NOAA 2003-035
Contact: Kent Laborde
NOAA News Releases 2003
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The Commerce Department’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) announced today the release of a report that lays the groundwork for vast increases in personal safety and greater economic benefits through improved weather products that will warn of potentially adverse effects on transportation.

The Weather Information for Surface Transportation (WIST) National Needs Assessment Report, compiled by NOAA’s Office of the Federal Coordinator for Meteorology, establishes a process that involves decision makers throughout the public and private sectors, academia and industry in a collaborative effort to define weather information needs and recommends next steps to incorporate current and future results from science and technology innovations into surface transportation activities.

Surface transportation covers six major sectors that cover a broad array of personal, commercial and national interests, and affect individual and economic safety. They are roadways, long-haul railways, marine transportation systems, rural and urban transit, pipeline systems and airport ground operations. NOAA’s National Weather Service, Air Force Weather, the Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command and private-sector weather companies would provide WIST products to these six sectors.

The WIST report details an extensive survey of weather-related needs from across all surface-transportation sections, including pilot projects that are proposed or have been started and evaluated around the United States, and suggests future actions and weather products that could increase safety and economic security related to surface transportation.

“The impact of weather on transportation systems touches almost every aspect of our daily lives from our commute to work to the goods on our grocery shelves,” said retired Navy Vice Adm. Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Ph.D., undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. “Transportation decision makers and regulators value weather information in improving safety and enhancing their activities. This report lays the groundwork to improve the mechanisms to get appropriate, timely and valuable weather information to those key players.”

Annually, 1.7 million roadway vehicle crashes occur in adverse weather or weather-related adverse road conditions to the sum of 7,000 fatalities, 800,000 injuries and $42 billion in economic costs according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). For example, a study detailed in the WIST report of the effects of snow, ice and fog estimated that these conditions caused 544 million vehicle-hours of delay on highways in 1999.

Additionally, weather has large impacts on railroads, waterways and ports, airport ground operations and pipeline systems. Although with fewer injuries and deaths than on roads, adverse weather affects safety and economic efficiency in these sectors. Weather impacts in one region have consequences that ripple through interconnected transportation networks, causing bottlenecks, delays in delivery and imbalances in supply and demand that lead to higher costs for consumers.

“No one can control the weather. What we can do is use information about weather to manage the operations of our transportation systems more effectively and prepare for what the weather may bring,” said Jeff Shane, under secretary for policy, U.S. Department of Transportation. “The WIST report identifies the challenges we currently face in getting information out to transportation officials as well as travelers, while also defining a strategy for developing weather products that will help to improve the flow of people and goods into and around our nation.”

The WIST report asserts that if capacity-reducing weather variations can be anticipated and communicated, and more precise mitigation measures can be implemented, overall system efficiency can be improved while operating costs and the number deaths and injuries can be reduced. It also suggests a similar structure and cooperative agreement between providers and users as that between NOAA Weather Service and the Federal Aviation Administration for aviation weather.

Six areas were defined in the WIST report for addressing next steps and outlining a strategy for moving forward:

  • Identify areas where WIST user needs are not currently met.
  • Expand coordination among research and development programs and providers of WIST products and services.
  • Define roles and responsibilities of information providers for dissemination interpreting and tailoring WIST products to meet user needs.
  • Translate research results and new technologies into WIST applications.
  • Support research to expand fundamental knowledge that enables future technology.
  • Expand outreach and education to both current and potential WIST users..

The WIST report is the product of an extensive three-year interagency effort and the first-ever compilation of weather support needs across the six surface-transport sectors. It involved participation from the departments of agriculture, commerce, defense, energy, interior and transportation as well as numerous independent federal agencies, state and local governments, industry and academia.

NOAA is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and providing environmental stewardship of our nation’s coastal and marine resources.

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