Commerce Secretary Pritzker Delivers Keynote Address at the American Meteorological Society’s Washington Forum


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker today spoke about the need to evolve the National Weather Service during a keynote address at the American Meteorological Society’s Washington Forum.

Speaking before members of the weather, water, and climate community, Secretary Pritzker announced the creation of the NOAA Big Data Project. Through this project, the Department of Commerce will join forces with Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud Platform, IBM, Microsoft, and the Open Cloud Consortium at the University of Chicago to create five historic data alliances.

These data alliances will work to research and test solutions for bringing NOAA’s vast information to the cloud, where both the public and industry can easily and equally access, explore, and create new products from it.

Remarks As Prepared for Delivery

Thank you, Sandy, for the kind introduction. I also want to thank Keith Seitter and other AMS leaders for the invitation to participate here today.

I am really excited to have this opportunity, because I really do love the National Weather Service. I wish I could have joined you for your annual meeting in Phoenix earlier this year. But I am grateful for the time with you today, because your work – the work of a meteorologist – touches the lives of people all over this country and around the world. Every day, every hour, and every minute that can be added to an extreme weather alert literally saves lives and property.

For that reason, and many others, the Department of Commerce is proud to be home to NOAA and the National Weather Service.

We saw the life-saving power of weather data two weeks ago in Rochelle, Illinois – my home state – when an EF4 tornado ripped through the town, part of a series of tornadoes across the state.

Many families were just finishing their dinner, when sirens went off and their cell phones buzzed with alerts about the approaching storm – giving them time to take cover in basements and storm shelters. Once the worst was over, all of Rochelle’s families survived; unfortunately, many of their homes and businesses were damaged or destroyed, but they were safe.

In the wake of the tornado, it became clear that the National Weather Service’s warning, built on our data and rapid deployment services, saved lives by giving the residents of Rochelle 27 precious minutes to find shelter.

Just 25 years ago, Rochelle families might have had only 5 minutes to search for safety, and sometimes no time at all. Today, average tornado warning times across the country have nearly tripled, and tornado warning accuracy has roughly doubled. But we still have more work to do. Tragically, in another town not 20 miles away, a second tornado took the lives of two people.

Put simply: accurate data, forecasts and warnings, communicated effectively through multiple channels, can save lives. But this is not just about saving lives. Industries and communities are becoming more dependent on weather and water prediction capabilities, so they can make informed business decisions – decisions that affect the local economy, community resilience, and our national GDP.

As a result, building a Weather-Ready Nation and applying environmental intelligence are critical components of the Department of Commerce’s strategy that we call our “Open for Business” Agenda.

This agenda guides our efforts as a Department. Our strategy has five key priorities: trade and investment, innovation, environment, operational excellence, and data. Today, I want to focus on data.

It is not hyperbole to call the Department of Commerce, “America’s Data Agency.”  No other department can rival the reach, depth, and breadth of our data programs. Indeed, our data collections literally reach from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and from GDP to population growth statistics.

For the very first time, we have made it a key priority to use our data not just to save lives and protect property, but to unleash more of our information to protect our communities and strengthen our economic growth; to make our data easier to access, understand, and use; and to maximize return on investment for businesses, entrepreneurs, government, taxpayers, and communities.

Our weather data already forms the foundation of a multi-billion dollar industry, seen daily in the form of the services that many of your companies provide. Yet the public has ready access to just 10 percent of NOAA’s more than 20 terabytes of data produced daily.  

The global weather enterprise works because the weather and climate data that enable practical prediction are treated as global public goods – necessary for public safety and the effective operation of communities and businesses. But that data cannot fully serve the public good if it is inaccessible. Clearly, we must make more of this information available.

We all know that the demand for environmental data and analysis that informs decisions –whether to protect lives and livelihoods from extreme weather events, or to enhance commerce during fair weather – has never been greater.

Our climate is changing, and our communities are becoming more vulnerable. Destructive hurricanes, deadly tornadoes, devastating floods, powerful winter storms, and extreme droughts are hurting the nation’s economy.

As Secretary of Commerce, I regularly hear from business leaders who are concerned about how the rise of extreme weather events will affect their bottom lines – from California businesses concerned about how the drought will hurt their state’s critically important agriculture industry, to Gulf Coast firms who fear the physical loss of assets resulting from rising sea levels.

Even as a mother, I heard my daughter – who lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts – share stories about record snowfall closing her school’s campus, shutting down businesses, and trapping people in their homes this past winter.

The economic impact of these weather and climate events is enormous. In 2013 alone, insured damage due to severe weather in the U.S. exceeded $10 billion for the sixth year in a row.

Given the breadth of impact extreme weather is having on our lives and livelihoods, on American business and commerce, it is clear that we have to do more to mitigate its effects.

That is why we must work together to evolve the National Weather Service and continue to build a Weather-Ready Nation – a nation where our communities and our economy become more resilient and less vulnerable to extreme weather, water, and climate events.

The National Weather Service has spent years extending prediction capabilities, surpassing its own goals for accuracy and speed. But our service delivery model has remained essentially unchanged since the 1990s, despite dramatic leaps forward in science and technology over the past 30 years.

NOAA and the National Weather Service must do more than just provide timelier, more reliable, more accurate, and more consistent forecasts. We must evolve into a nimble, innovative agency of the 21st century to better serve a nation increasingly reliant on new forms of communication.

As a result, we have identified three central goals that will improve the delivery of our products and services. We must increase levels of decision support services and improve levels of communication with our customers. We must improve the consistency of products and services, so that national, regional, and local decision makers are fully integrated and provided with clear calls to action. And we must increase the speed at which the National Weather Service can take advantage of new technology and innovation.

To achieve these goals, the National Weather Service is upgrading its models and its dissemination systems – to ensure that our forecasters spend more time delivering quality forecasts and communicating weather impacts to both the public and our partners in government and the private sector.

Our partnerships are particularly important to our evolution.

Within government, we must work more closely with federal, state, and local agencies to get the message out before, during, and after major weather events. For example, during a major event like a blizzard or a hurricane, we will embed our workforce on-site with FEMA in order to help emergency responders do their jobs more effectively.

Beyond government, we want to work with business leaders and academia to make our information even more useful to the private sector, communities, individuals, and decision makers.

Using our forecasts, Accuweather helps locomotive operators decide when to halt trains due to potential tornadoes. And Global Weather Corporation transforms our data into an energy output forecast for the world’s number one wind power provider.

Even with additional resources, NOAA and the National Weather Service are not built to create these kinds of innovative products and services – but all of you are. That is why we must work together.

The Department of Commerce is, at its heart, a customer service organization, and all of you are our clients. As part of the National Weather Service’s evolution, we want to empower you to transform our forecasts, warnings, and data into the next great weather startup.

To that end, I am excited to announce that we are collaborating with the private sector for the very first time to open NOAA’s data to the public. 

NOAA is joining forces with Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud Platform, IBM, Microsoft, and the Open Cloud Consortium at the University of Chicago to create five historic data alliances we are calling the NOAA Big Data Project. 

These collaborations will create open platforms where private industry, academia and individual innovators can access our data through the cloud on a completely new scale. This announcement is a big deal. For the first time, we are giving the public the opportunity to mine our data.

The potential we are unleashing with this announcement is incredible. For example, imagine if the airline industry could work with the private weather enterprise to predict the exact coordinates of where a flight would encounter turbulence. Airline companies could then make better decisions on how to route airplanes and achieve real economic savings.

We cannot even begin to conceive of all the different uses and applications that could come out of opening up this data. Our hope is that the NOAA Big Data Project will enable innovation, drive discovery, and make it easier for entrepreneurs to produce valuable products.

For more information about today’s announcement, and how your organizations can get involved with the NOAA Big Data Project, I urge you to visit

Today’s announcement recognizes that the National Weather Service must continue to work in partnership with all of you. In doing so, I am confident that we can find new and innovative ways to serve our customers.

In addition, the evolution of the National Weather Service is necessary for us to be a more effective agency capable of meeting the nation’s growing needs for weather, water, and climate information.

With these changes, America will truly become a Weather-Ready Nation.

Thank you.  

Related content

Last updated: 2015-04-21 14:53

Bureaus & Offices