, June 3, 2006

FSU Cuts Off Free Hurricane Modeling For Weather Agencies; Meteorologists Frustrated

By Diane Lacey Allen

LAKELAND -- For the first time in this decade, the National Hurricane Center doesn't have one of its best tools in its forecasting toolbox.

Florida State University -- the alma mater of NHC Director Max Mayfield -- will not send data to the NHC from its acclaimed Superensemble computer forecasting model this season because it sold the commercial rights to its patented technology to a North Carolina company called Weather Predict.

The dilemma has pitted scientists against private enterprise and could put a price tag on information used to determine whether millions of people need to be evacuated as a storm approaches.

FSU meteorologists, including T.N. Krishnamurti who birthed the forecast method in 1998, say they've been ordered by school administrators not to send Superensemble data to the NHC.

Krishnamurti and other meteorologists are frustrated that their school has stopped the free flow of information to the public and want it to continue.

``I'm not supposed to talk about it ... It's a legal thing,'' said Krishnamurti. ``Of course I want to send it (data) to the Hurricane Center. But the university has put a stop on it.''

Using the licensed technology from Florida State, Weather Predict plans to sell forecast information to buyers.

FSU has previously provided that forecast information to the NHC for free.

FSU stands to gain financially because it will receive royalties from its technology if a contract is inked between Weather Predict and a national weather group.

Exactly what impact the lack of the Superensemble data will have on another potentially active season is unclear.

However, a top Weather Predict official, when contacted for this story, said his company would not withhold forecast information if a hurricane was bearing down on the U.S. coast.

``Nobody's going to hold back the Superensemble,'' said Jayant Khadilkar, CEO of Weather Predict.

The NHC uses many models in its forecasts. But 10 are used consistently, and FSU's Superensemble is one of them.

The Superensemble was the top performer for 2004 and one of the best models in 2005, according to the National Weather Service.

``It's really hard to categorize into a big picture,'' said Greg Romano, spokesman for the National Weather Service. ``It is a tool, and it is a valuable tool. And it has been of value in previous seasons.''

One of the things the Superensemble does well, though, is anticipate the intensification of a hurricane, which Romano says is the most difficult aspect of forecasting.

Romano said the NHC could get into a situation where the forecast is not as good as it could have been with the Superensemble data.

``The potential is there,'' he said. ``We just don't know.''

What Romano does know is that FSU received federal grants ``to fund the improvement of the Superensemble forecast model and for FSU to provide model forecasts to the NHC for operational hurricane forecasting.''

Romano would not say how much money has gone into the model.

FSU did not have those financial details readily available Friday.

``We're not in the weather forecasting business. We do research only,'' said FSU spokeswoman Browning Brooks. ``And this company has paid us money to do real-time forecasting so they can use that information in commercial applications.''

Brooks said there are ongoing negotiations ``so that NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) or the Hurricane Center can get access to that information.''

But if Weather Predict has its way, that access will cost NOAA.

Joel Sivillo, a meteorologist with Weather Predict and an FSU graduate, said Weather Predict has had the exclusive commercial rights to the technology for some time and sole discretion on whether it would allow FSU to give the NHC data.

Sivillo said it allowed FSU to provide the data to the NHC because Weather Predict was not yet ready to commercially market the forecasts.

That has changed.

``We are a commercial entity. It is part of our business ...'' said Sivillo. ``I think it would be appropriate for fair compensation for delivery of that information.''

FSU's meteorologists don't see it that way.

``I'm distressed that this information is not available to people who can use it the most, namely the people at the National Hurricane Center,'' said another FSU meteorologist, Paul Ruscher. ``They're cautious people. They're careful people. And when they see a tool that they see performs, they like to have it available.''

Ruscher is working with graduate students and scientists from NOAA's Hurricane Research Division on subjects related to hurricane intensification changes at landfall.

He calls the situation ``very frustrating.''

Ruscher said there is still good interaction between FSU and NHC. He said NHC's Mayfield has been very active in trying to resolve the problem.

Mayfield could not be reached for comment.

``(NHC officials) certainly understand the situation,'' Ruscher said. ``They're not happy about it. We're not happy about it. But we're not able to do anything about it.''

Khadilkar, Weather Predict's CEO, says the company is trying to work out a deal to provide the information to NOAA and the NHC.

``We are going to provide exactly what FSU was providing. No difference in service. No difference in information,'' he said.

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