The most important reason that clients choose to engage private forecasting companies is accuracy. This factor was cited by virtually all the companies and clients we interviewed. Although most clients continue to consult the National Weather Service (NWS) forecasts, and forecasts available on Internet sites and through local television and radio, they regard the forecasts they receive from their private services as more accurate. Some attribute this to what they regard as differing missions and motivations of other forecast sources.
Those companies we interviewed suggested that the forecasts carried on broadcast outlets were tainted by a perceived need to sensationalize the weather to garner viewers and listeners. Others felt that the NWS was motivated mainly by public safety and was therefore less likely to deal in probabilities and likelihoods when forecasting a potentially dangerous situation. But when talking about accuracy, both companies and clients cited two aspects of accuracy above all as the value they cannot get from publicly available forecasts: “localness” and “customization.”
Especially for the smaller clients, what they cannot get from television, radio, and the Internet is a forecast for the local areas these clients service. The City of Cambridge, Massachusetts, consists of a variety of neighborhoods whose elevations and closeness to the ocean vary considerably. When Bill Dwyer, Superintendent of Streets, Sidewalks, and Sewer Maintenance for Cambridge, is deciding whether to gear up for road de-icing, line painting, snow plowing, and other activities, he cannot get neighborhood-level information from any public source. He turns to Hometown Forecast Services, of Nashua, New Hampshire,
Kevin Ward, the Public Works Director of Scotch Plains, New Jersey, agrees: “The minor details dictate our operations hour-by-hour.” He continues, “TV and radio forecasts can’t be as local as we need and get—what you come to find is that the information you need must be timely and accurate. Forecasters on TV aren’t specific enough—it’s all geared to a broad audience. ‘Hazardous’ is a very general term!”
Similarly, when Jennisse Schule, Transportation Coordinator for the Paramus, New Jersey, public schools, is deciding whether to close the public school system in the face of an approaching snowstorm, she needs information specific to Paramus, not a general forecast for northern New Jersey. The smaller private forecasting companies usually specialize in the weather of their surrounding area and are very aware of the microclimates within each forecast area. Some of these companies even deploy private sensors on road surfaces and other data-gathering devices to assist them in forecasting for these localities.
Both Ward and Schule use The National Weather Station, of Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey, for their forecasting needs.
In addition to “localness,” smaller forecasting companies and their clients also laud the ability of private forecasters to customize their services to directly serve the unique needs of individual clients. Forecasts are generally updated on a much more frequent basis than those that are publicly available, often hourly or more often in the case of an upcoming weather event. And updates are usually the result of fresh analysis, not simply repeats of forecasts issued earlier. Referring to his relationship with Dan Ventola, President of The National Weather Station, Ward says, “I’ve gotten updates at 3 a.m., and not just a repeat.” Furthermore, these companies can tailor the information they supply to their clients so that clients receive information they can actually use.