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Taxpayer funded forecasters in fight for territory

Updated (2 Stories)  — Weather forecasts are being publicly funded on two fronts with both Niwa and Metservice now offering short range forecasts, using taxpayer funds to compete against each other.

The launch of Niwa’s new short range service for farmers and growers puts it in a head-to-head battle with Metservice, while private forecasters fear the government forecasters’ combined clout could heavy them out of the market.

Niwa is publicly funded as a Crown Research Institute and Metservice receives Ministry of Transport funding to provide free forecasting and severe weather warning services.

Metservice’s Jacqui Bridges said there were differences between the services but customers were asking why publicly funded services were competing.

“We have had comments from people that they find it strange,” Bridges said. “Metservice is a commercial service so we compete. If people want to compete with us they can compete with us and we are up for that.”

Niwa chief scientist for atmosphere, Dr Murray Poulter, would not comment on the relationship between Metservice and Niwa.

Comments on blog site The New Zealand Weather Forum called for Niwa to apply for the Ministry of Transport funding. “If Niwa is smart they should apply for the ministry of transport contract later, once they have all the services laid out,” said poster Tornado Tim.

“There would be no point in releasing these products to the public if they thought Metservice’s products were enough.”

Others called for the Government to set boundaries so taxpayers weren’t paying twice.
Private forecaster WeatherWatch supported Niwa branching out from long range weather and climate research.

The organisation has a troubled relationship with Metservice which was made worse last year with a price increase of $30,000 for daily highs – forcing WeatherWatch to scrap the service.

“We have always had a good working relationship with NIWA and I am cautiously optimistic that a closer WeatherWatch and NIWA relationship is going to be a very positive change for the weather industry and the New Zealand public,” said Philip Duncan from WeatherWatch.

“They are larger than MetService so I’d expect them to have the resources to really do the job well provided they work proactively with private industry.”

– By Kirsty Wynn, Herald on Sunday


End of golden weather forecast for state service

The weather wars are on again as two publicly funded forecasters go head to head in a battle that some say could kill one of them off.

MetService and the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research have clashed before, with observers saying there is no justification for funding both of them.

The latest clash began last month when Niwa, which has traditionally focused on long-range climate research, launched a rural web service for subscribers, as well as Niwa Weather – a free public forecasting website for urban centres.

Philip Duncan, head analyst of rival private forecasting company WeatherWatch, said the move spelled the end of MetService.

“Niwa are five times bigger than MetService – the writing’s on the wall. In the long run, Niwa will absorb MetService, and that’s what should happen. Merge them as one and we’ll save money and have better forecasts.”

Victoria University climate scientist James Renwick, who has worked for both organisations, said it was in the national interest for the services – which had been kept separate since Niwa was formed in 1992 – to join forces.

It was “crazy, inefficient and possibly destructive” for such a small country to have two taxpayer-funded enterprises competing in public forecasting.

“It does seem like a really poor use of taxpayers’ money. It just seems really bizarre.”

In 2006, government concerns that a lack of co-operation between the two organisations was harming weather forecasting prompted a recommendation that they should merge.

In 2007, they agreed to work more closely on forecasting weather, climate and severe events such as snowstorms and floods.

Climate scientist Jim Salinger said the latest antagonism was worse than in 2006. “Now it’s going off the tracks again – unless they’re together it’ll just keep happening.”

Both organisations were doubling up by vying to provide the same services, he said. Niwa’s satellite receiver in the Wellington suburb of Maupuia had been duplicated by MetService, which earlier this year installed a very similar one at its Kelburn headquarters.

Niwa chief scientist Murray Poulter said there was no conflict, and the two agencies were moving in different directions.

MetService communications general manager Jacqui Bridges said it could not comment on questions of inefficiency. MetService worked closely with Niwa at a “collegial level on the global science scene”.

“It’s not like we’re at daggers with them. We’re competing around the world in forecasting, so we’re used to competition.”

Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce said he understood Niwa and MetService had “largely different customers and different approaches to their provision of forecasting . . .

“MetService provides general weather forecasting to many users on a commercial basis, while Niwa’s new system is much more localised, providing services to individual properties or areas such as vineyards and farms.”

STATE OF WAR

NIWA

A Crown Research Institute, it gets core annual government funding of $40 million, with $60m coming from commercial enterprises. Must return a dividend.

METSERVICE

A profit-driven, state-owned enterprise, funded through commercial contracts with government and revenue from other commercial activities. In 2012, its operating revenue was $42m.

– © Story by Matt Stewart – Fairfax NZ News

Comments

Rory on 5/07/2013 10:04pm

I grew up in NZ and did my work experience at the Met Service at Invercargill in 1980. Moving back to Tasmania where I grew up wanted to join the Bureau of Meteorology ( Australian government agency) but Uni degree was not for me. I have retuned to Southland and slightly appalled at the service the Met Service provides compared to what The BOM in Australia does. This used to be the opposite way round back in early 80s. The Metservice website is amateurish and provides little more depth than the plethora of other “weather forecasting sites” on the web . See thiis example of what the Aussie BOM provides for Tasmania forca population of 450,000 peolple. http://www.bom.gov.au/tas/observations/tasall.shtml

The forecasts are quite often quite contradictory – text versus the below graphs.. In this day an age when for a couple of 1000 dollars anyone can publish to the web accurate and up to the minute observations, what is put up by Met service is laughable . so really cost cant be a factor, many do it via wunderground etc. It would seem that combining the 2 organisations that could could provide something that looks a little more scientific would be a good thing for a country like NZ where it’s economy agriculture and tourism depends highly on accurate and relevant forecasts and observations . Can any one enlighten me as to why this is the case that such a poor service is provided?

Andrew on 5/07/2013 9:43pm

Every generation thinks up a new way to centralise then de-centralise these things. They’re split to enable specialisation, then combined to enable savings.
Both outfits are good at what they do. Being publicly funded maybe a bit of leadership and direction is required as to what they should and should not do. I don’t think the skills are there within either organisation to work that out for themselves.

WW Forecast Team on 5/07/2013 9:54pm

Interesting points Andrew, some valid.  However evidence overseas shows when they work together everyone wins. Data is free to the public and freely used within the entire private sector – not just private weather but concrete, construction, aviation – you name it.  NZ weather data is some of the most expensive on earth. We get complaints frequently about the costs from private and public – even in the United States NZ is known for it’s very expensive data. It’s why NZ doesnt have radar maps on Google Earth, or live weather updates outside of MetService.com.  In the US, Canada, Australia the govt forecaster is a public one – not commercial like NZ.  We hope the two are merged back into one again – this experiment that started in the early 1990s hasn’t worked.  If you don’t believe our weather services lag behind the western world, take a look at the many more products available in Aussie, Canada and the US.

Cheers
PD

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